Star Wars – The New Republic Epic Collection volume 5: Dark Empire


By Tom Veitch, Peet Janes, Scott Allie, Jason Hall, Henry Gilroy, Joe Casey, Cam Kennedy, Jim Baikie, Paul Lee, Brian Horton, John McCrea, Dario Brizuela, Francisco Paronzini, Arthur Adams, Edvin Biuković, Steve Crespo, Rodolfo DaMaggio, Doug Mahnke, John Nadeau, Jordi Ensign, Stan Manoukian, Vince Roucher, Isaac Buckminster Owens, Dusty Abell, Jim Royal, Jan Duursema, Pop Mhan, Andrew Robinson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2698-4 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic Entertainment and Adventure… 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 comic book adaptation. 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. Comic book exploits were reinstated in 1991 by Dark Horse Comics who built on the film legacy with numerous superb titles and tales 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. Moreover, rather than ignore what had passed between their two bites of the cherry, Disney/Marvel began reissuing the Dark Horse material too. Amongst the very best of it was a tryptic of miniseries released as one grand adventure under their Star Wars Legend imprint.

Scripted primarily by Tom Veitch, this fifth paperback/digital Epic Collection gathers Star Wars: Dark Empire #1-6; Dark Empire II #1-6; Empire’s End #1-2, plus material from Star Wars Tales #8, 11, 16, 17 and Star Wars Handbook volume one: X-Wing Rogue Squadron & Star Wars Handbook volume three: Dark Empire: originally seen between December 1991 and September 2003.

Set after the movie Return of the Jedi and now relegated conceptually to an alternate universe in light of later cinematic releases, Dark Horse kicked off its Star Wars franchise with a supremely moody, action-packed thriller. Illustrator Cam Kennedy (reuniting with scripter Veitch after previously collaborating on the excellent and peculiar Light and Darkness War), rendered the alien universe and familiar characters in his own unique and magnificent manner, delivering quirky but reassuringly authentic settings and scenarios for a space opera romp that satisfyingly captures the feel and pace of the cinema versions, whilst building on the canon for Force-starved fanatics everywhere.

Star Wars: Dark Empire opened in December 1991 with ‘The Destiny of a Jedi’: unfolding about ten years after the Battle of Endor and the death and redemption of Darth Vader. Although the Emperor is gone, the war continues. The militaristic remnants of the Empire are still battling for every inch of the galaxy. The New Republic is desperately hard-pressed. Han Solo and his wife Leia, although new parents, are as deeply involved as ever, and Luke Skywalker is pushed to ever-more desperate measures as he attempts to destroy the pervasive unleashed evil corrupting the universe. His solution to rebalance the Force is to revive and rebuild the fabled Jedi Knights…

A mysterious new leader employing ingenious new super-weapons is winning the war for the Empire in ‘Devastator of Worlds’ and the heroes must separate to succeed. The Alliance is being picked off world by world and as ‘The Battle for Calamari’ rages, Han and Leia pursue the strategic aspects of the conflict resulting in a ‘Confrontation on the Smugglers Moon’ whilst Luke heads directly to the source and succumbs to the Dark Side when a dead foe returns thanks to he horrors of cloning in ‘Emperor Reborn’.

‘The Fate of a Galaxy’ is decided with closing 6th issue (October 1992) with Leia’s newly conceived child destined to become the greatest threat the galaxy has ever faced…

Can the heroes reunite to avert the tragedy before all is lost?

No need to guess as December 1994 saw the start of sequel series Star Wars: Dark Empire II with ‘Operation Shadow Hand’.

Veitch & Kennedy returned in a blaze of glory after the runaway success of Dark Empire with a superb continuation featuring the further battles of Luke, Leia, Han Solo and all the other movie favourites…

Deprived of clone bodies he was incubating to ensure a return to physicality, the ghost of Emperor Palpatine is intent on possessing the unborn child in Leia’s belly even as his Dark Side lieutenants struggle to become his successor. The Empire’s last infrastructure remnants are producing more diabolical planet-killing weapons to terrorise and subdue the battered, war-weary galaxy and the monster expects success thanks to his last resort weapon: Seven Dark Jedi fanatically executing his contingency plans, whilst his nemesis Skywalker pursues a cosmic wild goose chase sparked by Jedi database the Holochron. It has set him in pursuit of scattered Jedi survivors who might have escaped the purge…

‘Duel on Nar Shaddaa’, ‘World of the Ancient Sith’ and ‘Battle on Byss’ unite old favourites with new Star Warriors – such as Ysanna tribe adepts Rayf and Jem – in a desperate struggle for survival even as reborn, young Palpatine readies ‘The Galaxy Weapon’ to deliver total victory.

Han and Leia have been hiding their Force-rich twins Jacen and Jaina from the Emperor for years, but are now fearful that their imminent third child will be the spectral horror’s new target for possession. When news comes that Palpatine has eradicated the entire Alliance leadership, Luke and his new Jedi disciples arrive in time to rally the last survivors in a last-ditch attempt to push back the swiftly-closing ‘Hand of Darkness’ (#6, May 1995). Tragically, the Dark Jedi are hot on their trail and a deadly confrontation looms…

This big bombastic blockbuster rockets along, packed with tension and invention, with action aplenty and spectacular set pieces for the fans – although it might be a tad bewildering if your Star Wars IQ is limited.

The trilogy concluded later that year in Star Wars: Empire’s End (October & November 1995) with Jim Baikie replacing Kennedy as artist for a much shorter adventure wrapping up all the plot-threads in a fittingly spectacular fashion. Issue #1’s ‘Triumph of the Empire’ sees the regrowth and expansion of a new rebel alliance and next generation of Jedi Knights when Palpatine discovers his clone-body is breaking down. The ‘Rage of the Emperor’ compels him to attempt a precipitous possession of new-born Anakin Solo leading to one final, sacrifice soaked confrontation…

Accompanying the colossal star-shaking events are a tranche of short stories taken from anthological series Star Wars Tales, beginning with ‘Tall Tales’ by Scott Allie, Paul Lee & Brian Horton from #11 (March 2002). Here, gossip among patrons in a cantina about a ship called the Millennium Falcon leads to another brawl by some very familiar strangers, after which ‘The Other’ (#16, June 2003 by Jason Hall & John McCrea) sees Luke and Leia on Coruscant, debating her future and provoking some awful memories of when they were constantly at war…

Star Wars Tales #8 (June 2001 by Henry Gilroy & Dario Brizuela & Francisco Paronzini) shares ‘The Secret Tales of Luke’s Hand’ as 4-year old Anakin Solo hears bedtime stories of his uncle’s prosthetic paw before Joe Casey & Francisco Paronzini expose ‘Phantom Menaces’ (#17, September 2003) when Ambassador Luke Skywalker encounters a seemingly spectral Sith Lord haunting a candidate planet of the New Republic …

After all that, true Jedi adepts and prospective Padawans can enhance their SWIQ through studying a veritable avalanche of new friends and foes whilst also reacquainting themselves with old favourites in data-drenched Star Wars Handbook volume one: X-Wing Rogue Squadron by Peet Janes, Arthur Adams, Edvin Biuković, Steve Crespo, Rodolfo DaMaggio, Doug Mahnke, John Nadeau, Jordi Ensign, Stan Manoukian, Vince Roucher and Star Wars Handbook volume three: Dark Empire by Janes, Nadeau, Ensign, Isaac Buckminster Owens, Dusty Abell, Jim Royal, Jan Duursema, Pop Mhan & Andrew Robinson.

These catalogues detail everybody and everything from Wedge Antilles and Boba Fett to World Devastators and the Jedi Holocron and segue efficiently into a trove of extras including a gallery of covers – movie photos and painted works from Dave Dorman, Ashley Wood, Kia Asamiya, John Nadeau – plus previous collection covers by Dorman, Mark Zug and Tsuneo Sanda.

There’s also Dark Empire painted promo art, character roughs and equipment sketches, and pencilled pages all by Cam Kennedy; text End-pieces and Introductions from the original comics as well as art Prints and Plates by Kennedy and Dorman.

Exceptional fun, in strong stories with beautiful pictures, this is an utter delight for devotees of a galaxy not so very far, far away and anyone hungry for good old fashioned action entertainment.
STAR WARS and related text and illustrations are trademarks and/or copyrights in the United States and other countries of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © & ™ Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic volume 1


By Katie Cook, Andy Price, Heather Breckel & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-605-6 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Inexplicably Adorable and Absolutely Entertaining Romps and Hi-jinks… 8/10

The older I get – a close-run thing in itself, some days – the more I realise how little I know or understand. I’m all about comics, me, and I’m considered by many who’ve bought my books but haven’t actually met me as something of an expert. I’m also always up for a challenge so here’s a hopefully fair review of a graphic novel series that normally I wouldn’t go near…

My Little Pony is a toy and merchandising phenomenon that developed out of a failed line. Constantly reinvented and relaunched, My Pretty Pony debuted in 1981 but was quickly retooled into what we know today. The first successful toy line ran from 1982 to 1992 in the US and 1995 in the rest of the world. The brand was relaunched in 1997, 2003 and 2010, with another line revision this year. If you need more information, there’s this thing called the internet…

These comics are based on the 2010 designs and concepts and this initial collection gathers #1-4 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: a vivid and charming reboot whose toys were sold until October 2019.  The next big thing is – or will be – My Little Pony: A New Generation…

Here, however, we visit the land of Equestria; a realm of magical horses like unicorns and Pegasuses, each blessed with special powers and a distinguishing symbol on their flanks: a “cutie mark”. It’s not all fun and games though, as we share the adventures of Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, Fluttershy, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, the Cutie Mark Crusaders (think equine equivalents of Carl Barks’ Little Chickadees) and little dragon Spike, especially after their idyllic life is threatened by darkly demonic Queen Chrysalis who is determined to end the benevolent and protective nurturing rule of magical Princess Celestia…

Crafted by writer Katie Cook, illustrator Andy Price, colourist Heather Breckel and letterers Bobbie Robbins & Neil Uyatake, a shocking threat manifests with ‘The Return of Queen Chrysalis’ as all the younger horses and other creatures begin acting weirdly aloof and even hostile…

At first, it’s easy to write it off as bad moods and the impending stellar event of the Secretariat Comet about to narrowly miss Equestria, but as the day passes and the situation deepens, Rainbow Dash and Applejack investigate, and discover things are getting worse by the moment.

Even after calling in all their friends they are unable to contact Princess Celestia and so set out to solve the problem themselves. When diabolical Chrysalis taunts them and kidnaps the ever-eager Cutie Mark Crusaders, our stalwart steeds boldly undertake a fantastic quest under the brooding Appaloosan Mountain range to save the foolish foals, encountering cave trolls, monster spiders, demonic minions, carnivorous plants, Chupacabra and worse before confronting the malign sorceress and beginning a battle of magic they cannot hope to win.

And yet…

Fizzy, ebullient and intoxicatingly silly, this is an astonishingly witty and smart yarn mixing affirming values of friendship and cooperation with good old fashioned fun, thrills and sharp comedy, delivered with stunning visual flourish: a tale as much for parents as the kids they’re rearing.

Adding lustre to joyous laughter are all-Cook short yarns ‘How Much is That Pony in the Window?’ and ‘In the Interim…’, an art gallery by Price and covers and variants by Jill Thompson, Cook, Amy Mebberson, Stephanie Buscema, Amanda Connor & Paul Mounts, J. Scott Campbell & Nei Ruffino.

Despite my preconceptions and misgivings, this book is one of the most enjoyable I’ve seen this year and is well worth a bit of your time and attention.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic volume 1 © 2013 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved.

G.I. JOE Classics volume 1


By Larry Hama, Herb Trimpe, Steven Grant, Don Perlin, Mike Vosburg & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-345-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Nostalgic All-Action Romps… 8/10

Toys have always been a strong and successful component of comics output, and have frequently been amongst the most qualitative. For people like me, the distress experienced because DC’s Hot Wheels (by Joe Gill, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Alex Toth, Neal Adams & Dick Giordano) or Captain Action (Jim Shooter, Wally Wood & Gil Kane) tie-in titles will never be reprinted because intellectual properties lawyers can’t get their acts together is practically existential. I’m pretty sure that feeling is universal in my field and everyone has their own title to add to the list…

The problem has been the understandable tendency to include proprietary characters (such as Spider-Man in Transformers and the entire Marvel Universe in Rom, Space Knight and The Micronauts) for their immediate cross-selling potential with no regard for who actually owns what. Merchandise-driven comics are of necessity fully negotiable whereas such team-up combinations are by definition short-term and non-binding.

Publishers got a lot smarter and far-sighted in the 80s and – as a rule, but not always – stopped mixing and matching imported/temporary stars except for special events.

During that era Marvel’s biggest successes – driven by Jim Shooter in his role as the company’s Editor-in-Chief – were those aforementioned Transformers and another: one of the oldest toy brands in existence, and since the property was hived off the franchise into its own superhero-adjacent sub-universe, current license holder IDW was able to reprint the run of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero in its entirety…

It didn’t hurt that the stories were superbly crafted and didn’t insult the intelligence of the target readership (presumed to be kids of toy-buying age) and perfectly picked up the macho America tone of the times…

Arguably Marvel’s biggest success in merchandised publishing (even outdoing Star Wars and Conan), the triumph of the phenomenon convinced Marvel to create their juveniles and licensed titles imprint Star Comics, and the continuity of this series was carried over in its entirety when the property eventually landed at IDW. In 2009, writer Larry Hama (Wolverine; Elektra; Nth Man) simply picked up where he left off in 1994 and the series even continued the numbering…

This initial compendium collects the first tranche of Marvel’s output issues #1-10 spanning June 1982-April 1983: a hugely successful mini-franchise that encompassed three regular titles plus many specials at one stage.

I’ve no real interest in the film, or toy, and TV cartoon, but the comics phenomenon reached way more impressionable minds that most modern comics could even imagine and many of the strip adventures (both US and Marvel UK’s) were highpoints of sequential narrative at a time when innovation and imagination were highly regarded – and rewarded – so it’s great to see some of them finding a fresh audience.

In case you came in late: GI Joe is the operating name for an American covert, multi-disciplinary espionage and military intervention force drawing its members from all branches of the military. At the time of these tales the Joes and terrorist secret society Cobra Command are well known to each other and engaged in a full-on but clandestine global war…

Under Shooter’s reign Marvel became a hugely profitable home for businesses with properties to licence. The comic versions sold by the truckload and have become part of the nostalgic fabric of a generation. They still are.

The Marvel series ran 155 issues (ending with its December 1994 issue), plus numerous spin-off series such as GI Joe Special Missions: specials and overseas analogue such as Marvel UK’s Action Force (the British toy was branded as Action Man since the 1960s)

We begin at the start with ‘Operation: Lady Doomsday’ as Larry Hama, Herb Trimpe (Ka-Zar; Phantom Eagle; The Defenders; Iron Man; Machine Man) & Bob McLeod introduce the squad and their foes when a whistleblowing US atomic scientist is kidnapped by Cobra Commander and his deadly assistant the Baroness, and the Gung Ho Joes are assigned to rescue her traitorous, unpatriotic ass. The all-American heroes are successful but fully exercise their democratic right to complain all the way home…

Whilst namechecking dozens of characters and vehicles, the series was always intoxicatingly high energy and deceptively sophisticated in dealing with social and geopolitical issues. The next mission details ‘Panic at the North Pole!’ – by Hama, Don Perlin (Werewolf By Night; Ghost Rider; The Defenders; Solar, Man of the Atom; Bloodshot) & Jack Abel – as a small squad investigate the extermination of a US research station, uncovering a prototype Soviet secret weapon and clashing with “eskimo” (hopefully we’d say Inuit or something else less charged these days) mercenary Mighty Kwinn to keep the deadly device out of Cobra’s clutches…

Crafted by Hama, Trimpe, Abel & Jon D’Agostino, ‘The Trojan Gambit’ in #3 then delivered a thrilling countdown thriller as the Joes’ secret underground citadel is infiltrated by a deadly modular robot programmed to send back a signal and make it a target for Cobra assault…

For over a decade Herb Trimpe had been synonymous with the Incredible Hulk, making the character his own, and daily displaying a penchant for explosive action and an unparalleled facility for drawing technology – especially honking great ordnance and vehicles. With #4’s ‘Operation: Wingfield!’, he added story plotting to his creative dossier, as Hama scripted and D’Agostino & Abel inked a tale of infiltration wherein a squad joins the private army of a survivalist nutjob and his private militia – in a tale more relevant now than ever…

In #5, Hama, Perlin, Abel & Mike Esposito’s ‘“Tanks” for the Memories…’ adds notes of bellicose slapstick as Cobra attempt to steal the Joes’ super-secret Mobat (Multi Ordnance Battle Tank) during a parade in New York City, and our heroes had to fight without ammo…

As now, Afghanistan was a hot button topic in the mid-1980s and #6’s ‘To Fail is to Conquer… To Succeed is to Die!’ by Hama, Trimpe & Abel sees a select team despatched to aid mujahideen fighters against Soviet invasion and recover a downed experimental Russian spy-plane. The three horse race between the Good Guys, Cobra and Soviet Special Forces team the October Guard sees both tech and training stretched to the limit in the hostile terrain and makes for an unlikely alliance in #7’s explosive conclusion ‘Walls of Death!’ by Hama, Trimpe & Chic Stone.

G.I. Joe #8 was an all-Trimpe treat as ‘Code Name: Sea-Strike!’ sees the heroes valiantly defending a satellite launch and thwarting Cobra’s scheme to weaponise space from their floating subsea fortress, after which Steven Grant, Mike Vosburg & Stone explore the lives of top Joes Clutch, Scarlett, Snake-Eyes and Stalker as they draw tedious and unwanted protection duties for an unsuspected traitor in ‘The Diplomat’ and find themselves in more trouble than they can (probably) handle…

This initial collection closes on a foreboding and portentous note of gathering doom as Scarlett, Snake-Eyes and Zap are captured during a mission and end up in a suburban nightmare. In #10, Hama, Vosburg & Stone expose anonymous everytown Springfield as Cobra’s most sinister development: an ultra-immersive company town designed by vicious Dr. Venom and dedicated to mind-bending, brainwashing and overruling hearts and minds in ‘a little town like ours…’

Thankfully resistance and rebellion are everywhere and an extraordinary boy named Billy is able to orchestrate their narrow escape…

To Be Continued…

The ten tales gathered here are very much the basis of all successive comics merchandising and nearly 40 years later prove that the secret is in the comics themselves, not the product, No one there is republishing Marvel’s Inhumanoids,Popples or Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos adaptations…

I’m never sure of the social value of stories where secret government operatives act beyond the law or the constraints of Due Process, but the kid in me adores the pure satisfying simplicity of seeing a wrong and righting it: so on those terms this book of clever, witty action-packed adventures of honourable warriors doing their job is a delight worth sharing.
© 2009 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved.

World of Warcraft: Comic Collection Volume One


By Raphael Ahad, Robert Brooks, Matt Burns, Christie Golden, Micky Neilson, Andrew Robinson, Antonio Bifulco, Linda Cavallini, Sebastian Cheng, Alex Horley, David Kegg, Ludo Lullabi, Miko Montilló, Nesskain, Suqling, Emanuele Tenderini & various (Blizzard Entertainment/Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-95036-613-2 (HB Blizzard Entertainment) 978-1-78909-646-0 (HB Titan Books)

World of Warcraft is a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) that began in 2004. It’s very popular.

If you needed to look up any part of that paragraph, this might not be the book for you – although if you’re a fantasy fan with a penchant for convoluted sagas and love of bombastic comics art, it might be worth sticking around to the end of the review.

Like Tolkein’s Middle Earth, Game of Thrones or other complex invented environments, WoW is more about worldbuilding and made-up history than individual heroes like Conan or Elric excelling and triumphing. Here variety is the spice of life (and Unlife, Orc-kind, wizards, Dwarves, Gnomes, automata etc). This collection of tales – originally an online supplement and enticement to the game – might feel a little formulaic, but that’s pretty much the point…

These lavish auxiliary tales were all released between 2014- 2018 as World of Warcraft: Warlords of Drainor, World of Warcraft: Legion, and World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth: moody, action-heavy and suspenseful vignettes, packaged as digital comics miniseries specifically linked to one of the eight Expansion Packs released to sustain that frantic MMORPG mythmaking momentum.

First freshly arrayed in Warlords of Draenor as ‘Gul’Dan and the Stranger’ (by Micky Neilson & Alex Horley), the opening yarn reveals bloodshed brewing, whilst ‘Blackhand’ (Robert Brooks & Horley) details the fate of the feared and fabled Doomhammer, before ‘Blood and Thunder’ (Raphael Ahad, Cynthia Hall & Horley) offers some historical context with the origins of mighty warrior the Iron Wolf…

Legion opens with Matt Burns & Ludo Lullabi’s ‘Magni: Fault Lines’ as the daughter of the venerable King under the Mountain awakens him to meet the growing crisis facing the dwarves. Meanwhile, Night Elves are having a few difficulties with monstrous Gul’Dan in ‘Nightborne: Twilight of Suramar’ (Burns & Lullabi) whilst the animalistic tribes are called to action in ‘Highmountain: A Mountain Divided’ (Brooks & David Kegg) before the humans of Stormwind Keep survive a royal assassination attempt, inspiring King Wrynn to mobilise in Brooks & Nesskain’s ‘Anduin: Son of the Wolf’…

It ends with reports from the Battle for Azeroth, as a repentant mage reassesses her life choices in ‘Jaina: Reunion’(Andrew Robinson, Linda Cavallini & Emanuele Tenderini) before wandering Dwarf-King ‘Magni: The Speaker’ (Burns & Suqling) endures a moment of existential crisis…

Steve Danuser, Christie Golden, Robinson, Antonio Bifulco & Sebastian Cheng detail the past and futures of ‘Windrunner: Three Sisters’ after which the gathering storms pause with the salutary tale of ‘Mechagon’ (by Burns & Miko Montilló), proving you should watch what you wish for even if you’re a dedicated master smith like Kervo the Explorer…

Garnishing all the drama and mayhem, the book also offers a vast selection of production art – from preliminary designs and roughs to full finished pages – in a Sketchbook section.

Gathered into a lavish luxury hardback that just screams “Christmas gift”, these adventures won’t be everyone’s goblet of grog, but for those who covertly yearn to resolve their daily annoyances with a honking great Warhammer or dismemberment spell, this should be subject of your very next quest…
World of Warcraft: Comic Collection © 2020 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones Omnibus volume 1


By Walt Simonson, Denny O’Neil, David Michelinie, Howard Chaykin, Archie Goodwin, John Buscema, John Byrne, Gene Day, Richard Howell, Ron Frenz, Kerry Gammill, Dan Reed, Luke McDonnell & various (Dark Horse/Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-246-8 (Dark Horse TPB) 978-1-84576-808-9 (Titan TPB)

Although dormant for the moment, Dark Horse Comics have held the comics-producing franchise for Indiana Jones since 1993: generating thousands of pages of material, much of it excellent and some not quite. It might be construed as heretical to say it, but dedicated film fans aren’t all that quality conscious when it comes to their particular fascination, whether it’s games about finding Atlantis or the latest watered-down kids’ interpretation or whatever.

The Dark Horse Omnibus line is a wonderfully economical way to keep older material in print for such fans by bundling old publications into classy, full-colour digests. They’re slightly smaller than US comic-books but larger than a standard tankōbon manga volume, running about 400 pages per book, but not all of them are available in digital editions at the moment.

This initial Indy volume (of three) chronologically re-presents the first dozen Marvel Comics (the original license holder) interpretations which followed the film Raiders of the Lost Ark as well as including the 3-issue miniseries adaptation by Walt Simonson, John Buscema & Klaus Janson that preceded that celluloid landmark. I’m being this specific because the comic version was also released as a single glossy, enhanced-colour magazine in the Marvel Super Special series (#18: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, if you’re curious).

And, just in case you’re the one who hasn’t seen the film… Set in the days before World War II, Hitler’s paranormal investigation division gathers occult artifacts from around the planet and soon crosses swords with a rough and ready archaeology professor from a New York university. Soon the unconventional Doctor Indiana Jones is scammed by the US government into tracking down his old tutor: a savant who might have knowledge of the biblical and mystically potent Ark of the Covenant…

Although Abner Ravenwood has since died, his daughter Marion possesses the clues the Jones needs. Unfortunately, she’s also an old flame he abandoned and would rather burn in hell than help him…

However, when the Nazis turn up and try to torch her in the Nepalese bar she washed up in, Marion joins Jones in a breakneck chase across the globe from Cairo to the lost city of Tanis to a secret Nazi submarine base on a tropical island, fighting natives and Nazis every step of the way until the ancient artifact separates the just from the wicked in a spectacular and terrifying display of Old Testament style Wrath…

The movie’s format – baffling search for a legendary object, utterly irredeemable antagonists, exotic locales, non-stop chase action, outrageous fights and just a hint of eldritch overtones – became the staple for the comic book series that followed, opening in impressive manner with ‘The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones’ a 2-part yarn from Jack-of-all-genres John Byrne, assisted by Terry Austin, with veteran scripter Denny O’Neil pitching in for the concluding ‘22-Karat Doom!’

When an old student is murdered before his eyes, Indy swears to complete the lad’s research, subsequently trekking through Africa in search of a tribe who can turn men to gold. He is never more than one step ahead of a maniac millionaire with no love of mysteries or antiquities, but is possessed by a deep and abiding love of profit…

That adventure ends with our hero plunging out of a doomed plane and into issue #3’s American-set adventure ‘The Devil’s Cradle’ (by O’Neil, Gene Day, Richard Howell, Mel Candido & Danny Bulanadi) wherein he lands in a hillbilly wilderness where a rogue US Army Colonel and a band of witch-burning yokels are separately hunting a 400 year-old alchemist with all the secrets of the ages at his fingertips…

David Michelinie, Ron Frenz & Bulanadi’s ‘Gateway to Infinity!’ then sees the archaeological adventurer en route to Stonehenge, courtesy of the US government, as a ring of Nazi spies again fail to kill him. Hitler’s spies and parapsychologists are still hunting preternatural artifacts and the crystal cylinder uncovered at the ancient monument definitely qualifies. English professor Karen Mays dates it to the Triassic period, millions of years before Man evolved, so the murderous Aryans will stop at nothing to make it theirs…

Luckily for Jones and Mays – but not the Reich – the spies eventually succeed. However, to their eternal regret their vile machinations unleash ‘The Harbingers’ and only Indy’s swift reactions prevent a horror beyond time escaping into our world.

Jazz Age mastermind Howard Chaykin joins Austin to illustrate the wonderfully classy ‘Club Nightmare’ (plotted by Archie Goodwin and scripted by Michelinie) as Marion opens a swanky Manhattan night-spot only to run afoul of mobsters and worse even before it opens. With Indy on hand to save the day, the situation swiftly goes from calamitous to disastrous…

Michelinie, Kerry Gammill & Sam de La Rosa soon have the hero globe-trotting again in ‘Africa Screams’, as a tussle in Tuscany with tomb-robber Ian McIver provides a solid clue to an even deeper mystery. Following an old map, Indy and Marion are soon on their way to the Dark Continent in search of the legendary Shintay – a tribe of pale giants, outcast from and last survivors of fabled Atlantis…

Unfortunately, McIver and those ever-eager Nazi scavengers are also on the trail and in ‘Crystal Death’ the vast power of the Shintay nearly wipes out half of Africa…

Issues #9 and 10 find our artifact hunter the target of a sinister plot by German spies and Aztec wannabees in ‘The Gold Goddess: Xomec’s Raiders’ (Goodwin, Michelinie, Dan Reed & Bulanadi), leading to a series of death-defying battles in the lofty heights of the Big Apple and the depths of the Brazilian jungle

This volume concludes in epic style with a breathtaking global duel and a brand-new villain as Indy is seduced by nefarious antiquities collector Ben Ali Ayoob into hunting down a persistent Biblical myth: ‘The Fourth Nail’.

In ‘Blood and Sand’, Jones travels from the Australian Outback to Barcelona trying to find the unused final spike that should have ended Christ’s suffering on the Cross, but his quest is dogged by bad luck, Arabic ninjas, guardian gypsies, immense insane bandits and irascible bulls looking for a handy matador to mangle…

The perilous pilgrimage reaches an inevitable conclusion in ‘Swords and Spikes’ (with additional art from Luke McDonnell and Mel Candido), a cavalcade of carnage, breakneck action and supernatural retribution.

With a covers gallery from such able and diverse hands as James T. Sherman, Walt Simonson, Terry Austin, Byrne, Howell & Armando Gil, Frenz, Mike Gustovich, Chaykin, Gammill, Bob Wiacek and Bob McLeod, this is a splendid chunk of simple escapist fun: the type of buried treasure any fan of any age would be delighted to unearth and rejoice over.
™ &© 1981, 1983, 2009 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus volume 1


By Joss Whedon, Christopher Golden, Daniel Brereton, Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Paul Lee, Eric Powell, Joe Bennett, Cliff Richards, & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-784-6 (TPB)

I’m thoroughly enjoying a complete rescreening of Buffy at the moment and thus took a look at this premier compilation of her earliest comics outings. They’re still great too. You should track them down. They’re all available as eBooks these days…

Blood-drenched supernatural doomed love is a venerable, if not always creditable, sub-genre these days, so let’s take a look at one of the relatively ancient antecedents responsible for this state of affairs in the shape of Dark Horse Comics’ translation of cult TV show franchise Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Collected here in a big bad Omnibus edition is material from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike & Dru #3 (December 2000), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: the Origin (January-March 1999) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer #51-59 (November 2002 to July 2003); nearly three hundred pages of full-colour, tongue-in-cheek mystical martial arts mayhem and merriment.

As explained in comicbook Editor Scott Allie’s Introduction, although the printed sagas and spin-offs were created in a meandering manner up and down the timeline, this series of Omnibus books re-presents them in strict chronological continuity order, beginning with a perilous period piece entitled ‘All’s Fair’ – by Christopher Golden with art from Eric Powell, Drew Geraci & Keith Barnett – originally seen in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike & Dru #the 3 (from December 2000).

Although Buffy was a hot and hip teen cheerleader-turned-monster-killer, as the TV series developed it became clear that the bad-guys were increasingly the true fan-favourites. Cool vampire villain and über-predator Spike eventually became a love-interest and even a suitably tarnished white knight, but at the time of this collection he was still a jaded, blood-hungry, immortal, immoral psychopath… every girl’s dream date.

His eternal paramour was Drusilla: a demented precognitive vampire who killed him and made him an immortal bloodsucker. She thrived on a stream of fresh decadent thrills and revelled in baroque and outré bloodletting.

There has been an unbroken mystical progression of young women tasked with killing the undead through the centuries, and here we see the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1900, where Spike and Dru are making the most of the carnage after killing that era’s Slayer. The story then shifts to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933 where the undying mad lovers are still on the murderous prowl. However, the scientific wonders of the modern world displayed in various exhibits are all eclipsed by one scientist who has tapped into the realm of Elder Gods as a cheap source of energy. To further complicate matters, Spike and Dru are being stalked by a clan of Chinese warriors trained from birth to destroy the predatory pair and avenge that Slayer killed back in Beijing…

Gods, Demons, Mad Scientists, Kung Fu killers, Tongs and terror all combine in a gory romp that will delight TV devotees and ordinary horrorists alike…

Next up is a smart reworking of the cult B-movie which launched the global mega-hit TV.

Starring Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Luke Perry and Rutger Hauer, the film was released in 1992 with a modicum of success and to the lasting dissatisfaction of writer/creator Joss Whedon. Five years later he got the chance to do it right and in the manner he’d originally intended. The ensemble action-horror-comedy series became a genuine phenomenon, inspiring a new generation of Goth gore-lovers as well as many, many “homages” in assorted media – including comics.

Dark Horse won the licensing rights in the USA, subsequently producing an enthralling regular comicbook series goosed up with a welter of impressive miniseries and specials. In 1999 the company – knowing how powerfully the inclusivity/continuity/completism gene dominates comics fan psychology – finally revisited that troublesome cinematic debut with miniseries Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Origin running from January to March.

Scrupulously returning to the author’s script and core-concept, restoring excised material, shifting the tone back towards what Whedon originally intended whilst reconfiguring events until they better jibed with the established and beloved TV mythology, adaptors Christopher Golden & Daniel Brereton (with artists Joe Bennett, Rick Ketcham, Randy Emberlin & J. Jadsen) produced a fresh 3-issue miniseries which canonically established just exactly what the formerly vapid Valley Girl did in her old hometown that got her transferred to scenic Sunnydale and a life on the Hellmouth…

It all kicks off in ‘Destiny Free’ as shallow yet popular teen queen/cheerleader Buffy Summers shrugs off recurring nightmares of young women battling and being killed by vampires throughout history to continue her perfect life of smug contentment. Even a chance meeting with grungy stoner bad-boys Pike and Benny can’t dent her aura of self-assured privilege and studied indolence…

The nightmares keep mounting in intensity, however, and all over town teenagers keep disappearing…

Things come to a head the week her parents leave town for a trip. In a dark park, a maniac attacks Pike and Benny and is only driven off by the intervention of a mysterious, formidable old man. Even so, the assailant manages to take the screaming Benny with him…

Next day the same old geezer is at school, annoying Buffy. She is blithely mocking until he tells her about her nightmares and explains that she has an inescapable destiny… as a slayer of monsters…

Meanwhile, deep in the bowels of the Earth a monster is marshalling his forces and making terrifying converts out of the spoiled, worthless – but tasty – children of California…

Buffy’s strange stalker is exceedingly persistent and that night, despite her disbelieving misgivings, she and Merrick – an agent of an ancient, monster-hunting secret society – lurk in a graveyard waiting for a recently murdered man to rise from his fresh grave…

When he does – along with unsuspected others – Buffy’s unsuspected powers and battle reflexes kick in and, against all odds, she spectacularly overcomes…

‘Defenseless Mechanisms’ finds the aggressively altered Buffy grudgingly dropping her fatuous after-school activities and friends to train with the increasingly strident and impatient Watcher Merrick. Even though her attitude is appalling and her attention easily diverted, the girl is serious about the job, and even has a few new ideas to add to The Slayer’s traditional arsenal…

Even as she starts her career by pretending to be a helpless lost girl to draw out vile vamps, across town Pike is in big trouble. He also knows what is happening: after all, every night Benny comes to his window, begging to be let in and offering to share his new life with his best bud…

At school, the change in Buffy is noticeable and all her old BFFs are pointedly snubbing her, even as every sundown Lothos’ legion gets bolder and bigger. A fatal mistake occurs on the night when Slayer and Watcher save the finally-outmanoeuvred Pike from Benny and the Vampire Lord. Only two of the embattled humans survive and escape…

The tale escalates to a shocking climax when an undead army invades the long-awaited Hemery High School dance, looking for Buffy and fresh meat/recruits. With his bloodsuckers surrounding the petrified revellers and demanding a final reckoning, Lothos believes his victory assured, but in all his centuries of unlife he’s never encountered a Slayer quite like Buffy Summers…

As Allie’s Introduction already revealed, there are major hassles involved in producing a licensed comicbook whilst the primary property is still unfolding. Thus, as the print series was winding up the editors opted for in-filling some glaring gaps in the Slayer’s early career. Buffy the Vampire Slayer #51-59, spanning November 2002 through July 2003, addresses the period between the film’s end and her first days in Sunnydale, leading off with ‘Viva Las Buffy’ (Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Cliff Richards & Will Conrad) detailing what the Slayer did next: abandoning her disintegrating family as they prepared to leave LA and the reputation their daughter has garnered.

Buffy hooks up with sole survivor and wannabe monster-hunter Pike and they eventually fetch up in Nevada to investigate the apparently vampire-run Golden Touch Casino. The young warriors have no idea that a dark solitary stranger with a heavenly name is stalking them or that somewhere in England a Council of arrogant scholar-magicians are preparing a rather controversial candidate to join her as the new Watcher…

Sadly, Rupert Giles has a rival for the post who is prepared to do literally anything to secure the position…

Pike and the Slayer infiltrate the gambling palace as menial workers, whilst moodily formidable solo avenger Angelus goes straight to the top: hiring on as an enforcer for the management. When both independently operating factions are exposed, the Vamp with a Soul is tossed into a time-trap and despatched back to the 1930s as Buffy and Pike battle an army of horrors before confronting the ghastly family of monstrosities running the show across two eras.

The living and undead heroes endure heartbreak and sacrifice before this evil empire is ended forever…

Paul Lee then reveals the bizarre story of ‘Dawn & Hoopy the Bear’ wherein Buffy’s little sister accidentally intercepts a Faustian gift intended for the absent Slayer and finds herself befriended by a demonic Djinn who seems sweet but is pre-programmed for murder…

Through the narrative vehicle of Dawn reading her big sister’s diary, the last piece of the puzzle is revealed in ‘Slayer, Interrupted’ (Lobdell, Nicieza, Richards, Conrad, Lee & Horton) as Buffy’s own written words disclose her apparent delusional state. With no other choice, her parents have their clearly-troubled teen committed to a psychiatric institution.

Meanwhile in Ireland, Giles – having overcome his own opposition – completes his training preparations by undergoing a potentially lethal ritual and confronting his worst nightmare before heading to the USA, where Angelus and demonic attendant Whistler are still clandestinely watching over the Slayer.

That’s all to the good, as the asylum has been infiltrated by a sorcerous cult intent on gathering “brides” for infernal night-lord Rakagore…

As Buffy undergoes talk therapy with the peculiar Dr. Primrose, she comes to realise the nature of her own mission, her role as a “Creature of Destiny” in the universe and, most importantly, that the elderly therapist is not all she seems either…

With her head clear at last, all Buffy has to do is prove she’s sane, smash an invasion of devils, reconcile with her family and prepare for the new school year at Sunnydale High…

To Be Continued…

Supplementing a hoard of supernatural treasures is a copious photo, Title Page and Cover Gallery with contributions from Ryan Sook, Guy Major, Bennett, Gomez, Jadsen, René Micheletti, Paul Lee & Brian Horton.

Visually impressive, winningly scripted and illustrated and – most importantly – proceeding at a breakneck rollercoaster pace, this supernatural action-fest is utterly engaging even if you’re not familiar with the vast backstory: a creepy chronicle as easily enjoyed by the most callow neophyte as by the dedicated devotee. Moreover, with the shows readily available, if you aren’t a follower yet you soon could – and should – be…
Buffy the Vampire Slayer ™ & © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

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 PADDâ„¢ – 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.