Shaft Volume 2: Imitation of Life

By David F. Walker, Dietrich Smith & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-52410-260-9 (TPB)

For most of modern history black consumers of popular entertainments have enjoyed far too few fictive role models. In the English-speaking world that began changing in the turbulent 1960s and truly took hold during the decade that followed. A lot of the characters stemming from those days come from a cultural phenomenon called Blaxploitation. Although criticised for its seedy antecedents, stereotypical situations and violence, the films, books, music and art were the first mass-market examples of minority characters in leading roles, rather than as fodder, flunkies or flamboyant villains.

One of the earliest movie icons of the genre was the man called Shaft. His filmic debut in 1971 was scripted by journalist and screenwriter Ernest Tidyman (The French Connection; High Plains Drifter; A Force of One) who adapted his own 1970 novel. Tidyman authored six more between 1972 and 1975, with his timeless urban warrior simultaneously starring in numerous films and a (far, far tamer) TV series. He even starred in his own retro-themed, adults-only comic book…

An eighth prose novel – Shaft’s Revenge – was released in 2016, written by David F. Walker. Amongst his many talents – you should hunt down his online culture-crunching ‘zine BadAzzMoFo: you won’t be sorry – Walker numbers writing intriguing, hard-edged comics (Occupy Avengers; Cyborg; Red Sonja, Planet of the Apes, Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes and many more), so in 2014 it was probably inevitable that he be invited to write that long-overdue comics iteration…

Blockbusting premier miniseries Shaft: A Complicated Man – relating the lone wolf’s origins – happily led to this sequel in 2016, illustrated by Dietrich Smith and coloured by Alex Guimarães (Walker lettered the series himself), and whereas that comic book took its look, settings and tone from the novels more than the Richard Roundtree films, this one gradually refocuses and aims for a satisfactory blending of the prose and film iterations.

Originally released as a 4-issue miniseries, Imitation of Life finds the detective ‘Before and After’, regretting his life choices, successes and recent notoriety as the highly publicised rescue of an abducted girl suddenly make him a famous man…

It’s nothing he wanted: he was literally forced to take the job by a big-time mobster no one in their right mind ever refuses, and now after sorting the problem in his inimitably pitiless manner, Shaft is slowly drinking himself to death on the huge fee he also couldn’t safely turn down…

Eventually guilt and boredom compel him to get back in the game and, with no money worries, he can pick and choose from a big list of inquiries. That said, Shaft can’t explain just why he takes on the pointless problems of the Prossers; a hick couple desperate to find their son. Mike is 18; a good-looking homosexual (we say “gay” today) kid swallowed up by the sleaze-peddlers of 1970s Times Square. He’s legal and not even a real missing person, but there’s something Shaft can’t get out of his head about this particular runaway…

Convinced it’s all pointless, Big John hits the appropriate bars and clubs but no one knows anything: they never do. And then a kid named Tito recognizes him and just like that, the violence starts coming…

Surviving a homophobic attack – and teaching a few bigots the cost of intolerance – Shaft finds his case stalled just as shady wannabe filmmakers seeks to hire him to consult on their new (blaxsploitation) flick The Black Dick. It promises to be an easy gig, but they never are…

Before long Shaft is writhing in discomfort as the script ludicrously bastardises his career and reputation, but when Tito turns up and bamboozles the detective into facing off with a Mafia pornographer just as the secret moneyman behind his own filmic fiasco starts demanding an early return on his investment, it stops being a laugh and becomes deadly serious again. Once more, he remembers there’s no such thing as ‘Easy Money’

As the fictional and real worlds increasingly intersect, Vice cops contact Shaft and he sees that somehow all his irons seem to be stacked in the same fire. When the ludicrous leading man is abducted and troublemaking Tito pops up again with some very dangerous photographs from his own incessant snooping, Shaft discovers in ‘Love & Loss’ just what happened to Mike Prosser and tools up to rescue one bad actor while invading a film set where pornos and snuff films are the preferred hot product…

The strands all pull together in a typically cathartic climax as ‘All the World’s a Stage’ sees order restored, the bad guys dealt with righteously and even sets up a delicious funny ending to usher us out…

Revisiting a foetid cesspool of civic corruption, warring mobsters and get-rich-quick chancers, this tour of a mythic milieu is another wry and intoxicating crime thriller no fan of the genre should miss…
Shaft is ™ and © 2016 Ernest Tidyman. All rights reserved.

Star Trek Classics Volume 4: Beginnings

By Mike Carlin, Pablo Marcos & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-671-1 (TPB)

Many companies have published comic book adventures based on the exploits of Gene Roddenberry’s legendary brainchild, and the run from the 1980s produced under DC’s aegis were some of the finest. Never flashy or sensationalistic, the tales embraced the same storytelling values as the shows and movies, and were strongly character and plot-driven.

A fine example can be found in this epic primer by long-time writer Michael Carlin, illustrated by the underrated Pablo Marcos, which collects miniseries Star Trek: The Next Generation #1-6 from February – July 1988 and not to be confused with the monthly comic-book that followed it.

With inks by Carlos Garzon & Arne Starr, colours by Carl Gafford and letters from Bob Pinaha, the bold adventures – available in trade paperback or in digital formats you can scan on your personal PADD™ – commence with double length saga ‘…Where No One Has Gone Before!’

Here, the revamped and reimagined NCC-1701-D starship Enterprise heads into a completely unexplored sector of the galaxy. As freshly-installed and formidably prestigious Captain Jean-Luc Picard acclimatises to his new crew and mission, the ship is fired upon by beings unknown on recently discovered planet Syntagus Thelev.

That’s a bizarre mystery, considering the unseen inhabitants are currently negotiating with the Starfleet vessel and claim they know nothing about the attacks…Although the ship is in no imminent danger, the quandary Picard to despatch a top-level Away Team to find out where the barrages are coming from…

In the end, it requires the uncanny psychic abilities of Ship’s Counsellor Deanna Troi to reveal the uncanny source and motives of the astral assaults…

The second tale is a Christmas yarn wickedly spoofing a certain tale by Dr. Seuss, as ‘Spirit in the Sky!’ finds the Enterprise in festive mode, with the many cultures and families all celebrating their particular version of the Yule Season, before a flock of mysterious strangers invite themselves to the feasts. Happily, their obsessive covert hunt for a eerie energy spirit ends joyously… after a few tense moment and close encounters…

Issues #3-5 comprise an extended repeat confrontation with an apparently omnipotent moral gadfly. ‘Factor Q’ finds the crew assaulted by terrifying memories made real. Particularly targeted is Security Chief Tasha Yar who relives her appalling abusive early years as a survivor of The Colony, when an Away Mission traps her on an alien vessel, even as the almighty Q attempts to seduce Picard into a shooting war with an equally-manipulated stranger ship.

Events escalate in ‘Q’s Day’ as the increasing unstable instigator turns the screw: bringing Yar’s old abuser back to torment her, killing helmsman Geordi LaForge, terrifying the crew and rapidly descending into frustration-induced insanity, before the impossible becomes commonplace as more judgemental intruders from the Q Continuum manifest with their own imponderable agenda in concluding chapter ‘Q Affects!’

Wrapping up this initial foray into the future, ‘Here Today’ sees Enterprise ordered to investigate seeming paradise planet Faltos via concealed orders somehow hardwired into android crewman Lieutenant Data. An extragalactic Shangri-La, the weird world has – over uncounted eons – been able to pacify and integrate every hostile visitor, but when the benevolent emissaries of the Foundation beam down, they find that the miraculous haven is a unique and inescapable trap…

Or is it?

These tales originate from the earliest days of the TV series so there are a few uncertain moments and quirks of characterisation obsessive fans might quibble over, but overall these are solid adventure yarns in the tried-&-trusted Rodenberry manner that will astound and satisfy Trekkies, Trekkers, comics fans and even the Next-est Generation just coming to the franchise via the current Star Trek: Picard TV revival/revamp…
® & © 2013 CBS Studios Inc. STAR TREK and related marks and trademarks of CBS Studios Inc. © 2013 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All rights reserved.

Guide to Groot – a Sound Book

By Matthew K. Manning & Nicholas Rix (Becker & Mayer! books/Quarto)
ISBN: 978-0-7603-6217-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sheer Delight for Youngsters of Any Age… 9/10

Technically speaking, Groot is one of Marvel’s oldest characters, having debuted as a woody alien invader in Tales to Astonish #13 (cover-dated November 1960), a good year before Fantastic Four #1.

Crafted by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers, ‘I Challenged Groot! The Monster from Planet X’ revealed how a studious biologist saved humanity from a rapacious rampaging tree intent on stealing Earth cities and shipping them back to his distant world. That tale’s not in this tome, because in the intervening decades the deciduous despot cleaned up his act, pruned off the bad wood and now resides firmly on the side of the good guys…

As a beloved star of print and screen, the leafy legend has profoundly planted himself in the hearts of kids everywhere and this nifty marriage of sound and vision allows readers to enjoy a succession of cool narrative image scenarios by Nicholas Rix whilst Rocket Raccoon (in his identity of author Matthew K. Manning) clarifies the intricacies of Groot’s seemingly limited vocabulary in text. And all while Groot emotes right in your ears!

This is all achieved via a selection of 10 pushbutton activated sound files, each revealing the utterance nuances of the titanic timber-man’s 3-word vocalisations.

Following Rocket’s Introduction, the lessons commence with “I Am Groot” which of course means ‘Hello’ whereas the second spoken “I Am Groot” reveals just how the super sapling says ‘Did You Mean This?’

You get the picture – and they’re all beautifully rendered illustrations of key moments featuring Star-Lord, Gamora, Mantis, Drax, Rocket and other old favourites – as they are followed in close order by ‘I Gotcha’, ‘Nope. Not Gonna Happen’, ‘Geez. Leave Me Alone, Already’, ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘Trust Me. I Got This’, ‘I Want That!’, ‘Face My Wrath, Chumps!’ and ‘I Love You’

This is a marvellously accessible addition to any fan’s library or toybox so it’s a shame that Guide to Groot is not available in the UK yet. Still, as I’m sure you know the internet is your friend in situations like these…

I am Groot I am Groot I am Groot, I am Groot I am Groot I Am Groot I am Groot-I am Groot I am Groot I am…
© 2018 Marvel. MARVEL and all characters, names and distinct likenesses thereof ™ & © 2018 Marvel characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Walt Kelly’s Our Gang, Vol 1

By Walt Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN 978-1560977537

The movie shorts series Our Gang (latterly the Li’l Rascals) were one of the most popular in American Film history. Beginning in 1922 they featured the fun and folksy humour of a bunch of “typical kids”. Atypically though, there was always full racial equality and mingling – but the little girls were still always smarter than the boys. Romping together, they all enjoyed idealised adventures in a time both safer and more simple.

The rotating cast of characters and slapstick shenanigans were the brainchild of film genius Hal Roach who directed and worked with Harold Lloyd, Charley Chase and Laurel and Hardy amongst many others. These brief cinematic paeans to a mythic childhood entered the “household name” category of popular Americana in amazingly swift order.

As times and tastes changed Roach was forced to sell up to the celluloid butcher’s shop of MGM in 1938, and the features suffered the same interference and loss of control that marred the later careers of Stan and Ollie, the Marx Brothers and Buster Keaton.

In 1942 Dell released an Our Gang comicbook written and drawn by Walt Kelly who, consummate craftsman that he was, deftly restored the wit, verve and charm of the glory days via a progression of short comic stories which elevated lower-class American childhood to the mythic peaks of Dorothy in Oz, Huckleberry Finn or Laura Ingalls of Little House… fame.

Over the course of the first eight issues so lovingly reproduced in this glorious collection, Kelly moved beyond the films – good or otherwise – to scuplt an idyllic story-scape of games and dares, excursions, adventures, get-rich-quick schemes, battles with rival gangs and especially plucky victories over adults: mean, condescending, criminal or psychotic.

Granted great leeway, Kelly eventually settled on his own cast, but aficionados and purists can still thrill here to the classic cast of Mickey, Buckwheat, Happy/Spanky, Janet and Froggy.

Thankfully, after far too long a delay, today’s comics are once again offering material of this genre to contemporary audiences. Even so, many modern readers may be unable to appreciate the skill, narrative charm and lost innocence of this style of children’s tale. If so I genuinely pity them, because this is work with heart and soul, drawn by one of the greatest exponents of graphic narrative America has ever produced. I hope their loss is not yours.

© 2006 Fantagraphics Books. All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek Classics volume 1 – The Gorn Crisis

By Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta & Igor Kordey (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-129-7

The Star Trek franchise has had many comic book homes. This action-heavy paperback tome (also available digitally) was originally released in the early years of the 21st century by DC/WildStorm and is narratively positioned during the period when Deep Space 9 was first being broadcast on television.

The book therefore tangentially informs and contributes to a seasons-long storyline featuring an intergalactic war between the Federation and its Alpha Quadrant allies on one side and the J’em Haddar warriors of The Dominion on the other. So if you’re a bugbear, completist or unfamiliar with the mileau, you might be left feeling a little bewildered. Nevertheless if you’re of a forgiving mien this adventure is a real ripsnorter…

In case you were wondering, The Gorn were an aggressive civilisation of reptiles who appeared in an episode of the original 1960s Star Trek TV show. The story was in fact an adaptation of a classic SF short story by Fred Brown entitled “Arena”, in which Captain Kirk and his Gorn opposite number were co-opted by a super-advanced race to represent their species in a brutal duel for galactic supremacy. The loser race would be curbed to avoid horrendous, bloody and nigh-eternal space-war.

A century later mankind and its intergalactic partners are losing just such a conflict with the Dominion and desperately seeking fresh allies. Thus Captain Jean-Luc Picard has been dispatched to the embargoed Gorn solar system to renew relations and broker a military alliance, but the USS Enterprise arrives just as the reptile’s own black-crested Warrior Caste – frustrated by a century of enforced peace – stages a bloody coup and subsequently launches an all-out attack on neighbouring worlds.

These planets are now, perhaps unwisely, packed with human colonists and Federation/Klingon bases…

Beaming down just in time to be captured amidst the remains of the Administrative caste, Picard, Dr. Beverly Crusher and their Away Team are promptly captured and can only subtly influence the outcome as Commanders Will Riker and amazing android Data battle with brilliance on two very different fronts to stop the marauding Gorn war-lovers…

With no back-up available from hard-pressed Starfleet, the Next Generation stalwarts must act independently and ingeniously to quell the barbarous uprising, restore order and build that elusive alliance with the Gorn. Their efforts won’t just dictate how the humans, Federation and reptiles will co-exist in the future, but might well decide if they exist at all…

Although not to everybody’s taste, and despite an occasional certain rough hesitancy in Igor Kordey’s fully-painted artwork, this tale from Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta does rattle along in the approved Star Trek manner, and even casual readers will come away with a sense of expectation fulfilled.

Moreover, augmenting the interstellar excitement is a comprehensive fact-file on the sinister sarurians entitled ‘The Gorn Dossier’, contributed by illustrator Kordey who apparently moonlights as a “Federation Anthropologist”. Here he highlights his root and branch redesign of the alien antagonists with biology, language, symbology, livery and weaponry all updated for discerning modern readers

Fast, fierce fun for lovers of high quality Space Opera so boldly go and give it a look.
Star Trek ® & © 2011 CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Star Wars: The Marvel Covers

By Jess Harrold & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9838-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect Last-Minute Stocking-Stuffer… 9/10

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the mythology of Star Wars. What you might not know is that the first sight future fanatics got of its breathtakingly expansive continuity and the mythology-in-the-making way back in 1977 was the premier issue of the Marvel comicbook tie-in. It hit shelves two weeks before the film launched in cinemas, setting the scene for a legion of kids and beginning a mini-phenomenon which encompassed the initial movie trilogy and expanded those already vast imaginative horizons.

Marvel had an illustrious run with the franchise – nine years’ worth of comics, specials and paperback collections – before the option was left to die.

Comicbook exploits were reinstated in 1993 by Dark Horse Comics who built on the film legacy with numerous titles – and a three more movies – until Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars in 2012. Around the same time, the home of Donald & Mickey also bought Marvel Comics and before long the original magic was being rekindled…

When Marvel relaunched the enterprise, they included not just a core title but also solo books for the lead stars. Star Wars #1 debuted on January 14th 2015, with Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Poe Damaron coming soon after.

That auspicious, eagerly-anticipated event was supplemented by a crucial component of modern comics publishing: variant covers. These are alternative frontages for the same comicbook, usually by big-name artists of as part of sub-tropes of the medium such as images “homaging” earlier covers or as part of an ongoing event, commemoration or even trends such as Skottie Young’s occasional series of star characters as comedic babies…

Star Wars #1 had a staggering 70 individual variant covers. Successive issues also had a plethora of the same. What is most interesting here is how many of the name artists – and writers – were inspired by the comics they had read as kids as well as the films. Thus this gleefully exuberant hardcover art-collection, gathering those myriad covers for the new launch and interviewing the creators responsible…

Following an Introduction from Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonzo, writer Jess Harold and those writers and artists discuss their childhood memories of the phenomenon and current revival in ‘The Force is Strong with This #1’. There are reviews of the media’s reaction to the relaunch in ‘Search Your Feelings’ whilst ‘Never Tell Me the Odds’ analyses the breakdown in percentages of which character made the most appearances on the variant covers.

Then John Cassaday provides monochrome art and intimate secrets in ‘You Cannot Escape Your Destiny’ before the first tranche of covers is revealed in ‘The Force is Strong with This One’. The variants deluge includes black-&-white versions or pencils-only iterations of fully-coloured covers and both are seen side by side here.

That stunning parade includes work from Cassaday, Laura Martin, Joe Quesada, Daniel Acuña, Simone Bianchi, Mark Brooks, J. Scott Campbell, Nei Ruffino, Pascal Campion, Frank Cho, Jason Keith and John Tyler Christopher plus photo-still movie variants.

‘I Have a Bad Feeling About This…’ concentrates on John Tyler Christopher’s faux action-figure packages and is followed by a feature on comics-only creation Jaxxon (a giant green rabbit) with photo covers and more variations on the theme from Amanda Conner, Paul Mounts, Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, Muntsa Vicente, Gabriele Dell’Otto,  Mike Del Mundo, Mike Deodato Jr., Frank Martin, Dave Dorman, Pasqual Ferry, Frank D’Armata, Jenny Frison, Stephanie Hans, Adi Granov, Greg Horn, Dale Keown, Jason Keith, Justin Ponsor, Salvador Larroca, Edgar Delgado, Alex Maleev, Mike Mayhew, Rainier Beredo, Mike McKone, Bob McLeod, Mike Perkins, Andy Troy, David Petersen, Sara Pichelli, Joe Quinones, Humberto Ramos, Paul Renaud, Alex Ross, Stan Sakai, Mico Suayan and Chris Sotomayor.

The aforementioned jovial junior japes of Skottie Young are then explored and exhibited in ‘Aren’t You a Little Short for a Stormtrooper?’ before ‘Chapter Two: Star Wars #2-6’ dissects successive releases in ‘The Circle is Now Complete’ with Jordan D. White talking to writers Jason Aaron (Star Wars), Kieron Gillen (Darth Vader) and Mark Waid (Princess Leia) about their formative years and the franchise. This is augmented by covers-&-variants by Cassaday & Martin, Sergio Aragonés, Howard Chaykin & Jesus Aburtov, Tyler Christopher, Ramos & Delgado, Leinil Francis Yu, Keith, Marte Gracia, Nick Bradshaw, Giuseppe Camuncoli & Israel Gonzalez and Phil Noto.

Chapter Three: Darth Vader #1-6’ concentrates on the Sith Lord’s series with ‘Give Yourself to the Dark Side…’ supplemented by covers from Granov, Bianchi, Mark Brooks, J. Scott Campbell & Ruffino and movie stills whilst ‘Never tell Me the Odds’ features images from Cassaday & Martin, Tyler Christopher, Del Mundo, Horn, Land, Larroca & Delgado and Whilce Portacio & Sotomayor.

‘There is No Try…’ concentrates on the contributions of mega-star illustrator Alex Ross with numerous covers and an in-depth examination of his working process from posed models to pencils to finished work, before a gallery of more Vader pieces by Suayan, Sotomayor, Young, Granov, Dave Dorman, Larroca & Delgado and Noto.

‘Chapter Four: Princess Leia #1-6’ concentrates on the avenger from Alderaan as ‘There is Another…’ offers background and a wealth of original art by series illustrators Terry & Rachel Dodson. Then comes their covers plus more from Brooks, Campbell & Ruffino, Cassaday & Martin, Tyler Christopher, Amanda Conner, Dell’Otto, Granov, Jackson Guice, Horn, Land & Ponsor, Ross, Suayan, Sotomayor, Young, Maleev, Francesco Francavilla, Noto and more movie photo-covers.

Wrapping up the fabulous picture-fest is a stroll down memory lane in ‘Star Wars: The Original Marvel Years’ harking back to ‘A Long Time Ago’ with a short selection of classic covers by Rick Hoberg & Dave Cockrum, Chaykin, Carmine Infantino, Walter Simonson, Ron Frenz, Cynthia Martin, Bill Sienkiewicz and Klaus Janson, plus a range of modern tributes by Granov, Chaykin, Greg Hildebrandt, Gene Day & Delgado and Tom Palmer.

It would appear that there is an inexhaustible appetite for views of “A Galaxy Far, Far Away…” and the Star Wars franchise has spawned an awful lot of comics. This fascinating art compendium celebrates the verve, vitality and sheer impact of the printed material in a way no fan could possibly resist – especially as the latest cinematic chapter is about to unfold…
STAR WARS and related text and illustrations ™ and/or © of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © & ™ of Lucasfilm Ltd.  All rights reserved.

Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 volume 3 – The Shepherd’s Tale

By Joss Whedon, Zack Whedon, Chris Samnee & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-561-2

For those far too few people who actually saw it, Firefly remains one of the best science fiction TV shows ever created.

It was cancelled after one season. Buy the box set or seek it out from an on-demand/streaming media outlet as soon as you possibly can.

The select dejected fanbase were eventually delighted by the superb Serenity – one of the best science fiction movies ever released.

Rent it, buy it, watch it however you can.

Once you’ve done those things you’ll be properly primed to enjoy this superb and lavish full-colour hardback which offers long-awaited details into the troubled life of enigmatic preacher Book who joined reluctant freedom fighter Malcolm Reynolds and his oddball crew of reprobates aboard an independent trader starship of the Firefly class, under the most peculiar of circumstances…

If you aren’t au fait with “the ’Verse” yet – and did I mention the live action iterations are readily available and extremely entertaining? – here’s a little background.

After they used up Earth, humanity migrated to the stars and settled another star-system packed with hundreds of more or less hospitable planets and satellites. Now it’s the 26th century and mankind is living through the aftermath of a recent punishing internecine conflict known – by the victors – as the Unification War.

This still-sore and rankling clash saw the outer Colonies crushed after attempting to secede from the authoritarian Alliance of first-settled inner planets. Reynolds fought valiantly on the losing side and now spends his days eking out a living on the fringes of an increasingly repressive and dangerous universe: taking cargo and people from world to world – and hopefully avoiding the ever-expanding Alliance representatives – as a free agent skippering a small Firefly class cargo transport called Serenity.

It’s hard, risky work: often illegal and frequently dangerous – especially as the outer regions are where the insane cannibal berserker savages dubbed Reavers restlessly prowl.

Life changed forever after Serenity gave passage to Alliance doctor Simon Tam who was on the run after stealing his seemingly-psychic sister River from a top secret research project.

The Government spared no effort or expense to get her back and hounded the fugitives from pillar to post until Reynolds and his crew finally decided to push back.

At the cost of too many friends, the reluctant rebels uncovered the horrific secrets the Alliance were so desperate to keep hidden and broadcast them to the entire ’Verse …

During their TV voyages the Firefly crew was supplemented by a wise and gentle cleric of the Shepherd religion on a pilgrimage to who knew where. He offered moral guidance (mostly ignored), philosophical debate and emotional support as required, but every so often something Derrial Book said or did gave hints of lethal capabilities and a dangerous past the holy man always deftly avoided discussing…

Written by (series creator) Joss Whedon and Zack Whedon, illustrated by super-star in the making Chris Samnee (Daredevil, Thor: The Mighty Avenger, The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom) and sporting colours from Dave Stewart and letters by Steve Morris, this compelling book of revelations finally exposes the secrets and tells the life story of the show’s most intriguing character…

The episodic saga is told in flashes and snippets from end to beginning; starting with his eventual glorious passing and working backwards in dramatic instalments to the way and why it all began…

Along the road we see his turbulent time aboard Serenity, before moving into unexplored territory at placid Southdown Abbey where after much soul-searching he elected to rejoin the dangerous, tempting outer world…

From then it’s a jump back a full decade to when a drunken derelict near death received one more well-deserved beating and awoke to a moment of holy clarity in a bowl of soup…

From then a time-cut slashes back to the moment when Alliance high-flyer Officer Book personally oversaw the military’s greatest defeat and was cashiered out of the service with extreme prejudice…

Years prior to that another scene shows how far ambitious cadet Derrial would go to further his career before a further flashback reveals that the man we’ve been reading about was never Derrial Book at all, but instead a murderous sleeper agent planted within the Alliance.

And even further back we travel, learning what makes a boy into the kind of man who would endure mutilation and worse; contemplate constantly betraying everything he cares for in a dark yet redemptive tale exploring the most basic and abiding aspects of human nature…

With narrative tones reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Memento, this powerful testament to the force of personality, the bondage of upbringing and man’s infinite capacity for change is accompanied by an incisive and heartfelt Afterword – ‘The Journey is the Worthier Part…’ from scripter Zack Whedon, detailing the inspirations which fuelled many of the story’s most memorable scenes.

Poignant, compelling and explosively engaging, this is a tale no devotee should miss and a comic experience well able to stand apart from its live action roots.
Serenity © 2010 Universal Studios. Firefly™ and Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64™ and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man Worlds Unite Book 1: Deadly Fusion

By Ian Flynn, Joel Enos, Dan Schoening, Tracy Yardley, Terry Austin, Luis Antonio Delgado, Matt Herms, Ben Bates, Jack Morelli & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-62738-998-3

From the earliest days of comicbooks, the periodical pamphlets have been a cheap and effective way to augment brands and franchises: offering stopgap and interim “extra” adventures and experiences for stars like John Wayne, Roy Rogers or Alan Ladd, TV, movie and kids cartoon dynasties such as Star Trek, Tom & Jerry or Bugs Bunny and an almost infinite number of games, toys and even sugar-packed edibles.

It’s solid business sense and mutually advantageous: publishers get to sell comics, maintain space on shop shelves and cross-sell to new audiences whilst licensees get a relatively inexpensive method of keeping their properties active in at least part of the public consciousness in the long periods between blockbuster releases or off-season doldrums.

Since its 1991 release, Sega’s video game Sonic the Hedgehog has become a fully entrenched global phenomenon. Soon after the initial game release the speedy beast and his crime-busting animal associates became comicbook stars in Britain, America and all over the world.

In the USA, family friendly Archie Comics won the rights to publish an ever-expanding cast of characters beginning with a brace of miniseries in 1992 and 1993. Sonic the Hedgehog volume 3 debuted in July 1993 and has continued continuously ever since, becoming the longest-running game/toy based comicbook in American history at 283 issues and counting. With demand remaining high, the Hedgehog quickly generated a raft of spin-off titles such as Knuckles the Echidna and Sonic X to fill out a whole boutique universe of similarly-themed titles.

Decades later Capcom also picked Archie as publisher for their own complex, complicated and heavily cross-marketed video game franchise Rockman. You probably know it as Mega Man. An expanding line of comics started in April 2011 as the time-bending, dimension-hopping sci fi exploits of the plucky robot warrior and his worthy allies became another genuine funnybook phenomenon.

Last year the world – especially the corporate fantasy-scape shared by kids and game-playing adults – grew closer and overlapped when these two separate but intellectual properties clashed in a spectacular, monolithically successful team-up called Worlds Collide wherein the universes of Sonic and Mega Man were explosively thrown together, creating fresh worlds, a new kind of excitement and better villains to battle…

Nothing screams “sequel” like record-breaking sales and a legion of strident, thrill-starved fans, so that breakthrough meeting was swiftly revisited in an even more ambitious follow-up. The Worlds Unite event reunites the heroes and villains, encompassing all the disparate titles of both pantheons and will eventually fill three graphic novel compilations.

Deadly Fusions – gathering material from Sonic Universe #76, Sonic Boom #8, Sonic the Hedgehog #273, Mega Man #50, Sonic the Hedgehog: Worlds Unite Battles #1 and Mega Man: Worlds Unite Battles #1 – sets the ball rolling; filled with a frankly bewildering array of heroes and villains in constant (family-friendly) conflict, but that’s merely a tantalising, appetite-whetting prelude to cataclysmic and universe altering events yet to come…

Cooperatively crafted by scripters Ian Flynn & Joel Enos with art by Dan Schoening, Ben Bates, Tracy Yardley, Terry Austin, Luis Antonio Delgado, Matt Herms, Ben Bates, Jack Morelli & Rachel Deering, the drama begins when über-menace Sigma comes back from a furious future in the realm of Mega Man X to ally with contemporary master-menace Zavok and crazed terrorist Xander Payne. In his spare time Sigma also kidnaps Mega Man and Sonic’s respective arch-nemeses Dr. Wily and Dr. Eggman to create a legion of baddies dubbed the Deadly Six of Lost Hex

From his pocket dimension he then declares war on Mega Man’s world and that of Sonic and his animal allies. Sigma seems unstoppable after both heroes are defeated and “disappeared”, even though their friends the Robot Masters and Freedom Fighters valiantly take up the struggle.

However, as the tomorrow tyrant’s schemes inexorably near fruition, he is unaware that his captive scientific renegades are scurrilously working their own agendas: preparing to each become sole survivor and singular conqueror of all the varied realms of creation…

To Be Continued…

A non-stop, manic fight-fest to delight youngsters – and everybody with bulging thumbs who steadfastly hone their competitive natures on a console every chance they get – Deadly Fusion is an uncomplicated and relentless avalanche of non-stop rollercoaster action, packed with visually potent extras.

These include a handy prequel recap feature, a brace of ‘Bonus Battles’ vignettes, a series of gag-strips (by Bill Freiberger, Jonathan H. Gray, Lamar Wells, Rick Bryant & Aleah Baker), a copious sketch and design section detailing the development of the new characters and a truly vast gallery of covers and variants by Patrick “SPAZ” Spaziante, Rafa Knight, Ben Bates, Evan Stanley, Jamal Peppers, Phyllis Novin, Ben Hunzeker, Ryan Jampole, Gary Martin, Steve Downer, T. Rex, Roger & Idalia Robinson, Ed Huang, Irvin Rodriguez and Patrick Thomas Parnell.

Breathtaking and compulsive game-based fun –all that’s missing is the electronic beeping and explosion sounds, and I’m sure someone will be happy to provide those as the pages oh-so-swiftly turn…
© Sega. All rights reserved. CAPCOM, Mega Man and all related characters © CAPCOM. Published by Archie Comics Publications, Ltd under license.

Tarzan on Film

By Scott Tracy Griffin (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-568-1

Soon after the publication of Tarzan of the Apes in 1912, the character – thanks in no small part to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ acumen as a self-promoter – became a multi-media sensation and global star.

Many sequels followed; a comic strip arrived in 1929, followed by a radio show in 1932 and the Ape-Man inevitably carved out a solid slice of the comicbook market too once the industry was firmly established. However, the earliest and most effective promotional tool – one which took on a life of its own – was Tarzan’s frequent forays into the world of celluloid.

This impressive coffee-table art-book, released to coincide with the latest long-awaited movie, offers an eye-popping blend of intimate background, biographies and a critical overview, supplanted by hundreds of production stills, candid photos and – most welcome to art lovers – movie posters and promotional artwork from each theatre release.

Compiled and written by author and historian Scott Tracy Griffin (Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration), the book catalogues the history of the filmic franchise by focusing on every film and each actor to play the Ape-Man and his mate Jane, as well as finding room to spotlight the most memorable villains, glamorous femme fatales, supporting characters and even that purely filmic innovation Cheetah.

Affording equal importance to the large and small screen iterations – live-action or animated – the history lesson begins after an Foreword from past-Tarzan Casper Van Dien and traces the iconic, world-famous Jungle Lord from Elmo Lincoln in 1918’s Tarzan of the Apes (one of the first six films ever to gross more than a million dollars) through to today’s The Legend of Tarzan, with Alexander Skarsgård delivering the “victory cry of the Great Bull-Ape”…

There’s even a tantalising section on the “Original Kids” CGI series Tarzan and Jane forthcoming from Netflix…

This magnificently monolithic epic (224 pages and 262 x 23 x 333 mm) hardback volume is liberally illustrated with photographic stills and promo art, and also includes examples of Bob Kline’s production art and storyboards, model sheets and stills from the glorious Filmation Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle Saturday morning cartoon show from 1976-1984.

For the technically-minded and those of a completist bent there’s also a full list of The Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, including Tarzan Feature Films, Movie Serials, TV Movies and Series and thematically-linked Additional Films plus Acknowledgements and a copious catalogue of suggested Further Reading

It seems that whatever your vintage, there’s a nostalgia-drenched Tarzan waiting (mine is Ron Ely who starred as both TV and movie Man-Ape from 1966-1970) to spark old memories and foster fresh thrills and this is just the book to get those primal juices flowing.

Tarzan on Film is both intriguing and pretty: enticing and genuinely informative enough to keep any fan happy. If it’s not too soon for the “C” word it might well be this years first suggestion for giant-sized end-of year stocking-stuffer…
Tarzan ® & © 2016 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved. All images © 2016 Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., Warner Bros, or Walt Disney Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Archie vs. Predator

By Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Koslowski, Jason Millet & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-805-5

For nearly three-quarters of a century Archie Andrews has epitomised good, safe, wholesome fun, but inside the staid and stable company which shepherds his adventures there has always hidden an ingenious and deviously subversive element of mischief.

Family-friendly iterations of superheroes, spooky chills, sci-fi thrills and genre yarns have always been as much a part of the publisher’s varied portfolio as the romantic comedy capers of America’s cleanest-cut teens since they launched as MLJ publications in the Golden Age’s dawning.

As you probably know by now, Archie has been around since 1941, spending most of those seven-plus decades chasing both the gloriously attainable Betty Cooper and wildly out-of-his-league debutante Veronica Lodge whilst best friend Jughead Jones alternately mocked and abetted his romantic endeavours and rival Reggie Mantle sought to scuttle his every move…

As crafted over the decades by a legion of writers and artists who’ve skilfully logged innumerable stories of teenage antics in and around the idyllic, utopian small-town Riverdale, these timeless tales of decent, upstanding, fun-loving kids have captivated successive generations of readers and entertained millions worldwide.

To keep all that accumulated attention riveted, the company has always looked to modern trends with which to expand upon their archetypal brief. In times past they have strengthened and cross-fertilised their stable of stars through a variety of team-ups such as Archie Meets the Punisher, Archie Meets Glee, Archie Meets Vampirella and Archie Meets Kiss, whilst every type of fashion-fad and youth-culture sensation have invariably been accommodated into and explored within the pages of the regular titles.

That willingness to dip traditional toes in unlikely waters led in 2015 to the publishers taking a bold and potentially controversial step which paid huge dividends and created another monster sales sensation…

The genesis of this most unlikely cross-fertilisation of franchises is explained in great detail and with a tremendous sense of “how did we get away with it?” in Roberto Aguirre Sacasa’s ‘Introduction’, but just in case you’re new to the other participant in all this…

Predators are an ancient alien species of trophy-taking sporting types who have visited the hotter parts of Earth for centuries, if not millennia. They are lone hunters who can turn invisible and resort to a terrifying selection of nasty weapons. They particularly like collecting skulls and spinal columns…

Predator was first seen in the eponymous movie from 1987 and started appearing in comic book extensions and continuations published by Dark Horse with the 4-issue miniseries Predator: Concrete Jungle (June 1989 to March 1990). It was followed by 22 further self-contained outings and numerous crossover clashes ranging from Batman and Superman to Judge Dredd and Tarzan, steadily keeping the franchise alive and kicking whilst the movie iteration waxed and waned…

This spectacularly eccentric yarn pulls off the peculiar and miraculous trick of creating a hilarious and scary family-friendly teen-slasher flick which begins ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ as all the young cast regulars head to Costa Rica for Spring Break and are having the time of their lives, until Betty and Veronica have a particularly vicious spat over Archie which leads to a spooky confrontation and a curse uttered over what might be an actual voodoo dagger.

Science-whiz Dilton is occupied with his telescope watching and everybody is blissfully unaware that they’ve piqued the attention of something patient, invisible and completely alien…

When they all head home they have no conception that some of their number are already trophies on a wall…

With the youngsters back in Riverdale Archie and his companions settle back into their routine but soon realise that something has followed them when a beloved adult is decapitated in plain sight. Soon the community is cut off and they are all waiting ‘To Live and Die in a Small Town’

Convinced their meddling with the occult has brought on the killing-spree, Betty and Veronica testily consult sorcerous expert Sabrina (the Teenage Witch) but that ends in another welter of scarlet and screaming and the first sighting of the thing from the stars…

Thing get grim and crazy as the rapidly depleting posse of teens meet the Government agents tasked with covertly countering the Predators but continue to fall until Dilton rolls out the weird science and Archie dons a ‘Full Metal Varsity Jacket’

Soon the beloved cast is down to the barest essentials and the last few resistors face their final curtain in ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’

After a surprisingly gripping and gory conclusion that will astonish and delight everyone an ‘Afterword’ by series Editor Brendan Wright gives more insight into the impetus and creative process behind this inspired tale, but there are still plenty of treats in store.

Scripter Alexi de Campi also got to play with others creators’ toys in a series of Bonus Crossovers, which rounded out the comics issues. Here follow quirky, perky little one and two page vignettes such as the eerily satisfying ‘Sabrina Meets Hellboy’ with art and colours by Robert Hack, lettered by Clem Robins, and the fabulously bizarre ‘Li’l Archie and his Pals meet Itty Bitty Mask’ by Art Baltazar.

Philosophical and physical depths are plumbed as ‘Jughead meets Mind MGMT’ (Matt Kindt) and the girls have fun when ‘Josie and the Pussycats meet Finder’ illustrated by Carla Speed McNeil, with colours from Jenn Manley Lee and letters from the ubiquitous de Campi.

By all accounts, when news of this project got out an army of eager professionals clamoured to get involved. The miniseries offered a wealth of covers-&-variants – some scattered about and acting as chapter-breaks by Ruiz, Koslowski, Millet, Dan, Parent, Gisèle, Maria Victoria Robado and Andrew Pepoy. The rest are gathered in a massive Variant Cover Gallery displaying varying degrees of gore, whimsy and humour from Eric Powell, Francesco Francavilla, Colleen Coover, Darick Robertson with Millet, Pepoy with Millet, Dennis Calero, Patrick Spaziante, Robert Hack with Stephen Downer, Dustin Nguyen, Kelley Jones with Michelle Madsen, Paul Pope with Shay Plummer, Faith Erin Hicks with Cris Peter, Joe Quinones, Tim Seeley, Richard P. Clark, Ruiz with Anwar Hanano, Koslowski as full illustrator and even more.

Also on view are samples of ‘Promo Art’ prepared for the comics convention circuit and a large section of Ruiz’s developmental ‘Character Studies’ plus a feature on the ‘Art Process’ from rough pencils through to finished colour pages.

But wait, there’s still more as ‘Unused Covers’ offers eight final tantalising ideas which never made it off the drawing boards of Ruiz, Pepoy, Gisèle and Faith Erin Hicks.

This book is one of those “Pitch hooks” Hollywood producer types thrive by. All you need is the three word title and a graphic acronym to know whether you’ll love this yarn.

Archie Versus Predator….


Another Victorious Pairing.


Archie vs. Predator © 2015 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Archie™ and © 2015 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. Predator™ and © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All guest material ™ and © 2015 its creators or copyright holders. All rights reserved.