Jaimie Smart’s Bunny Vs Monkey: Rise of the Maniacal Badger


By Jaimie Smart, with Sammy Borras (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-280-9 (TPB) 978-1-78845-118-5 (Waterstones Exclusive Edition)

Bunny vs. Monkey has been a staple of 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 but critically endangered English woodlands.

Concocted with gleefully gentle mania by cartoonist, comics artist and novelist Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!; Looshkin; Flember), the trendsetting, mindbending yarns have been wisely retooled as graphic albums available in remastered, double-length digest editions such as this one.

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. After crashlanding 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 extremely 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 loitering around and cluttering up the bucolic paradise have finally picked sides: shifting and twisting into bipartisan factionalism. They all seem to have forgotten that rapidly encroaching Hyoomanz as they respond to another personal crisis and the rise to power of an unsuspected third force in woodland politics…

As ever divided into seasonal outbursts, the saga starts slowly with a chilly teaser tale as Winter ends in the ‘Thaw of the Snow-Bots’…

The assorted animals have been in stasis in a giant freezer, and once fire-breathing snowmen attack, they decide it’s best to have a little more kip… or do they?

The story actually resumes in Spring and the far future where time-traveller Ai – a superfast Ai-Ai not naturally indigenous to our sylvan glades and endangered shores – learns of a disaster that’s history here but her tomorrow. A good person, she undertakes ‘The Journey Home’ but arrives too late as ‘A Rather Maniacal Badger’ details how the woods have been conquered at last…

Previously, a catastrophic rivalry erupted when rival evil genius Maniacal Badger vied with Skunky for the title of “The Most Brilliant Animal in the Woods”. Now, while everyone was hibernating, the black-&-white bounder has occupied the region and established a base in a 50-foot (15-24 meters) high statue of himself as the first step in building his dream of Badgertopia.

The shock of defeat particularly affects Skunky, who descends into a spiral of depression and lowering esteem…

Universal innocents Weenie squirrel and Pig have their own way of de-stressing and not even roving robot drones can upset ‘A Quiet, Uneventful Day’ on the lake. Old animosities are paused and enemies become temporary allies planning to resist through ‘Distraction’ and strategic deployment of brain-battered, bewildered suicide bomber/former stuntman Action Beaver, but when that scheme flops we instead focus on ‘A Sad Skunk’ as the original mad scientist undergoes an existential crisis and needs Bunny to share it with…

The relative inactivity soon triggers his robot back-up to mischief mode, but even ‘Mecha Skunky!’ is not immune to the doldrums and there’s nothing ‘Action Beaver!’ can do to rectify the situation, especially after the badger activates a gross flying terror who swallows everybody in ‘The Whale!’

Having retreated to the tunnels built by long-gone but not forgotten local legend Fantastic Le Fox, the uneasy animal animals hide from the tyrant’s tantrums in ‘Too Noisy!’: unexpectedly discovering a hidden, weapon-stocked lair that will be the base for their fight back… once they have safely reassembled ‘All the Toys in the Toyshop!’

Although initial giant robot ‘Battle Bat!’ spectacularly fails, resistance efforts continue, but Monkey is easily distracted and soon moves to make his own empire in ‘Monkeyopia Rises!’ and as Summer begins ‘Divisions!’ proliferate. Before long the war with Bunny flares up again and instantly moves into the province of war crimes as the simian unleashes his flatulence-powered ‘Rofl-Copter!’

Weenie and Pig go on a ‘Treasure Hunt!’ in the mouldering pile of toxic rubbish kindly left by the Hyoomanz, but find no shield from the badger’s latest infamy: mind controlling everyone and turning the Woods into his digital plaything in ‘Game Over!’

A brief diversion follows in an exclusive Bunny vs Monkey Detective Story, but ‘The Curious Case of the Pig in the Night-Time’ is less baffling than Bunny’s failure to join mystic brotherhood ‘The Order of the Moose’…

When young Hyoomanz find themselves ‘(Not) Alone in the Woods’ during a class trip one little girl renews her old acquaintance with Metal Steve after he saves them from Maniac Badger attacks, whilst elsewhere ‘Monst-Ughs!’ run wild after improper use of Skunky’s old monster ray, leading to a glimpse at the tyrant’s origins and family issues in ‘The Making of a Maniacal Badger!’

Incorrigible Monkey then loses control of marauding robot ‘Doom Fists!’ after he is attacked by his wicked doppelganger Evil Monkey and partner in crimes Evil Monkey Wife, whilst elsewhere Skunky recovers some of life’s zest after helping Weenie and Pig repair one of the badger’s ‘Evil Drones!’

Three part saga ‘The Saving of Skunky!’ sees order restored after the badger’s plan to kidnap Skunky and steal what’s left of his evil genius goes awry. Trapped together in the Dark Woods, the skunk experiences a ghastly visitation and by the time the Maniacal one gets back to his conquered kingdom, there’s a restored archenemy waiting to deliver ‘A Sharp Shock’ with electrified clouds and a Zeus costume…

Badger’s retaliation is ancient thought monster ‘Ragnaggtrix!’ but there’s an inherent flaw in something dependent on belief that the evil genius didn’t consider. Thankfully, Skunky is preoccupied ‘Distracting the Monkey!’ from cadging more superweapons to misuse…

Bunny becomes guinea pig when Skunky and Monkey test emotion-warping Mind Mines in ‘Highly Strung!’ and as ‘Autumn begins The Rise of an Empire!’ finds expansionist Monkeytopia devasted by its ruler’s idiocy, even as the badger traps the woodland creatures inside his new phone app in ‘Game On!’ It’s a huge, costly mistake…

‘Balloonacy!’ breaks out when Weenie and Pig try to attend Ai’s birthday party, before a new character debuts. ‘Lucky!’ is a red panda who escaped a lab doing weird experiments. It might not have been in time though, since the three-way war for supremacy in the woods triggers an odd reaction…

The action and drama ramp up for a big finish as Badger is made to clean his room and employs the ‘Doomsday Device!’ that opens portals to Hell. Shame about his mum and dad…

Skunky makes a silly mistake and gives the wrong animal some atomic powered ‘Explosive Sweets!’ which makes Halloween’s ‘Fright Night!’ Scare-Off pretty anticlimactic war, before another peek at the future reveals the legend of ‘Jetpack Beaver!’

A distant relative tries to make one woodland weirdo ‘Pigging Rich!’ with little success, after which a bad tooth and unwise consultation with Skunky results in Monkey taking a big bite out of everything in ‘Chomp!’

The cataclysmic end begins when the Maniacal one pressgangs ‘The Badger Army’ to do his bidding but forgets the species’ tendency to unionise even as Skunky creates a ‘Terraforming Orb!!’ to purpose-build a new world. It’s a shame Monkey dropped it on his own head while it was switched on…

Winter begins with 3-chapter epic ‘A Very Badger Christmas’ that delivers shocking big reveals, pulls all the plot threads of the past year together, ends the world and still leaves rueful survivors wondering what comes next in ‘Aftermath’. Whatever you think happened you’re wrong, so you just have to buy this book to see how…

The animal anarchy might end for now there’s one more secret to share with detailed instructions on ‘How to Draw Maniacal Badger’ so, as well as beguiling your young ’uns with stories, you can use this book to teach them a trade…

The zany zenith of absurdist adventure, Bunny vs Monkey is weird wit, brilliant invention, potent sentiment and superb cartooning crammed into one eccentrically excellent package: never failing to deliver 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: Rise of the Maniacal Badger is published on July 7th 2022 and is available for pre-order now.

Edwurd Fudwupper FIBBED BIG – Explained by Fannie Fudwupper with Berkeley Breathed Helping Slightly


By Berkeley Breathed (Little, Brown & Co./Storyopolis)
ISBN: 978-0-316-14291-5 (HB) 978-0-316-14425-4 (Album PB)

I’ve been watching The News and getting upset by politicians’ obnoxiously blatant disregard for probity and dearth of ethical standards, not just in my own bankrupt-in-every-aspect Britain, but everywhere else too – except maybe New Zealand (Nice One, Jacinda).

As is always the case in such circumstances, I turned to comics and cartoons for solace and found this. Please read, enjoy and act according to the dictates of your conscience, if you have one…

Please Note: any similarity to other malign, malformed, bribe-fattened, emotionally stunted, eternally misbehaving overprivileged schoolboys currently serving at the Nation’s expense is just the way things are these days…

Throughout the 1980s and for half of the 1990s, Berke Breathed dominated the newspaper strip scene with agonisingly funny, edgy-yet-surreal political fantasy Bloom County and, latterly, Sunday-only spin-off Outland. They are all fully available digitally – so don’t wait for my reviews, just get them now!

At the top of his game and swamped with awards like Pulitzers, Breathed retired to concentrate on books like Red Ranger Came Calling, Mars Needs Moms! or Flawed Dogs: The Year End Leftovers at the Piddleton “Last-Chance” Dog Pound and sequel Flawed Dogs: The Shocking Raid on Westminster. They rank among the best America has ever produced. Get them too.

His first foray into the field was 1991’s A Wish for Wings That Work: a Christmas parable featuring his signature character, and the most charmingly human one. Between 2003 and 2008, Breathed revived Opus as a Sunday strip, before eventually capitulating to his career-long antipathy for the manic deadline pressures of newspaper production and often-insane, convoluted contradictions of editorial censorship.

It seemed his ludicrous yet appealing cast of misfits – all deadly exponents of irony and common sense residing in the heartland of American conservatism – were gone for good, until the internet provided a platform for Breathed to resume his role as a gadfly commentator on his own terms. Since 2015, Bloom County has mocked, exposed and shamed capitalism, celebrities, consumerism, popular culture, politicians, religious leaders and people who act like idiots. Donald Trump figures prominently and often, but that might just be coincidence…

These later efforts, unconstrained by syndicate pressures to not offend advertisers, are also available as book collections. You’ll want those too, and be delighted to learn that all Breathed’s Bloom County work is available in digital formats – fully annotated to address the history gap if you didn’t live through events such as Iran-Gate, Live-Aid, Star Wars (both cinematic and military versions), assorted cults and televangelists experiencing less than divine retribution and sundry other tea-cup storms that make us Baby Boomers so rude and defensive…

Not quite as renowned, but every inch as crucial to your enjoyment, is the lost gem on display today: a paean to the power of principles and effects of honesty, all wrapped up in a children’s book about a mean kid with no moral compass…

As previously stated, after the all-too-brief, glittering outing as a syndicated strip cartoonist and socio-political commentator (usually the very same hallowed function) Breathed left strips to create children’s picture books.

He lost none of his perception, wit or imagination, and actually got better as an artist. Even so, he never quite abandoned his entrancing cast of characters and always maintained the gently excoriating, crusading passion and inherent bittersweet invective which underscored those earlier narratives.

Moreover, he couldn’t ignore that morally uplifting component of his work that so upset hypocrites, liars, greedy people and others who let us all down while carping on about being unfairly judged and how we don’t really understand complex issues. Trust me, we – and Breathed – understand perfectly…

This crushingly captivating cartoon catechism ruminates on the cost and worth of family and idiocy of arrogant aggrandizement and self-congratulatory self-importance. It is lensed through the fabled truism of the Boy Who Cried Wolf, as little sister Fannie complains again about her idiot brother…

Edwurd Fudwupper tells lies because he wants to, because he can and because of the chaotic consequences his dissembling causes. The only thing he isn’t, is convincing. Always in trouble, he narrowly and perpetually weasels out of instant retribution due to his facility for fibs, but now Fannie recalls the day when that stopped working…

After a couple of whoppers lead to the disappearance of a neighbour and destruction of beloved family property, Edwurd’s automatic response of lying big and compounding nonsense with bigger balderdash sparks community calamity, mass military deployment and imminent alien invasion. As the Earth stands still in the moment before utter disaster, a small voice speaks out…

Delivered in sharp and lyrical rhyme like a weaponised Dr. Seuss story, and with lush lavish illustrations painted in the stunningly grotesque exaggeration beloved of Ralph Steadman and Terry Gilliam cartoons, this is a book to trigger personal reflection, audit consciences and promote better behaviour, but it will make grown citizens howl and children sit up and pay attention. It’s also deliciously funny. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll think hard before calling in sick or blaming the dog – or opposition or asylum seekers – for eating your homework…
© 2000 Berkeley Breathed. All rights reserved.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck by Carl Barks: volume 6 – The Old Castle’s Secret


By Carl Barks & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-653-9 (HB/Digital edition)

Donald Duck ranks among a number of fictional characters who have transcended the bounds of reality to become – like Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Popeye and James Bond -meta-real. As such, his origins are complex and convoluted. His official birthday is June 9th 1934: a dancing, nautically-themed bit-player in the Silly Symphony cartoon short The Wise Little Hen.

However, that date is based on the feature’s release, as announced by distributors United Artists and latterly acknowledged by the Walt Disney Company. Recent research reveals the piece was initially screened at Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles on May 3rd, part of a Benefit show. The Wise Little Hen officially premiered on June 7th at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City, before the general release date was settled.

The animated cartoon was adapted by Ted Osborne & Al Taliaferro for the Silly Symphonies Sunday comic strip and thus classified by historians as Donald’s official debut in Disney comics. Controversially though, he was also reported to have originated in The Adventures of Mickey Mouse strip which began 1931. Thus the Duck has more “birthdays” than the Queen of England (plus the generally disUnited Kingdom and gradually diminishing Commonwealth) which probably explains why he’s such a bad-tempered old cuss.

Visually, Donald Fauntleroy Duck was largely the result of animator Dick Lundy’s efforts, and, with partner-in-fun Mickey Mouse, is one of TV Guide’s 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time. The Duck has his own star on the Hollywood walk of fame and has appeared in more films than any other Disney player.

During the 1930s his screen career grew from background and supporting roles to a team act with Mickey and Goofy to a series of solo cartoons that began with 1937’s Don Donald, which also introduced love interest Daisy Duck and the nephews Huey, Louie and Dewey. By 1938 Donald was officially more popular than company icon Mickey Mouse, especially after his service as a propaganda warrior in a series of animated morale boosters and information features during WWII. The merely magnificent Der Fuehrer’s Face garnered the 1942 Academy Award (that’s an Oscar to you and me) for Animated Short Film…

Crucially for our purposes, Donald is also planet Earth’s most-published non-superhero comics character and has been blessed with some of the greatest writers and illustrators ever to punch a keyboard or pick up a pen or brush.

A publishing phenomenon and mega star across Europe – particularly Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland – Donald & Co have spawned countless original stories and characters. Sales are stratospheric there and in the more than 45 other countries they export to. Japanese manga publishers have their own iterations too…

The aforementioned Silly Symphonies adaptation and Mickey Mouse newspaper strip guest shots were trumped in 1937 when Italian publisher Mondadori launched an 18-page story by Federico Pedrocchi in comic book format. It was quickly followed by a regular serial in Britain’s Mickey Mouse Weekly. The comic was produced under license by Willbank Publications/Odhams Press and ran from 8th February 1936 to 28th December 1957.

In #67 (May 15th 1937) it launched Donald and Donna (a prototype Daisy Duck girlfriend), drawn by William A. Ward. Running for 15 weeks it was followed by Donald and Mac before ultimately settling on Donald Duck, and a fixture until the magazine folded. The comic inspired similar Disney-themed publication across Europe with Donald regularly appearing beside company mascot Mickey…

In the USA, a daily Donald Duck newspaper strip launched on February 2nd 1938, with a colour Sunday strip added in 1939. Writer Ted Karp joined Taliaferro in expanding the duck cast, adding a signature automobile, dog Bolivar, cousin Gus Goose, grandmother Elvira Coot and expanded the roles of both Donna and Daisy…

In 1942, his licensed comic books canon began with the October cover-dated Dell Four Color Comics Series II #9 as Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold: conceived by Homer Brightman & Harry Reeves, scripted by Karp and illustrated by Disney Studios employees Carl Barks & Jack Hannah. It was the moment everything changed…

Carl Barks was born in Merrill, Oregon in 1901, and raised in rural areas of the West during some of the leanest times in American history. He tried his hand at many jobs before settling into the profession that chose him. His early life is well-documented elsewhere if you need detail, but briefly, Barks was an animator before quitting in 1942 to work in the new-fangled field of comic books.

With studio partner Jack Hannah (another future strip illustrator) Barks adapted Karp’s rejected script for an animated cartoon short into Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold, and although not his first published comics work, it was the story that shaped the rest of his career.

From then until his official retirement in the mid-1960s, Barks operated in self-imposed seclusion: writing, drawing and devising a vast array of adventure comedies, gags, yarns and covers that gelled into a Duck Universe of memorable and highly bankable characters. These included Gladstone Gander (1948), Gyro Gearloose (1952), Magica De Spell (1961) and the nefarious Beagle Boys (1951) to supplement Disney’s stable of cartoon actors. His greatest creation was undoubtedly the crusty, energetic, paternalistic, money-mad giga-gazillionaire Scrooge McDuck: the World’s wealthiest winged nonagenarian.

Whilst producing all that landmark material Barks was also just a working guy, generating cover art, illustrating other people’s scripts when asked, and contributing stories to the burgeoning canon of Duck Lore. After Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Barks material amongst other Disney strips in the 1980s, he discovered the well-earned appreciation he never imagined existed…

So potent were his creations that they inevitably fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his brilliant comic work was done for Dell/Gold Key and not directly for the studio. The greatest tribute was undoubtedly the animated series Duck Tales: heavily based on his classic Uncle Scrooge tales.

Barks was a fan of wholesome action, unsolved mysteries and epics of exploration, and this led to him perfecting the art and technique of the blockbuster tale: blending wit, history, plucky bravado and sheer wide-eyed wonder into rollicking rollercoaster romps that utterly captivated readers of every age and vintage. Without the Barks expeditions there would never have been an Indiana Jones…

During his working life Barks was blissfully unaware that his work (uncredited by official policy, as was all Disney’s comics output) had been recognised by a rabid and discerning public as “the Good Duck Artist.” When some of his most dedicated fans finally tracked him down, a belated celebrity began.

In 2013, Fantagraphics Books began chronologically collecting Barks’ Duck stuff in wonderful, carefully curated archival volumes, tracing his output year-by-year in hardback tomes and digital editions that finally do justice to the quiet creator. These will eventually comprise the Complete Carl Barks Disney Library. The physical copies are sturdy and luxurious albums – 193 x 261 mm – that would grace any bookshelf, with volume 6 re-presenting works from 1948 – albeit not in strict release order. I should also note that all the Four Color issues come from Series II of that mighty anthological vehicle and all cover are by Barks.

It begins eponymously with ‘The Old Castle’s Secret’ (FC #189, June 1948) as a crisis in the McDuck financial empire triggers a mission for Donald and the nephews: accompanying Scrooge to the ancestral pile in Scotland to search for millions in hidden treasure. Apparently the craggy citadel is haunted, but what they actually encounter is both more rationalistically dangerous and fantastically unbelievable…

Two single-page gags from the same issue follow, with ‘Bird Watching’ exposing the hidden perils of the hobby whilst superstition is painfully debunked in ‘Horseshoe Luck’ before ‘Wintertime Wager’ (Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #88, January) introduces annoying cousin Gladstone Gander. Amidst chilling winter snows, the miraculously lucky, smugly irksome oik invites himself over for Christmas and soon he and Donald are involved in an escalating set of ordeals that might cost the Duck his house. Thankfully, Daisy and the boys are there to solve the problem…

Gainful employment was a regular dilemma for Donald and February’s ‘Watching the Watchman’ (WDC&S #89) finds him taking a midnight-to-daybreak job at the docks, but pitifully unable to alter his sleep patterns. Once again, Huey, Louie and Dewey offer outrageous assistance but this time it’s the Duck’s inability to stay awake that foils a million dollar heist….

They’re actually Donald’s rivals in ‘Wired’ (WDC&S #90, March) when all seek big bucks as telegram messengers. Sadly, millionaires are not generally friendly, welcoming or prone to giving giant gratuities…

A dedicated social climber, Donald plans a garden party in WDC&S #91 (April), but his notion of fancy dress and family solidarity utterly anger the boys, who retaliate with manic mesmerism in ‘Going Ape’, after which March of Comics #20 finds butterfly-hunter Donald at war with avaricious lepidopterist Professor Argus McFiendy across two continents.

Donald’s sharp and ruthless tactics inspire onlooker Sir Gnatbugg-Mothley to fund a safari to ‘Darkest Africa’ in search of the rarest butterfly on Earth. The daunting quest for the Almostus Extinctus is frenetically fraught, astoundingly action-packed and fabulously fun-filled but please be aware that despite Barks’ careful research and diligent, sensitive storytelling some modern folk could be upset by his depictions of indigenous peoples in terms of the accepted style of those decades-distant times.

Nevertheless, the bombastic war ends with a delicious sting in the tail.

In case you were wondering: March of Comics releases were prestigious promotional giveaways tied to retail products and commercial clients like Sears, combining licensed characters from across Whitman/KK/Dell’s joint catalogue. The often enjoyed print runs topping 5 million copies per issue. Being a headliner for them was a low key editorial acknowledgement of a creator’s capabilities and franchise’s pulling power…

Back in the regular world, Donald’s eternal war of nerves with the kids boiled over in FC #189 (June) as ‘Bean Taken’ saw his obsessive side dominant in a guessing game, a single-pager, preceding another exploring the downside of sandlot baseball in ‘Sorry to Be Safe’ (FC #199, October) and standard 10-page romp ‘Spoil the Rod’ (WDC&S #92, May). Here passing do-gooder Professor Pulpheart Clabberhead seeks to stop Donald’s apparent abuse of Huey, Louie and Dewey – but only until he gets to know them…

Although the science fiction boom and flying saucer mania was barely beginning in 1948, Barks was an early advocate and ‘Rocket Race to the Moon’ (WDC&S #93, June) sees newspaper seller Donald suckered into piloting an experimental lunar exploration ship. Tragically, Professors Cosmic and Gamma seem more concerned with a large cash-prize contest than advancing science and rival rocketman Baron De Sleezy is a ruthless schemer, but no one – not even the stowaway nephews – were prepared for what lived on the moon…

Patriotism inspires our bellicose birdbrain to enlist as ‘Donald of the Coast Patrol’ (WDC&S #94, July) but it’s his innate gullibility and bad temper that helps him bag a bunch of spies before true wickedness rears its downy head as ‘Gladstone Returns’ (WDC&S #95, August).

The ghastly Gander was designed as a foil for Donald, intended to be even more obnoxious than the irascible, excitable film fowl.

This originally untitled tale reintroduces him as a big noxious noise every inch as blustery a blowhard as Donald but still lacking his seemingly supernatural super-luck talent. Here, both furiously boast and feud, trying to one-up each other in a series of scams that does neither any good… especially once the nephews and Daisy join the battle…

Arguably Barks’ first masterpiece, ‘Sheriff of Bullet Valley’ was the lead tale from Dell Four Color Comics #199, drawing much of its unflagging energy and trenchant whimsy from Barks’ own love of cowboy fiction – albeit seductively tempered with his self-deprecatory sense of absurdist humour. For example, a wanted poster on the jailhouse wall portrays the artist himself, offering the princely sum of $1000 and 50¢ for his inevitable capture.

Donald is – of course – a self-declared expert on the Wild West (he’s seen all the movies) so when he and the boys drive through scenic Bullet Valley, a wanted poster catches his eye and his imagination. Soon he’s signed up and sworn in as a doughty deputy, determined to catch rustlers plaguing the locals. Unfortunately for him, the good old days never really existed and today’s bandits use radios, trucks, tommy guns and ray machines to achieve their nefarious ends. Can Donald’s impetuous boldness and the nephews’ collective brains and ingenuity defeat the ruthless high-tech raiders?

Of course they can…

That same issue first saw a brace of short gags, beginning with ‘Best Laid Plans’ as Donald’s feigned illness earns him extra hard labour rather than a malingering day in bed and closing with ‘The Genuine Article’ wherein suspicions of an antiques provenance leads to disaster…

The lads plans to go fishing are scuppered – but not for too long – when Donald demands their caddying services in ‘Links Hijinks’ (WDC&S #96, September). It all really goes south once Gladstone horns in and Donald’s competitive spirit overwhelms everybody…

That tendency to overreact informs ‘Pearls of Wisdom’ (WDC&S #97, October) when the nephews find a small pearl in a locally-sourced oyster and big-dreaming Donald goes overboard in exploiting the” hidden millions” probably peppering the ocean floor, before we close with another mission for Uncle Scrooge.

To close a deal with British toff Lord Tweeksdale, McDuck must prove his family pedigree by excelling in the most “asinine, stupid, crazy, useless sport in the world”: fox hunting. Designating Donald his champion, the Downy Dodecadillionaire of Duckburg is thankfully unaware Huey, Louie and Dewey also consider themselves ‘Foxy Relations’ (WDC&S #98, November), injecting themselves covertly into proceedings with catastrophic repercussions…

The visual verve over, we move on to validation as ‘Story Notes’ offers commentary for each Duck tale and Donald Ault relates ‘Carl Barks: Life Among the Ducks’, before ‘Biographies’ explain why he and commentators Alberto Beccatini, R, Fiore, Craig Fischer, Jared Gardner, Leonardo Gori, Rich Kreiner, Ken Parille, Stefano Priarone, Francesco (“Frank”) Stajano and Mattias Wivel are saying all those nice and informative things.

We close with an examination of provenance as ‘Where Did These Duck Stories First Appear?’ explains the somewhat byzantine publishing schedules of Dell Comics.

Carl Barks was one of the greatest exponents of comic art the world has ever seen, and almost all his work featured Disney’s Duck characters: reaching and affecting untold millions of readers across the world and he all too belatedly won far-reaching recognition. You might be late to the party but it’s never too soon to climb aboard the Barks Express.
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck “The Old Castle’s Secret” © 2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All contents © 2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.

Tails of the Super-Pets


By Jerry Siegel, Robert Bernstein, Otto Binder, Leo Dorfman, Bill Finger, Edmond Hamilton, William Moulton Marston, Jim Shooter, Curt Swan, Jim Mooney, Pete Costanza, John Forte, Ramona Fradon, Sheldon Moldoff, George Papp, Harry G. Peter, Sy Barry, Stan Kaye, George Klein, Charles Paris & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1779513397 (TPB/Digital edition)

Once upon a time, comics embraced whimsy as much as angst, spectacle, sex and violence – so much so, that superheroes had pets for partners. Now there’s a movie about super-pets. You don’t have to like the notion, but plenty of us do.

Once upon another time, in the far future, a band of super-powered kids from dozens of alien civilisations took inspiration from the legend of the greatest champion of all time and formed a club of heroes. One day, those Children of Tomorrow came back in time and invited that legend to join them…

That’s how the tomorrow teen superstars started, courtesy of writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino in early 1958. The monumental assemblage’s popularity waxed and waned over decades and they were regularly reimagined and rebooted, but that core dream of empowered children was evergreen and proliferated. As their fame grew, the squad diversified, adding a Legion Espionage Squad, an evil Legion of Super-Villains, a Legion of Substitute Heroes ad infinitum…

DC had long exploited the attractions of bestial stars of fang and claw. Many Golden Age heroes had animal assistants and allies (like Dr. Mid-Nite’s owl Hooty, Airwave’s parrot Static and canine champions Elmo (Doll Man), and Thor (the Dan Richards Manhunter) among too many to mention. Streak the Wonder Dog actually ousted the original Green Lantern from his own comic book.

In the 1950s, Rex the Wonder Dog had his own long-running, astonishingly daft but beautifully illustrated title, with the majority of issues also featuring beloved hairy gumshoe Detective Chimp. Moreover, every newly-popular western star (and a few war heroes) who took the place of the declining superhero population had weaponised dogs, birds and especially horses to aid and augment their crusades for justice.

However, not all mystery men and women faded away. Wonder Woman and Batman and Robin weathered the hostile environment, and the Superman franchise grew exponentially -thanks to a hit movie, landmark TV series and continued radio and newspaper presence.

…And one day someone at National/DC said, “you what else kids like? Animals…”

That led to a slow trickle of empowered animals popping up across the Kryptonian end of DC’s landscape, and a few other incidental animal antics in the lives of many superheroes who survived on the coattails of the “Trinity” – particularly Aquaman (who’s cruelly underrepresented here, since his whole schtick was underwater “stupid pet tricks”…)

If you are a purist, there’s a lot you won’t like here – not the stories: those are still immaculately conceived and delivered, but the running order (not chronological, leading to some jarring moments, especially for Supergirl who seemingly goes from orphan to adopted back to the institution), and possibly the fact that – technically – many of the critters romping here were not in the actual Legion of Super-Pets (or in fact the forthcoming movie, which remakes the brilliant beasts into a “League”). I guess that just means we can look forward to a 75-year Celebration archival edition just for Krypto in 2025….

Here Endeth the Lesson: let’s talk about fun now.

What we do have on offer today is a joyously bright and bold compendium of charming adventure and repercussion-free thrills comprising mad moments from Action Comics #261, 266, 277, 292, 293, Adventure Comics #210, 256, 293, 322, 364, Batman #125, Superboy #76, Superman #176 and Wonder Woman #23, spanning 1947-1968 and adorned where applicable with covers by Curt, Swan with Stan Kaye & George Klein and H.G. Peter.

I’ve rambled on and indulged myself because there’s no introduction or context-delivering text so you can start well-briefed with the truly delightful Supergirl short from Action Comics #277 (June 1961) Crafted by Jerry Siegel & Jim Mooney, ‘The Battle of the Super-Pets!’ finds her cat Streaky typically envious of attention the teenager pays to sneaky ingratiating mutt Krypto. When Superman suggests they compete for her attentions to prove who’s best (no, really!), they choose the most unlucky locale for their arena…

That’s followed by Siegel & Mooney’s debut tail (sorry, not sorry) from Action Comics #261 (February 1960) which introduces the homeless earth stray, revealing how Streaky becomes, at irregular intervals ‘Supergirl’s Super-Pet!’…

The next tale is where we should have started as Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955) introduces ‘The Super-Dog from Krypton!’

After the Man of Tomorrow had made his mark as Earth’s premier champion, his originators took a long look and reasoned that a very different tone could offer a fresh look. What would it be like for a fun-loving lad who could do literally anything?

The answer came as Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster – after years of agitating the publisher – unleashed the concept of Superboy: fleshing out doomed Krypton, Kal-El’s early years, foster parents and a childhood full of fun and incident. The experiment was a huge hit and the lad swiftly bounced into the lead slot of Adventure Comics and – in 1949 – his own title: living a life forever set 20 years behind his adult counterpart.

Encountering crooks, monsters, aliens, other super kids, school woes and the suspicions of girl-next-door Lana Lang, Superboy enjoyed an eventful, wonderful life which only got better in Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955), as Otto Binder, Swan & Sy Barry introduced a waywardly mischievous and dangerously playful canine companion who had survived Krypton’s doom due to a freak accident. Krypto had been Kal-El’s pet on Krypton and used by Jor-El in desperation as a test animal for the space rocket he was building.

The dog’s miraculous arrival on Earth after years heralded a wave of survivors from the dead world over the latter part of the decade: all making Superboy feel less lonely and unique. Every boy needs a dog…

One of those latter additions debuted in Superboy #76, (December 1958) wherein by Binder & George Papp introduced ‘The Super Monkey from Krypton!’: one of Jor-El’s lab animals who had escaped and hidden in the baby’s spaceship. Hey, the world was ending: who had time to police lab specimens?

Dubbed “Beppo”, the super-monkey spent months in Earth’s jungles before accidentally finding Smallville and making life uncomfortable for toddler Clark Kent…

Set after she had been adopted and become a public hero rather than clandestine secret weapon, Action Comics #292 and 293 (September & October 1963) saw Supergirl acquire a mysterious new animal accomplice in the first two chapters of a trilogy by Leo Dorfman & Mooney. The extended storyline began when the typical (albeit invulnerable) teen got a new “pet”. ‘The Super-Steed of Steel!’ was a beautiful white horse who helped her stave off an alien invasion, but the creature had a bizarre and mysterious past, revealed in ‘The Secret Origin of Supergirl’s Super-Horse!’ as his being a magically transformed centaur from ancient Greece. Sadly, the resolution of this this tryptic (‘The Mutiny of Super-Horse’) is not included here…

Briefly digressing, what follows is a short saga of a non-powered animal marvel as Batman #125 (August 1959) details ‘The Secret Life of Bat-Hound!’ by Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris. For no reason I could possibly speculate upon, Ace the Bat-Hound debuted in Batman #92 (June 1955), by Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris: a distinctive German shepherd temporally adopted by Bruce Wayne when John Wilker (Ace’s owner) was abducted. A skilled tracker with distinctive facial markings, the pooch inserted himself into the case repeatedly, forcing the Dynamic Duo to mask him up whilst they sought his abducted master and foiled a criminal plot. Like Krypto, Ace reappeared intermittently until Wayne stopped borrowing him and just adopted the amazing mutt.

Here, the original creative team have Ace narrate how that adoption happened in ‘The Secret Life of Bat-Hound’ (Batman #125, August 1959), and include his crucial part in capturing the nefarious gold-obsessed Midas Gang…

William Moulton Marston & Harry G. Peter convey us to Princess Diana’s childhood as Wonder Woman #23 (June 1947) reveals – via home movies of her seventh birthday – how mighty space-hopping marsupials migrated to Paradise Island and changed Amazon battle tactics forever in ‘Wonder Woman and the Coming of the Kangas!’ after which Adventure Comics #256 (January 1959) details  ‘The Ordeal of Aquaman’ as he is trapped in a desert and saved from dehydrating doom by his faithful octopus Topo in a smartly inventive yarn from Robert Bernstein & Ramona Fradon.

The Supergirl tale in Action Comics #266 (July 1960, by Siegel, & Mooney) sees ‘The World’s Mightiest Cat!’ Streaky inadvertently contribute to the isolation of an orphan boy with a reputation for tall tales before Krypto and the Maid of Might make everything right whilst Adventure Comics #293 (February 1962) delivers a gripping landmark thriller from Siegel, Swan & George Klein.

‘The Legion of Super-Traitors’ posits human Legionnaires abruptly turning evil, prompting Saturn Girl to recruit a Legion of Super-Pets comprising Krypto, Streaky, Beppo and Comet to save the world from mind-controlling alien brains in floating glass jars – and yes, I typed all that with a reasonably straight face…

After the human Legion won their own regular series, the animal brigade were ratified and rewarded with their own branch, and Adventure Comics #322 (July 1964, by Edmond Hamilton, John Forte & Moldoff) saw them expand their roster in ‘The Super-Tests of the Super-Pets!’: a sheer bonkers slice of fun-filled futurism wherein the animal companions were left to guard Earth as the biped players pursued the elusive Time Trapper.

When Chameleon Boy’s shapeshifting (and fully sapient) pet Proty II applied to join the bestial bunch, they gave him a series of extremely difficult qualification tasks …which they breezed through…

A long-neglected tale follows as ‘The Revenge of the Super-Pets!’ (Superman #176, April 1965 by Dorfman, Swan & Klein) sees the a beast brood join the Human of Steel in a time travel jaunt that solves a legal mystery and explains how the growth of modern animal rights began!

Wrapping up with a more dramatic romp from Adventure Comics #364 (January 1968), ‘The Revolt of the Super-Pets!’ is by Jim Shooter & Pete Costanza: a gripping two-parter that depicts how the crafty rulers of planet Thanl attempted to seduce animal adventurers Krypto, Streaky, Beppo, Comet and amorphous telepathic blob Proty II from their rightful – subordinate – positions with sweet words and palatial new homes.

Of course, the aliens had a cunning scheme in play, but failed to realise these were not dumb animals…

Brilliantly reviving the beguiling innocence of the Silver Age for new, fun-seeking generations, this article of animalistic arcana is an unadulterated frolic to stir the elderly like me and enchant the newest DC disciples. Fetch!
© 1947, 1955, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1968, 2022 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Super-Friends: Saturday Morning Comics volume 1


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Denny O’Neil, Ramona Fradon, Kurt Schaffenberger, Ric Estrada, Alex Toth, Joe Orlando, Bob Smith, Vince Colletta with Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9542-4 (HB/Digital edition)

Once upon a time comics were primarily created with kids in mind and, whilst I’d never advocate exclusively going back to those days, the modern industry has for the longest time sinned by not properly addressing the needs and tastes of younger fans these days. Happily, DC has latterly been rectifying the situation with a number of new and – most importantly for old geeks like me – remastered, repackaged age-appropriate gems from their vast back catalogue.

A superb case in point of all-ages comics done right is this massive (and frankly, rather expensive) tome. And don’t stress the title: it may celebrate the joys of past childhood shows but this book is definitely a great big Sunday “settle back and luxuriate” treat…

The Super Friends: Saturday Morning Comics volume 1 gathers the comic book tales which spun off from a popular Saturday Morning TV Cartoon show: one that, thanks to the canny craftsmanship and loving invention of lead scripter E. Nelson Bridwell, became an integral and unmissable component of the greater DC Universe.

It was also one of the most universally thrilling and satisfying superhero titles of the period for older fans: featuring the kind of smart and witty, straightforward adventures people my age grew up with, produced during a period when the entire industry was increasingly losing itself in colossal continued storylines and bombastic, convoluted, soap opera melodrama.

It’s something all creators should have tattooed on their foreheads: sometimes all you really want is a smart plot well illustrated, sinister villains well-smacked, a solid resolution and early bed…

The TV show Super Friends ran (under various iterations) from 1973 to 1986; starring primarily Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and a brace of studio-originated kids as student crimebusters, supplemented by occasional guest stars from the DCU on a case by case basis. The animated series made the transition to print as part of the publisher’s 1976 foray into “boutiqued” comics which saw titles with a television connection cross-marketed as “DC TV Comics”.

Child-friendly Golden Age comicbook revival Shazam!- the Original Captain Marvel had been adapted into a successful live action series and its Saturday Morning silver screen stablemate The Secrets of Isis consequently reversed the process by becoming a comic book.

With the additions of hit comedy show Welcome Back Kotter and animated blockbuster Super Friends four-colour format, DC had a neat little outreach imprimatur tailor-made to draw viewers into the magic word of funnybooks.

At least that was the plan: with the exception of Super Friends none of the titles lasted more than ten issues beyond their launch…

This massive mega-extravaganza (part 1 of 2) collects Super Friends #1-26 (spanning November 1976 to November 1979), includes promo comic Aquateers Meet the Super Friends and reprints material from Limited Collectors’ Edition #C-41 and C-46. It also opens with a lovely and moving introduction from illustrator Ramona Fradon (Aquaman; Metamorpho the Element Man; Brenda Starr, Reporter).

The fun begins a crafty two-part caper by the wondrous E. Nelson Bridwell and illustrators Ric Estrada, Vince Colletta & Joe Orlando. ‘The Fury of the Super Foes’ finds heroes-in-training Wendy and Marvin – and their incredibly  astute mutt Wonderdog – studying at the palatial Hall of Justice, even as elsewhere, a confederation of villains prove that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… if not outright intellectual theft.

Having auditioned a host of young criminals, The Penguin, Cheetah, Flying Fish, Poison Ivy and Toyman are creating a squad of sidekicks and protégés to follow in their felonious footsteps. At last Chick, Kitten, Sardine, Honeysuckle and Toyboy are all ready and willing to carry out their first caper…

When the giant “Troubalert” screen informs our heroes of a three-pronged attack on S.T.A.R. Labs’ latest inventions, the champion team split up to tackle the crises, but are thoroughly trounced until Wendy and Marvin break curfew to help them. As a result of the clash, Chick and Kitten are brought back to the Hall of Justice, but their talk of repentance is a rascally ruse and they secretly sabotage vital equipment…

Thankfully, Wonderdog has seen everything and quickly finds a way to inform the still-oblivious good guys in issue #2, but too late to prevent the Super Friends being briefly ‘Trapped by the Super Foes’…

Aided and abetted by inker Bob Smith, the incomparable Fradon became penciller with #3, as ‘The Cosmic Hit Man?’ sees 50 intergalactic super-villains murdered by infernal Dr. Ihdrom, who blends their harvested essences to create an apparently unbeatable hyper-horror and utterly overwhelm Earth’s heroic defenders. However, he falls victim to his own arrogance and Wendy and Marvin’s logical deductions…

‘Riddles and Rockets!’ sees the Super Friends overmatched by new ne’er-do-well Skyrocket whilst simultaneously trying to cope with a rash of crimes contrived by King of Conundra The Riddler. Soon a pattern emerges and a criminal connection is confirmed…

Author Bridwell (Secret Six; Inferior Five; Batman; Superman; The Flash; Legion of Super-Heroes; Captain Marvel/Shazam!) was justly famed as DC’s Keeper of Lore and Continuity Cop thanks to an astoundingly encyclopaedic knowledge of its publishing minutiae and ability to instantly recall every damn thing! ‘Telethon Treachery!’ gave him plenty of scope to display it with a host of near-forgotten guest-stars joining the heroes as they host a televised charity event whilst money-mad menace Greenback lurks in the wings, awaiting his moment to grab the loot and kidnap the wealthiest donors…

The Atom (Ray Palmer) plays a crucial role in stopping the depredations of an animal trainer using beasts as bandits in ‘The Menace of the Menagerie Man!’ before a huge cast change is unveiled in #7 (October 1977) with ‘The Warning of the Wondertwins’…

You know TV is very different from comics. When a new season of Super Friends aired, Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog were abruptly gone, replaced without explanation by aliens Zan and Jayna and elastic-tailed space monkey Gleek. With room to extrapolate – and in consideration of fans – Bridwell explained the sudden change via a battle to save Earth from annihilation whilst introducing the newest student heroes’ in memorable style…

At the Hall of Justice Wendy and Marvin spot a spaceship hurtling to Earth on the Troubalert monitor and dash off to intercept it. Aboard are two siblings from distant planet Exor: a girl able to transform into animals and a boy who can become any form of water from steam to ice. They have come carrying an urgent warning…

Superman’s alien enemy Grax has resolved to eradicate humanity and devised a dozen different super-bombs and attendant weird-science traps to ensure his victory. The weapons are scattered all over Earth and even the entire Justice League cannot stretch its resources to cover every angle and threat. To Wendy and Marvin the answer is obvious: call upon the help and knowledge of hyper-powered local heroes…

Soon Superman and Israel’s champion The Seraph are dismantling a black hole bomb whilst Elongated Man and titan-tressed Godiva perform similar service on a life-eradicator in England. Flash (Barry Allen) and mighty-leaping Impala dismantle uncatchable ordnance in South Africa. Hawkman and Hawkwoman join Native American avenger Owlwoman to crush darkness-breeding monsters in Oklahoma whilst from the Hall of Justice Wendy, Marvin and the Wonder Twins monitor the crisis with a modicum of mounting hope…

The cataclysmic epic continues in #8 with ‘The Mind Killers!’ as Atom and Rising Son tackle a device designed to decimate Japan, even as in Ireland Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Jack O’Lantern battle multi-hued monstrosities before switching off their technological terror.

In New Zealand, time-scanning Tuatara tips off Red Tornado to the position of a bomb cached in the distant past and Venezuela’s doom is diverted through a team-up between Batman and Robin and reptile-themed champion Bushmaster, whilst Taiwan benefits from a melding of sonic superpowers possessed by Black Canary and the astounding Thunderlord…

The saga soars to a classic climax with ‘Three Ways to Kill a World!’ in which the final phases of Grax’s scheme finally fail thanks to Green Arrow and Tasmanian Devil in Australia, Aquaman and Little Mermaid in the seas off Denmark and Wonder Woman and The Olympian in Greece.

Or at least, they would have if the Hellenic heroes had found the right foe. Sadly, their triumph against Wrong-Place, Right-Time terrorist Colonel Conquest almost upset everything. Thankfully, the quick thinking students send an army of defenders to Antarctica where Norwegian novice Icemaiden dismantles the final booby-trap bomb.

However, whilst the adult champions are thus engaged, Grax invades the Hall of Justice seeking revenge on the pesky whistleblowing Exorian kids. He is completely unprepared for and overwhelmed by Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog, who categorically prove they’re ready to graduate to the big leagues…

With Zan and Jayna enrolled as the latest heroes-in-training, Super Friends #10 details their adoption by Batman’s old associate – and eccentric time travel theoretician – Professor Carter Nichols, just before a legion of alien horrors arrive on Earth to teach the kids that appearances can be lethally deceiving in ‘The Monster Menace!’

‘Kingslayer’ then pits the heroes against criminal mastermind Overlord who has contracted the world’s greatest hitman to murder more than one hundred leaders at one sitting…

Another deep dive into DC’s past resurrected Golden Age titans T.N.T and Dan, the Dyna-Mite in ‘The Atomic Twosome!’ The 1940s mystery men had been under government wraps ever since their radioactive powers began to melt down, but when an underground catastrophe ruptures their individual lead-lined vaults, the Super Friends are called in to prevent potential nuclear nightmare…

The subterranean reason for the near tragedy is tracked to a monstrous mole creature, and leads to the introduction of eternal mystic Doctor Mist, who reveals the secret history of civilisation and begs help to halt ‘The Mindless Immortal!’, before its random burrowing shatters mankind’s cities. Bridwell built a fascinating new team concept that would come to support decades of future continuity…

Super Friends #14 opens with ‘Elementary!’; introducing four ordinary mortals forever changed when they are possessed by ancient sprits and tasked by Overlord with plundering the world. When the heroes scotch the scheme, Undine, Salamander, Sylph and Gnome retain their powers and become a crime-fighting team – The Elementals…

The issue also contains a short back-up illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger & Bob Smith. ‘The Origin of the Wondertwins’ at last reveals how the Exorian genetic throwbacks – despised outcasts on their homeworld – fled from a circus of freaks and uncovered Grax’s plot before taking that fateful voyage to Earth…

Big surprises come in ‘The Overlord Goes Under!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the Elementals begin battling evil by joining the Super Friends in crushing the crook. All the heroes are blithely unaware that they are merely clearing the way for a far more cunningly and subtle mastermind to take Overlord’s place…

‘The People Who Stole the Sky!’ in #16 is a grand, old-fashioned alien invasion yarn, foiled by the team and the increasingly adept Wonder Twins whilst ‘Trapped in Two Times!’ has Zan and Jayna used by the insidious Time Trapper (nee Time Master) to lure the adult heroes into deadly peril on planet Krypton in the days before it detonated, and future water world Neryla in the hours before it’s swallowed by its critically expanding red sun.

After rescuing the kids – thanks largely to Superman’s legendary lost love Lyla Ler-Rol – the Super Friends employ Tuatara’s chronal insight and Professor Nichol’s obscure chronal methodologies to hunt the Trapper in a riotous yet educational ‘Manhunt in Time!’ (art by Schaffenberger & Smith), by way of Atlantis before it sank, medieval Spain and Michigan in 1860CE, to thwart a triple-strength scheme to derail history and end Earth civilisation…

SF #19 sees the return of Menagerie Man in ‘The Mystery of the Missing Monkey!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the animal exploiter appropriates Gleek: intent on turning his elastic-tailed talents into a perfect pickpocketing tool, after which Denny O’Neil (writing as Sergius O’Shaugnessy) teams with Schaffenberger & Smith for a more jocular turn.

Chaos and comedy ensue when the team tackles vegetable monsters unleashed when self-obsessed shlock-movie director Frownin’ Fritz Frazzle uses Merlin’s actually magical Magic Lantern to make a “masterpiece” on the cheap in ‘Revenge of the Leafy Monsters!’…

Bridwell & Fradon return in #21 where ‘Battle Against the Super Fiends!’ has the heroes travelling to Exor to combat super-criminals who can duplicate their power-sets, after which ‘It’s Never Too Late!’ (#22, O’Shaugnessy, Fradon & Smith) reveals how time bandit Chronos subjects the Super Friends to a chronal-delay treatment rendering them perennially too late to stop him – until Batman and the Wonder Twins out-think him…

The Mirror Master divides and banishes teachers from students in #23 but is ultimately unable to prevent an ‘SOS from Nowhere!’ (Bridwell, Fradon & Smith) to the Flash. This episode also spends time fleshing out the Wonder Twins’ earthly secret identities as Gotham Central highschoolers John and Joanna Fleming…

With” O’Shaugnessy” scripting, ‘Past, Present and Danger!’ sees Zan and Jayna’s faces found engraved on a recently-unearthed Egyptian pyramid. Upon investigation inside the edifice, the heroes awaken two ancient exiles who resemble the kids, but who are in truth criminals who fled Exorian justice thousands of years previously. How lucky, then, that the kids are perfect doubles that the villains can send back with the robot cops surrounding the pyramid… once they’ve got rid of the Earthling heroes…

Enjoying promotion through treachery, the habitually harassed “Underling” has seized power at last in Bridwell’s ‘Puppets of the Overlord’, and uses forbidden technology to mind-control the adult and junior heroes. Happily, international champions Green Fury (later Fire), Wonder Woman’s sister Nubia, Tasmanian Devil and Seraph can join Green Lantern and Queen Mera of Atlantis in delivering a liberating solution, after which this splendid selection of super thrills pauses with #26 as Bridwell, Fradon & Smith bring back some old friends and enemies for ‘The Wondertwins’ Battle of Wits!’ as a scheming former Bat-foe enacts an infallibly murderous plot…

Rounding out the frenetic fun is a features section that includes the Alex Toth cover from Limited Collectors’ Edition #C-41,and new material from sequel C-46: a comic strip collaboration with Bridwell on introductory tale ‘Super Friends’ which was a star-studded framing sequence for a big reprint issue of Justice League classics.

The wonders are further augmented by Toth’s comprehensive pictorial essay on creating ‘TV Cartoons’ (with contributions from Bob Foster), plus his ‘The JLA on TV’ model sheets, and designs of The Hall of Justice’ by Terry Austin. Toth was the lead designer on the characters’ transition to TV animation.

The extras go on with mini-comic Aquateers Meet the Super Friends – a 1979 promotional giveaway included with every purchase of Super Friends Swim Goggles. An uncredited framing sequence (which looks like a Continuity Associates project that Dick Giordano & Frank McLoughlin had a hand in) segues into ‘The Greatest Show on Water’ – an Aquaman short originally published in Adventure Comics #219, December 1955.

That’s followed by ‘ “Super Fans Letters” Letters Pages’ from Super Friends #1-3, offering potted histories of DC heroes and villains, ‘The Super Friends Subscription’ house ad from #26 and Alex Ross’ painted cover from 2001 book Super Friends!

With covers by Fradon, Smith, Schaffenberger, Colletta, Ernie Chan and more, this initial compendium is superbly entertaining, masterfully crafted and utterly engaging. It offers stories of pure comics gold to delight children and adults in equal proportion. Truly generational in appeal, they are probably the closest thing to an American answer to the magic of Tintin or Asterix and no family home should be without this tome.
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 2001, 2020 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Barnaby volume 3 


By Crockett Johnson with Ted Ferro & Jack Morley (Fantagraphics Books) 
ISBN: 978-1-60699-823-6 (HB/Digital editions) 

This is one of those rare books worthy of two reviews. So, if you’re in a hurry… 

Buy Barnaby volume 3 – and all the rest – right now. It’s one of the five best newspaper comic strips of all time and this lavish hardcover/digital compilation has lots of fascinating extras. If you harbour any yearnings for the lost joys of childish wonder and the suspicious glee in catching out adults trying to pull a fast one, you would be crazy to miss this book… 

However, if you’re still here and need a little more time to decide… 

The once-huge range and breadth of newspaper strips – continuity drama, adventure strips or informational/sports inspired – has all but faded away as the 21st century proceeds. Cartoon strips aren’t a dying art form though: merely moved on to less valuable property in cyber-space. Check out the magnificent and resurgent return of Berke Breathed’s Bloom County – as released whenever he wants on Facebook…  

Back in the tangible world of typesetting, if a paper actually still runs any strips – as opposed to editorial cartoons – chances are they will be of the episodic variety typified by reprints of Charles Shultz’s Peanuts or the latest hot movie/media spin-off rather than series like Doonesbury or Prince Valiant which demand a little conspicuous consistency and regular attendance from the readership.  

You can describe the most popular strips such as Garfield or Hagar the Horrible as single-idea pieces with a set-up, delivery and punch-line, all rendered in a sparse, pared-down-to-basics drawing style. In that they’re nothing new and there’s nothing wrong any of that ilk on their own terms. 

Narrative impetus comes from the unchanging characters themselves, and a building of gag-upon-gag in extended themes. The advantage to the newspaper was always obvious. If you like a strip it encourages you to buy the paper. If you miss a day or two, you can return fresh at any time having, in real terms, missed nothing. 

Such was not always the case. Once upon a time the daily “funny” – comedic or otherwise – was a crucial circulation preserver and builder, with lush, lavish and magnificently rendered fantasies or romances rubbing shoulders with thrilling, moody masterpieces of crime, war, sci-fi and everyday melodrama, and the always-unmissable delights of legion of humour strips which maintained and sustained an avid, devoted following. 

And eventually came Barnaby, which in many ways bridged the gap between then and now. 

On April 20th 1942, with America at war for the second time in 25 years, liberal New York tabloid PM began running a kids’ strip which was simultaneously the most whimsically addicting, socially seditious and ferociously smart satire since Al Capp’s Li’l Abner – another utter innocent left to the mercy of scurrilous worldly influences. 

Crockett Johnson’s outlandish 4-panel daily was the product of a perfectionist who didn’t particularly care for comics, but who – according to celebrated strip historian Ron Goulart – just wanted steady employment… 

David Johnson Leisk (October 20th 1906-July 11th 1975) was an ardent socialist, passionate anti-fascist, gifted artisan and brilliant designer who had spent much of his working life as a commercial artist, Editor and Art Director. Born in New York City and raised in the outer wilds of Queens when it was still semi-rural (in Flushing Meadows near the slag heaps which would eventually house two New York World’s Fairs), “Dave” studied art at Cooper Union (for the Advancement of Science and Art) and New York University before leaving early to support his widowed mother.  

This entailed embarking upon a hand-to-mouth career drawing and constructing department-store advertising. He supplemented his income with occasional cartoons to magazines like Collier’s before becoming an Art Editor for magazine publisher McGraw-Hill. He also started a moderately successful, “silent” strip called The Little Man with the Eyes. 

Johnson divorced his first wife in 1939 and moved out of the city to Connecticut, to share an ocean-side home with student (and eventual bride) Ruth Krauss. Ceaselessly looking to create that steady something, almost by accident he devised a masterpiece of comics narrative… 

However, if friend Charles Martin hadn’t seen a prototype Barnaby half-page lying around the house, it might never have existed. Thankfully, Martin hijacked the sample, parlaying it into a regular feature in prestigious highbrow leftist PM simply by showing the scrap to the paper’s Comics Editor Hannah Baker. Among her other notable finds was a strip by Theodor (“Dr.”) Seuss Geisel which would run contiguously in the same periodical. Despite Johnson’s initial reticence, within a year Barnaby was the new darling of the intelligentsia… 

Soon came book collections, talk of a Radio show (in 1946 it was adapted as a stage play), a quarterly magazine and rave reviews in Time, Newsweek and Life. A small but rabid fan-base ranged from politicians and smart set paragons like President and First Lady Roosevelt, Vice-President Henry Wallace, Rockwell Kent, William Rose Benet and Lois Untermeyer to ultra-cool celebrities such as Duke Ellington, Dorothy Parker, W. C. Fields and legendary New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Of course, the last two might only have checking the paper because the undisputed, unsavoury star of the strip was a scurrilous if fanciful amalgam of them both… 

Not since George Herriman’s Krazy Kat had popular culture so infiltrated the halls of the mighty, whilst largely passing way over the heads of the masses or without troubling the Funnies sections of mass-circulation papers. Over its 10-year run (April 1942 to February 1952), Barnaby was only syndicated to 64 papers nationally – a combined circulation of just over five and a half million – but it kept Crockett (a childhood nickname) and Ruth in relative comfort whilst America’s Great & Good constantly agitated on the kid’s behalf. 

What more do you need to know?  

One dark night, during an air raid drill, a little boy wished for a Fairy Godmother and something strange and disreputable fell in through his window… 

Barnaby Baxter is a smart, ingenuous and scrupulously honest pre-schooler and his ardent wish was to be an Air Raid Warden like his dad. Instead he was “adopted” by a short, portly, pompous, distinctly unsavoury and wholly discreditable windbag with pink pixie wings. 

Installing himself as the lad’s “Fairy Godfather”, Jackeen J. O’Malley was a card carrying-member of the Elves, Gnomes, Leprechauns and Little Men’s Chowder and Marching Society – although he hadn’t paid dues in years. A lazier, more self-aggrandizing, mooching old glutton and probable soak could not be found anywhere. To be fair, although he certainly frequented taverns, he only ever raided the Baxter’s icebox, pantry and humidor, never their drinks cabinet…  

Due more to intransigence than evidence – there’s always plenty of physical proof, debris and fallout whenever O’Malley has been around – Barnaby’s parents adamantly refuse to believe in an ungainly, insalubrious sprite, whose continued presence hopelessly complicates the sweet boy’s life. Their abiding fear is that Barnaby was cursed with Too Much Imagination… 

In earlier episodes, O’Malley became implausibly – and almost overnight – an unseen and reclusive public Man of the Hour, preposterously translating that dubious cachet into a political career by accidentally becoming a patsy for a corrupt political machine. In even more unlikely circumstances O’Malley was elected to Congress… 

This strand gave staunchly socialist cynic Johnson ample opportunity to lampoon the electoral system, pundits and public. As usual, Barnaby’s folks perpetually overruled their boy: assertively assuring him the O’Malley grown-ups had elected was not a little man with pink wings… 

Despite looking like a fraud – he’s almost never seen using his magic and always has one of Dad’s stolen panatela cigars as a substitute wand – J. J. O’Malley is the real deal: he’s just incredibly lazy, greedy, arrogant and inept. He does – sort of – grant Barnaby’s wishes… but never in ways that might be anticipated… 

Once O’Malley got his foot in the door – or through the bedroom window – a succession of bizarre characters also turned up to baffle and bewilder poor Barnaby and Jane Shultz, the sensible little girl next door who was also privileged to perceive the pompous pixie.  

Even Barnaby’s new dog Gorgon was an oddity. The pooch could talk – but never when adults were around, and only with such staggering dullness that everyone listening wished him as mute as other mutts. More mythical oddballs and irregulars included timid ghost Gus; Atlas the Giant (a 2-foot tall, pint-sized colossus unimpressive until he got out his slide-rule to demonstrate that he was, in fact, a Mental Giant); Gridley the Salamander (a “Fire Pixey” who couldn’t raise a spark even if supplied with matches and gasoline); water hating sea god Davey Jones and puny Puritan pixie Cousin Myles O’Malley.  

The greatest of these wry creations was Launcelot McSnoyd: invisible Leprechaun and O’Malley’s personal gadfly, persistently proffering harsh, ribald counterpoints and home truths to the Godfather’s self-laudatory pronouncements… 

Johnson continually expanded his bizarre cast of gremlins, ogres, ghosts, policemen, bankers, crooks, financiers and stranger personages – all of whom could see O’Malley – while the unyieldingly faithful lad’s parents were always too busy and obdurately certain the Fairy and all his ilk were unhealthy, unwanted, juvenile fabrications. 

The officious elf’s schemes grew evermore fanciful. He was a boxing impresario, attempted to have constructed two utterly unnecessary hydroelectric dams, wrote the definitive text on Pixie Anthropology and usurped running the factory managed by Barnaby’s father. After that O’Malley campaigned in the then-ongoing Presidential Election, tried crime-busting and even took a turn as a most improbable Wall Street wizard and publishing mogul.  

This third tipsy-turvy treasury opens with hearty appreciation from award-winning cartoonist Jeff Smith in the Foreword before Nathalie op de Beeck’s ‘Notes on a Haunted Childhood’ details the relationship of the author to his signature character, after which the whimsical wonderment resumes with the strips spanning January 1st 1946 to December 31st 1947. The serialised silliness opens with a delicious and delirious assault on the growing phenomenon of radio quiz shows as ‘Our Next Contestant, Mr. O’Malley’ (January 2nd -February 2nd). Seeking finance for making his prospective movie masterpiece the overconfident oaf inveigles his way onto the “Detect and Collect Show” but things don’t go quite his way… 

His overall scheme remains becoming ‘J. Darryl O’Malley, Movie Mogul’ (February 4th – March 16th) but when a suitable text for his magnum opus cannot be found he opts to pen his own bestselling book first. However, since he’s such a busy magnate, he eventually gets Gus to ghost-write for him while he secures stars. A simple phone call to Hollywood creates a storm of chaos in the glitzy land where Dreams Come True, scripts are judged by weight and page count and a confidant lie is the ultimate weapon… 

As sparks fly in Hollywood, the elf has already moved on. Taking umbrage at the senior Baxter’s perpetual rubbishing of his very existence ‘Professor O’Malley’ (March 16th – April 4th) seeks to prove his bona fides through atomic age Science and arranges a lecture on mythological folk, inviting Gridley, McSnoyd, Atlas, Gus and more. Tragically, a mix-up in scheduling venues soon scuppers the plan… 

As a result of the confusion, the Baxter and Schultz pantries and iceboxes took particularly significant hits and the astounded, anxious parents call in the police to track down ‘The Refrigerator Bandit’ (April 5th – May 11th). Filled with civic outrage, O’Malley joins the hunt, even organising a unique posse of his comrades, but somehow that only leads to greater atrocities on already abused larders… and now extends to cigar humidors…  

Midsummer madness is sparked when Mr. Baxter is cajoled into joining the office baseball team and the ever-helpful Fairy Godfather decides to offer the benefits of his vast coaching experience in ‘O’Malley at the Bat’ (May 13th – June 22nd). Although dad is unaware, the pixey and his team are in there, pitching for him… 

When Gorgon begins feeling enclosed and claustrophobic, hungry for a place of his own, the sensible suggestion of a dog house rapidly escalates into another major human headache and the absolutely unnecessary solution of ‘The J. J. O’Malley Housing Project’ (June 24th – August 24th). At a time when America faced an accommodation crisis, the Pixie’s posturing and proposal of “the Baxter Plan” soon triggers a land rush and city scandal with a totally bewildered Pa Baxter suddenly seconded to the City School Board. What a surprise then, when the always unseen winged wonder decides to open ‘The O’Malley School’ (August 26th – November 2nd) and radically reform the way teaching works… 

If you’re of an historical mien, during this strip, Johnson’s assistants Ted Ferro and Jack Morley began signing strips even as the teaching tale migrated into a canny poke at progressive methodology and bean-counting civic administrators seeking to save cash and instigate cut-rate education… 

Trend-based commerce and rampant consumerism fell under the satirical spotlight next as, in the last days of post-war shortages and rationing, Mr. Baxter applied for a new car. His chances seem slim but O’Malley has a plan – involving raffle tickets – and soon ‘The New Packomobile’ (November 4th – December 14th) arrives, albeit as the result of skulduggery, subterfuge and venal opportunism on the part of an automobile manufacturer. Of course, it doesn’t actually reach the perplexed parent the way any human intended…  

With Christmas bearing down on everyone, a discussion of seasonal demands on limited finances neatly segues – via a chemistry set gift – into an exploration of ‘The Atomic Age’ (December 16th 1946 – March 1st 1947). It’s triggered  by the Pixie noticing a marked lack of that most modern element Uranium in the toy box. His subsequent search almost creates as much carnage and catastrophe as an actual thermonuclear detonation, particularly after he finds a mallet perfect for splitting atoms…. 

Th mayhem magnifies when – despite all the Fairy Godfather’s efforts to avoid him – his disreputable reprobate “black sheep” brother ‘Orville O’Malley’ (March 3rd – May 24th) hits town and pays a visit. He seems very interested in stock market investments and the family finances… 

‘Top Dog’ (May 26th – June 28th) then focusses on Gorgon’s aspirations as the mouthy mutt refuses to enter a local kids’ pet show after which the absentee O’Malley returns just in time for the Baxter’s annual seaside excursion, and a brush with nervous teen lovers Bob and Angelica who need the assistance of an unseen coach to confirm their passion. Happily there’s ‘The Mysterious Troubadour’ (June 30th – August 23rd) and his bizarre backing band of spooks, fairies and kibitzers. Romantic melodies carry, however, and soon the Godfather is engaged himself…   

On the group’s return the chastened, still single sprite delves into domesticity, remodelling the Baxter abode and descending inevitably to the disaster via ‘Mr. O’Malley’s Book of Household Management’ (August 25th – September 13th) before being drawn back onto the world stage as humans pollute the sacred dell that is the nation home of all the assorted creatures of fancy and provoking a declaration of war against mankind… 

Lacking a sense of reason or proportion the inexorable march to conflict is exacerbated by the little Peoples’ quest for ‘Sylvania’s Secret Weapon’ (September 15th – December 23rd) as the year closes, storm clouds gather and talks cease. It’s a cliffhanging pause to ponder as ‘Sylvania Vs The United Nations’ (December 24th – 31st) barely begins before the comics time runs out. Don’t fret though: everything will continue and conclude in the next book…  

More elucidatory content follows in education scholar and Professor of English Philip Nel’s fact-filled, scene-setting, picture-packed Afterword essay ‘Escape Artist?’ which explores how and why Johnson turned the feature over to Ferro and Morley whilst deconstructing the series included is Coulton Waugh’s contemporary treatise ‘In Every Sense a Major Creation’ excerpted from The Comics (1947) before Nel returns with strip commentary, context and background in ‘The Elves, Leprechauns, Gnomes, and Little Men’s Chowder & Marching Society: a Handy Pocket Guide’… 

Intellectually raucous, riotous, sublimely surreal and adorably absurd, the razor-sharp whimsy of the strip is instantly captivating, and the laconic charm of its writing is irresistible, but the lasting legacy of this ground-breaking strip is the sparse line-work that reduces images to near-technical drawings, unwavering line-weights and solid swathes of black that define space and depth by practically eliminating it, without ever obscuring the fluid warmth and humanity of the characters. Almost every modern strip cartoon follows the principles laid down here by a man who purportedly disliked the medium… 

The major difference between then and now should also be noted, however. Johnson despised doing shoddy work, or short-changing his audience. His strips – always self-contained – built on the previous episode without needing to re-reference it, and contained three to four times as much text as its contemporaries. It’s a sign of the author’s ability that the extra wordage was never unnecessary, and uniquely readable, blending storybook clarity, the snappy pace of “Screwball” comedy films and the contemporary rhythms and idiom of authors like Damon Runyan or Dashiel Hammett. 

Johnson managed this miracle by type-setting the dialogue and pasting up the strips himself – primarily in Futura Medium Italic but with effective forays into other fonts for dramatic or comedic effect. No educational vigilante could claim Barnaby harmed children’s reading abilities by confusing the tykes with non-standard letter-forms (a charge levelled at comics as late as the turn of this century), and the device also allowed him to maintain an easy, elegant, effective balance of black and white rendering the deliciously diagrammatic art light, airy, fresh and accessible. 

During 1946-1947, Johnson surrendered the strip to pursue a career illustrating children’s book such as Constance J. Foster’s This Rich World: The Story of Money, but eventually he returned, crafting more magic before permanently retiring Barnaby in 1952 to concentrate on his books. When Ruth graduated she became a successful children’s writer and they collaborated on four tomes, The Carrot Seed (1945), How to Make an Earthquake, Is This You? and The Happy Egg.  

These days Johnson is best known for his seven Harold books which began in 1955 with Harold and the Purple Crayon. 

During a global conflagration and the ideological Cold War that followed, with heroes and villains aplenty, where no comic page could top the daily headlines for thrills, drama and heartbreak, Barnaby was an absolute panacea to the horrors without ever ignoring or escaping them. The entire glorious confection that is Barnaby is all about our relationship with imagination. This is not a strip about childhood fantasy. The theme here, beloved by both parents and children alike, is that grown-ups don’t listen to kids enough, and that they certainly don’t know everything. 

For far too long Barnaby was a lost masterpiece. It is influential, ground-breaking and a shining classic of the form. You are all the poorer for not knowing it, and should move mountains to change that situation. I’m not kidding. 

Liberally illustrated throughout with sketches, roughs, photos and advertising materials as well as Credits, Thank Yous and more, this big hardback book of joy is a welcome addition to 21st century bookshelves – most especially yours… 
Barnaby volume 3 and all Barnaby images © 2016 the Estate of Ruth Krauss. The Foreword is © 2016 Jeff Smith. “Notes on a Haunted Childhood” © 2016 Nathalie op de Beeck. The Afterword and Handy Pocket Guide are © 2016 Philip Nel

Cedric volume 7: Isn’t It Past Your Bedtime?


By Laudec & Cauvin; colours by Leonardo, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-025-8 (PB Album/Digital edition)

Raoul Cauvin is one of Europe’s most successful comics scripters. Born in Antoing, Belgium in 1938, by 1960 he was working in the animation department of publishing giant Dupuis after studying Lithography. Happily, he quickly discovered his true calling was writing funny stories and began a glittering, prolific career at Le Journal de Spirou.

With Salvérius, he conceived the astounding successful Bluecoats, and dozens more award-winning series like Sammy, Cupidon, Les Femmes en Blanc, Pauvre, Lampil Boulouloum et Guiliguili, and Agent 212: cumulatively comprising well over 240 separate albums.

His collaborator on superbly witty kid-friendly family strip Cédric is Italian born, Belgium-raised Tony de Luca, who studied electro-mechanics and toiled as an industrial draughtsman before making his own break into bandes dessinée. Following some fanzine efforts in the late 1970s as “Laudec”, he landed soap-style strip Les Contes de Curé-la-Fl’ûte at Le Journal de Spirou in 1979. He traded that for a brace of war-time serials (L’an 40 in 1983 and Marché Noir et Bottes à Clous in 1985) whilst working his way around the comic’s other strips. In 1987, he joined Cauvin on the first Cédric shorts. From then on all was child’s play…

We have Dennis the Menace (the Americans have their own too, but he’s not the same) whilst the French-speaking world has Cédric: an adorable, lovesick rapscallion with a heart of gold and an irresistible penchant for mischief. He’s also afflicted with raging amour…

Collected albums – 34 so far – of variable-length strips ranging from a ½ page to half a dozen began appearing in 1989, and remain amongst the most popular and best-selling in Europe, as is the animated TV show spun off from the strip.

…A little Word to the Wise: this is not a strip afraid to suspend silly yoks in deference to a little suspense or even near-heartbreak. The bonny boy is crushingly smitten with Chen: a Chinese girl newly arrived in class and so very far out of his league, leading to frequent and painful confrontations and miscommunications. That gradually starts changing here…

Whilst the advice given by his lonely, widowed grandpa is seldom of any practical use, it often picks open scabs from the elder’s long, happy but now concluded marriage. These moments can reduce normal humans to tears…

This seventh Cinebook translation debuted in Europe in 1995 as Cédric – Parasite sur canapé and opens with a typically chaotic school event as ‘Look at the Birdie’ details why photographers hate kids and school photo day, after which Grandpa is shamed into a new coat by a brief park encounter in ‘Worn Out’…

When the old duffer comes down with a virus the well-meaning kid borrows a neighbour’s baby thermometer and makes the mistake of telling his ailing ancestor how it was most recently used in ‘Sick from Top to Bottom’, after which Cedric confronts the true emotional cost of donating old toys to charity in ‘The Christmas Present’.

‘Shocking’ takes a dive into drama as Cedric witnesses a car accident up close, but his parents can’t conceive of why the school psychologist can’t see him…

Body issues surprisingly arise when the kid the accidentally glimpses Grandpa in the bath and inadvertently shakes the elder’s formerly robust self-image in ‘A Critical Eye’ and ‘Blurp!’ reveals a close – and illicit – encounter with Asian cuisine resulting in an unforeseen gastric event before a romantic turning point arrives when Cedric and Chen eavesdrop on the adults recapturing their own youthful days in ‘Shall We Dance?’

Following a classmate’s funeral, the boy’s ‘Low Spirits…’ prompt an uplifting pep talk from dad that has the reverse effect upon the old guy (theoretically) nearest the grave, and a common nightmare comes true, sparking a near riot at school when Cedric becomes ‘Prisoner of the Toilet’…

A bone of domestic contention devolves into four-way chaos over what to watch on TV, with Grandpa eventually triumphing through guile and long-experience in ‘Whatever it Takes…’ after which birthday girl Chen proves a little less than perfect when her ‘Pastry Failure…’ incapacitates her devout admirer…

‘Grandpa Gets Some Air’, in which the old fossil responds to the gift of a free flight in a two-man plane with his typical cunning, and cowardice is followed by ‘Payment in Kind’ wherein the hapless lad dutifully tries fundraising by selling school raffle tickets but is instead introduced the concept of “barter”…

Cedric’s mediocre sporting achievements are again exposed in cross-country lark ‘Where Are the Others?’ and ‘Reluctant Volunteer’ shows why so many kids hate clowns – as well as a uniquely Cedric response to circus acts – before this show closes with the last bow of a veteran cast member. ‘Recline? Decline!’ sees Grandpa finally part with his beloved Him-shaped armchair. Typically, the high design replacement is not what anybody wants or is comfortable with…

Sharp, rapid-paced, warmly witty yet unafraid to explore life’s harshest moments, the exploits of this painfully keen, beguilingly besotted rapscallion are a charming example of how all little boys are just the same and infinitely unique. Cedric is a picture-perfect family portrait ideal for youngsters of every vintage…
© Dupuis 1995 by Cauvin & Laudec. All rights reserved. English translation © 2021 Cinebook Ltd.

Yakari and Nanabozho


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominque and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1849181778 (Album PB/Digital edition)

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who began writing stories for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre who had begun his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Spirou. Together they created the well-received Adventures of the Owl Pythagore and two years later struck pure gold with their next collaboration.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari delightfully detailed the life of a young Sioux boy on the Great Plains; sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores and before the coming of the modern White Man.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy, the beguiling saga celebrates a bucolic existence in tune with nature and free from strife, punctuated with the odd crisis generally resolved without fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, compassionate, brave… and can converse with all animals…

As “Derib”, de Ribaupierre – equally excellent in both enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style and a devastatingly compelling realistic action illustration form – became one of the Continent’s most prolific, celebrated and beloved creators through such groundbreaking strips as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic on AIDS ever published), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne).

Over decades, many of his masterworks feature beloved Western themes, magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes, with Yakari regarded by most fans and critics to be the feature which catapulted him to deserved mega-stardom.

First serialised in 1978, Yakari et Nanabozho was the fourth European album – released just as the strip transferred to prestigious Le Journal de Tintin – but was only translated by Cinebook in 2013, making it officially the 11th English-language album. That’s not going to be a problem for chronology or continuity addicts, since – as ever – the tale is both stunningly simple and effectively timeless…

It all begins one bright sunny day as the little wonder wanders out to the Rock of the Bear to meet his friend Rainbow. On arrival there’s no sign of her but he does meet a gigantic and extremely voluble desert hare claiming to be Trickster Spirit Nanabozho – a statement proven by making some astounding adjustments to the dubious little lad’s height.

The Great Rabbit claims to be Rainbow’s totem animal, much like Great Eagle watches over and protects Yakari, and the loopy lepine wants the boy to accompany him on a quest. Ever since a travelling tale-teller arrived in camp, sharing shocking stories of the far north, where it’s so cold the bears are snowy white, headstrong Rainbow has wanted to see the amazing creatures for herself. Eager to please his protégé, the Brobdingnagian bunny agrees to help her, even supplying magic walking moccasins to reduce the hardships of the journey. Unfortunately the impatient, excited child wouldn’t wait for the Trickster and Yakari to join her and has put them on unsupervised. Unable to resist the enchanted slippers, Rainbow has started her trek, not knowing where she’s going or how to stop…

Now with boy and bunny transforming into giants and tiny mites as circumstances demand, they hare off after their impetuous friend, following the path of a magic talisman dubbed ‘the Straight Arrow’ and assisted by such beneficial creatures as a night moose.

…And when they at last find Rainbow, the travellers decide that as they’ve come so far, they might as well complete the journey to the Land of the White Bears, aided by a fabulous flying canoe…

Always visually spectacular, seductively smart and happily heart-warming, Job’s sparse plot here affords Derib unmissable opportunities to go wild with the illustrations; creating a lush, lavish and eye-popping fantasy wonderland breathtaking to behold.

This is Really Big Sky storytelling with a delicious twist in its colossal fluffy tail…

The exploits of the valiant little voyager who speaks to animals and enjoys a unique place in an exotic world is a decades-long celebration of joyously gentle, marvellously moving and enticingly entertaining adventure, honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially humour. These gentle sagas are true landmarks of comics literature and Yakari is a strip no fan of graphic entertainment should ignore.
Original edition © 1978 Le Lombard/Dargaud by Derib & Job. English translation 2013 © Cinebook Ltd.

Cedric volume 2: Dad’s Got Class


By Laudec & Cauvin with colours by Leonardo and translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-003-0 (Album PB & Digital edition)

Time for another rumination on romance, and this one has both kinds that afflict Young Boys of an Impressionable Age: older women and the unattainable classmate…

At least our continental cousins have discovered the secret of finding the funny side of the horrors of young love…

Raoul Cauvin was one of Europe’s most successful comics scripters. Born in Antoing, Belgium in 1938, he joined publishing giant Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 after studying Lithography. Happily, he soon discovered his true calling – comedy writing – and began a glittering, prolific career at Le Journal de Spirou where he devised (with Salvérius) the astoundingly successful Bluecoats amongst dozens of other long-running, award winning series. Those included Sammy, Les Femmes en Blanc, Boulouloum et Guiliguili, Cupidon, Pauvre Lampil and Agent 212: cumulatively shifting more than 240 separate albums topping 45 million books in total thus far. Bluecoats alone has sold in excess of 15 million copies thus far.

We lost him to cancer on 19th August 2021.

His collaborator on sharp, witty yet kid-friendly family strip Cédric is Italian born, Belgium-raised Tony de Luca who studied electro-mechanics and toiled as an industrial draughtsman until he could make his break into comics.

Following a few fanzine efforts in the late 1970s, Laudec landed soap-style series Les Contes de Curé-la-Fl’ûte at Spirou in 1979. He built it into a brace of extended war-time serials (L’an 40 in 1983 and Marché Noir et Bottes à Clous in 1985) whilst working his way around many of the title’s other strips. In 1987 Laudec united with Cauvin on the first Cédric shorts and the rest is history… and science and geography and PE and…

We have Dennis the Menace (the Americans have one too but he’s just not the same) and the French-speaking world has Cédric: an adorable lovesick rapscallion with a heart of gold and an irresistible streak of mischief dogging his heels. Collected albums of the variable-length strips – ranging from a ½ page to half a dozen – began appearing in 1989 (with 34 released so far) and are always amongst the most popular and best-selling on the Continent, as is the animated TV show spun off from the strip.

This second Cinebook translation – from 2009 and originally continentally released as Cédric 4: Papa a de la classe – hauls straight in to the love action as the little lout is invited to a party at the palatial home of posh-boy and romantic rival The Right Honourable Alphonse Andre Jones-Tarrington-Dupree…

Previously, overly-imaginative Cedric had been utterly enamoured of his teacher Miss Nelly, but once new girl Chenjoined the class his life changed forever. Chen is different: her skin isn’t the same colour as everyone else’s and she talks really funny. He just can’t stop thinking about her…

All’s fair in love and war as ‘Milady and the Geisha’ finds Dupree tricking Cedric into wearing the most embarrassing fancy dress costume imaginable, only to see his devilish scheme badly backfire, after which ‘There are Flakes, and then there are Flakes…’ reveals how not everything falling from the sky is snow, before ‘Cats, Cats, Cats…’ sees Cedric and best pal Christian try to extort extra New Year’s gifts from feline fancier Aunt Jean only to fall at the first hurdle…

A young man’s initial encounter with grooming products and cologne is always a heady experience and ‘The A-Scent of Man’ shows the result of Cedric’s lack of impulse control, whilst grown-ups take centre stage in ‘A Story That’ll Make Your Hair Stand Up Straight’ as Grandpa starts dangerously criticising his useless son-in-law’s visit to a tonsorial stylist, after which ‘To Each His Own’ renews the simmering war after each tries – and fails – to hang a picture on the living room wall…

When Chen falls ill, Cedric goes to extreme efforts to be with and be like her in ‘Love, Love, Love’ before ‘Tails of All Sorts’ finds Cedric and Grandpa checking out each other’s romantic fascinations…

Kicking and screaming, Cedric is forced into the local Cub Scout group, and even after yomping all over the countryside in ‘Valderee, Valderah’ uses every opportunity to sabotage the experience. Just as he’s being kicked out, however, the Girl Guides march past with little Chen happily with them in line.

When she becomes obsessed with her headphones, Cedric decides to record a message for his darling Chen, but his delivery is no match for his heartfelt enthusiasm in ‘Message Not Received’ and – after Mum and Dad have one of those blazing row over nothing – Grandpa has to explain a few painful facts of life about ‘The Big Scene’ to the appalled kid…

‘Hair Apparent’ deals with the 8-year-old’s first attempt at shaving whilst ‘A Tough Choice’ finds the cash-strapped kid having to choose between a present for Mum or Chen, before the episodic antics end on a slapstick high note with another Cubs camping trip disrupted when ‘A Man Misses His Calling’ finds Cedric seemingly lost in the woods…

Rapid-paced, warm and witty, the exploits of this painfully keen, adorably amorous scallywag are a superbly charming example of how all little boys are just the same and infinitely unique. Cedric is a splendid family-oriented strip perfect for enticing youngsters and old folk alike – but should not to be considered a “How-To” manual for romance…
© Dupuis 1991 by Cauvin & Laudec. All rights reserved. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

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…
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