Who Framed Roger Rabbit – the Official Comics Adaptation



By Daan Jippes, Don Ferguson & Dan Spiegle (Marvel)
ISBN: 0- 87135-464-0

The filmed interpretation of Gary K. Wolf’s novel ‘Who Censored Roger Rabbit?’ is the barest shell of the 1981 fantasy which starred comic strip icons, not cartoon characters, so please be aware that I’ll be concentrating here on the graphic adaptation of the film which resulted from a Byzantine 7-year transformational, legal odyssey rather than the source book (which I highly recommend you read, too).

After years of grief, celluloid shuffling and rewrites, Disney and Amblin Entertainment finally released a movie which easily stands on its own oversized, anthropomorphic feet and consequently spawned a couple of pretty impressive comics epics.

You probably know the plot: in the years after WWII, Hollywood was a town in transition with big business moving in and tearing up the good old ways. Animated features were still boffo box office but in this world the animated characters were real: whacky actors called “Toons” starring in live-action productions and incredible creatures who could choose which laws of physics they obeyed. They mostly lived in their own separate enclave; a bizarre ghetto called Toontown.

Eddie Valiant was a tired old private eye eking out a pitiable existence and still bearing a grudge over the loss of his brother, killed by a red-eyed Toon who had never been caught. With the world rapidly changing around him and everything good being bought up and torn down by the Cloverleaf Corporation, the despondent Shamus, against his better judgement, took a job with R.K. Maroon, head of the city’s leading cartoon studio…

It seemed their top star Roger Rabbit was unable to concentrate on his job because his wife Jessica was fooling around…

When Mrs Rabbit’s indiscretions lead to the murder of Marvin Acme, owner of Toontown, and with Roger firmly in the frame for the killing, Eddie was plunged into the lethal lunacy of battling murderous and/or boisterous toons, a ruthless land-grabbing syndicate, corrupt and obsessively homicidal magistrate Judge Doom and a mysterious mastermind determined to take control of Toontown and all of California…

With additional dialogue from Don Ferguson, the movie was adapted by European cartoonist Dann Jippes (Bernard Voorzichtig: Twee Voor Thee, the Gutenberghus Donald Duck, Junior Woodchucks and more) who collaborated with American comics legend Dan Spiegle (equally paramount in realistic comics dramas such as Crossfire, Space Family Robinson, Blackhawk and Terry and the Pirates, a magnificent succession of licensed cartoon adventure properties from Shazzan!, Johnny Quest and Space Ghost to full-on stylised Hanna-Barbera Bigfoot icons such as Scooby-Doo, Captain Caveman and many others) to mimic the unique look of the film.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit was produced with live stars interacting with state-of-the-art animation and here Spiegle and Jippes created a seamless blend of drawing styles that is a perfect amalgam of the real and surreal.

For most of the middle 20th century Disney comicbooks were licensed through the monolithic Western Publishing’s Dell/Gold Key/Whitman imprints, but by the time of this release the printing company had all but abandoned the marketplace and the American edition was released as the 41st Marvel Graphic Novel, joining such creator-owned properties as Dreadstar and Alien Legion, proprietary Marvel tales such as The Death of Captain Marvel or Revenge of the Living Monolith and licensed properties like Conan and Willow in the same glorious oversized European Album format (285 x 220mm on chic and glossy superior paper stock).

As such this fast-paced, fun, above average, all-ages adaptation is one of the very best of its (often substandard) kind and a graphic novel well worth your time and money.

And remember, Jessica isn’t bad: she’s just sublimely drawn that way…
© 1988 The Walt Disney Company and Amblin Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved.

Revenge of the Living Monolith – Marvel Graphic Novel #17


By David Michelinie, Mark Silvestri, Geoff Isherwood & many various (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-87135-083-1

Marvel don’t generally publish original material graphic novel these days but once they were market leader in the field with a range of “big stories” told on larger pages emulating the long-established European Album (285 x 220mm rather than the standard 258 x 168mm of today’s books) featuring not only proprietary characters in out-of-the-ordinary adventures but also licensed assets like Conan, creator-owned properties like Alien Legion and new character debuts.

This extended experiment with big-ticket storytelling in the 1980s and 1990s produced some exciting results that the company has never come close to repeating since. Many of the stories still stand out today – or would if they were still in print.

Released in 1985, Revenge of the Living Monolith is a conventional but highly enjoyable Fights ‘n’ Tights thriller paying glorious homage to those long-gone blockbuster movies with colossal monsters stomping urban population centres into kindling, yet still finds room to add some impressive character gloss to one of Marvel’s most uninspired villains.

Conceived and concocted by Editor Jim Owsley, scripted by David Michelinie and illustrated by Mark Silvestri & Geoff Isherwood (with nearly 4 dozen additional last-minute contributors!) this bombastic yarn is delightfully accessible to all but the most green reader of comics delivering action, tension and winning character byplay to both the faithful readership which made Marvel the premier US comics publisher for such a long time and even the newest kid on the block….

The plot itself is simple and effective: when young Ahmet Abdol was growing up in Cairo, he was bullied and abused for his intellect and imagination. Only the love and devotion of the lovely Filene kept him sane during the years of struggle until he became Egypt’s most respected historian.

However his “sacrilegious” twin discoveries that the ancient Pharaohs were super-powered mutants and that he shared their ancient bloodline brought only scorn, mob violence and shattering tragedy to Abdol and especially to his beloved wife and baby daughter. When his own cosmic powers manifested in the wake of the bloody incident, Abdol was abducted and deified by an ancient cult who saw him as their Living Pharaoh.

After battling the X-Men, Thor and Spider-Man in his mountainous, monstrous incarnation of the Living Monolith the defeated Last God-King was imprisoned in Egypt where he festered and schemed…

After years in forgotten isolation Abdol finally frees himself and begins an incredible plot to remove all his enemies and transform himself into a Cosmic-powered God, beginning by capturing the Fantastic Four and making them his living batteries. Unfortunately even at the point of his apotheosis Abdol is not beyond further heartbreak and a tragedy of his own making provokes him into an agonising rampage of destruction through New York City, with only She-Hulk, Captain America and Spider-Man on hand to combat the swathe of destruction…

Including last-minute cameos from most of Marvel’s costumed pantheon, this spectacular superhero saga is a perfect, if brief, distraction from the world’s woes for every fan of mainstream comics mayhem.
™ & © 1985 Marvel Comics Group/Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Alien Legion: A Grey Day to Die – An Epic Graphic Novel


By Carl Potts, Alan Zelenetz, Frank Cirocco, Terry Austin & Steve Oliff (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-87135-207-9

During the 1980s the American comics scene experienced a magical proliferation of new titles and companies following the creation of the Direct Sales Market. With publishers now able to firm-sale straight to retail outlets rather than overprint and accept returned copies from non-specialised shops, the industry was able to support less generic titles and creators were able to experiment without losing their shirts.

In response Marvel developed its own line of creator-owned properties during the height of the creative explosion, generating a number of supremely impressive, idiosyncratic series on better quality paper in a variety of formats under the watchful, canny eye of Editor Archie Goodwin. The delightfully disparate line was called Epic Comics and the results reshaped the industry.

One of the earliest hits was a dark, lovely and compelling science fiction serial with a beautifully simple core concept: the Foreign Legion of Space. Created by Carl Potts, Alan Zelenetz and Frank Cirocco, The Alien Legion debuted in its own on-going series in April 1984, running for 20 issues, before re-booting into a second, 18 issue volume. The series has come and gone ever since, most recently from Dark Horse Comics – who have begun compiling the series into collected omnibuses -and there is, of course, a movie in the offing…

In 1986 the creators produced an all-new one-shot for the satisfyingly oversized Marvel Graphic Novel line (#25 if you’re counting): a venue for a variety of  “big stories” told on larger than normal pages (285 x 220mm rather than the now customary 258 x 168mm, similar to the standard European format of the times) featuring not only proprietary characters but also licensed assets like Conan, creator-owned properties like Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar and media tie-ins like Willow or Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The Legion keeps the peace of the pan-galactic Galarchy on a million worlds spread over three galaxies: a broad brotherhood of outcast sentients united by a need to belong and a desire to escape their pasts. For such beings honour and tradition are the only things holding them together.

This grimly engaging tale finds series regular Commander Sarigar dispatching his best troops from Nomad Squadron (humanoid liberal Torrie Montroc, self-serving sociopath Jugger Grimrod, telepathic Meico, serving grunts Durge and Torqa Dun plus despondent retiring veteran Skathe Mescad) to a distant world for a dirty “wet-work” mission. Although most find the task distasteful, Grimrod is eager to practise the skills the Legion usually punishes him for indulging in…

The Technoids are a growing movement among many sentient species, espousing participant evolution and the replacement of organic features with cybernetic and mechanical parts. These aggressive cyborgs believe flesh is outmoded and aren’t too fussy about whether the surgeries are voluntary…

Technoids have battled the forces of the Galarchy for decades: in fact the most cherished victory legend of the Legion involves four heroic troopers who held off a thousand cyborg foes and chose death before surrender…

Now the Technoid leader Deathron has moved into politics and stands ready to convince an entire planet to trade their flesh for steel and plastic – a perfect opportunity to assassinate the head of the insidious movement. However nothing is ever easy for Nomad and Dethron has a hidden surprise waiting for the already unsettled and disconcerted soldiers…

Terse, tense and compellingly action-packed, this imaginative yarn by Potts and Zelenetz is splendidly readable and instantly accessible to those unfamiliar with the series, whilst the larger pages allow Cirocco and Terry Austin’s magnificent art and the inspired colouring of Cirocco and Steve Oliff to leap out and grab the reader. Sheer space opera gold and well worth tracking down.
© 1986 Carl Potts. All Rights Reserved.

The Mighty Thor: I, Whom the Gods Would Destroy

– a Marvel Graphic Novel

By Jim Shooter, James Owsley, Paul Ryan & Vince Colletta (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-87135-268-0

When it was released in 1987, I, Whom the Gods Would Destroy offered a decidedly different take on the bombastic fantasy-hero – which perhaps explains why it has unfairly languished in obscurity ever since…

The plot itself is delightfully simple and fiendishly clever: Thor is an immortal of Asgard with all the responsibilities of a warrior prince and champion of justice. Moreover, he can transform at will into mere mortal iteration Don Blake – a crippled surgeon who revels in the minutiae of humanity, regularly and literally holding people’s lives in his hands…

After Blake loses a patient on the operating table he suffers a debilitating crisis of conscience and begins to question his own Divine right to and manner of existence.

Rebuffing the dutiful pleadings of his betrothed, beloved Lady Sif, he goes thoroughly off the rails, decrying the callous, patronising disregard the gods show to mortals.

After a tawdry fling with a girl in a bar Blake decides to abandon his immortal identity intending to live and die as a man, but the ever-present dangers of city-life soon compel him to become the crime-busting saviour-hero once more. Now, however this heroic role is dull and unappetising to him. He attempts to end his undying life…

Traumatised beyond endurance Blake tries to prove the myriad attractions of raw humanity to celestial Sif, but she cannot understand his fascination and rejects the world of mortals. Not even for him can she embrace or understand mankind…

An emotional Rubicon is confronted and crossed when Blake is once more called to operate on a dying patient. This time it’s a child and if he can’t save her, nobody can…

This compelling drama takes the most macho, two-fisted action-hero of the Marvel Universe and puts him through emotional hell in a tale with no villains where strength is irrelevant and compassion is the only weapon…

I can’t recall when Marvel last published an all-original graphic novel as opposed to a collection of previously printed material, but once they were the market leader with an entire range of “big new stories” told on larger than normal pages (285 x 220mm rather than the comic-sized standard 258 x 168mm of today’s books), featuring not only proprietary characters in out-of-the-ordinary adventures but also licensed assets like Conan, creator-owned properties like Alien Legion and new character debuts.

Nonetheless, their ambitious dalliance with the form in the 1980s and 1990s produced some classy results that the company has seldom come close to repeating since. Whether original concepts, licensed projects or their own properties, that run generated a lot of superb or at least different stories that still stand out today – or would if they were actually in print.

Released in 1987, I, Whom the Gods Would Destroy was conceived by Jim Shooter, written by James Owsley and illustrated by Paul Ryan & Vince Colletta; fitting comfortably into the tightly policed continuity of the mainstream Marvel Universe, just before Walt Simonson reinvigorated the title with issue #337 (for which see Mighty Thor: the Ballad of Beta Ray Bill).

A million miles from the usual Fights ‘n’ Tights, Mallets and Monsters monkey-shines, this thought-provoking, long-neglected tale takes Thor in a totally different direction that will similarly delight and surprise new readers and old fans. A cut above the average and well worth an open-eyed reappraisal, this is a Marvel Masterpiece well worth tracking down…
© 1987 Marvel Entertainment Group/Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Essential Captain America volume 3


By Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Steve Englehart, Gene Colan, John Romita, Gil Kane, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2166-8

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, Captain America was a dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss. He faded during the post-war reconstruction and briefly reappeared after the Korean War – a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every brave American kid’s bed. Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time for the turbulent, culturally divisive 1960s.

By the time of this third Essential chronicle, gathering issues #127-156 of his monthly comicbook and reprinting the covers to the first two Annuals, the Star-Spangled Avenger had become a uncomfortable symbol of a troubled, divided society, split along age lines and with many of the hero’s fans apparently rooting for the wrong side…

Nevertheless the action begins here with the Sentinel of Liberty still working for super-scientific government spy-agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (which back then stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division) in ‘Who Calls Me Traitor?’ (#127, July 1970, by Stan Lee, Gene Colan & Wally Wood), which saw the veteran hero framed and manipulated by friend and foe alike in the search for a double agent in the ranks, after which the embittered avenger dropped out and decided to “discover America” – as so many kids were doing – on the back of a freewheeling motorcycle.

‘Mission: Stamp Out Satan’s Angels!’ (inked by Dick Ayers) saw him barely clear the city limits before encountering a nasty gang of bikers terrorising a small-town rock festival, after which his oldest enemy resurfaced to exact ‘The Vengeance of… the Red Skull’ as a by-product of attempting to begin a Middle East war.

Issue #130 found Cap ‘Up Against the Wall!’ as old foe Batroc the Leaper led Porcupine and Whirlwind in an fully paid-for ambush whilst the Sentinel of Liberty was busy defusing a college riot. The mysterious contractor then resorted to a far subtler tactic: launching a psychological assault in ‘Bucky Reborn!’

With the mystery villain revealed, the tragic true story behind the resurrected sidekick came out in ‘The Fearful Secret of Bucky Barnes!’ – a powerful, complex drama involving ruthless science brokers A.I.M., their murderous master Modok and even Doctor Doom.

Back in New York Advanced Idea Mechanics promptly returned in #133 as Modok attempted to stir racial unrest by sending a killer cyborg to create ‘Madness in the Slums!’ allowing Cap to reunite with his protégé The Falcon – whose name even began appearing in the title from the next issue.

Now a full-fledged partnership Captain America and the Falcon #134 found the pair battling ghetto gangsters in ‘They Call Him… Stone-Face!’, before the Avenger introduced his new main man to S.H.I.E.L.D. in the chilling ‘More Monster than Man!’ (inked by Tom Palmer) wherein a love-struck scientist turned himself into an awesome anthropoid to steal riches, only to end up in ‘The World Below’ (with the legendary Bill Everett applying his brilliant inks to Colan’s moody pencils) as a collateral casualty of the Mole Man’s battle with Cap.

With the Falcon coming to the rescue the Star-Spangled Avenger was on hand when his new partner opted ‘To Stalk the Spider-Man’ – a typical all-action Marvel misunderstanding that was forestalled just in time for Stone-Face to return in #138’s ‘It Happens in Harlem!’ as John Romita the elder returned to the art chores for the beginning of a lengthy and direction-changing saga…

For years Captain America had been the only expression of Steve Rogers’ life, but with this issue the man went undercover as a police officer to solve a series of disappearances and subsequently regained a personal life which would have long-term repercussions. After Spidey, Falcon and Cap trounced Stone-Face, the Red, White and Blue was subsumed by plain Rookie Blues in ‘The Badge and the Betrayal!’ as Steve found himself on a Manhattan beat as the latest raw recruit to be bawled out by veteran cop Sergeant Muldoon…

Meanwhile police officers were still disappearing and Rogers was getting into more fights on the beat than in costume… Issue #140 revealed the plot’s perpetrator ‘In the Grip of Gargoyle!’ as the tale took a frankly bizarre turn with moody urban mystery inexplicably becoming super-spy fantasy as the Grey Gargoyle stole a mega-explosive from S.H.I.E.L.D. in ‘The Unholy Alliance!’ (with Joe Sinnott inks).

Spectacular but painfully confusing until now, the epic was dumped on new writer Gary Friedrich to wrap up, beginning with ‘And in the End…’ (Captain America and the Falcon #142) wherein Cap, renewed love interest Sharon Carter, Falcon and Nick Fury attempted to save the world from the Gargoyle and ultimate explosive Element X…

All this time the Falcon, in his civilian identity of social worker Sam Wilson, had been trying to get friendly with “Black Power” activist Leila Taylor and, with the sci fi shenanigans over, a long-running subplot about racial tensions in Harlem boiled over…

‘Power to the People’ and ‘Burn, Whitey, Burn!’ (both from giant-sized #143 with Romita inking his own pencils) saw the riots finally erupt with Cap and Falcon caught in the middle, but copped out with the final chapter by taking a painfully parochial and patronising stance and revealing that the unrest amongst the ghetto underclass was instigated by a rabble-rousing super-villain in ‘Red Skull in the Morning… Cap Take Warning!’

Nevertheless Friedrich had made some telling and relevant points – and continued to do so in #144’s first story ‘Hydra Over All!’ (illustrated by Romita) with the creation of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s all-woman attack squad Femme Force One (stop squirming – at least they were trying to be egalitarian and inclusive…).

The issue also featured a solo back-up tale ‘The Falcon Fights Alone!’ (drawn by the great Gray Morrow) wherein the street vigilante got a new uniform and rededicated himself to tackling the real problems on his turf; drug-dealers and thugs endangering the weakest, poorest members of society…

Captain America and the Falcon #145 continued the hydra storyline with ‘Skyjacked’ (stunningly illustrated by Gil Kane & Romita) as the terrorists kidnapped Cap’s new team in mid-air, after which Sal Buscema began his long tenure on the series with ‘Mission: Destroy the Femme Force!’ and ‘Holocaust in the Halls of Hydra!’ (inked by John Verpoorten) wherein the devious dealings are uncovered before Falcon comes to the rescue of the severely embattled and outgunned heroes, culminating in the unmasking of the power behind the villainous throne in #147’s ‘And Behind the Hordes of Hydra…’ and a staggering battle royale in Las Vegas as the power behind the power reveals himself in Friedrich’s swansong ‘The Big Sleep!’

Gerry Conway assumed the writing chores for issues #149-152, an uncharacteristically uninspired run that began with ‘All the Colors… of Evil!’ (inked by Jim Mooney) wherein Gallic mercenary Batroc resurfaced, kidnapping ghetto kids for an unidentified client who turned out to be the alien Stranger (or at least his parallel universe incarnation) who intervened personally in ‘Mirror, Mirror…!’ (Verpoorten inks) but was still defeated far too easily.

‘Panic on Park Avenue’ (Buscema & Vince Colletta) pitted Cap against pale imitations of Cobra, Mr. Hyde and the Scorpion as Conway sought to retroactively include Captain America in his ambitious Mr. Kline Saga (for which see Essential Iron Man and Essential Daredevil volumes 4) climaxing with ‘Terror in the Night!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) featuring  bombastic battles and new plot-complications for officer Steve Rogers and Sgt. Muldoon…

Captain America and the Falcon #153 heralded a renaissance and magical return to form for the Star-Spangled Avenger as writer Steve Englehart came aboard and hit the ground running with a landmark epic which rewrote Marvel history and captivated the die-hard fans simultaneously.

The wonderment began with ‘Captain America… Hero or Hoax?’ (inked by Mooney) as Falcon, Sharon and Cap had an acrimonious confrontation with Nick Fury and decided to take a break from S.H.I.E.L.D.

Sam Wilson went back to Harlem whilst Steve and Sharon booked a holiday in the Bahamas, but it wasn’t long before the Falcon caught Captain America committing racist attacks in New York. Enraged, Falcon tracked him down but was easily beaten since the Sentinel of Liberty had somehow acquired super-strength and a resurrected Bucky Barnes…

In ‘The Falcon Fights Alone!’ (Verpoorten inks) the maniac impostors claimed to be “real” American heroes and revealed what they wanted – a confrontation with the lily-livered, pinko wannabe who had replaced and disgraced them. Even after torturing their captive they were frustrated in their plans until the faux Cap tricked the information out of the Avengers.

Battered and bruised, Falcon headed to the holiday refuge but was too late to prevent an ambush wherein Steve Rogers learned ‘The Incredible Origin of the Other Captain America!’ (Frank McLaughlin inks) – a brilliant piece of literary sleight-of-hand that tied up the Golden Age, fifties revival and Silver Age iterations of the character in a clear, simple, devilishly clever manner and led to an unbelievably affecting conclusion, which perfectly wraps up this glorious black and white compendium in the fabulously gratifying ‘Two into One Won’t Go!’

Any retrospective or historical re-reading is going to turn up a few cringe-worthy moments, but these tales of matchless courage and indomitable heroism are fast-paced, action-packed and illustrated by some of the greatest artists and storytellers American comics has ever produced. Captain America was finally discovering his proper place in a new era and would once more become unmissable, controversial comicbook reading, as we shall see when I get around to reviewing the next volume…

© 1970, 1971, 1972, 2006, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Heartburst – A Marvel Graphic Novel


By Rick Veitch (Marvel/King Hell Press)
ISBN: 0- 939766-82-5  King Hell edition ISBN: 978-0-98002-060-1

Once upon a time Marvel led the publishing pack in the development of high quality original graphic novels: mixing creator-owned properties, licensed assets like Conan, special in-continuity Marvel Universe tales and even new series launches in extravagant over-sized packages (a standard 285 x 220mm rather than the now customary 258 x 168mm based on the globally accepted European album format) which felt and looked instantly superior to the standard flimsy US comicbook no matter how good, bad or controversial the contents might be.

This terrifically appetising tale, developed under the company’s creator-owned Epic imprint in 1984, was one of the most experimental of those heady early days: a bold and impressive allegory of and attack on the assorted bigotries still too proudly cherished and even boasted of by so many in those distant days… in the 21st century we’re far less concerned with what you buy, pray to, look like or sleep with, aren’t we?

The drama begins with ‘Heartbeat’ as on a far-distant Earth colony circling Epsilon Bootis the theocratic authorities are in a state of constant crisis. In the centuries since humans first landed they have polarised into a closed, dogmatic and militaristic society, devoted to the worship of gods who regularly and actively communicate with them.

They have no truck with heretical Earth scientists like Miss Rimbaud whose explanation that the Holy Sponsor’s electronic teachings are merely old TV broadcasts. They don’t want to hear that those 1950s attitudes are discredited now. They absolutely won’t tolerate any hint of ending their campaign to sterilise and eradicate the native Ploo…

The indigenous natives are in dire distress: beautiful, friendly bright green beings, sexually and genetically compatible with humans and permanently emitting an aphrodisiac musk Terrans cannot resist. If the race is to be kept pure the Ploo simply cannot be allowed to survive…

Young Sunoco Firestone (most humans have good scriptural names like Pepsi, Schlitz or Bilko) is present when his uncle Inquisitor Xerox interrogates Rimbaud. Her story strikes a disturbing chord in the lad, already pushed to breaking point by recurring dreams of a magical well and a cosmic voice calling to him… When he sees a forbidden Ploo exotic dancer in a banned sector of town Sunoco is irresistibly drawn to her and the biologically inevitable happens…

Obsessed with his alien soul-mate Maia, shaken by his delirious fall into miscegenation and terrified because the Sacred Broadcasts have suddenly stopped, Sunoco snaps and abandons his life, joining Maia as a traveling entertainer, experiencing daily delight as the world rapidly goes to hell and beyond. But even though free, happy and proud; with Maia pregnant the dream voice won’t leave him alone, hinting at some incredible celestial destiny whilst the eternally vigilant gene-police are stepping up their pogroms and getting closer to the desperate fugitives…

With ‘Heartrhythm’ the forces of oppression close in and the lovers are separated as Sunoco is captured and the planet descends into outright civil war with the faithful eradicating the last Ploo and their turncoat human lovers. Broken and desperate Firestone agrees to become a spy for the human army, but when he meets the enigmatic Rimbaud he changes sides once more and finally discovers the secret of the voice and a fantastic universal power that will shape the destiny of two worlds in ‘Heartburst’

Rick Veitch is a criminally undervalued creator, with a poet’s sensibilities and a disaffected Flower-Child’s perspectives informing a powerful social and creative consciousness and conscience. This spectacularly mind-bending romp synthesizes the total late 20th century American experience from the bland triumph of cultural imperialism to the spiritual disenfranchisement of Vietnam whilst telling an uplifting story of love and hope – a really neat trick if you can do it…

This sly, dry, funny, impressively adult and breathtakingly reflective full painted yarn proves that he can and Heartburst should be on the must read list of any serious fan…

In 2008 Veitch released a remastered, slightly smaller-dimensioned edition under his own King Hell Press imprint. Heartburst and Other Pleasures also includes three short graphic collaborations with those other outré  masters of unconventional love Alan Moore and Steve Bissette: including ‘Mirror of Love’, ‘Underpass’, ‘Try to Remember’ as well as unseen art-pages. This too is well worth  tracking down or you could simply order direct from the man himself by typing www.rickveitch.com into your favourite search-engine, remembering always to keep a credit card handy – preferably your own…
© 1984, 2008 Rick Veitch. All Rights Reserved.

Avengers: Death Trap, the Vault – A Marvel Graphic Novel


By Danny Fingeroth, Ron Lim, Jim Sanders & Fred Fredericks (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-87135-810-3

Marvel don’t generally publish original material graphic novel these days but once they were a market leader in the field with a range of “big stories” told on larger pages emulating the long-established European Album (285 x 220 mm rather than the standard 258 x 168 mm of today’s books) featuring not only proprietary characters in out-of-the-ordinary adventures but also licensed assets like Conan, creator-owned properties like Alien Legion and new character debuts.

However the company’s extended experiment with big ticket storytelling in the 1980s and 1990s produced some exciting (and if I’m scrupulously honest, appalling) results that the company has never come close to repeating in since. Many of the stories still stand out today – or would if they were still in print.

Released in 1991, Death Trap, the Vault is a conventional but enjoyable Fights ‘n’ Tights thriller in the Summer Blockbuster vein that fits solidly into the strictly-policed continuity of the mainstream Marvel Universe. Scripted by Danny Fingeroth and illustrated by Ron Lim with inking by Jim Sanders & Fred Fredericks, this yarn is potentially impenetrable to occasional fans but nevertheless delivers the tension, action and character byplay to the faithful readership that made Marvel the premier US comics publisher for such a long time.

The plot itself is simple and effective: with so many super-powered menaces on the loose the Federal Government constructed a specialised penitentiary to incarcerate villains once they’re captured. Some felons, deemed too dangerous for normal courts, are even tried there. Perhaps the authorities could have picked a better warden though: Truman Marsh might be a fine administrator but his parents were collateral casualties in a super-powered clash and he spends far too much time thinking about the Doomsday bomb hidden in the Vault in case of a mass breakout…

One day the inevitable finally occurs and a power outage enables a few convicts to bust free. Already on the scene Captain America and size-changing savant Doctor Pym fight a holding action against Venom, Mentallo, Orca, Bullet and a dozen other lethal adversaries, but with more being released every minute things look pretty grim and Marsh starts getting an itch in his trigger – or rather, button-pushing – finger…

With the super-creeps killing hostages and the entire complex in lockdown a team of Avengers and Government penal battalion Freedom Force have no choice but to break into the ultimate prison, unaware that the deadly clock is already counting down…

Moreover, since Freedom Force is composed of the kind of criminals the Vault was built to contain, can Earth’s mightiest Heroes risk trusting them whilst the rampaging escapees run riot?

Intense and visceral, this old-school, all-out action romp will delight the traditionally-minded reader and still holds a happy surprise or two for we older, ostensibly wiser, jaded, grumpy geezers…


The book was resized and repackaged in 1993 as Venom: Death Trap the Vault and if you don’t mind seeing your action on a slightly smaller scale this edition might be a little easier to find.
© 1991 Marvel Entertainment Group/Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Emperor Doom starring the Mighty Avengers – A Marvel Graphic Novel


By Dave Michelinie, Bob Hall & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-87135-256-9

I can’t recall the last time Marvel published an all-original graphic novel as opposed to a collection of previously printed material, but once they were a market leader in the field with an entire range of “big stories” told on larger than normal pages (285 x 220 mm rather than the generally standard 258 x 168 mm of today’s books) featuring not only proprietary characters in out-of-the-ordinary adventures but also licensed assets like Conan, creator-owned properties like Alien Legion and new character debuts.

Nonetheless, Marvel’s ambitious dalliance with graphic novel publishing in the 1980s and 1990s produced some classy results that the company has never come close to repeating in the intervening years. Both original concepts and their own properties were represented in that initial run and many of the stories still stand out today – or would if they were still in print.

Released in 1987 Emperor Doom was conceived by Mark Gruenwald, David Michelinie and Jim Shooter, scripted by Michelinie and illustrated by Bob Hall with some additional inking by Keith Williams, and fits comfortably into the tightly policed continuity of the mainstream Marvel Universe.

If you’re wondering, despite coming out nearly two years after the launch of regular comicbook series West Coast Avengers, this saga is set just before that auspicious fresh start for Iron Man, Tigra, Wonder Man , Hawkeye and Mockingbird…

The plot itself is delightfully sly and simple: for once eschewing rash attacks against assembled superheroes, deadly dictator Doctor Doom has devised a scheme to dominate humanity through subtler means. Inviting Sub-Mariner to act as his agent the master villain uses the sub-sea anti-hero to neutralise mechanical heroes and rivals prior to using a pheromone-based bio-weapon to make all organic beings utterly compliant to his will. Naturally Doom then once-more betrayed his aquatic ally…

Meanwhile living energy being Wonder Man is undergoing a month-long isolation experiment to determine the nature of his abilities. When he exits the chamber 30 days later he discovers the entire planet has willingly, joyously accepted Doom as their natural and beloved ruler. Alone and desperate the last Avenger must devise a method of saving the world from its contented subjugation…

Of course there’s another side to this story. Doom, ultimately utterly successful, has turned the planet into an orderly, antiseptic paradise: no war, no want, no sickness and no conflict, just happy productive citizens doing what they’re told. In this perfect totalitarian triumph all the trains run on time and nobody is discontented. All Doom has to do is accept heartfelt cheers and do the daily paperwork.

With the entire world an idealised clone of Switzerland, the Iron Despot is bored out of his mind…

So it’s with mixed emotion that Doom realises Wonder Man and a select band of newly liberated Avengers are coming for him, determined to free the world or die…

Tense and compelling this intriguingly low-key tale abandoned the traditional all-out action for a far more reasoned and sinisterly realistic solution – disappointing and baffling a large number of fans at the time – but the clever premise and solution, underplayed art and wicked, tongue-in-cheek attitude remove this yarn from the ordinary Fights ‘n’ Tights milieu and elevate it to one of the most chillingly mature Avengers epics ever produced.

A cut above the average and well worth an open-eyed reappraisal, this is an Avengers adventure for every jaded superhero fan.
© 1987 Marvel Entertainment Group/Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Conan the Barbarian: The Horn of Azoth – A Marvel Graphic Novel


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Mike Docherty, Tony DeZuniga & Tom Vincent (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-87135-639-0

During the 1970′s, in response to a global downturn in superhero sales, and rise in interest in all things supernatural, the American comic book industry opened up after more than fifteen years of cautious and calcified publishing practices. These had come about as a reaction to the scrupulously-censorious oversight of the self-inflicted Comics Code Authority: A body created by publishers to police their product and keep it palatable and wholesome after the industry suffered their very own McCarthy-inspired Witch-hunt during the 1950s. Thus instead of crime comics – the other big casualty of the CCA – the first genre to be revisited was Horror/Mystery comics and from that came the pulp masterpiece Conan the Cimmerian.

Sword & Sorcery prose stories had undergone a global renaissance in the paperback marketplace since the release of soft-cover editions of Lord of the Rings (first published in 1954), and the 1960s saw the resurgence of the two-fisted fantasies of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otis Adelbert Kline and Fritz Lieber, whilst many modern writers such as Michael Moorcock and Lin Carter kick-started their careers with contemporary versions of man, monster and mage. Indisputably the grand master of the genre was Robert E. Howard.

Marvel Comics tested the waters in early 1970 with a little tale called ‘The Sword and the Sorcerers’ (from the horror anthology Chamber of Darkness #4) whose hero Starr the Slayer bore no small resemblance to the Barbarian. It was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by young Englishman Barry Smith, a recent Marvel find, and one who was just breaking out of the company’s Kirby house-style.

Despite some early teething problems, including being cancelled and reinstated in the same month, the comic-strip adventures of Robert E. Howard’s characters were as big a success as the prose yarns. Conan became a huge success: a mega-brand that saw new prose tales, a TV series and cartoon show, a newspaper strip and most importantly a Major Motion Picture in 1982.

…And it all largely stemmed from the vast range of comics initiated by Thomas, Windsor-Smith (as he became) and the excellent succession of comics creators that followed.

Thomas was a huge fan of the prose material and took great pains to adapt the novels and short stories into the graphic canon, but he was also one of the top writers in his field and much of the franchise’s success devolves from his visceral grasp on the character, which makes this particular graphic novel of particular interest.

After the success of the first film Thomas and fellow Marvel stalwart Gerry Conway were invited to write the second movie script.  How they did and why their script was accepted and never made is textbook Hollywood (I know whereof I speak: buy us a drink one day and I’ll tell you my own tales of Tinsel Town Tactics) and makes a fascinating introduction to this tome; but the upshot was at the end of the protracted process the scripters had a brilliant Conan yarn that everybody loved but that wasn’t going to be Conan the Destroyer. This meant of course, that with a little wheeler-dealing and a few secured permissions it could be returned to the artform that spawned it…

Thus “King of Thieves” became the superb savage thriller ‘The Horn of Azoth’ and opens with the itinerant Barbarian earning a crust pit-fighting in Shadizar the Wicked until he runs afoul of a local Magistrate – to the legislator’s lasting regret. The burly brigand is captured by the city guard but escapes the dungeons with the aid of a beautiful young witch. Together they flee the city with her giant bodyguard and it transpires that she needs Conan to help her fulfil a dark and ancient prophecy. Of course she tells him it’s to help unearth a fabulous treasure…

Locating the lost fortress and broaching its defences are child’s play for a bandit like the Cimmerian, but the mages within prove an unexpected obstacle and the little band is soon augmented by a boy-wizard with his own hidden agenda and an Amazonian Nubian warrior princess as they all converge on a distant rendezvous with fate.

It’s soon clear that everybody is lying to Conan as warring factions struggle to awaken or re-inter antediluvian god Azoth. Whoever wins the world is equally imperilled and unless he works a miracle Conan is collateral damage in a cosmic war that has been brewing for eons…

With brawny battles, warring wizards and enough suspense to choke a mastodon, this action-packed yarn is rip-roaring fantasy fare, brimming with supernatural horrors, wild women and spectacular titanic clashes, cannily recounted by immensely talented creators at the top of their form. Especially effective is Mike Docherty’s supremely illustrative art, ably enhanced by Tony DeZuniga’s smooth inking and Tom Vincent’s lush colours.

Still available, this is a another magnificently oversized tale (produced in the European Album format with glossy white pages 285mm x 220mm rather than the standard US proportions of 258 x 168mm) that provides another heady swig of untrammelled joy for lovers of the genre and fans of the greatest hero ever to swing a sword or plunder a tomb…
© 1990 Conan Properties Inc All Rights Reserved.

Last of the Dragons – A Marvel Graphic Novel


By Carl Potts, Denny O’Neil, Terry Austin, Marie Severin & James R. Novak (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-87135-335-0

During the 1980s Marvel was an unassailable front-runner in the American comicbook business, outselling all its rivals and increasingly making inroads into the licensed properties market that once went to the Whitman/Dell/Gold Key colossus. Much of their own superhero stable might have become cautious and moribund, but the company was expanding into many other arenas.

When the direct sales market began Marvel started its own creator-owned, rights-friendly fantasy periodical in response to the success of Heavy Metal which in turn led to a blossoming of many bold but comparatively low-selling titles in a host of varied genres.

From that ground breaking Epic Illustrated magazine comes this gloriously absorbing East-meets-West period fantasy (beginning with #15, October 1982 through #20 at the end of 1983) by then-newcomer Carl Potts who plotted and pencilled the tale for scripter Denny O’Neil, inker Terry Austin and colourist Marie Severin to finish and Jim Novak to inscribe.

Collected in 1988 under the Epic Comics imprint and released in the extravagantly expansive European Album format (a square high-gloss page of 285 x 220mm rather than today’s elongated and parsimonious 258 x 168mm) which delivered so much more bang-per-buck, The Last of the Dragons did its part to popularise the now over-exposed Japanese cultural idiom – but it still reads superbly well…

‘The Sundering’ opens in 19th century Japan as aged master swordsman Masanobu meditates in the wilderness until a young warrior disturbs his contemplation by attacking a basking dragon. The magnificent reptiles are gentle, noble creatures but the samurai is hungry for glory and soon wins his bloody trophy…

After the arrogant victor has left Masonobu meets Ho-Kan, a young priest and caretaker of the Dragons. The youth is filled with horror and misery at the brutal sacrilege, but worse is to come for the tearful cleric. As he returns to the temple he stumbles upon a faction of his brother monks secretly conditioning young forest Wyrms, training them to deny their true natures and kill on command…

‘The Vision’ finds Ho-Kan returned to the temple too late: the aggressive monk Shonin has returned from a voyage to the outer world and has reached the conclusion that the Dragons must be used to preserve Japan from insidious change threatened by the encroaching white man’s world. In fact he has already been training the beasts.

When the elders object Shonin’s followers massacre the monks and set out for the wilds of America where they will breed and train hordes of killer lizards under the very noses of the enemy. Few escape the slaughter, but Ho-Kan is one and he will stop the madness somehow…

In a meditative vision he sees Takashi: a half-breed boy whose Christian sailor father abandoned him. The outcast boy was eventually adopted by a ninja clan and became a great fighter. Somehow he holds the key to defeating Shonin…

In ‘The Departure’ Ho-Kan hires the ninjas to stop the warmongering monks but, when he also tries to enlist Masanobu, Shonin’s acolytes capture him. Under torture he reveals all and the wicked clerics then trick the sword-master into fighting the ninjas for them. After killing all but Takashi the monks thereafter invite Masanobu to join them on their journey to the West. The elderly swordsman has no idea that the beasts he guards are hopelessly degraded monsters now.

In ‘The Arrival’ the monks and their hidden cargo take ship for California, unaware that a half-cast crewman has enlisted on a closely-following ship. Takashi the last ninja is bound in his duty and hungry for vengeance. He will not be denied…

When they disembark on a remote bay on the American coast the priests’ intention of slaughtering the sailors and Masanobu goes awry when one of the baby dragons escapes. In the ensuing melee the aged swordsman realises the true state of play and flees into the forests.

The Native American tribes of the Californian forests are helpless before the martial arts and war-dragons of Shonin in ‘The Meeting’ until they meet Takashi – hot on the trail. He defeats and then joins with them. As Takashi and the assembled braves stalk the monks they encounter Masanobu who is also determined to end this dishonourable travesty once and for all…

All of which results in a tumultuous and stirring climax in ‘The Decision’ as all the disparate faction meet to forever decide the fate of a nation, the nature of a species and the future of heroes…

This is a magically compelling tale for fantasy fans and mature readers: an utterly delightful cross-genre romp and one more masterful tale to add to the “why is this out of print?” list.
© 1982, 1983, 1988 Carl Potts. All Rights Reserved.