Mega Robo Bros: Meltdown


By Neill Cameron with Abby Bulmer & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-281-6 (TPB)

Just in time to keep the kids occupied for the summer break, here’s another sterling all-ages outing for Neill (Tamsin of the Deep, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea) Cameron’s marvellous purpose-built paladins. This time the rambunctious Mega Robo Bros share more of their awesome adventures and growing pains – and even some Secret Origins – in a far darker and more violent tale than their previous fun fare…

It’s the Future!

In a London far cooler than ours, Alex and his younger brother Freddie are (sort of) typical kids: boisterous, fractious, eternally argumentative yet devoted to each other, and not too bothered that they’re adopted. It’s really no big deal for them that they were constructed by the mysterious Dr. Roboticus before he vanished, and are considered by those in the know as the most powerful – and only SENTIENT – robots on Earth.

Dad may be just your average old guy who makes lunch and does a bit of writing, but it’s recently become apparent that when not being a housewife Mum is a also a bit extraordinary. As surprisingly famous and renowned robotics boffin, Dr. Nita Sharma harbours some surprising secrets of her own…

All the same, life in the Sharma household is pretty normal. Freddie is insufferably exuberant and over-confident whilst Alex is at the age when self-doubt and anxiety begin to manifest. Of course, their parents’ other robot rescues can also be a bit of a trial. Programmed as a dog, baby triceratops Trikey is ok, but French-speaking deranged ape Monsieur Gorilla can be mighty confusing, whilst gloomily annoying, existentialist aquatic fowl Stupid Philosophy Penguin constantly quotes dead philosophers and makes most people rapidly consider self-harm or manic mayhem.

The boys have part-time jobs as super-secret agents, but aren’t very good at the clandestine part and now almost the entire world knows of them. Generally, however, it’s enough for the digital duo that their parents love them, even though they are a bit more of a handful than most kids. They live as normal a life as possible: going to human school, playing with human friends and hating homework. It’s all part of their “Mega Robo Routine”, combining dull lessons, actual fun, games-playing, watching TV and training in the covert combat caverns under R.A.I.D. HQ.

Usually, when a situation demands, the lads carry out missions for bossy Baroness Farooq: head of government agency Robotics Analysis Intelligence and Defence. They still believe it’s because they are infinitely smarter and more powerful than the Destroyer Mechs and other man-made minions she usually utilises. Of course, they’re on suspension from R.A.I.D. at the moment, due to the fallout and collateral damage of their last case…

Originally published in UK weekly comic The Phoenix, this revised, retooled and remastered saga opens as the bored, curfewed boys sneak into Mum’s workshop. Whilst defeating a reject robot rebellion sparked by artificial life activist the Caretaker, the Bros met monstrous, cruelly damaged droid Wolfram and learned that he might be their older brother…

Now they’re trying to break into Mum’s locked datafiles to learn the truth, and her part in their creation, as this saga opens with ‘Part 1: Fifteen Years Ago’. When Dr. Sharma catches the little perishers in the act, instead of punishment, she gives them full access.

What unfolds is a shocking story of when their mother was a young, pretty and brilliant roboticist who landed her dream job working beside incomparable (but weird) pioneering genius Dr. Leon Robertus. His astounding advances had earned him the unwelcome nickname Dr. Roboticus. Maybe that was what started pushing him away from humanity…

Over months, Nita grew into her job and eventually convinced Robertus to let her repurpose his individually superpowered prototypes into a rapid-response team for global emergencies. Mum used to be a superhero, leading manmade Rapid Response team the Super Robo Six! While saving lives with them she first met future husband Michael Mokeme who proudly took her name when they eventually wed…

So Dad was also present at the moment everything changed!

Robertus was astoundingly devoid of human empathy but – intrigued by the team’s acclaim and global acceptance – was inspired to create a new kind of autonomous robot. Wolfram was more powerful than any other construct, and also possessed certain foundational directives that allowed him to make choices and develop his own systems. He could think, like Alex and Freddy! Only, as it transpired, not quite…

When Robertus demoted Nita and made his new “child” leader of new Super Robo Seven, the result was an even more effective unit, until the day Wolfram’s three Directives clashed during a time-critical mission. Millions of humans paid the price for his confusion and hesitation…

In the aftermath, RAID was formed and sought to shut down Robertus and decommission Wolfram. When the superbot rejected their judgement, the agency deployed jets and missiles. Following a terrific struggle, they believed him destroyed. They were wrong…

…And while RAID was occupied, Roboticus vanished…

Story told, the amazed Robo Bros realise why Mum called the recently-returned Wolfram their brother. They are all unaware that the damaged, deranged droid is observing and has made a decision that will affect all humanity…

‘Part 2: Meltdown’ opens with an increase in casual human-on-robot abuse. Perhaps this triggers Wolfram’s final solution as Dad heads to the North Pole to interview chief scientist Professor Mahfouz spearheading an attempt to restore the polar ice cap with a colossal freezing machine.

Jötunn Base covers many miles and is carefully rebalancing the world’s climate, but has no defence when Wolfram arrives to reverse the chilling process to burn the Earth and drown humanity…

Alex and Freddy are making the best of their house arrest, playing a game with classmates Mira and Taia when news comes of the attack. Ordered again by Baroness Farooq to stay put and not help, they enlist the girls in an escape plan that takes them through the secret basement lab and far below London, using the abandoned transport tunnels beneath the city.

By the time the Bros reach Jötunn Base, Wolfram has already ruthlessly crushed the RAID force led by their friend Agent Susie Nichols and all that’s possible is to stop their determined and utterly unreasonable brother by any means necessary…

That grim task falls to “older” bro Alex, whilst Freddy works with Dad and Professor Mahfouz to repair and reprogram the giant freezer machine and stop the planet becoming a water world…

With humanity safe again the boys are well rewarded by Farooq, but completely unaware that an old enemy has ensured that the threat of Wolfram is not ended…

Crafted by Cameron and colouring assistant Alice Leclert, this rather more grim adventure still offers exceedingly engaging excitement and hearty hilarity, roaring along like an anti-gravity rollercoaster, offering thrills, chills, warmth, wit and incredible verve. Alex and Freddy are utterly authentic kids, irrespective of their artificial origins, and their antics strike exactly the right balance of future shock, family fun and bombastic superhero action to capture readers’ hearts and minds. What movies these tales would make!
Text and illustrations © Neill Cameron 2022. All rights reserved.

Mega Robo Bros Meltdown will be released on August 4th 2022 and is available for pre-order now.

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom Dark Horse Archives volume Four


By Dick Wood, Roger McKenzie, Don Glut, Al McWilliams, Ernie Colón, José Delbo, Dan Spiegle, Jesse Santos, George Wilson & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-825-6 (HB) 978-1-61655-512-2 (TPB)

Comics colossus Dell/Gold Key/Whitman had one of the most complicated publishing set-ups in history, but that didn’t matter one iota to kids of all ages who consumed their vastly varied product. Based in Racine, Wisconsin, Whitman had been a crucial component of the monolithic Western Publishing and Lithography Company since 1915: drawing upon commercial resources and industry connections that came with editorial offices on both coasts. They even boasted a subsidiary printing plant in Poughkeepsie, New York.

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

From 1938, the affiliated companies’ comic book output was released under a partnership deal with a “pulps” periodical publisher under the umbrella imprint Dell Comics – and again those creative staff and commercial contacts fed into the line-up of the Big Little, Little Golden and Golden Press books for children. This partnership ended in 1962 and Western had to swiftly reinvent its comics division as Gold Key.

Western Publishing had been a major player since comics’ earliest days, blending a huge tranche of licensed titles including newspaper strips, TV tie-in and Disney titles (like Nancy and Sluggo, Tarzan, or The Lone Ranger) with in-house originations such as Turok, Son of Stone, Brain Boy, and Kona Monarch of Monster Isle.

Dell and Western split just as a comic book resurgence triggered a host of new titles and companies, and a superhero boom. Independent of Dell, new outfit Gold Key launched original adventure titles including Mighty Samson; Magnus – Robot Fighter; M.A.R.S. Patrol, Total War; Space Family Robinson and – in deference to the atomic obsession of the era – a cool, potently understated thermonuclear white knight…

The new company’s most recognisable and significant stab at a superhero bore the rather unwieldy codename of Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom, who debuted in an eponymous title cover-dated October 1962 and thus on sale in the last days of June – Happy 60th Birthday Doc! – sporting a captivating painted cover by Richard M. Powers which made it feel like a grown up book rather than a simple comic.

With #3, George Wilson took over the iconic painted covers: a glorious feature that made the hero unique amongst his costumed contemporaries…

This fourth and final collection spans April 1968 via a 12-year hiatus – all the way to March 1982, encompassing a period when superheroes again faded from favour, whilst supernatural themes proliferated in comics books. Gold Key had their own stable of magical mystery titles: anthologies such as Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Grimm’s Ghost Stories and The Twilight Zone. They even ran a few character-driven titles including Dagar the Invincible, Tragg and the Sky Gods and The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor.

Included in this volume are the contents of Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #23-31, plus a guest cameo from The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor #14: a very mixed bag preceded by an Introduction from the late Batton Lash (Supernatural Law; Archie Meets the Punisher; Wolff and Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre).

The Supreme Science Hero was born when a campaign of sabotage at US research base Atom Valley culminated in the death of Dr. Bentley and accidental transmutation of his lab partner Doctor Solar into a (no longer quite) human atomic pile with incredible, impossible and apparently unlimited powers and abilities. Of course, his mere presence is lethal to all around him until scientific ingenuity devises – with dutiful confidantes girlfriend Gail Sanders and mentor Dr. Clarkson – a few brilliant work-arounds…

Solar was created by Paul S, Newman but the majority of later tales were written by Golden Age all-star Dick Wood (Sky Masters of the Space Force; Crime Does Not Pay; The Phantom; Mandrake the Magician; Flash Gordon and countless others). In this final volume a number of artists shared duties, beginning with Alden “Al” McWilliams (Danny Raven/Dateline: Danger; Star Trek, Flash Gordon; Twilight Zone; Buck Rogers; Justice Inc.; Star Wars and so much more) who drew the first tale here.

The atomic adventuring resumed with the latest ploy of evil mastermind Nuro: Solar’s nemesis and a madman who defeated death by implanting his personality inside a super-android. ‘King Cybernoid Strikes Part I & II’ (#23: cover-dated April 1968 by Wood & McWilliams) sees the malevolent man-machine escape his destroyed citadel of evil to replace a billionaire philanthropist, infiltrate Atom Valley and orchestrate his enemy’s demise by shutting down the nuclear reactors Solar needs to sustain his existence. The hero’s plan to survive seems like nuclear suicide but happily works out…

Ernie Colón was next to render the Atomic Ace beginning with #24’s (July 1968) Wood-written ‘The Deadly Trio Part I & II’.

Born in Puerto Rico on July 13th 1931, Ernie Colón Sierra was a multi-talented maestro of the American comics industry whose work delighted generations of readers. Whether as artist, writer, colourist or editor, his contributions affected the youngest of comics consumers (Monster in My Pocket, Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost at Harvey Comics and Marvel’s Star Comics imprint) to the most sophisticated connoisseur with strips.

His mature-reader material comprised newspaper sci fi classic Star Hawks, comic book graphic novels Ax, Manimal, The Medusa Chain and more, and comics as wide-ranging as Vampirella, Battlestar Galactica, Arak, Son of Thunder, Damage Control, Doom 2099, I… Vampire, Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld, and Airboy. He also drew the 1990s revival of Magnus: Robot Fighter for Valiant amongst so very many others.

Colón was master of many trades and served as an innovative editor, journalist, historian and commentator as well. Amongst his vast output were sophisticated experimental works and seminal genre graphic novels done in collaboration with Harvey Comics/Star Comics collaborator Sid Jacobson. These include The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, After 9/11: America’s War on Terror, Che: a Graphic Biography and Vlad the Impaler. In 2010 they released Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography and 2014’s The Warren Commission Report: A Graphic Investigation into the Kennedy Assassination with Gary Mishkin.

While diligently hard at work on newspaper strip SpyCat (Weekly World News 2005-2019) he sought other challenges, like historical works A Spy for General Washington and The Great American Documents: Volume 1, both collaborations with his author wife Ruth Ashby. He died on August 8th 2019…

Here he adds an edge of high-octane dramatic tension to Solar’s exploits as the fugitive King Cybernoid unleashes three deadly war machines, each the ultimate weapon in its preferred environment of earth, air and water and each a crucial component in a lethal booby trap…

‘The Lost Dimension Part I & II’ (#25, October) began a continued tale with Atom Valley’s teleportation experiments opening Earth to attacks from an evil parallel dimension. Impatient to solve the mystery of vanishing test subjects, Gail’s nephew and resident teen super-genius Hamilton Mansfield Lamont uses the apparatus on himself and is captured by mirror universe duplicates. When Solar follows he uncovers a plot to invade and conquer our universe and must use his intellect as well as atomic powers to resist the wicked facsimiles’ plans ‘When Dimensions Collide parts I & II’ (#26 January 1969).

A new year saw a fresh illustrative hand. Argentinian illustrator José Delbo (Billy the Kid; Mighty Samson; Yellow Submarine; The Monkees; Wonder Woman; Superman; Batman; Turok, Son of Stone; Transformers,) had been a prolific US comics illustrator since 1965, and was a valued contributor to Gold Key’s licensed titles. He took on the Atomic Ace in a 2-issue run that spanned 12 years, beginning with Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #27.

Cover-dated April 1969, the done-in-one yarn written by Wood saw the titanic troubleshooter clashing again with cyborg Nuro. It began at a British radio telescope as the hero sought to prevent marauding energy beings using the installation to invade Earth via ‘The Ladder to Mars’. After solving ‘The Mystery Message’, Solar triumphs in an outer space ‘Battle of the Electronic Fighters’.

This was the last appearance for quite a while, as the taste for men in tights waned. A guest shot from the genre-experimental 1970s was a rare treat, before a superhero resurgence saw Solar’s return in what I’m assuming was an inventory tale that had sat in a drawer since cancellation. In the meantime, Gold Key had undergone a few changes and was now using the publishing umbrella of “Whitman”.

Cover-dated April 1981, Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #28 featured Wood & Delbo’s ‘The Dome of Mystery’: a traditional 2-chapter saga that saw Nuro use a deadly force field dome to destroy his enemies. Although initially helpless against ‘The Movable Fortress’, Solar’s persistence and ingenuity eventually triumphs in ‘The Dome of Mystery: An Army of Molecules’. Also included was an informational strip by Al McWilliams ‘A Day at the Man of the Atom’s Secret Training Grounds’.

The next issue was cover-dated October 1981, with writer Roger McKenzie (Captain America; Daredevil; Next Man; Battlestar Galactica; Men of War: Gravedigger) joined by veteran artist Dan Spiegle. Criminally unsung, his career was two-pronged and incredibly long. Born in 1920, Spiegle wanted to be a traditional illustrator but instead fell – after military service in the Navy – into comics at the end of the 1940s. He was equally adept at dramatic narrative art and humorous cartooning, and his impossibly large and varied portfolio includes impeccable work on Hopalong Cassidy; Rawhide; Sea Hunt; Space Family Robinson; Blackhawk and Nemesis for DC; Crossfire; Scooby Doo; Who Framed Roger Rabbit?; Indiana Jones; the entire Hanna-Barbera stable and so much more.

In high energy action mode here, he limns the Atomic Ace’s close encounter with extradimensional energy vampire ‘Li’Rae’ and her subsequent attempt to colonise and consume Earth. The hero’s penultimate exploit was cover-dated February 1982, with McKenzie & Spiegle resurrecting the Man of the Atom’s greatest foe. When international Man of Mystery Mr. Dante gathers the world’s greatest scientist on his artificial paradise of New Atlantis, Solar soon uncovers his real identity and deadly scheme, but not before the villain unleashes a geothermal ‘Inferno’…

One month later the heroic exploits concluded with #31 and an assault by an misguided admirer of Gail’s. When actor Ron Barris gains incalculable power in a special effects accident, he targets “rival” Solar in his TV superhero role ‘When Strikes the Sentinel!’ in his deranged scheme to make her his own, but his new powers are no match for the Atomic Avenger…

The mid-70s cameo appearance previously mentioned closes this archive. It comes from The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor #14 (June 1975): a series starring a troubled mystic and supernatural troubleshooter in the classic vein. ‘The Night Lakota Died’ is by Don Glut & Jesse Santos (who also painted the cover) and finds famed ghostbuster Dr. Adam Spektor accused of murdering his assistant and lover. On the run, the magician uncovers a plot by archenemy Kareena to entrap the mage and seduce him to the side of her Dark Gods.

Her plan revolves around keeping a certain atomic superhero under her mesmeric spell, but once again the witch underestimates the resolve of the forces of light…

Enticingly restrained and understated, these Atom Age action comics offered a compelling counterpoint to the hyperbole of DC and Marvel and remain some of the most readable thrillers of the era. These tales are lost gems from a time when fun was paramount and entertainment a mandatory requirement. This is comics the way they were and really should be again…
DOCTOR SOLAR®, MAN OF THE ATOM ARCHIVES Volume 4 ® and © 1968, 1969, 1975, 1981, 1982, 2015 Random House, Inc. Under license to Classic Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

A1 – The World’s Greatest Comics 


By various (Atomeka/Titan Comics) 
ISBN: 987-1-78276-016-0 (HB) 

We were saddened to learn of the sudden death of Garry Leach on March 26th. An extremely talented artist best known for Illustrating Marvelman/Miracleman, Dan Dare, and The V.C.’s, he was also a dedicated mover and shaker behind the scenes; quietly helping many other creators on the way to their own fame and glory. Our condolences go out to his friends and family, and here’s a review of one his most important and significant ventures… 

A1 began in 1988 as an anthology showcase dedicated to comics creativity. Freed from the usual strictures of mainstream publishers, the project consequently attracted many of the world’s top writers and artists to produce work at once personal and experimental, comfortingly familiar and, on occasion, deucedly odd. 

Editors Garry Leach & Dave Elliott periodically returned to their baby and in 2013 the title and concept were resurrected under the aegis of Titan Comics to provide more of the same. 

Similarly committed to past excellence and future triumphs – and following the grandest tradition of British comics – this classic compendium offered the same eclectic mix of material old and new… 

After a colossal 2-page dedication/thank you to everyone from Frank Bellamy to Face Ache in ‘The Dream Days are Back: The One’s Especially For You…’ the cartoon carnival commences with a truly “Golden Oldie” as Joe Simon & Jack Kirby (and inked by Al Williamson) provide science fiction classic ‘Island in the Sky’ – which first surfaced in Harvey Comic’s Race for the Moon #2 September, 1958. Here an expired astronaut returns from death thanks to something he picked up on Jupiter… 

Each tale here is accompanied by fulsome creator biographies and linked by factual snippets about most artists’ “drug of choice”. These photographic examples of coffee barista self-expression (with all ‘Latte Art’ courtesy of Coffee Labs Roasters) are followed by illustrator Alex Sheikman & scripter Norman Felchle’s invitation to the baroque, terpsichorean delights of the ‘Odd Ball’. 

The fantastic gothic revisionism resumes after another coffee-break as the sublime Sandy Plunkett details in captivating monochrome the picaresque perils of life in a sprawling urban underworld with his ‘Tales of Old Fennario’. 

‘Odyssey: A Question of Priorities’ by Elliot, Toby Cypress & Sakti Yuwono is a thoroughly up-to-date interpretation of pastiche patriotic avenger Old Glory, who now prowls modern values-challenged America, regretting choices he’s made and the timbre of his current superhero comrades… 

‘Image Duplicator’ by Rian Hughes & Dave Gibbons is, for me, the most fascinating feature included here, detailing and displaying comics creator’s admirable responses to the appropriation and rapine of comic book images by “Pop” artist Roy Lichtenstein. 

In a move to belatedly honour the honest jobbing creators simultaneously ripped off and denigrated by the “recontextualisation” and transformation to High Art, Hughes & Gibbons approached a number of professionals from all sectors of the commercial arts and asked them to re-appropriate Lichtenstein’s efforts. 

The results were displayed in the exhibition Image Duplicator with all subsequent proceeds donated to the charity Hero Initiative which benefits comic creators who have fallen on hard times. 

In this feature are the results of the comic book fightback with contributions from Hughes, Gibbons, FuFu Frauenwahl, Carl Flint, Howard Chaykin, Salgood Sam, Mark Blamire, Steve Cook, Garry Leach, Dean Motter, Jason Atomic, David Leach, Shaky Kane, Mark Stafford, Graeme Ross, Kate Willaert & Mitch O’Connell. 

Master of all funnybook trades, Bambos Georgiou offers his 2011 tribute to DC’s splendidly silly Silver Age in the Curt Swan inspired ‘Weird’s Finest – Zuberman & Batguy in One Adventure Together!’ and Dominic Regan crafts a stunning Technicolor tornado of intriguing illumination as Doctor Arachnid has to deal with cyber Psychedelia and a divinely outraged ‘Little Star’… 

Bill Sienkiewicz’s ‘Emily Almost’  first appeared in the original A1 #4; a bleak paean to rejection seen here in muted moody colour, after which Scott Hampton revisits the biblical tale of ‘Daniel’ and Jim Steranko re-presents his groundbreaking, experimental multi-approach silent story ‘Frogs!’ before following up with ‘Steranko: Frogs!’ – his own treatise on the history and intent behind creating the piece 40 years ago… 

‘Boston Metaphysical Society’ is a prose vignette of mystic Steampunk Victoriana written by Madeleine Holly-Rosing from her webcomic, ably illustrated by Emily Hu, whilst ‘Mr. Monster’ by Alan Moore & Michael T. Gilbert (with inks from Bill Messner-Loebs) is a reprint of ‘The Riddle of the Recalcitrant Refuse!’ first found in #3 (1985) of the horror hunter’s own series. It recounts how a dead bag-lady turns the city upside out when her mania for sorting junk transcends both death and our hero’s best efforts… 

‘The Weirding Willows: Origins of Evil’ by Elliot, Barnaby Bagenda & Jessica Kholinne is one of the fantasy features from the later A1 iteration – a dark reinterpretation of beloved childhood characters like Alice, Ratty, Toad and Mole, which fans of Bill Willingham’s Fables should certainly appreciate… 

‘Devil’s Whisper’ by James Robinson & D’Israeli also came from A1 #4, and features Matt Wagner’s signature creation Grendel …or does it? 

Stechgnotic then waxes lyrical about Barista art in ‘The Artful Latte’ after which ‘Melting Pot – In the Beginning’ by Kevin Eastman, Eric Talbot & Simon Bisley ends the affair; revisiting the ghastly hellworld where the gods spawned an ultimate survivor through the judicious and repeated application of outrageous bloody violence. 

Of course it’s a trifle arrogant and rather daft to claim any collection as “The World’s Greatest Comics” and – to be honest – these weren’t. There’s no such thing and never can be… 

However, this absorbing, inspiring oversized collection does contain plenty of extremely good, wonderfully entertaining material by some of the best and most individualistic creators to have graced our art form. 

What more can you possibly need? 
A1 Annual © 2013 Atomeka Press, all contents copyright their respective creators. ATOMEKA © 2013 Dave Elliott & Garry Leach. 

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom Dark Horse Archives volume Three


By Paul S. Newman, Dave Wood, Frank Bolle, Al McWilliams, George Wilson & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-374-9 (HB) 978-1-61655-354-8 (TPB)

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

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

From 1938, Western’s comicbook output was released under a partnership deal with a “pulps” periodical publisher under the umbrella imprint Dell Comics – and again those creative staff and commercial contacts fed into the line-up of the Big Little, Little Golden and Golden Press books for children. This partnership ended in 1962 and Western had to swiftly reinvent its comics division as Gold Key.

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

In the 1960s, during the camp/superhero boom the original adventure titles expanded to include Brain Boy, M.A.R.S. Patrol, Total War (created by Wally Wood), Magnus, Robot Fighter (by the incredible Russ Manning) and – in deference to the atomic age of heroes – Nukla and another brilliantly cool and understated thermonuclear white knight…

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

As a publisher, Gold Key never really “got” the melodramatic, breast-beating, often-mock-heroic Sturm und Drang of superheroes – although for a sadly-dwindling number of us, the understated functionality of Silver Age classics like Magnus, Robot Fighter or remarkably radical concepts of atomic crusader Nukla and even the crime-fighting iterations of classic movie monsters Dracula, Frankenstein and Werewolf were utterly irresistible.

The sheer off-the-wall lunacy of features like Neutro or Dr. Spektor I will save for a future occasion…

The company’s most recognisable and significant stab at a superheroes was an understated Atomic era paladin with the rather unwieldy codename of Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom. He debuted in an eponymous title cover-dated October 1962 – Happy Anniversary! – sporting a captivating painted cover by Richard M. Powers which made it feel like a grown up book rather than a simple comic. With #3, George Wilson took over the iconic painted covers: a glorious feature that made the hero unique amongst his costumed contemporaries…

By the time of this third collection – also available in hardback, but tragically not in any digital editions I know of – originator Paul S. Newman (A Date With Judy; The Lone Ranger; Turok, Son of Stone; I Love Lucy and countless more) had all but moved on – despite what the credits here say. The issues included here are Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #15-22 and span December 1965 to January 1968 and he only wrote one of them.

Golden Age all-star Dick Wood (Sky Masters of the Space Force; Crime Does Not Pay; The Phantom; Mandrake the Magician; Flash Gordon and countless others) was primarily tapping the keys for this period, but Frank Bolle (The Twilight Zone; Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery; Flash Gordon; The Heart of Juliet Jones) was still providing slick understated visuals for one of the most technically innovative and conceptually spectacular series on the stands. That changed with #20, when Alden “Al” McWilliams (Danny Raven/Dateline: Danger; Star Trek, Flash Gordon; Twilight Zone; Buck Rogers; Justice Inc.; Star Wars and so much more) took over, drawing and inking to the end of this volume (and the first tale in the next one).

The Supreme Science Hero was born when a campaign of sabotage at research base Atom Valley culminated in the death of Dr. Bentley and accidental transmutation of his lab partner Doctor Solar into a (no longer quite) human atomic pile with incredible, impossible and apparently unlimited powers and abilities. Of course, his mere presence is lethal to all around him until scientific ingenuity devises – with dutiful confidantes girlfriend Gail Sanders and mentor Dr. Clarkson – a few brilliant work-arounds…

Following a Foreword from Mike Baron detailing those faraway times and concentrating on real world nuclear near-things, the atomic adventuring resumes with the latest ploy by evil mastermind Nuro, who wants the monopoly on atomic science and global decision making.

Written by Wood and limned by Bolle, ‘Doomsday Minus One Minute Parts I & II’ comes from the end of 1965 and finds Atom Valley boffin Dr. Lamson cracked under the Cold War pressure. He devises a doomsday trigger to fire every thermonuclear weapon at once… just to end the appalling anticipation…

After failing at every stage to avert armageddon, Solar secures a unique method of time-travel to save the day and all the rest to come…

Cover-dated June 1966 and on newsstands from March onwards thanks to Gold Key’s byzantine publishing schedules, ‘The War of the Suns Pts I & II’ was #16’s main feature and actually by Newman & Bolle. Here Nuro’s espionage delivers the deadly methodology of building miniature suns, and enables him to unleash hell on Earth from close orbit. The solution? Build another sun and have Solar use it to destroy the hellish invader. What could go wrong?

Wood & Bolle reunited in #17 (September 1966) for some traditional monster marauding as Nuro combines weird science and Alaskan volcanoes to build ‘The Fatal Foe.’ Elemental colossus Primo rampages towards Atom Valley and an eventual but titanic ‘Duel to Disintegration’.

Although a diabolical master of mayhem, Nuro’s continued failures clearly began to grate with his lieutenant Uzbek, who increasingly squabbled and gaslit the mastermind’s faceless android protégé Orun. In #18 (December 1966) with open warfare brewing between flunky and automaton, their fiendish overlord returned to brainwashing, targeting all Atom Valley techs and boffins with mind-control scorpions in ‘The Mind Master Parts I & II’. He sought the secret identity of the Man of the Atom but almost brought about his own destruction, further strengthening Uzbek’s thoughts of rebellion…

Bolle bowed out with #19 (April 1967) as Nuro modified his metal minion to resemble the Atomic Adventurer and attempted to blacken his enemy’s name and reputation in ‘Solar vs Solar’ and its action-packed conclusion ‘Only One Shall Survive’. The tale ended on a cliffhanger with Solar defeated, trapped and wired into the villain’s secret HQ, providing atomic energy to fuel Nuro’s next vile venture…

Cover dated July, #20 saw Al McWilliams join Wood as ‘Atomic Nightmares Parts I & II’ revealed how the hero brilliantly engineers his escape, but only by inadvertently creating a menace as great as Nuro. Almost as portentous is the debut of Gail’s nephew Hamilton Mansfield Lamont: a teen super-genius with as many secrets as ideas…

As he settles in at Atom Valley, #21 (October 1967) aliens considering an invasion of Earth offer a ‘Challenge from Outer Space Parts I & II’ which needs all Solar’s power plus a helping hand from the kid to foil, before the volume closes with an epic clash and monumental upgrade in menace.

Cover-dated January 1968, Wood & McWilliams reveal ‘The Two Lives of Nuro’ as Uzbek sells out, delivering the mastermind’s location to Interpol. With Solar leading the charge in a blazing battle, the villain finally falls. Dell/Gold Key infamously never joined the Comics Code Authority, and consequently their titles always had a perfectly understandable body count in situations where equivalent Marvel or DC characters would generate the odd skinned knee or sprained ankle in already empty and “condemned” buildings…

Here, however, as carnage mounts and justice closes in, Uzbek is brutally killed before the would-be world-conqueror “commits suicide” while transferring his malevolent personality into his robot for ‘The Strange Death of Nuro’. The countless casualties climb even further when Solar brings the body and the android back to Atom Valley and the dormant motionless mandroid revives…

The epics end for now with ‘Biographies’ of Newman, Bolle and cover artist Wilson, as this charismatic collection offers potently underplayed and scientifically astute (as far as the facts of the day were known) adventures blending the best of contemporary film tropes with the still fresh but burgeoning mythology of the Silver Age superhero boom. Enticingly restrained and understated, these Atom Age action comics offered a compelling counterpoint to the hyperbole of DC and Marvel and remain some of the most readable thrillers of the era.

These tales are lost gems from a time when fun was paramount and entertainment a mandatory requirement. This is comics the way they were and really should be again…
DOCTOR SOLAR®, MAN OF THE ATOM ARCHIVES Volume 3 ® and © 2014 Random House, Inc. Under license to Classic Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

Young Hellboy: The Hidden Land


By Mike Mignola, Thomas Sniegoski, Craig Rousseau, Dave Stewart & Clem Robins (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1506723983 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-50672-399-0

Towards the end of World War II an uncanny otherworldly baby was confiscated from Nazi cultists by American superhero The Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers, moments after his eldritch nativity on Earth. The good guys had interrupted a satanic ritual predicted by parapsychologist Professor Trevor Bruttenholm and his associates, who were waiting for Hell to literally come to Earth…

The heroic assemblage was stationed at a ruined church in East Bromwich, England when the abominable infant with a huge stone right hand materialised in an infernal fireball. “Hellboy” was subsequently raised by Bruttenholm, and grew into a mighty warrior engaged in fighting a never-ending secret war against the uncanny and supernatural. The Prof assiduously schooled and trained his happy-go-lucky foundling whilst forming and consolidating an organisation to destroy arcane and occult threats – the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

After years of such devoted intervention, education and warm human interaction, in 1952 the neophyte hero began hunting down agents of the malign unknown, from phantoms to monsters as lead agent for the BPRD. Hellboy rapidly became its top operative; the world’s most successful paranormal investigator. As decades passed, Hellboy gleaned snatches of his origins and antecedents, learning he was a supposedly corrupted beast of dark portent: a demonic messiah destined to destroy the world and bring back ancient powers of evil. It is a fate he despised and utterly rejected…

It was also a far cry from those halcyon early days, where the devil child grew up in a nurturing if always weird environment and had a fair few fantastic adventures…

This cheery cheeky romp by Mignola, Tom Sniegoski and illustrated by Craig Rousseau gathers 4-part miniseries Young Hellboy: The Hidden Land and delivers a rollicking round of old-world fantasy fun.

In 1947 the hero-struck, comic-consuming little imp is accompanying extremely patient father figure Bruttenholm on an archaeological dig when their plane is brought down by a fellow passenger. This religious fanatic thinks he’s saving humanity from the infernal, but his actions land the survivors on a desolate atoll stuffed with ape people, giant monsters and worse. It’s also on the other side of a dimensional barrier… and for a very good reason…

Separated from the Prof by humongous crabs, dinosaurs, a colossal ape and that really persistent Christian, the little demon almost dies when he’s suddenly saved by a dream…

It’s actually a jungle girl who turns out to be long-missing aviatrix Scarlet Santiago, the “Sky Devil” who’s in all his favourite reading matter…

Although she keeps a big secret from the boy, she introduces him to the monkey folk who rescued her long ago, even as that pesky fanatic answers another clarion call, and awakens the reason the island has been hived off from reality for eons. All too soon an antediluvian vampire queen is marauding again, orchestrating the revival of her empire of blood and working out the fine detail involved in getting back to the earth that so long go banished her…

Can the assorted good guys, jungle girls, great apes and simian shamans stop her before everyone gets it in the neck?

Read on…

Epic and outrageous in the best Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen manner, this manic masterpiece is augmented by a copious ‘Young Hellboy: The Hidden Land Sketchbook’ – annotated by Katii O’Brien – which closes this treasure hoard of hairsbreadth escapes by revealing story-layouts, doodles, roughs, designs and pencilled pages, all accompanied by creator comments and garnished with a full cover and variants gallery by Mignola, Dave Stewart, Rachele Aragno, Wylie Beckert and Anthony Carpenter.

This is another perfect example of comics storytelling at its very best: offering astounding supernatural spectacle, amazing arcane action, momentous mystical suspense and simply huge hairy handfuls of honest fun – something every fear fan and adventure aficionado will enjoy.
Young Hellboy™ and © 2021 Mike Mignola. Hellboy™ and all other prominent featured characters are trademarks of Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom Dark Horse Archives volume Two


By Paul S. Newman, Frank Bolle, George Wilson & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1593073275 (HB) 978-1616553241 (TPB)

The comics colossus identified by fans as Dell/Gold Key/Whitman had one of the most complicated publishing set-ups in history, but that didn’t matter one iota to the kids of all ages who consumed their vastly varied product.

Based in Racine, Wisconsin, Whitman had been a crucial part of the monolithic Western Publishing and Lithography Company since 1915, drawing upon commercial resources and industry connections that came with editorial offices on both coasts (and even a subsidiary printing plant in Poughkeepsie, New York).

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

From 1938, Western’s comicbook output was released under a partnership deal with a “pulps” periodical publisher under the umbrella imprint Dell Comics – and again those creative staff and commercial contacts fed into the line-up of the Big Little, Little Golden and Golden Press books for children. This partnership ended in 1962 and Western had to swiftly reinvent its comics division as Gold Key.

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

In the 1960s, during the camp/superhero boom the original adventure titles expanded to include Brain Boy, M.A.R.S. Patrol, Total War (created by Wally Wood), Magnus, Robot Fighter (by the incredible Russ Manning) and – in deference to the atomic age of heroes – Nukla and another brilliantly cool and understated thermonuclear white knight…

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

As a publisher, Gold Key never really “got” the melodramatic, breast-beating, often-mock-heroic Sturm und Drang of superheroes – although for a sadly-dwindling number of us, the understated functionality of Silver Age classics like Magnus, Robot Fighter or remarkably radical concepts of atomic crusader Nukla and even the crime-fighting iterations of classic movie monsters Dracula, Frankenstein and Werewolf were utterly irresistible.

The sheer off-the-wall lunacy of features like Neutro or Dr. Spektor I will save for a future occasion…

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

With #3, Frank Wilson took over the iconic painted covers: a glorious feature that made the hero unique amongst his costumed contemporaries…

By the time of this second collection – also available in hardback, but tragically not in any digital editions I know of – Paul S. Newman (A Date With Judy; The Lone Ranger; Turok, Son of Stone; I Love Lucy and literally countless other titles) was the sole writer and Frank Bolle (The Twilight Zone; Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery; Flash Gordon; The Heart of Juliet Jones) was providing slick understated visuals for one of the most technically innovative and conceptually spectacular series on the stands…

More factual opinions and inside information can be accessed in the ‘Foreword’ by Jim Shooter (a latter day Solar scribe) as well as a fond critical appraisal and background on the classics that follow…

The Supreme Science Hero was born when a campaign of sabotage at research base Atom Valley culminates in the death of Dr. Bentley and the accidental transmutation of his lab partner Doctor Solar into a (no longer) human atomic pile with incredible, impossible and apparently unlimited powers and abilities. Of course, his very presence is lethal to all around him…

The nuclear nightmares – from Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #8-14 (July 1964 to September 1965) – begin with the latest ploy mysterious mastermind Nuro, who wants the monopoly on atomic science. A fiend employing espionage and murder, his current scheme is to use mind-science to destroy his enemies, deploying ‘The Thought Controller’ to create hallucinations and exhaust Solar to the point of expiration. It initially works but Nuru has not reckoned on the devotion of girlfriend Gail Sanders and mentor Dr. Clarkson who help him overcome ‘The Final Challenge’…

Cover-dated October-December, issue #9 revealed how the spy supremo abducts America’s greatest cybernetic innovator and compels him to construct ‘Transivac, the Energy-Consuming Computer’. Rapidly becoming self-aware and autonomous, the monster machine seems easy able to complete its mission and destroy Solar but when it goes berserk even Nuro neds his arch enemy to defeat ‘The Enemy Within’…

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #10 (January-February 1965) tells in two parts how a hasty effort to repair the utterly fractured polar ice shelf necessitates the Atomic Adventurer absorbing unimaginable extra energy from our closest star to save humanity. Tragically, the solar overdose turns him into a 100 foot, mega-tonnage colossus and ‘The Sun Giant’ must perform extraordinary energy-consuming feats to reduce himself to human scale…

He’s still not quite there in #11 (March-April) as Nuro strikes again, exploiting the Man of the Atom’s exertions and increasing amnesia to orchestrate ‘The Day Solar Died’. As the hero becomes a growing menace, only a token of love turns back the tide of terror…

Economic catastrophe stems from a sinister plot as ‘The Mystery of the Vanishing Silver’ (#12, May-June) sees Solar working for the Federal government while Nuro’s top henchman Aral Uzbek demonstrates his own appetite for destruction and multi-tasking skills, leading to a shocking new transition for all men of the Atom before order is restored…

Please don’t stop me if you’ve heard this next one…

When ‘The Meteor from 100 Million B.C.’ (#3 July-August) crashes into a swamp and buries itself down deep, hyper-fast evolutionary forces quickly generate waves of monstrous predatory life-forms that demand rapid responses and a pose a momentous moral quandary for Solar, Gail and Clarkson. Ultimately, the stark demands of survival of the fittest make the decision for them…

The epics end for now with #14 (September-October 1965) As Nuro and Uzbek’s latest terror-weapon prompts a full infiltration of Atom Valley and subsequent sabotage of a new reactor. While the Man of the Atom prevents nuclear catastrophe, the radiation alters his composition, giving him an uncontrollable new ability in ‘Solar’s Midas Touch’. Inadvertently changing the atomic structure of anything he touches, the frantic hero is further tested when Nuro’s toy is unleashed for a crucial rocket launch at Cape Kennedy and Solar must find a way to turn misfortune to his advantage…

Rounding out this second tome, a Bonus Section culled from filler pages in issues #15-22 and all colored and retouched by Dan Jackson, examines ‘The Science of Solar’ with peeks into ‘Secrets of Atom Valley’, ‘Birth of a Death Ray’, ‘Security Guard’, and ‘…Her Two Mile “Gun”’, whilst Doctor Solar: Forms of Energy examines ‘Radio Waves’, ‘Light’and ‘Heat’ before class is dismissed following breakdowns of Doctor Solar’s Senses – specifically ‘Touch’ and ‘Hearing’– and a summation of ‘The Five Incredible Senses of the Man of the Atom’…

Augmented by fulsome ‘Biographies’ of the creative personnel, this charismatic collection offers potently underplayed and scientifically astute (as far as the facts of the day were known) adventures blending the best of contemporary movie tropes with the still fresh but burgeoning mythology of the Silver Age superhero boom. Enticingly restrained and understated, these Atom Age action comics offered a compelling counterpoint to the eccentric hyperbole of DC and Marvel and remain some of the most readable thrillers of the era.

These tales are lost gems from a time when fun was paramount and entertainment a mandatory requirement. This is comics the way they were and really should be again…
DOCTOR SOLAR®, MAN OF THE ATOM ARCHIVES Volume 1 ™ and © 2010 Random House, Inc. Under license to Classic Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

Mighty Warriors Annual 1979


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

crime-fighting iterations of classic movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pow! Annual 1971


By unknown writers & artists and Miguel Quesada Cerdán, Vicente Ibáñez Sanchis, José Ortiz Moya, Matías Alonso, Enric Badia Romero, Eustaquio Segrelles del Pilar, Leopoldo Ortiz & various (Odhams Books)
SBN: 60039607X

This quirky item is one of my fondest childhood memories and quite inspirational in directing my career path, and as well as being still a surprisingly splendid read I can now see it as a bizarre and desperately belated sales experiment…

By the end of the 1960s, DC Thomson had overtaken the monolithic comics publishing giant that had been created by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the twentieth century. The company – variously named Fleetway, Odhams and IPC – had absorbed rivals such as The Eagle’s Hulton Press, and stayed at the forefront of sales by latching onto every fad they had kept their material contemporary, if not fresh, but the writing was on the wall, but now

the comedy strip was on the rise and action anthologies were finding it hard to keep readers attention.

By 1970 – when this annual was released – the trend generated by the success of the Batman TV show was thoroughly dead, so why release a book of all-new superhero strips in a title very much associated with comedy features and cheap Marvel Comics reprints?

A last ditch attempt to revive the genre? Perhaps a cheap means of using up inventory?

I don’t know and I don’t care. What they produced that year was a wonderful capsule of fanboy delight, stuffed with thrills, colourful characters and a distinctly cool, underplayed stylishness, devoid of the brash histrionics of American comic books.

Conceived by tragically uncredited writers – but purportedly all created by Alan Hebden – this is a visual delight illustrated in alternating full colour (painted) and half-colour (black and magenta) sections by IPC’s European stable of artists: some of the greatest artists of the era, and delivered in a thoroughly different and grittily dark take on extraordinary champions, costumed crimebusters and the uncanny unknown…

The wonderment kicked off with ‘Magno, Man of Magnetism’ drawn by Miguel Quesada Cerdán: a valiant crimecrusher who seemed a cross between Simon Templar and James Bond, who donned his mask and used his superpowers only if things got really rough…

Eerily off-kilter sea scourge ‘Aquavenger’ was an oceanic crimefighter illustrated by The Victor veteran Vicente Ibáñez Sanchis, while ‘Mr. Tomorrow: Criminal of the Future’ – illustrated by jack of all genres Matías (Air Ace, Battle Action, Commando, The Victor, Twinkle) Alonso was an outright rebel from an oppressive state in days to come.

I don’t know who wrote or drew edgy, self-contained thriller ‘The Hunter and the Hunted’, but ‘Electro’ (no relation to the Marvel villain – other than the high-voltage shtick) is gloriously rendered by the legendary José Ortiz Moya (Caroline Baker, Barrister at Law; Smokeman; UFO Agent; The Phantom Viking; Commando Picture Library; BattlePicture Library; Vampirella; The Thirteenth Floor; Rogue Trooper; Tex Willer, Judge Dredd and many more).

In the most  traditional tale of the book, Eddie Edwards defends Surf City, USA as a voltaic vigilante and as part of the hero-heavy Super Security Bureau defeating terrors such as the crystalline marauders on view here…

Limned by future Modesty Blaise and Axa illustrator Enric Badia Romero, the fascinating psionic super-squad ‘Esper Commandos’ infiltrate and eliminate the competition before urban hunter ‘Marksman’ deals with a deadly saboteur and faux vengeful spectre ‘The Phantom’ (again no relation to any US star and illustrated by watercolours specialist Eustaquio Segrelles del Pilar) hands out summary justice decked out in a spooky uniform loaded with cunning gadgets…

We dip into the mind of a monster when aquatic horror ‘Norstad of the Deep’ – illustrated by Leopoldo Ortiz – invades the upper world but revert to heroic adventure for closing yarn ‘Time Rider’. Rendered by Ibáñez, it details how a bored genius millionaire builds a time-travelling robot horse and goes in search of adventure…

These are all great little adventures, satisfactorily self-contained, beautiful and singularly British in tone, even though most of the characters are American – or aliens (and no, that’s not necessarily the same thing). This tome easily withstands a critical rereading today, but the most important thing is the inspiring joy of these one-off wannabes. They certainly prompted me to fill sketchbook after sketchbook and determined that I would neither be a “brain surgeon nor a bloke wot goes down sewers in gumboots”. This great little tome gave me that critical push towards the fame and fortune I now enjoy, and could probably do it again!
© 1970 The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited.

The Leopard from Lime St. Book One


By Tom Tully, Mike Western, Eric Bradbury & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 9-781-78108-597-4 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Superb All-Ages Entertainment and Adventure… 9/10

They – apart from lawyers – say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. You can make your own mind up on that score if you seek out these quirky and remarkable vintage thrillers offering a wonderfully downbeat and sublimely British spin on a very familiar story…

Until the 1980s, comics in the UK were always based on the anthological model, offering variety of genre and character on a weekly or sometimes fortnightly basis. Primarily humorous periodicals like The Beano would be leavened by the Q-Bikes or General Jumbo and action papers like Lion, Valiant or Smash! included gag serials like Grimly Feendish, Mowser, The Nutts or a wealth of other laugh treats.

Buster seemed to offer the best of all worlds. Running 1902 issues from May 28th 1960 to 4th January 2000, it finely balanced drama, action and comedy, with its the earliest days – thanks to absorbing Radio Fun and Film Fun – heavy with celebrity-licensed material like Charlie Drake, Bruce Forsyth and Benny Hill or the eponymous cover star billed as “the son of (newspaper strip star) Andy Capp”. The comic became the final resting place of many, many companion papers in its lifetime, including The Big One, Giggle, Jet, Cor!, Monster Fun, Jackpot, School Fun, Nipper, Oink!and Whizzer & Chips, so the cumulative roster of strip content is wide, wild and often wacky…

At first glance, British comics prior to the advent of 2000AD seem to fall into fairly ironclad categories. Back then, you had genial and fantastic preschool fantasy, a large selection of adapted media properties, action, adventure, war and comedy strands. A closer look, though, would confirm that there was always a subversive merging, mixing undertone, especially in such antihero series as Dennis the Menace or our rather strained understanding of the concept of superheroes. Just check out The Spider or the early Steel Claw…

We had dabbled with the classic form in the Batman-influenced 1960s and slightly beyond, but Tri-Man, Gadgetman, Johnny Future and the Phantom Viking remained uncomfortably off-kilter oddities. In the March 27th 1976 edition of Buster that all changed…

Now part of Rebellion Publishing’s line of British Comics Classics, The Leopard from Lime Street originally ran 470 episodes comprising 50 adventures until May 18th 1985 – and even later as colorized reprints and a wealth of foreign-language and overseas editions.

For most of that time it was a barely-legal knock-off of Marvel’s Spider-Man – with hints of DC Thomson’s Billy the Cat – as seen through a superbly English lens. It was also, however, utterly unmissable reading…

This first volume – available as large paperback (213 x 276 mm) or digital edition – was released in 2017 and reprints strips from Buster March 27th 1976 to June 11th 1977. The incredible stories are preceded by a superbly informative Introduction from comics historian and author Steve Holland ‘Behind the Mask’ before we head to the middle (or maybe north-ish) of England where in Selbridge, scrawny 13-year-old Billy Farmer is being bullied again: this time by the kids at school…

His abiding interests are journalism and photography and Billy publishes a school newspaper all by himself, probably to compensate for his home life. He lives with loving but frail Aunt Joan and vicious, indolent, work-shy and physically abusive Uncle Charlie who avoids work like the plague but is always ready to deliver a violent lesson with fist, boot or belt…

Life changes for Billy when he visits the Jarman Zoological Institute and is accidentally scratched by Sheba, an escaped leopard being treated with radioactive chemicals for an unspecified disease.

In the days before Health and Safety regulations or a culture of litigation, Billy is given a rapid once-over by the scientists in charge and declared fine before being sent home.

Only when Uncle Charlie tries to hit him and ends up thrown into the dustbins does Billy realise that something has changed: he now has the strength, speed, stamina and agility of a jungle cat as well as enhanced senses and a predator’s “danger-sense”…

Soon, he’s wearing a modified pantomime costume and prowling the dark streets and low rooftops, incurring the curiosity of Editor Thaddeus Clegg of the Selbridge Sun whilst ever-more confidant Billy sells news photos of the burglars, kidnappers and crooks the vigilante “leopardman” preys on. He’s also a dab hand at getting candid shots of the secluded celebrities no pro journo can get near…

School remains a nightmare of bullies and almost-exposure of Billy’s secret, but home life gets much better after the police identify Billy as being an official confidante of the cat creature even as Uncle Charlie is regularly brutalised by the feral fury in defence of his “friend”…

A major storyline sees the mystery prowler framed for arson and theft, but always Billy or the beast eventually clear the Leopard’s name and reputation. Moreover, the boy’s earnings – grudgingly paid by Clegg – start making life easier for Aunt Joan, while the beast’s constant proximity to Lime Street ensures Charlie keeps his outbursts verbal and his drunken fists unclenched…

All that almost ends when a crooked circus owner first tries to capture and exhibit the Leopardman and then creates his own inferior version, before earning a very painful object lesson. After crushing robbers, child abductors and a masked wrestler who all successively learn to fear the beast, the next challenges are even worse as a circus acrobat mimics the cat’s abilities to very publicly frame the Leopard for a string of crimes before a bullying classmate’s dad infiltrates the school trip to a stately home/safari park to pull off a million quid blag, leaving Billy trapped and accidentally reunited with his accidental creator Sheba.

Is that why his powers seem to be increasing beyond his ability to control them?…

Enthrallingly scripted by British comics superstar Tom Tully (Heros the Spartan; Janus Stark; Mytek the Mighty; Steel Claw; Adam Eterno; Johnny Red; Harlem Heroes; Roy of the Rovers) and collaboratively illustrated by British comics royalty Mike Western (Lucky Logan; No Hiding Place; Biggles; The Wild Wonders; Darkie’s Mob; The Sarge; HMS Nightshade; Jack O’Justice; The Avenger; Billy’s Boots; Roy of the Rovers) and Eric Bradbury (Mytek the Mighty; House of Dolmann; Maxwell Hawke; Cursitor Doom; Von Hoffman’s Invasion; Death Squad; Hook Jaw; Doomlord; Rogue Trooper; Invasion; Mean Arena; Tharg the Mighty and more) this moody pre-modern masterwork offers a fascinating insight into the slant a different culture can bring to as genre. The concept of a “real-life” superhero has never been more clearly explored than in these tales of the cat kid who survives not supervillains but a hard-knock life…
The Leopard from Lime Street ™ & © 1976, 1977, 2017 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The Dynamite Art of John Cassaday


By John Cassaday, with Brett Matthews, Nick Barrucci, Scott Dunbier, Dean White, Laura Martin, Francesco Francavilla, Marcelo Pinto, Ivan Nunes, José Villarrubia, June Chung, Tony Aviña & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1524109363 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Intoxicating Imagery and Timeless Heroic Poses… 9/10

It can’t be Christmas without an art book or two. Here’s one of the very best of the last decade…

Born Texan in 1971, Oklahoma-raised John Cassady is a multi-award winning comics artist, actor and TV director who has become legendary for his depictions of Ghost, Captain America, The Astonishing X-Men, Planetary, Desperadoes, I Am Legion and Star Wars. His particularly iconic, stridently symbolist use of imagery has made his work globally known and admired, and his art and imagery have featured in many animated films and poster books.

Cassady is self-taught and has a superb eye for landscape and location. It underpins a primal understanding of the body language of evil and heroism and his deep affection for the classic groundbreakers of our somewhat simplistic genre: combining to inform the astounding visuals in this mammoth hardback (234 x 307 mm) or digital catalogue of comic and fantasy masterpieces.

In 2006 Cassady began a long and fruitful association with Dynamite Entertainment, limning covers for a vast pantheon of stars comprising generational household names and the best of new concepts, and they’re all gathered here for you to ogle…

Following context and potted history from Dynamite Publisher Nick Barrucci’s Introduction and a Foreword by comics everyman Scott Dunbier, the Gallery of Graphic Wonders opens with 100+ pages of ‘The Lone Ranger’ and includes commentary by scripters Brett Matthews and Mark Russell and editor Joe Rybandt, augmenting pencil roughs, sketches and those astounding covers (including colour variants). Throughout, Cassaday’s own colour work is bolstered by contributions from Dean White, Laura Martin, Francesco Francavilla, Marcelo Pinto, Ivan Nunes, José Villarrubia, June Chung and Tony Aviña.

Garth Ennis’ war anthology ‘Battlefields’ boasted some of Cassaday’s most engaging images, and those paintings are here supplemented by designs, working sketches and colour variants as are Project Superpowers spinoff ‘The Death-Defying ‘Devil’’, and vintage stars‘Buck Rogers’ and ‘Sherlock Holmes’.

‘The Complete Dracula’ boasts iconoclastic covers and commentary from co-writer Leah Moore before a return to pulp fictioneers offers additional character studies and designs for a staggering swathe of bombastic eyecatchers gracing the many series and crossover team-ups featuring ‘The Green Hornet’, ‘The Shadow’, ‘The Spider’ and ‘Doc Savage’.

Then‘Grand Passion’, and ‘Ian Fleming’s James Bond’ artworks bring us to a selection of ‘Other Covers’ including ‘Red Sonja’, ‘The Boys’, ‘Zorro’, ‘Blackbeard: Legend of the Pyrate King’, ‘The Complete Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Project Superpowers Chapter 2’, ‘Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt’, ‘Wil Eisner’s The Spirit’, ‘Kiss’, ‘John Wick’ and ‘Battlestar Galactica vs Battlestar Galactica’, and they are all beautiful and unforgettable…

There are many books – both academic and/or instructional – designed to inculcate a love of comics whilst offering tips, secrets and an education in how to make your own sequential narratives.

There are far more intended to foster and further the apparently innate and universal desire to simply make art and do so proficiently and well, but here the emphasis is on promoting the artist’s sheer unassailable visual excitement and his treatment of a lexicon of legends. This book will delight everyone who wants to see a master in his element and showing that nobody does it better…
All properties © 2020 their respective rights holders. All rights reserved.