The Broadcast

By Eric Hobbs & Noel Tuazon (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-590-0

When you read that as many as one millions Americans were fooled into hysterical panic by Orson Welles’ Halloween radio broadcast of the War of the Worlds it’s had not to think “how dumb are you?” or “don’t you people read books?” but the sad fact remains that a vast proportion of the population heard a portion of the innovative updating of the HG Wells classic on October 30th 1930 and genuinely thought the end of humanity had come.

This superbly low-key monochromatic tale takes a canny peek at human nature in a time of sustained privation (the Great Depression had just hit the USA a damned sight harder than any Martian death-ray could) and urgent – if only imagined – emergency as a small community in rural Indiana endures a couple of unhappy coincidences that result in a horrific confrontation…

At the height of a brutal storm a small band of farmers and families huddle in a barn. It’s been a bad day all around. Young Gavin Baker has finally asked wealthy Thomas Shrader if he could marry his daughter, Kim, but the meeting didn’t go well. Nevertheless the lovers still planned to escape to New York where Kim could become a writer…

Shrader had made a killing bailing out and buying up failing farms over the past year and wasn’t well liked by the newly destitute townsfolk such as widower Jacob Lee or cropper Eli Dawson, but he’s the only employer left so they make do…

A severely beaten, wandering Negro named Martin Steinbeck stumbled into the Baker place later that day. He’d clearly had a brutally rough encounter and was astonished when the family offered him help and sustenance rather than hatred and further violence…

Later, throughout the community the townsfolk tuned in their radios and all caught what they believed to be newscasts reporting Martian invaders blasting New York and New Jersey when suddenly a storm hit and the town lost power. With the phones and lights out, panicked, terrified people all headed towards the Shrader place with its solid storm cellar but when Kim discovered a truck with dead bodies it in, the only conclusion could be that the aliens have already reached the Heartland…

But when the families arrive Shrader delivered an ultimatum: only five people will be allowed refuge, him, his wife and three other and only then if rebellious Kim is one of them…

With imminent doom lurking in the darkness, friendship, civility and human empathy begin to breakdown and a very human atrocity seems inevitable…

This is an enchantingly subtle and impressive tale, carefully avoiding histrionics and bombast, and ultimately uplifting and positive. Eric Hobbs has focused on the communal heroism of the common man and the misty, raw line-and-wash illustration of Noel Tuazon marries dreamy introspection with painful sufferance to give the ensemble cast a look far removed from the general run of modern comics.

The book also contains a photo and clippings gallery displaying the media’s response to the original radio broadcast, deleted scenes, character sketches and a brief commentary on the creator’s working process. Tense, ironic and deeply moving this may well be the sleeper-hit of the year and a major motion picture soon after…

© 2010 Eric Hobbes.

Mome 20: Fall 2010

By various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-365-1

Mome is a quarterly compendium of sequential narratives; a magazine that looks like a book, featuring strips, articles, graphic artworks and sometimes interviews from and about a variety of talented, dedicated creators ranging from the internationally renowned to the soon-to-be. It is where the smart kids with the sharpest pencils, shiniest pens, biggest brushes and best software go to play before they blow your minds in great big award-winning graphic novels. It is intense, sometimes hard to read and crafted to the highest production standards. This volume signals five incredibly impressive years and the eclectic graphic mix presented here augurs well for the next fifty…

After the previous edition’s brief sabbatical a number of continued features return, but before that Dash Shaw opens proceedings with an oddly disturbing short romance entitled ‘Blind Date 2’ – cited as “an adaptation of an episode of Blind Date”, followed by a quirkily affecting parable of eternal romantic triangles entitled ‘The Bird, The Mouse and The Sausage’ by Sara Edward-Corbett before the spectacular and disturbing fantasy from The (Shaun) Partridge in the Pear Tree & Josh Simmons continues in part 2 of ‘The White Rhino’ as an extremely obnoxious man also awakes in the nerve-wracking, deceptively welcoming rainbow-nation of Racelandia…

T. Edward Bak’s pictorial biography of 18th century German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller finds the Siberian explorer reaping a few well-deserved carnal rewards for his efforts in ‘Wild Man Chapter 2: A Bavarian Botanist in St. Petersburg, part 4’ before Conor O’Keefe returns with the first chapter of another charmingly potent watercolour fantasy in ‘The Coconut Octopus’: part 1 – surreal, nostalgic, seductively compulsive…

Nate Neal (and don’t miss his recently released graphic novel The Sanctuary) goes all song-and-dancey with the magically macabre message of ‘Magpie Inevitability’ before moody World War II mystery ‘Devil Doll’ by Michael Jada and Derek Van Gieson returns with a captivating third part.

Steven Weissman utterly impresses with his time-twisting, haunted boy’s adventure ‘This Already Happened’, award-winning Italian cartoonist Sergio Ponchione reprises his marvelously enticing horror-hunter with ‘The Grotesque Obsession of Professor Hackensack’ and painter Jeremy Tinder explores ‘Time and Space’ with cunning intimacy and wild imagination.

Genteelly experimental and sadly inquisitive Aidan Koch pushes her seductive pencil to explore the transitory briefness of relationships in ‘Green House’ whilst Viennese cartoonist Nicholas Mahler ponders the life of a working comics artist in ‘Convention Tension’ and ‘Goodbye Mr. Nibs’. Fans should prepare for a bracing encounter with themselves…

Cover-featured Ted Stern’s anthropomorphic sad-sacks Fuzz & Pluck return in their ongoing nautical quest for wealth and safety with ‘The Moolah Tree’ part 4 and graphic designer Adam Grano ends this volume with a tantalising glance at his ‘$crapbook’…

Whether you’re new to comics, fresh from the mainstream ghettos or just need something new, Mome always promises – and delivers – a decidedly different read. You may not like all of it, but it will always have something you can’t help but respond to. After half a decade it’s here to stay …so why haven’t you tried it yet?

Mome © 2010 Fantagraphics Books. Individual stories are © the respective creator. All rights reserved.

Mome 19: Summer 2010

By various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-152-7

Mome is a quarterly compendium of sequential narratives; a magazine that looks like a book, featuring strips, articles, graphic artworks and occasionally interviews from and about a variety of talented, dedicated creators ranging from the internationally renowned to the soon-will-be. It is where the smart kids with the sharpest pencils, shiniest pens, biggest brushes and best software go to play before they blow your minds in great big award-winning graphic novels. It is intense, sometimes hard to read and crafted to the highest production standards. Considered by most to be the successor to Art Spiegelman’s Raw, it doesn’t come out nearly often enough.

Once in awhile, as with this issue, it pushes the envelope of conventional taste and morality so if you are liable to be offended by the depiction of sex acts and adult themes stay away from this volume: The rest of us will just be grown ups without you…

This volume is perfect for newcomers to jump aboard as four continuing features (Fuzz & Pluck, Almost Sound, Nothing Eve and Devil Doll) all take a break. The Summer magic begins here with a glorious and challenging fantasy from The Partridge in the Pear Tree (Shaun Partridge on his tax return) & Josh Simmons (don’t miss his superb graphic novel House) as a troubled woman lands in a baffling Never-land of institutionalised racism and joins a disquieting pixie child in a hunt for ‘The White Rhino’…

Animator and cartoonist Olivier Schrauwen returns with another panchromatic hard-centred extravaganza in ‘The Imaginist’ and comics super-star Gilbert Hernandez opens the black and white section with ‘Roy in “Who Are Your Heroes; What Are Your Heroes?”’ a boldly excessive progression that examines the cultural landscape which shaped the jolly reprobate from Love and Rockets.

‘Evelyn Dalton Holt’ by D.J. Bryant is based on the Steve Ditko story “Driven to Destruction” and delivers a witheringly painful, sexually explicit neo-noir psycho-thriller that will delight all fans of hard-edged fiction, whilst Tim Lane’s ‘Hitchhiker’ offers a far gentler surprise behind its tense edgy monochrome façade.

‘Vote Lily at the Dog Show’ by Conor O’Keefe is simply stunning: classic watercolour fantasy with a modern sensibility as a talking wren goes searching for his lost mate at a county fair aided by the gamin Deidre, a worthy successor to Little Nemo himself: surreal, nostalgic, winningly compulsive…

The black and white history lesson ‘The Spiritual Crisis’ of Carl Jung’ by animator Robert Goodin is a surprisingly tasty confection, dry and sharp and this edition ends with another multi-media delight from T. Edward Bak, who continues his graphic fascination with historic Russia and 18th century German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, with part 3 of ‘Wild Man Chapter 2: A Bavarian Botanist in St. Petersburg, part’ and as ever the tome is graced with a selection of incidental drawings by Kaela Graham

Whether you’re new to comics, currently searching beyond the mainstream or just want something fresh; these strips and this publication will always offer a decidedly different read. You may not like all of it but Mome will always have something you can’t help but respond to. Why haven’t you tried it yet?

Mome © 2010 Fantagraphics Books. Individual stories are © the respective creator. All Rights Reserved.

Mome volume 17: Winter 2010

By various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-152-7

Mome is more magazine than book and features strips, articles, graphic artworks and occasionally interviews from and about a variety of talented, dedicated creators ranging from the internationally renowned to the soon-will-be… It is intense, occasionally hard to read and crafted to the highest production standards. Considered by many to be the successor to Art Spiegelman’s seminal Raw, it doesn’t come out nearly often enough.

This volume features the long-awaited conclusion of Paul Hornschemeier’s melancholic masterpiece ‘Life With Mr. Dangerous’; which has been an unmissable delight since the very first issue, as well another gripping instalment of T. Edward Bak’s pictorial biography of Georg Wilhelm Steller, the German naturalist who roamed the far Northern climes in the 18th century. Here with ‘Wild Man Chapter 2: A Bavarian Botanist in St. Petersburg, part 1’, things take a decidedly colourful turn as we glimpse the wild rover’s intriguing childhood.

Before that however Rick Froberg astounds with his sporadically placed monochrome visual essays ‘Foresight’, ‘Solidarity’, ‘Privacy’ and ‘Altruism’, Dash Shaw (see The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century AD) teams up with Tom Kaczynski to create a fantastic cyber-nightmare science-fiction story, ‘Resolution’ and Laura Park amuses and moves with her subtly enchanting ‘On the Bus’.

Animator and cartoonist Olivier Schrauwen concocts a stunning surreal saga in ‘Chromo Congo’ parts 1& 2, Sara Edward-Corbett delivers an astoundingly lovely aquatic escapade in ‘Zzzzz’, and Renée French continues the haunting and disturbing ‘Almost Sound’, whilst Ted Stern’s anthropomorphic sad-sacks Fuzz & Pluck return in the second part of their nautical misadventure ‘The Moolah Tree’ and the eighth part of Wolfgang’s ‘Nothing Eve’ follows them.

I’ve said this before and it bears repeating. ‘Nothing Eve’ is a fantastic, stylish, visually compelling urban drama, but the protracted storyline desperately needs a recap section. At least the inevitable future collection will allow the full power and verve of the narrative to compete fairly with the magical illustration.

Stand-alone standouts this time are the eerie war-story ‘Devil Doll’ by Michael Jada and Derek Van Gieson, the quirky ‘These Days I’m Not so Sure’,  also by Van Gieson, and the ever-excellent Josh Simmons’ salty sea-shanty ‘Head of a Dog’. The superb Hornschemeier provides the compelling covers and Kaela Graham delivers a captivating profusion of incidental illustrations to charm and alarm…

Whether you’re new to comics, new to the areas beyond the mainstream or just want something new; these strips and this publication will always offer a decidedly different read. You may not like all of it, and perhaps the serializations should provide those recaps (I’m never completely happy, me) but Mome will always have something you can’t help but respond to. Why haven’t you tried it yet?

Mome © 2010 Fantagraphics Books. Individual stories are © the respective creator. All Rights Reserved.

Troubled Souls – A Crisis Graphic Novel

By Garth Ennis & John McCrea (Fleetway)
ISBN: 0-85386-174-X

Aged 19, Garth Ennis dropped out of college to become a writer in 1989, and certainly kicked off with an enviable bang by creating a mini-masterpiece in the thoughtful and engaging Troubled Souls: a multi-layered and wonderfully even-handed exploration of coming-of-age in Belfast during the undeclared civil war euphemistically called “the Troubles.”

Crisis (63 issues from 1988 to1991) was an experiment in socially edgy adult comics launched by Fleetway Publications during the Dog Days of Thatcher’s regime, and it paved the way for many a starry career in its day. After science fiction series New Statesmen and Third World War concluded the magazine became more experimental, reflecting a more contemporary worldview, and new strip Troubled Souls quickly became an unmissable fortnightly treat.

Tom Boyd is a young Protestant man in Belfast at the end of the 1980s. The constant sectarian bloodshed and British occupation have largely left him untouched, except for the economic cataclysm that has made Northern Ireland a place of no jobs and no hope for the young. He lives with his parents and yearns for something better; girlfriend, career prospects, hope.

At least he’s got enough dole money for bevies with his mates…

One notable night in the pub his friend set him up with a blind date, and that’s fine, but when a British Army patrol comes in on a search, a total stranger surreptitiously dumps a gun in his lap and surrenders himself. Shocked and startled, Tom can’t understand why he doesn’t shop the gunman, but his bewilderment turns to rage when he sees what the Squaddies do to the suspect…

Later Catholic terrorist Damien McWilliams reclaims his gun, and insinuates himself into Tom’s life, challenging his cosy preconceptions, terrorising and blackmailing the lad into participating in a bombing. Through it all Tom is the helpless pawn of powerful, corrupt and hate-filled forces, but still finds time for first love, real life and a true friend, but the centuries of hate that have plagued the country can’t be denied or thwarted and a wholly unique and personal tragedy is going to occur whatever he does or doesn’t do…

Poignant, engaging, genial, funny and scary, this richly moving human drama, set on a stage everybody only thought they knew, is still one of the best stories Ennis has ever written, and fellow neophyte John McCrea has seldom produced such varied, evocative, sensitive art since. Because of the subject matter I can understand why it hasn’t been republished, but with twenty years distance and original copies fetching $50 or more isn’t it about time somebody thought about a new edition? Perhaps combined with its more broadly comedic sequel For a Few Troubles More (coming soon to a review blog near you…)?
© 1990 Fleetway Publications. All Rights Reserved.

You Shall Die by your own Evil Creation!: More comics by Fletcher Hanks

By Fletcher Hanks, edited by Paul Karasik (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-606699-160-2

The work of troubled artisan Fletcher Hanks was lost to posterity until relatively recently rediscovered by comics’ intelligentsia in such magazines as Raw! His unique visual style and manner of storytelling resulted in only 51 complete stories created over less than three years (1939-1941) – but those were the make-or-break formative times that shaped the entire American comic-book industry.

Hanks was an artist and cartoonist plagued by a dependence on alcohol and a tendency to violence. He abandoned his wife and four children in 1930 and disappeared until the incredible commercial drive to fill comic-book pages saw him resurface in 1939 as part of the Jerry Iger/Will Eisner production “Shop” producing whole stories (script, art, lettering and probably even colour-guides) for some of the most successful publishers of the Golden Age.

Now coming to prominence as a key Outsider Artist (defined by critic Roger Cardinal as an English equivalent to the French movement Art Brut or Raw/Rough Art: art created outside the boundaries of official culture). Jean Dubuffet connected it especially and specifically to the paintings and drawings of insane asylum inmates but Cardinal extended the definition to include Naïve art, some Primitivism and sustained bodies of work by creators working at all fringes of the mainstream.

In his woefully short career the impact of those 51 stories were further reduced since he only worked in a few returning characters. This book follows on from and concludes the complete works compilation begun in editor Karasik’s I Shall Destroy all the Civilized Planets! (which I simply must track down and review too).

Presented in chronological order this book contains seven Space Smith adventures ‘Captured by Skomah!’ (Fantastic #1, December 1939), ‘The Martian Ogres!’ (Fantastic #2, January 1940), ‘The Leopard Women of Venus’ (#3, February 1940), ‘The Thinker’ (#4, March 1940), ‘The Hoppers’ (#5, April 1940), ‘The Vacuumites’ (#6, May 1940) and ‘Planet Bloodu’ (#8, July 1940), a single tale of Tabu, Wizard of the Jungle from Jungle Comics #1 (‘The Slave Raiders’, from January 1940) and a bunch of red-blooded lumberjack yarns starring Big Red McLane: ‘King of the North Woods’, ‘The Timber Thieves’, ‘The Lumber Hijackers’, ‘The Sinister Stranger’, ‘The Paper Racketeers’, ‘Sledge Sloan Gang’, ‘The Monk’s War Rockets’ and  ‘Searching for Sally Breen’ from the monthly Fight  Comics (#1, January 1940, and #3 to 9, September, inclusive).

The incomparable Stardust the Super-Wizard (whose slick, sleek costume surely influenced our own Mick Anglo when he redesigned Captain Marvel into the All-English Marvel Man in 1954!) is stirringly represented by ‘Rip the Blood’ from Fantastic #2 (January 1940), ‘The Mad Giant’ (#4), ‘The Emerald Men of Asperus’ (#8) ‘The Super Fiend’ (#10), ‘Kaos and the Vultures’ (#12), ‘The Sixth Columnists’ (#14) and ‘The World Invaders’ (Fantastic #15, February 1941), whilst sword-wielding barbarian hero Tiger Hart romped through the jungles of Saturn in ‘The Dashing, Slashing Adventure of the Great Solinoor Diamond’ from Planet Comics #2, February 1940.

From Daring Mystery #4 (May 1940) and #5 come ‘Mars Attacks’ and ‘Planet of Black-Light’ two exploits of brawny, clean-limbed Whirlwind Carter of the Interplanetary Secret Service whilst Yank Wilson, Super Spy Q-4 performed much the same role for the contemporary USA in ‘The Saboteurs’ from Fantastic #6 (May 1940).

But for me the biggest, most enjoyable revelation is the captivating batch of uncanny tales featuring the frankly indescribable Fantomah. The “Mystery Woman of the Jungle”, a blend of witch, goddess and animated corpse, used startling magic to monitor and defend the green places of the world against all manner of threats from poachers to mad scientists and aliens. Here her beguiling feats begin with ‘The Elephants Graveyard’ (Jungle Comics #2, February 1940) and just get wilder and wilder, continuing with ‘The Super-Gorillas’ (#4), ‘Mundoor and the Giant Reptiles’ (#5), ‘Phantom of the Tree-Tops’ (#6), ‘The Temple in the Mud Pit’ (#8), ‘The Scarlet Shadow’ (#11), ‘The New Blitzers’ (#12), ‘The Tiger-Women of Wildmoon Mountain’ and conclude with ‘The Revenge of Zomax’ from Jungle #14, February 1941

These stunningly surreal and forceful stories created under the pseudonyms Barclay Flagg, Hank Christy, Henry and Chris Fletcher, Charles Netcher, C.C. Starr and Carlson Merrick are a window into a different, bolder, “anything goes” era and the troubled mind of a true creative force. Seen in conjunction with Karasik’s insightful introduction and the many early sketches and illustrations from before that too-brief foray into comics present a fascinating man at a crossroads he was clearly able to shape but never grasp.

This is a magical book for both fans of classical comics and the cutting edge of modern art: and just in case you were wondering, the stories a re weird but read wonderfully.

It Must Be Yours!!!

All stories are public domain but the specific restored images and design are © 2009 Fantagraphics Books.

Mome 15: Spring 2009

By various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-152-7

The latest volume of the inimitable showcase of alternative graphic narrative features the landmark conclusion of Tim Hensley’s Wally Gropius; a fixture since the fifth issue (Fall 2006) among the usual unusual treats of comics and art illustration, and also sees the debut of T. Edward Bak’s enchanting pictorial biography of Georg Wilhelm Steller, the German naturalist who with Polar explorer Vitus Bering endured so much on the Second Kamchatka Expedition in 1741. There’s also a translated classic from Spanish cartooning master Max…

After three stylishly intriguing Nipponese Bestiary illustrations, Urashima and Tarô, Ryûjin and Ningyo from Andrice Arp, (who also provided the evocative cover image) Hensley concludes his contemporary saga of hip modernity with Jillian in “Spoilers”, Gropius Besieged and Nondenominational, all nicely book-ended by one more Arp creature, Umibôzu.

Sara Edward-Corbett explores the pressures of childhood romance in Pool Party, Ray Fenwick once again provides a telling exercise in design and narrative typography with How I Do It, and Conor O’Keefe shows his impressive virtuosity and quirky sense of humour with Ducks.

Bak’s Stellar then begins, a tour-de-force of black and white illustration techniques married to a challenging narrative methodology that is funny, sad, terrifying and utterly absorbing, followed by the third and final part of legendary underground cartoonist Gilbert Shelton and the enigmatic Pic’s Last Gig in Shnagrlig, featuring that lost music super-group Not Quite Dead in a valiant escape bid from a desert nation pummelled by Uncle Sam’s unwanted attentions… and tanks.

Delia’s Love by Nathan Neal beguilingly examines the pitfalls of modern romance whilst newcomer Noah Van Sciver impressively relates some spooky urban history in The True Tale of the Denver Spider Man, Robert Goodman delineates a charming fable of reincarnation in Living Like a Pig and Dash Shaw treats us to a wonderfully imaginative and uniquely expressive experience in the dream-like My Entire High School… Sinking into the Sea!

The superb Paul Hornschemeier ends the book with the penultimate instalment of Life with Mr. Dangerous (part 10) and that aforementioned Max story The Confederacy of Villains (first published in Spain’s legendary El Vibora (#93, 1987) is stitched into the back as a complete colour and black-&-white mini-comic. Fabulous!

Mome is more magazine than book and features strips, articles, interviews and graphic artworks from a variety of earnest and dedicated comics creators – both internationally renowned or soon-to-be – from the capital “A” end of the art form. It is intense, occasionally hard to read and produced to the highest production standards. Considered by many to be the successor to Art Spiegelman’s seminal Raw, it doesn’t come out nearly often enough.

Whether you’re new to comics, just now exploring the areas beyond the mainstream or merely want something fresh and clever and honest rather than ingeniously recycled; these strips and this publication will always offer a decidedly different read. You may not like all of it, and perhaps the serializations should provide recaps (they still don’t) but Mome will always have something you can’t help but respond to. And since copies of all volumes are still readily available, you really should try it…

Mome © 2009 Fantagraphics Books. Individual stories are © the respective creator. All Rights Reserved.

The Best of Simon and Kirby

By Joe Simon, Jack Kirby and various (Titan Books)
ISBN13: 978-1-84576-931-4

There’s a glorious wealth of Jack Kirby material around at the moment and this astounding collection of his collaborations with fellow industry pioneer Joe Simon is a gigantic box of delights that perfectly illustrates the depth and scope of their influence and innovation by reprinting the merest fraction of their output over nearly two decades.

Divided into key genres, supplemented by informative features from that ever-engaging writer and comics historian Mark Evanier, this striking compendium leads with The Heroes. reprinting in eye-popping colour ‘Captain America and the Riddle of the Red Skull’ from the landmark first issue (March 1941), and an untitled adventure of the Golden Age Vision from Marvel Mystery Comics #14 (December 1940).

From S&K’s incredible war-time tenure at National/DC comes ‘The Villain From Valhalla!’, a Sandman yarn first seen in Adventure Comics #75 (June 1942), followed by the origin of the incredible Stuntman in ‘Killer in the Big Top’ (Stuntman Comics #1, April 1946). ‘Assignment: Find the King of the Crime Syndicate’ is a raucous romp from their spoof patriotic hero Fighting American (#2, June 1954) and this section ends with a tale from Adventures of the Fly #1(August, 1959) entitled ‘Come into My Parlor’. Each text section is copiously illustrated and classic covers for each genre further sweeten the pot…

Way out Science Fiction follows, represented here by Solar Patrol in ‘The Tree Men of Uranus’: a Joe Simon solo production from  Silver Streak Comics #2 (January, 1940), the eponymous hero from Blue Bolt Comics #4 (September, 1940) and the magnificently spooky short ‘The Thing on Sputnik 4’ (Race for the Moon #2, September 1958).

War and Adventure highlights some of their most passionate yet largely unappreciated material. Boy Commandos often outsold Superman and Batman during World War II, and the moody ‘Satan Wears a Swastika’ from the first issue of their own title (Winter, 1942) clearly shows why, whilst the nuclear armageddon depicted in ‘The Duke of Broadway: My City is No More’ (Black Cat Comics #5, April 1947) set the bar for all others creators.

Simon and Kirby famously invented the romance comic genre and in The Birth of Romance we can see why the things took off so explosively, if not why all their imitators so timidly bowdlerized their own efforts. ‘Weddin’ at Red Rock’ from Western Love # 1, July 1949, is a raw, wild tale of obsessive passion, whilst ‘The Savage in Me’ (Young Romance Comics #22, June 1950) easily stands up against the best melodramas Hollywood was then producing.

Crime Drama uses three tales from 1947 (at the birth of the trend that led, with horror stories, to the instigation of the Comics Code Authority) to show how the dynamic visual flair of the ex-ghetto kids raised work like ‘Trapping New England’s Chain Murderer!’ (Headline Comics #24, May), the infamous Ma Barker story ‘Mother of Crime’ (Real Clue Crime Comics Vol. 2 #4, June) and ‘The Case Against Scarface’ (Justice Traps the Guilty #1, October) far above most of the avalanche of material all those decent folk and politicians railed against.

The Great Western features some of S&K’s most revered characters with ‘Apache Justice!’ from The Kid Cowboys of Boy’s Ranch #2 (December 1950), a spectacular spread ‘Remember the Alamo!’ from issue #5 and a captivating tale ‘Doom Town!’ starring the masked hero Bulls Eye from the fourth issue of his own short-lived title (February 1955).

Oh! The Horror! holds some especially impressive work, including ‘The Scorn of the Faceless People’ (Black Magic Vol. 1 #2, December 1950), the haunting ‘Up There!’ from #13 (confusingly also numbered as Vol. 2 #7, June 1952) and the remarkable ‘The Woman in the Tower!’ from The Strange World of Your Dreams #3 (November 1952).

Less well known are the forays into Sick Humor as seen here with ‘A Rainy Day with House-Date Harry’ (My Date #4, January 1948), the utterly wonderful parody strip ‘20,000 Lugs under the Sea’ originally seen in From Here to Insanity #11 (August 1955) and a couple of solo pieces from Simon. ‘Lenny Bruce’ and the editorial page are both from satire magazine Sick (Vol. 1 #2, 1960) and readily display the design and literary panache as well as artistic virtuosity he brought to the partnership.

With an extensive but far from complete checklist (talk about impossible tasks!) this tremendous hardcover is a worthy, welcome start towards acknowledging the debt our art-form owes these two unique creators. Now let’s have some more please…

© 2009 Joseph H. Simon and the Estate of Jack Kirby. All other material is © and TM the respective owner and holders and used with permission. All Rights Reserved.

Jumpstart: The Strangers Collection

By Steve Englehart, Rick Hoberg & various (Malibu Comics)

I sometimes give the impression that I don’t like superhero comics. Nothing could be further from the truth. What I don’t like is mindless retreads or endless repetition – and rubbish.

Mercifully none of those terms applies to The Strangers, premiere team-book of the Malibu Ultraverse. Purpose-built as a shared universe by a potent handful of creators including Mike Barr, Steve Gerber, James Hudnall, Gerard Jones, James Robinson, Len Strazewski, Larry Niven (oh so briefly) and Steve Englehart (probably the most accomplished – at least in terms of commercial success), they had a short burst of impressive creativity before being bought out lock, stock and bombastic barrel by corporate monolith Marvel Comics, who made a cursory attempt to integrate the various properties before shelving the lot.

Nevertheless the introductory yarn ‘Jumpstart’ easily falls into my “lost little gem” category, and as it was one of the very few story-arcs to make it into a trade paperback I can take this opportunity to recommend it and ask for more.

Collecting issues #1-3 and 5 of the comic-book (issue #4 being part of a company-wide crossover entitled ‘Breakthrough’) this breezy yarn introduces us to the Ultraverse as a San Francisco cable car (like our own dear-departed trams) is struck by an energy bolt out of a clear sky. The fifty-nine passengers on their morning journeys are all given different super-powers by the bolt and a motorist hit by the careening trolleybus is critically injured (he’ll eventually become the hero Night Man, with his own great comic and bad TV show).

The story focuses on six of those passengers as they band together to find out what happened to them and to ensure that none of the other passengers abuse their new gifts. Ultimately they’re joined by a mysterious sorceress from a floating island and plunge into the colourful chaos of full-on super-heroics.

Englehart and Hoberg managed to impart fresh characterisation and old-fashioned gusto to a jaded sub-genre, and if you can find this slim volume there’s a huge amount of simple fun to be had here. The entire line was geared to the reading, rather than collector audience, and Marvel – or whoever currently owns these properties – would be very smart to repackage them for today’s graphic novel-oriented marketplace.

But I’m not holding my breath…
© 1994 Malibu Comics Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Adapted by Roy Thomas, Gil Kane & Jim Woodring (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-56389-006-2

Richard Wagner’s four operas Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfreid and Götterdämmerung (or The Rhinegold, The Valkyrie, Siegfried and Twilight of the Gods if you’re less pompous than me) is a classic distillation of Germano-Norse myth and the classic poems collected as the Icelandic Eddas. Over twenty-six years the master of German music distilled them into a cycle of staggering power, which people either love or hate. Great tunes, too.

Everybody loves the brilliant animated tribute-come-distillation starring Bugs Bunny entitled “What’s Opera, Doc?” – although they probably refer to it as “Kill the Wabbit!”

Joking aside, the Ring Cycle is a true masterpiece of Western Culture and an immortal inspiration to purveyors of drama and historic fiction. In 1989 and 1990 long-time fans and comics superstars Roy Thomas (who had already integrated the plot into the canon of Marvel’s Mighty Thor) and Gil Kane produced a four part, prestige-format miniseries that adapted the events into comic strip form. Latterly P. Craig Russell also adapted the saga in his own inimitable style.

Alberich the Nibelung is a dwarf shunned by all, but still manages to charm the three Rhine Maidens. Commanded to guard an accursed treasure horde that even the Gods could not tame, the river nymphs reveal the secret to the glib intruder. Whoever casts ‘The Rhinegold’ into a ring will have all the wealth and power of the world, but must forever forswear love and joy. Never having known either, greedy Alberich easily forsakes their pleasures and seizes the treasure that even All-Father Wotan feared to touch.

Meanwhile in Heaven wily Loge has convinced Wotan to promise the giants Fasolt and Fafner anything they wish if they build the great castle Valhalla to house the world’s heroes. Assured that the trickster god can free him from his promise to the giants Wotan accepts their price, but on completion the giants want Freia; goddess of the apples of immortality.

Bound by their Lord’s sworn oath the gods must surrender Freia, but malicious Loge suggests that Alberich’s stolen gold – now cast as a ring – can be used by any other possessor without abandoning love. The brothers demand the world-conquering trinket as a replacement fee…

In ‘The Valkyrie’, the warrior who calls himself “Woeful” is the sole survivor of a blood-feud. Fleeing, he claims Right of Hospitality from a beautiful woman in a remote cottage. But when her husband returns they discover that he is a member of the clan Woeful battled.

Secure for the night in the holy bond of Hospitality, Woeful realises that he must battle for his life in the morning when the sacred truce expires. Without weapons he thinks little of his chances until the woman reveals to him a magic sword embedded in the giant Ash tree that supports the house…

‘Siegfried’ is the child of an illicit union raised by malicious, cunning Mime, a blacksmith who knows the secrets of the Nibelung. No loving parent, the smith wants the indomitable wild boy to kill the dragon Fafner, who used to be a giant, and steal the magical golden horde the wyrm guards so jealously.

But the young hero has his own heroic dreams and wishes to wake the maiden who slumbers eternally behind a wall of fire…

‘Twilight of the Gods’ reveals how all the machinations, faithlessness and oath-breaking of the Lords of Creation lead to ultimate destruction. Siegfried has won his beauteous Brünnhilde from the flames but their happiness is not to be. False friends drug him to steal his beloved, and wed him unknowing to a women he does not love. A final betrayal by a comrade whose father was the Nibelung Alberich leads to his death and inevitable consequences…

If you know the operas you know how much more remains to enjoy in this quartet of tales, and the sheer bravura passion of Kane’s art, augmented by the stirring painted palette of Jim Woodring, magnificently captures the grandeur and ferocity of it all. This primal epic is visual poetry and no fan should be without it.

Released by DC in 1991, the book was re-issued by ExPress Publishing (ISBN-13: 978-0-93295-620-0) in 2002 and remains not only a high-point in the careers of Thomas and Kane, but also a landmark in graphic narrative. If you don’t have it already you must make it your life’s quest to get it…
© 1991 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.