Showcase Presents Batman volume 3


By Gardner F. Fox, John Broome, Mike Friedrich, Carmine Infantino, Sheldon Moldoff, Gil Kane, Frank Springer, Chic Stone, Sid Greene, Joe Giella & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1719-8 (TPB)

After 3 seasons (perhaps 2½ would be closer) the Batman TV show ended in March, 1968. It had clocked up 120 episodes since its US premiere on January 12th 1966. The era ended but the series had left undeniable effect on the world, the comics industry and most importantly on the characters and history of its four-colour inspiration. Most notable was a whole new superstar who became an integral part of the DC universe.

This astoundingly economical black & white compendium (another collection long in need of modern revival …and some colour too, please) gathers all the Batman and Robin yarns from #189-201 of the eponymous title as well as the Gotham stuff from Detective Comics #359-375 (the back-up slot therein being delightfully filled at this time by the globetrotting, whimsically wonderful Elongated Man feature). The 33 stories here – written and illustrated by the cream of editor Julie Schwartz’s elite stable of creators – gradually evolved over the 17 months covered from an even mix of crime, science fiction, mystery, human interest and supervillain vehicles to a much narrower concentration of plot engines. As with TV’s version, costumes became king, and then became unwelcome….

It all begins with the comic book premiere of that aforementioned new character. In ‘The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl’ (Detective Comics #359, cover-dated January 1967) writer Gardner Fox and art team supreme Carmine Infantino & Sid Greene introduced Barbara Gordon: “mousy librarian” and daughter of the Police Commissioner into the superhero limelight. So by the time TV’s third season began on September 14th 1967, she was fully established.

A different Batgirl, Betty Kane, niece of the 1950s Batwoman, was already a comics fixture but for reasons far too complex and irrelevant to mention here was conveniently forgotten to make room for a new, empowered woman in the fresh tradition of Emma Peel, Honey West and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. She was marketed as being pretty hot too, which was always a big consideration for television…

Whereas Babs fought The Penguin on the small screen, her paper origin features no less ludicrous but at least visually forbidding Killer Moth in a clever yarn that still stands up today. An old foe unseen since the 1940s was revived for Batman #189 (February 1967). Demented psychology lecturer Jonathan Crane was obsessed by the emotion of fear and turned his expertise to criminal endeavours (initially in World’s Finest Comics #3 and Detective #73) before fading into obscurity. With ‘Fright of the Scarecrow’ he was back for (no) good, courtesy of Fox, Sheldon Moldoff & Joe Giella, as this tense psychodrama elevated him to the top rank of Bat-rogues. ‘The Case of the Abbreviated Batman’ (Detective #360) by the same team follows: an old-fashioned crime-caper with mobster Gunshy Barton pitting wits against Gotham’s Guardians whilst the March Batman’s full-length ‘The Penguin Takes a Flyer… Into the Future!’ – scripted by John Broome – mixed super-villainy and faux science fiction motifs for an enjoyable if predictable fist-fest.

Editor Schwartz preferred to stick with mysteries and conundrums in Detective Comics and #361’s ‘The Dynamic Duo’s Double-Deathtrap!’ was one of Fox’s best examples, especially as drawn by the incredibly over-stretched Infantino & Greene. The plot involves Cold War spies and a maker of theatrical paraphernalia. I shall reveal no more to keep you guessing when you read it. The next issue, by Fox, Moldoff & Giella, featured another eccentric scheme by The Riddler on ‘The Night Batman Destroyed Gotham City!’ Batman #191 featured two tales by Broome, Moldoff & Giella starting on ‘The Day Batman Sold Out!’: a “Hero Quits” teaser with a Babs Gordon cameo, whilst the faithful retainer took centre stage in charming parable ‘Alfred’s Mystery Menu’.

‘The True-False Face of Batman’ (Detective #363, by Fox Infantino &Greene) was a full co-starring vehicle as the new girl is challenged to deduce Batman’s secret identity whilst tracking down the enigmatic Mr. Brains. Fox scripted both ‘The Crystal Ball that Betrayed Batman!’ – which featured an old enemy in a new guise – and Robin solo-story ‘Dick Grayson’s Secret Guardian!’ in Batman #192, for Moldoff & Giella. They also handled his mystery-yarn ‘The Curious Case of the Crime-less Clues!’ in Detective #364, wherein Riddler and a host of Bat-baddies again test the brains and patience of the Dynamic Duo – or do they?

Issue #365 featured Broome, Moldoff & Giella’s ‘The House The Joker Built!’ which was nobody’s finest hour, whereas Fox-scripted ‘The Blockbuster goes Bat-Mad!’ in Batman #196 is compensatory sheer delight, especially since it’s accompanied by a “fair-play” whodunnit starring The Mystery Analysts of Gotham City. ‘The Problem of the Proxy Paintings!’ is the kind of Batman tale I miss most these days: witty and urbane, a genuinely engaging puzzle without benefit of angst or histrionics.

There’s plenty of the latter in ‘The Round Robin Death Threats’ (Fox, Infantino & Greene): a tense thriller spanning two issues of Detective (#366 – 367 and an almost unheard of event in those reader-friendly days). The diabolical murder-plot threatens to systematically eradicate Gotham’s worthiest citizens with the drama ending in high style in ‘Where There’s a Will… There’s a Slay!’: a chilling conclusion almost ruined by that awful title.

Batman #195 introduced radioactive villain Bag o’Bones in ‘The Spark-Spangled See-Through Man!’ – a desperate attempt to return to story-driven tales, though the ‘7 Wonder Crimes of Gotham City!’ (Detective #368 by Fox, Moldoff & Giella) was a far more enjoyable taste of bygone times. The next issue led with clever puzzler ‘The Psychic Super-Sleuth!’ and finished well with another challenging mystery in ‘The Purloined Parchment Puzzle!’ (both by Fox, Moldoff & Giella) before Detective #369, illustrated by Infantino & Greene, rather reinforced boyhood prejudices about icky girls in classy thriller ‘Batgirl Breaks Up the Dynamic Duo’ before segueing into a classic confrontation as Batman #197 reveals how ‘Catwoman Sets Her Claws for Batman!’ (Fox, Frank Springer & Greene). This frankly daft tale is most fondly remembered for the classic cover of Batgirl and Catwoman (with her Whip!!!) squaring off over Batman’s prone body – comic fans have a unique psychopathology absolutely all their very own…

Detective Comics #370 was by Broome, Moldoff & Giella, relating a superb thriller with roots in Bruce Wayne’s troubled youth. ‘The Nemesis from Batman’s Boyhood!’ is in many ways a precursor of later tales with an excellent psychologically potent premise and a soundly satisfying conclusion proving the demands of the TV shows were not exclusive or paramount. Gil Kane made his debut on the “Dominoed Daredoll” (did they really call her that? Yes. Yes they did, from page 2 onwards) in #371’s ‘Batgirl’s Costumed Cut-ups’, a masterpiece of comic dynamism that Sid Greene could be proud of but which Gardner Fox probably preferred to forget.

Batman #199’s ‘Peril of the Poison Rings’ and ‘Seven Steps to Save Face’ are far better examples of the clever plotting, memorable maguffins and rapid pace Fox was capable of, ably interpreted here by Moldoff & Giella, whilst Broome’s ‘The Fearsome Foot-Fighters!’ weak title masks a classy burglary-yarn and the regular art team’s beginning to amplify mood via heavy shadow in all their endeavours. This issue (Detective #370) was the first Bat-cover legend-in-waiting Neal Adams pencilled and inked – an awesome taste of things to come…

Batman #200 (cover-dated March 1968 and on ale mid-January) was written by wunderkind Mike Friedrich for Moldoff & Giella. ‘The Man Who Radiated Fear!’ featured a revitalised Scarecrow, and with the TV influence fading, a pre-emptive rehabilitation of the Caped Crusader began right here in a solid thriller with few laughs and plenty of guest-stars. Fox returned to top form in Detective #373, with Chic Stone & Greene illustrating Mr. Freeze’s Chilling Deathtrap!’, a tale favouring drama over showbiz shtick, after which Gil Kane returned to ramp up tension in brutal vengeance fable ‘Hunt for a Robin-Killer!’ (Detective #374) whilst Stone & Giella coped well with the extended cast of villains in Batman #201’s ‘Batman’s Gangland Guardians!’: a cunning action-packed enigma wherein his greatest foes become bodyguards to a hero…

This volume ends with Detective #374 and Fox, Stone & Greene’s ‘The Frigid Finger of Fate’ and a chilling race to catch a precognitive sniper, which – more than any other story – signalled the end of the Camp-Craze Caped Crimebuster and heralded the imminent return of a Darker Knight. With this third collection from “the TV years” of Batman – all done with by Spring of 1968 – the global Bat-craze and larger popular fascination with super-heroes – and indeed the whole “Camp” trend – was dying. In comics, that resulted in a resurgence of other genres, particularly Westerns and supernatural tales. For Batman it signalled a renaissance of passion, terror and a life of shadows. Stay tuned: the best is yet to come…
© 1967, 1968, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents the Trial of The Flash


By Cary Bates, Joey Cavalieri, Carmine Infantino, Frank McLaughlin, Dennis Jensen, Rodin Rodriguez, Gary Martin, with John Broome & Joe Giella & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3182-8 (TPB)

Barry Allen was the second costumed champion called The Flash, and his debut was the Big Bang which (finally) triggered the return of superheroes in the Silver Age of American comic books. He followed a series of abortive remnant revivals (Stuntman in 1954 and Marvel’s “Big Three”, Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Captain America from 1953 to 1955) and a few all-original attempts such as Captain Flash, The Avenger and Strongman during 1954-1955. Although none of those – or other less high-profile efforts – had restored or renewed the popularity of masked mystery-men, they presumably piqued some readers’ consciousness, even at conservative National/DC. The revived human rocket wasn’t quite the innovation he seemed: after all, alien crimebuster Martian Manhunter had already cracked open company floodgates with a low-key launch in Detective Comics #225, November 1955.

In terms of creative quality, originality and sheer style however, The Flash was an irresistible spark. After his landmark debut in Showcase #4 (cover-dated October 1956) the series – eventually – became a benchmark by which every successive launch or reboot across the industry was measured. Police Scientist – we’d call him a CSI today – Allen was transformed by a simultaneous lightning strike and chemical bath into a human comet of unparalleled velocity and ingenuity. Yet with characteristic indolence the new “Fastest Man Alive” took three further try-out issues and almost as many years to secure his own title. When he finally stood on his own wing-tipped feet in The Flash #105 (February-March 1959) though, he never looked back.

Comics back then were a faddy and slavishly trend-dominated business, and following a manic boom for superhero tales prompted by the Batman TV show, fickle global consciousness fixated on supernatural themes and merely mortal tales, triggering a huge revival of spooky films, shows, books and periodicals. With horror ascendent again, many superhero titles faced cancellation and even the most revered and popular were threatened. It was time to adapt or die: a process repeated every few years until the mid-1980s when DC’s powers-that-be decided to rationalise and downsize the sprawling multi-dimensional multiverse the Flash had innocently sparked into existence decades previously.

Barry had been through the wringer before: in 1979’s Flash #275 his beloved wife Iris was brutally murdered and thereafter the Scarlet Speedster became a darker, grittier, truly careworn hero. Slowly over four years the lonely bachelor recovered and even found love again but a harshly evolving comics industry, changing fashions and jaded fan tastes were about to end his long run at the top. The Vizier of Velocity was still a favoured, undisputed icon of the apparently unstoppable Superhero meme and a mighty pillar of the costumed establishment, but in times of precarious sales and with very little in the way of presence in other media like films, TV or merchandise, that just made him a bright red target for a company desperate to attract attention a larger readership.

It soon became an open secret that he was to be one of the major casualties of the reality-rending Crisis on Infinite Earths. The epic maxi-series was conceived as an attention-grabbing spectacle on every level and to truly succeed it needed a few sacrifices which would make the public really sit up and take notice. With such knowledge commonplace, long-time scripter Cary Bates went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the Crimson Comet and the comic title which inspired a super-heroic revolution went out in a totally absorbing blaze of glory. This momentously massive stand-alone monochrome collection gathers all pertinent chapters of an astonishingly extended, supremely gripping serial which charted the triumphs and tragedies of the Monarch of Motion’s last months (and I think they really meant it at the time) and savoured the final moments of the paramount hero and symbol of the Silver Age.

Contained herein and spanning July 1983 to October 1985 are Flash #323-327, 329-336 and 340-350, written by Bates and pencilled by originating artist Carmine Infantino. It opens sans preamble on the day Barry is supposed to marry his new sweetheart Fiona Webb. As the nervous groom dresses for the ceremony, however, an Oan Guardian of the Universe appears with appalling news. Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash has escaped from the timeless hell the vengeful Vizier of Velocity banished him to for murdering Iris…

Inked by Rodin Rodriguez, ‘Run Flash – Run for your Wife!’ sees a distraught hero pursuing and battling his ultimate enemy all over the world as the clock ticks down, culminating in #324’s ‘The Slayer and the Slain’ (Dennis Jensen inks) with the police issuing a missing persons alert for Barry Allen. Crushed and seemingly jilted, Fiona finally gives up on her man and is leaving the church just as Zoom dashes in with Flash hard on his winged heels. The maniac boasted he would repeat himself by slaughtering his archenemy’s second love, but with femto-seconds to spare Barry goes into overdrive and grabs his foe. When the dust settles the wedding guests see Flash trying to comfort the bride-to-be, but Police Captain Darryl Frye and Detective Frank Curtis are distracted by something the speedster has not noticed: Zoom’s lifeless corpse…

The media circus begins in #325 as ‘Dead Reckoning’ sees the guilt-racked speedster go into heroic overdrive all around the world, yet somehow never quite outrunning the Press or his own remorse. As friends and allies wonder where they stand, The Flash Rogues’ Gallery come together to steal Zoom’s cadaver. Captains Cold and Boomerang, Pied Piper, Weather Wizard and Trickster actually despised the Reverse-Flash and need to desecrate his corpse for the utter embarrassment he has brought upon their association: letting himself get killed by the scarlet Boy Scout. Their heartbroken foe meanwhile has stopped running, as Barry visits Fiona in hospital. The shock of Barry’s abandonment has traumatised and perhaps even deranged her, but worse is in store. After leaving her room in his Flash persona, the hero is reluctantly arrested by Captain Frye on a charge of manslaughter…

Inked by Gary Martin, ‘Shame in Scarlet’ opens on the arrest and arraignment. The madhouse of raving pressmen and downhearted cops is just what the recently captured Weather Wizard needs to mask a bold getaway scheme and – ever dutiful – Flash eludes custody long enough to stop the rogue before surrendering himself again. Meanwhile, Fiona’s doctors refuse to believe the still-missing Barry Allen came to see her and diagnose a delusional breakdown, whilst out on the streets Frank Curtis is further distracted by teenaged Angelo Torres; a kid barely surviving in a tough gang-controlled area of Central City.

Released on his own recognizance, Flash sneaks into his own apartment where realisation of his destroyed life finally sinks in. Losing control, he trashes the place in an explosive outburst but by the time his terrified neighbours break in he has gone and the suspicion that someone has targeted the missing Police Scientist seems confirmed. Roaming the streets, the fallen hero reacts typically to Angelo fleeing from a mugging, but is soon appalled to realise he has tackled the wrong guy. Torres was chasing the real thief…

Still reeling at how far he has fallen (racial profiling!), the shellshocked speedster is barely aware he is bleeding badly (from self-inflicted wounds incurred when destroying his home), and allows a cop to take him to hospital. The good deed does not go unpunished. When he arrives, Fiona is there and suddenly flares into a state of total hysteria…

Horror piles on in ‘Burnout’ (#327, inked by Jensen) as Flash reconciles with Angelo, unaware the kid has been targeted by the malign super-gorilla Grodd as part of a convoluted vengeance scheme. Flash is also too preoccupied by his next personal crisis as the Justice League of America holds a special session to judge his actions and conduct. A nail-bitingly close vote by his crestfallen best friends will determine whether or not he can remain a member of the august group…

Flash #328 was a partial reprint exploring the Flash/Professor Zoom vendetta and is not included here, so the saga resumes with ‘What is the Sinister Secret of Simian and Son?’ (#329, with new regular inker Frank McLaughlin climbing aboard). As Grodd uses Angelo and other kids to perpetrate bold raids, in front of the maddened media’s cameras unscrupulous, publicity-hungry celebrity criminal defense attorney Nicholas D. Redik attempts to insert himself into the “Case of the Century”, claiming to be Flash’s lawyer and only chance of acquittal…

The oblivious, deeply troubled human thunderbolt has other ideas. He has already contacted “Barry’s” old friend Peter Farley to act on his behalf, blithely unaware that back home Grodd has taken over Angelo, and Fiona has succumbed to total mental breakdown…

The final confrontation with the ultra-ape begins in ‘Beware the Land of Grodd!’ (scripted by Joey Cavalieri over Bates’ plot) as Redik manipulates the media to force Flash to switch lawyers whilst Captain Frye pushes the ongoing search for still “missing” Barry to even greater heights. With all these distractions the Vizier of Velocity is easily ambushed by Grodd before Angelo, at the moment of truth in #331’s ‘Dead Heat!’, has a change of heart and mind. By a supreme effort of will the remorseful lad breaks the super-ape’s conditioning, allowing the speedster to triumph.

Returning the renegade to futuristic Gorilla City, Flash leaves the mental monster in the custody of his old comrade Solovar, returning to America just in time to hear Farley being murdered during a phone conference. Bates rejoins Infantino & McLaughlin as ‘Defend the Flash… and Die?‘ sees the Scarlet Speedster hurtle across the country to save his lawyer from a colossal explosion, although even he is not fast enough to prevent the victim incurring massive injuries. As speculation runs riot in the media that someone is targeting Flash’s defenders, old enemy Rainbow Raider takes advantage of the chaos to instigate a string of robberies, but even at his lowest ebb our hero is too much for the multicoloured malefactor…

Redik is now publicly offering to take the case for free, but Farley’s absentee business partner has already taken up her ailing associate’s celebrity caseload…

In #333, as inexplicably hostile attorney Cecile Horton confers with her inherited client, ‘Down with the Flash!’ reveals how sections of Central City have seemingly turned on their formerly adored champion. Fiona too is still drawing trouble, as a petty thug and his crazy brother break into the asylum treating her, looking for a little one-stop emergency therapy. Sadly for them, the Monarch of Motion is still keeping an eye on his tragic fiancée…

Redik then attempts to bribe and/or bully Horton off the case, but despite clearly despising her crimson client, Cecile is determined to honour Peter’s wishes and save the speedster, even as the mastermind stirring up anti-Flash sentiment is revealed in ‘Flash-Freak-Out!’ Just as the pre-trial manoeuvrings begin, the formerly supportive Mayor suddenly becomes the disgraced hero’s biggest detractor and Pied Piper’s mind-altering influence makes the hero apparently go berserk on live TV in ‘How to Trash a Flash!’, leaving even his most devoted fans wondering if their beloved champion has in fact gone crazy…

…And whilst Flash is saving the Mayor, at her secluded retreat Horton is caught in an explosive blast like the one that took out her partner…

‘Murder on the Rocks’ (#336) finds Flash arriving too late for once, but the ecstatic speedster is astounded to discover his lawyer has saved herself through quick thinking – although another woman has been killed. A tabloid reporter had been bugging the supposed “safe house” and inadvertently fallen foul of killers-for-hire. The trail of death leads forensically-trained Flash inexorably to a man whose arrogant determination to be a star in the tragedy costs him everything…

Annoyingly, the next three chapters are absent here. They would have shown how Flash finished the Piper and incurred the wrath of the Rogues who subsequently turned a hulking simpleton into programmed super killer Big Sir and unleashing him on the Scarlet Speedster. We rejoin the saga with Flash #340 as ‘Reach Out and Waste Someone!’ has the hurtling hero turn the tables on Cold, Boomerang, Weather Wizard, Trickster and Mirror Master by befriending Big Sir. Imminent danger averted, Flash surrenders himself to the courts…

After months, #341 sees proceedings finally open in ‘Trial and Tribulation!’, only for the weary defendant to discover that go-getting District Attorney Anton Slater has dropped the charges. The wily attention-seeker has abandoned his manslaughter case in favour of a charge of Second Degree Murder. With the still at-large Rogues rampaging through Central City, the opening arguments quickly and convincingly paint the stunned Flash as a cunning killer. Whilst he reels in open court, Captain Cold and Co again take control of now-docile Big Sir. When the shattered speedster leaves after his first bruising day, the Brobdingnagian brute ambushes him, wrecking his face with a massive mace…

Dazed, reeling and severely maimed, Flash flees in pure panic, leaving Sir to assault the gathered media in ‘Smash-Up!’ Barely thinking, the wounded warrior heads for Gorilla City where the super simians’ miraculous medical technology saves his life. Recovered and ready to return, Flash is certain he has made the right decision by asking Solovar to use that science to enact a certain alteration for him. On his return the Vizier of Velocity again deprograms Big Sir and the odd couple make sure the Rogues can’t hurt anyone else…

Flash #343 kicks the drama into even higher gear in ‘Revenge and Revelations!’ as the secret of why Cecile hates her crimson-clad client is exposed whilst merciless mobster monster Goldface attacks, even as – in the far future – another Flash foe escapes an unbeatable prison and heads for our present, intent on adding to the doomed hero’s historic woes. ‘Betrayal!’ in #344 was a partial reprint (Bates & John Broome, Infantino, McLaughlin & Joe Giella) which combines the first appearance and an early exploit of Kid Flash with that devoted protégé’s reluctant but devastating expert testimony under oath on the witness stand. The heartbroken lad’s damaging evidence is then compounded when Cecile makes an explosive mistake which exposes ‘The Secret Face of the Flash!’ to the courtroom and the world…

Confusion reigns in #346 as the shocking revelations are upstaged in ‘Dead Man’s Bluff!’ by reports the “victim” might not be dead. A merciless yellow-&-red blur has been seen all over Central City, attacking civilians and destroying police records. Reverse-Flash has escaped certain death many times before but as he mercilessly attacks the other Rogues – with even the Jurors narrowly escaping certain doom – it is clear that something is not right.

The trial concludes in #347’s ‘Back from the Dead!’ but even with the thoroughly thrashed Rogues and Police Captain Fry attesting the victim is still alive, more than one malign presence in the courtroom is affecting the jurors’ minds and ‘The Final Verdict!’ comes back “guilty”. However the story is not over and #349 unleashes a cascade of staggering revelations revealing clandestine agents acting both for and against the harried Human Hurricane in ‘…And the Truth Shall Set him Free!’ before the extended extravaganza of #350 declares ‘Flash Flees’ and thereafter shows the Scarlet Speedster defeating his ultimate nemesis, clearing his name and even living happily ever after… until that predestined final moment in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Staggering in scope, gripping in execution and astoundingly suspenseful, these last days of a legend make for stunning reading: a perfect example of the kind of plot-driven Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction we just don’t see enough of these days. If you feel a need for a traditionally thrilling kind of speed reading, this is a chronicle you must not miss and one DC should release in full colour and digital editions ASAP.
© 1983, 1984, 1985, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Black and White volume 1


By Ted McKeever, Bruce Timm, Klaus Janson, Archie Goodwin & Gary Gianni, Katsuhiro Otomo, Joe Kubert, Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson, José Muñoz, Jan Strnad & Richard Corben, Kent Williams, Chuck Dixon & Jorge Zaffino, Neil Gaiman & Simon Bisley, Andrew Helfer & Liberatore, Bill Sienkiewicz, Matt Wagner, Dennis O’Neil & Teddy Kristiansen, Brian Bolland, Kevin Nowlan, Brian Stelfreeze, Michael Allred, Moebius, Michael Kaluta, Tony Salmons, P. Craig Russell, Marc Silvestri, Alex Ross, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1589-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

Batman is a creature of the night. Batman is the world’s greatest detective, escapologist and master of disguise. Batman fights criminals, mad men and bad women, aliens and monsters. Batman is all this and more. In a world of fabulous eerily distorted hues and constantly shifting blinding colour (mostly red) he sees in black and white… and now so will you…

As recapped in a sagacious Introduction, in the early 1990s Batman: Black and White was originally envisioned as an experimental limited series, with editors Marl Chiarello & Scott Peterson inviting the world’s greatest comics creators – whether new to the character or long-time veterans – to tell “their” story of the Gotham Gangbuster. They would be free of all continuity constraints but operating under the sole proviso that the result should be designed to work in stark monochrome.

Results were astounding, challenging and inevitably, multi-award winning. If you are any sort of Bat-fan or aficionado of the art form there will be something in this wonderful tome to blow your socks off. Just don’t read it in front of your Nan – she spent hours knitting them.

Here is a spectacular showing from some of our world’s greatest talents, producing short complete tales without benefit or hindrance of colour. Moreover, the experiment was such a success that despite some company resistance to its very concept, the miniseries won much acclaim and many awards. Its success led to a regular black-&-white “out-continuity” slot in monthly anthology comic Gotham Knights. Those stories were collected in two subsequent B:BAW volumes. The experiment even evolved a subgenre of monochrome books starring many four-colour superstars from different companies: most of them exploiting the cultural label of “Noir”…

The groundbreaking enigmatic variations open with Ted McKeever’s ‘Perpetual Mourning’ wherein a quiet visit to the morgue opens a small dark window into the hero’s mind after which a panoply of assorted treats unfold, ranging from Archie Goodwin & Gary Gianni’s period piece ‘Heroes’ to poignant Good Evening, Midnight’ written & illustrated by Klaus Janson with the hero scrutinised by the one who knows him best.

Steeped in the animated show’s trappings, Bruce Timm’s tragic ‘Two of a Kind’ interrogates Harvey Dent and Two Face’s life whereas just plain wild and weird declamatory epics The Third Mask’ (by Katsuhiro Otomo) and Joe Kubert’s deeply symbolic ‘The Hunt’ are highly personal takes from major league creators showing why The Batman continues to grip public consciousness in almost any permutation or milieu.

As much thematic metaphor as artistic exercise, stories were not restricted to current DC continuity, but encouraged exploration of the character via impressionistic, personal forays such as ‘Petty Crimes’ by Howard Chaykin, with Archie Goodwin returning to script eerily memorable Jazz thriller ‘The Devil’s Trumpet’ for the astounding stylist José Muñoz.

Walter Simonson crafts future science myth ‘Legend’ whilst Jan Strnad & Richard Corben collaborate on bleak urban fable ‘Monster Maker’, even as Kent Williams revisits the night the Waynes died in ‘Dead Boys Eyes’, whilst Chuck Dixon & Jorge Zaffino’s ‘The Devil’s Children’ examines GCPD’s unique attitude to the Gotham Guardian…

Neil Gaiman & Simon Bisley’s ‘A Black and White World’ is arguably the weakest entry in the book, relying on “Fourth Wall cleverness” rather than actual plot, whereas Andrew Helfer & Liberatore’s insightful kidnap tale ‘In Dreams’ delivers a powerful punch, as does Matt Wagner’s fabulously stylish action romp ‘Heist’, before ‘Bent Twig’ delivers intense whimsy and deep, challenging philosophical questioning from Bill Sienkiewicz – and all shrouded under an ostensibly seasonal theme.

The same setting plays ‘A Slaying Song Tonight’ by Dennis O’Neil & Teddy Kristiansen, whilst Brian Bolland produces the beautifully disturbing ‘An Innocent Guy’. Strnad encores by scripting ‘Monsters in the Closet’ for forensically brilliant Kevin Nowlan, as does O’Neil for Brian Stelfreeze in chilling y introspective ‘Leavetaking’.

Chiarello’s Introduction explains how the project began and acknowledges its conceptual debt to Archie Goodwin’s tenure as writer/editor of Eerie and Warren Publication’s other groundbreaking monochrome magazines, but the collection is also superbly supplemented with background and developmental material, pin-ups and sketch pages from the likes of Michael Allred, Moebius, Michael Kaluta, Tony Salmons, P. Craig Russell, Marc Silvestri, Alex Ross and Neal Adams.

These are uncompromising visions of The Dark Knight that reshaped the medium, returning noir style and themes by offering mayhem in moody monochrome. They are Batman at his most primal and should be on every fan’s radar…
© 2000 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents World’s Finest volume 3


By Edmond Hamilton, Cary Bates, Jim Shooter, Leo Dorfman, Bill Finger, Curt Swan, George Klein, Sheldon Moldoff, Al Plastino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-585-2 (TPB)

For decades Superman and Batman were quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest” team. Friends as well as colleagues, their pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships. This third magnificent monochrome compendium gathers their cataclysmic collaborations from the glory days of the mid-1960’s: specifically World’s Finest Comics #146-173 – with the exception of reprint 80-Page Giant issues #161 &170 – and cumulatively covering cover-dates December 1964 through February 1968). This was a time when the entire Free World went superhero gaga in response to Batman’s live action and Superman’s animated TV shows…

A new era had begun in World’s Finest Comics #141 when author Edmond Hamilton and artists Curt Swan & George Klein (who illustrate the bulk of tales in this collection) ushered in a more dramatic, realistic and far less whimsical tone. That titanic creative trio continue their rationalist run in this volume starting with #146’s Batman, Son of Krypton!’ wherein uncovered evidence from the Bottle City of Kandor and bizarre recovered memories seemed to indicate the Caped Crusader is in fact an amnesiac, de-powered, Kryptonian. Moreover, as our heroes dig deeper, Superman thinks he’s found the Earthman responsible for Krypton’s destruction and becomes crazed with a hunger for vengeance…

WFC #147’s saw the sidekicks step up in a stirring blend of science fiction thriller and crime caper, all masquerading as an engaging drama of youth-in-revolt when ‘The New Terrific Team!’ (February 1965 Hamilton, Swan & Klein) saw Jimmy Olsen and Robin quit their underappreciated assistant roles to strike out on their disgruntled own. Naturally there was a perfectly rational, if incredible, reason. In #148 ‘Superman and Batman – Outlaws!’ (with Sheldon Moldoff temporarily replacing Klein) saw the Cape & Cowl Crimebusters sent to another dimension where arch-villains Lex Luthor and Clayface were heroes and the Dark Knight and Action Ace ruthless hunted criminals, after which World’s Finest Comics #149 (May 1965 and also inked by Moldoff) dealt out ‘The Game of Secret Identities!’ with Superman locked into an increasingly obsessive battle of wits with Batman that seemed likely to break up the partnership and even lead to violent disaster…

‘The Super-Gamble with Doom!’ (#150) introduced manipulative aliens Rokk and Sorban, whose addictive and staggeringly spectacular wagering almost gets Batman killed and Earth destroyed, before ‘The Infinite Evolutions of Batman and Superman!’ in #151 introduces junior writer Cary Bates, pairing with Hamilton to produce a beguiling sci fi thriller as the Gotham Guardian transforms into a callous future-man and the Metropolis Marvel is reduced to a brutish Neanderthal…

Hamilton solo-scripted #152’s ‘The Colossal Kids!’ wherein a brace of incomprehensibly super-powered brats outmatch, outdo but never outwit Batman or Superman (and of course there are old antagonists behind the challenging campaign of humiliation) after which Bates rejoins his writing mentor for a taut and dramatic “Imaginary Story” in #153.

When Editor Mort Weisinger was expanding Superman continuity and building the legend, he knew that each new tale was an event adding to a nigh-sacred canon and that what was written and drawn mattered to readers. But as an ideas man he wasn’t going to let that aggregated “consensus history” stifle a good idea, nor would he allow his eager yet sophisticated audience to endure clichéd deus ex machina cop-outs to mar the sheer enjoyment of a captivating concept. The mantra known to every baby-boomer fan was “Not a Dream! Not a Hoax! Not a Robot!” boldly emblazoned covers depicting scenes that couldn’t possibly be true… even if it was only a comic book.

Imaginary Stories were conceived as a way of exploring non-continuity plots and scenarios devised at a time when editors believed entertainment trumped consistency and knew that every comic read was somebody’s first – or potentially last. Illustrated by as ever by Swan & Klein, ‘The Clash of Cape and Cowl!’ posited a situation where brilliant young Bruce Wayne grew up believing Superboy had murdered his father, thereafter dedicating his life to crushing all criminals as a Bat Man awaiting the day when he could expose Superman as a killer and sanctimonious fraud…

WFC #154’s ‘The Sons of Superman and Batman’ (by Hamilton) opened doors to a far less tragic Imaginary world: one where the crime fighters finally found time to marry Lois Lane and Kathy Kane and have kids. Unfortunately, their lads proved to be both a trial and initially a huge disappointment…

‘Exit Batman – Enter Nightman!’ is a canny psychological thriller with the World’s Finest Team on the cusp of their 1,000th successful shared case when a new costumed crusader threatens to break up the partnership and replace burned out Batman, after which ‘The Federation of Bizarro Idiots!’ in #156 sees well-meaning but imbecilic imperfect duplicates of Superman and Batman set up shop on Earth. They end up as pawns of the duplicitous Joker, and it does not end well…

In #157’s ‘The Abominable Brats’ – drawn with inevitable brilliance by Swan and inked by both Klein & Moldoff – featured an Imaginary Story sequel as the wayward sons of heroes return to cause even more mischief, although once more there are other insidious influences in play…

‘The Invulnerable Super-Enemy!’ (#158 by Hamilton, Swan & Klein), has the Olsen-Robin Team stumble upon three Bottled Cities and inadvertently draw their mentors into a terrifying odyssey of evil. At first it appears to be the work of Brainiac but is in fact far from it, and is followed by ‘The Cape and Cowl Crooks!’ (WFC #159), dealing with foes possessing far mightier powers than our heroes – apparently a major concern for readers of those times.

To this day whenever fans gather a cry soon echoes out, “Who’s the strongest/fastest/better dressed…?” but this canny conundrum took the theme to superbly suspenseful heights as Anti-Superman and Anti-Batman continually outwit and outmanoeuvre the heroes, seemingly possessed of impossible knowledge of their antagonists…

Leo Dorfman debuted as scripter in#160 as the heroes struggled to discredit ‘The Fatal Forecasts of Dr. Zodiac’, a scurrilous Swami who appears to control fate itself. World’s Finest Comics #161 was an 80-Page Giant reprinting past tales and not included in this collection, so we jump to #162’s ‘Pawns of the Jousting Master!’: by another fresh scripting face. Teenager Jim Shooter produced an engaging time travel romp wherein Superman and Batman are defeated in combat and compelled to travel back to Camelot in a beguiling tale of King Arthur, super-powered knights and invading aliens…

‘The Duel of the Super-Duo!’ (#163, by Shooter, Swan & Klein) pits Superman against a brainwashed Batman on a world where his mighty powers are negated and other heroes of the galaxy are imprisoned by a master manipulator, after which Dorfman delivers an engaging thriller wherein a girl who is more powerful than Superman and smarter than Batman proves to be ‘Brainiac’s Super Brain-Child!’ Bill Finger & Al Plastino step in to craft WFC #165’s ‘The Crown of Crime’ (March 1967), depicting the last days of dying mega-gangster King Wolff. His plan to go out with a bang sets the underworld ablaze and almost stymies both heroes, after which Shooter, Swan & Klein depict ‘The Danger of the Deadly Duo!’ in which the 20th generation of Batman and Superman unite to battle The Joker of 2967 and his uncanny ally Muto: a superb flight of fantasy that was sequel to a brief series of stories starring Superman’s heroic descendent in a fantastic far future world.

WFC #167 saw Bates solo script ‘The New Superman and Batman Team!’: an Imaginary Story wherein boy scientist Lex Luthor gives himself super-powers and a Kal-El who had landed on Earth without Kryptonian abilities trains himself to become an avenging Batman after his foster-father Jonathan Kent was murdered. The Smallville Stalwarts briefly united in a crime-fighting partnership, but destiny has other plans for the fore-doomed friends…

In World’s Finest #142 a lowly, embittered janitor suddenly gained all the powers of the Legion of Super-Heroes and attacked Caped Crusader and Action Ace out of frustration and jealousy. Revived by Bates for #168’s ‘The Return of the Composite Superman!’ he is actually the pawn of a truly evil villain but gloriously triumphs over his own venal nature, after which #169 hosts ‘The Supergirl-Batgirl Plot’: a whimsical fantasy feast from Bates, Swan & Klein wherein the uppity lasses apparently toil tirelessly to supplant and replace Batman and Superman before it’s revealed that the Dynamic Damsels are mere pawns of an extremely duplicitous team of female felons and a brace of old WF antagonists are actually behind the Byzantine scheme…

Issue #170 is another unincluded mammoth reprint edition, after which #171 reveals ‘The Executioner’s List!’ (script by Dorfman): an intriguing, tense murder-mystery with a mysterious sniper seemingly targeting friends of Superman and Batman, before stirring, hard-hitting Imaginary Story ‘Superman and Batman… Brothers!’ (#172, December 1967) posits a grim scenario wherein orphaned Bruce Wayne is adopted by the Kents, but cannot escape a destiny of tragedy and darkness. Written by Shooter and brilliantly interpreted by Swan & Klein, this moody thriller in many ways signalled the end of angst-free days and beginning of a darker, edgier and more cohesive DC universe for a less casual readership, thereby surrendering the mythology to an increasingly devout fan-based audience.

This stunning compendium closes with World’s Finest Comics #173 and ‘The Jekyll-Hyde Heroes!’ (Shooter, Swan & Klein) as a criminal scientist devises a way to literally transform the Cape & Cowl Crusaders into their own worst enemies…

These are gloriously clever yet uncomplicated tales whose timeless style has returned to inform if not dictate the form for much of DC’s modern television animation. The stories here are a veritable feast of witty, gritty thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have: unmissable adventure for fans of all ages!
© 1964-1968, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Year One – The Deluxe Edition



By Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli with Richmond Lewis, Todd Klein & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3342-6 (HB/Digital edition) (978-0-29020-489-0 TPB)

Happy Bat-Anniversary!

Batman’s first ever origin moment came in Detective Comics #33 (November 1939, on sale from September 30th). Scripted by Gardner F. Fox and Bill Finger, ‘The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom’ included 2-page prologue ‘The Batman and How He Came to Be’ which first revealed how a young boy witnessed his parents’ hold-up and murder by a petty thug and dedicated his life to becoming a perfect human specimen to avenge them and punish all criminals. Those 12 panels were reprinted at the beginning of Batman #1 (Spring 1940) and – with occasional minor tweaking – stayed the official version for 50 years.

However, comic book heroes are all about fashion and revisionism, and on the back of DC’s multiversal continuity adjustment Crisis on Infinite Earths the hero voted Best Comic Book Character of the 20th Century completed a long-enacted but gradual readjustment: completely reverting to his gothic noir roots. The process actually started almost immediately after the Batman TV show was cancelled, and hit its pivot point in two 1980s’ tales: Alan Moore & Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke and the revolutionary series-within-a-series here.

This classic tale is available in a variety of editions. Batman: Year One is a joy to read and its pulp fiction fuelled reinterpretation of the hallowed origin literally changed the way Batman was produced – much more so than Frank Miller’s apocalyptic “Imaginary story” The Dark Knight Returns. The effects of the revisualisation still echo through Bat-titles and every single screen iteration from animated cartoons to box office blockbusters.

When Superman and Wonder Woman were similarly re-tooled, each got to start fresh with a new number #1s, but Batman’s evolution simply crept up on fans in the regular run of comics. The tale radically reimagined Catwoman and Jim Gordon, introduced believable human-scaled villains with organised crime figures such as Carmine Falcone and comprehensively rebuilt Gotham City as a hopeless hellhole of endemic corruption.

It began in Batman #404 – cover-dated February 1987 and on sale from October 21st 1986. Over four issues the bleak serial utterly altered the comic landscape as scripter Frank Miller and illustrator David Mazzucchelli (fresh from an astounding collaboration resurrecting Daredevil in Born Again please link to Daredevil: Born Again July 26th 2016) made Bruce Wayne and Batman simultaneously more human, vulnerable, formidable and credible.

With art based on the stylisations of Alex Toth and a story lensed through iron-hard detective and crime procedural dramas ‘Chapter One: Who I Am. How I Come to Be’ opens on January 4th and focuses on Wayne and recent transfer Lieutenant James Gordon as both arrive in Gotham ahead of personal scandals. Gordon is joining the crookedest constabulary in America, and the young heir to one of the City’s biggest fortunes has a desperate wish, a poorly formed plan and no method of getting what he wants.

By March, both have almost died but found their own way to hit back…

‘Chapter Two: War is Declared’ opens in April with Gordon hailed an honest-to-goodness hero cop. It’s the only thing saving him from being murdered by his own corrupt colleagues and mob-owned Police Commissioner Gillian B. Loeb: that and his high-profile hunt for a costumed vigilante who dresses like a bat…

When the masked maniac graduates from thugs, pushers and burglars by declaring war on Gotham’s criminal aristocracy, Gordon’s hunger to catch him falters. Isn’t the Bat doing exactly what Gordon would do if he didn’t have a pregnant wife, secret mistress and pitiful career to protect?

His conflicted quandaries are put into sharp perspective in ‘Chapter Three: Black Dawn’ when Loeb submits to pressure from Falcone and unleashes Gotham’s brutally gung-ho SWAT forces on the vigilante: a move costing countless civilian lives when they raid a tenement in hot pursuit of “The Bat”. The assault is live televised, triggering one witness to begin her own costumed career, plundering Falcone’s shaking empire even as the mystery man categorically proves he’s no urban myth but a force to be feared…

Spanning September to December 3rd, ‘Chapter Four: Friend in Need’ finds our mismatched heroes finally joining forces after Gordon at last sees the kind of man The Bat is. That comes when GCPD attempt to destroy the by-the-book cop by targeting his wife and newborn baby and leads to the beginning of a major clean up in Gotham’s government…

The sequence was heavily promoted from the start and immediately reset The Dark Night’s monthly continuity. From this point on this was what Batman was ALWAYS like…

A high design style was created from the start – by Chip Kidd – to match the fully immersive impressionist reworking. This story was treating the material like a grownup book not a kid’s throwaway pamphlet: boldly declaring “less is more. Less is enough. Less is what you get. Work with what’s here.” The whole point of the exercise was to give creators that followed plenty of raw material to work with and it paid off big-time as the Dark Knight began his second Golden Age.

Various collected editions include up to 40 pages of extras such as mood setting preface ‘The Crime Blotter by Slam Bradley’, an Introduction by Denny O’Neil, Afterword by Miller and Mazzucchelli’s wonderfully drawn ‘Afterword(s)’ – a comic strip commentary on Batman. There is a wealth of development material, promotional art and selection of script pages, thumbnail sketches and layouts providing a fascinating intro into the artistic process. Colourist Richmond Lewis completely reworked the printed newsprint pages for the higher quality graphic novel and examples of her process are here, plus a full comics cover gallery and large selection of book cover designs.

Batman: Year One is a story every comic fan should own, and if you are and you don’t, fix that situation now, Now, NOW!
© 1986, 1987, 2005, 2007, 2012, 2017, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Valerian: The Complete Collection volume 1


By J.-C. Mézières & P. Christin with colours by E. Tranlê: translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-352-9 (HB/Digital edition)

Although I still marginally plump for Flash Gordon, another strong contender for the most influential science fiction series ever drawn – and yes, I am including Buck Rogers in this tautological turmoil – is Valérian. Although to a large extent those venerable newspaper strips actually formed the genre itself, anybody who has seen a Star Wars movie (or indeed any sci fi flic from the 1980s onwards) has seen some of Jean-Claude Mézières & Pierre Christin’s brilliant imaginings which the film industry has shamelessly plundered for decades: everything from the Millennium Falcon’s look to Leia’s Slave Girl outfit…

Please don’t take my word for it: this splendid oversized hardback compendium – originally released to cash in on the epic Luc Besson movie – has a copious and good-natured text feature entitled ‘Image Creators’ confirming and comparing panels to film stills.

In case you’re curious, additional features include photo & design art-packed ‘Interview Luc Besson, Jean-Claude Mézières and Pierre Christin (Part I)’ plus bullet-point historical briefings ‘How it All Began…’, ‘Go West Young Men!’, ‘Colliding Worlds’, ‘Explore Anything’ and ‘Hello!’ This is Laureline…’. Simply put, more carbon-based lifeforms have marvelled at the uniquely innovative, grungy, lived-in tech realism and light-hearted swashbuckling roller-coasting of Mézières & Christin than any other cartoon spacer ever imagined possible.

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent launched in the November 9th 1967 edition of Pilote (#420, running until February 15th 1968). It was an instant hit. However, album compilations only began with second tale The City of Shifting Waters, as all creatives concerned considered their first yarn as a work-in-progress, not quite up to their preferred standard. You can judge for yourself, as that prototype – Bad Dreams – kicks off this volume, in its first English-language translation…

The groundbreaking series was boosted by a Franco-Belgian mini-boom in science fiction triggered by Jean-Claude Forest’s 1962 creation Barbarella. Other notable successes of the era include Greg & Eddy Paape’s Luc Orient and Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane tales (our reviews are coming soon!), which all – with Valérian – stimulated mass public reception to science fiction and led to the creation of dedicated fantasy periodical Métal Hurlant in 1977.

Valérian and Laureline (as it became) is a light-hearted, wildly imaginative time-travel adventure-romp (a bit like Doctor Who, but not really at all), drenched in wry, satirical, humanist, political commentary, starring (at least in the beginning) an affably capable but unimaginative, by-the-book cop tasked with protecting universal time-lines and counteracting paradoxes caused by reckless casual time-travellers…

The fabulous fun commences with the aforementioned Bad Dreams – which began life as Les Mauvais Réves – a blend of comedy and action as dry dullard Valérian voyages to 11th century France in pursuit of a demented dream-scientist: a maverick seeking magical secrets to remake the universe to his liking. Sadly, our hero is a little out of his depth until rescued from a tricky situation by a fiery, capable young woman/temporal native called Laureline.

After handily dealing with the dissident Xombul and his stolen sorceries, Valerian brings Laureline back with him to the 28th century super-citadel and administrative wonderland of Galaxity, capital of the vast and mighty Terran Empire.

The indomitable girl trains as a Spatio-Temporal operative and is soon an apprentice Spatio-Temporal Agent accompanying Val on his missions throughout time and space…

Every subsequent Valérian adventure until the 13th was first serialised in weekly Pilote until the conclusion of The Rage of Hypsis (January 1st – September 1st 1985) after which the mind-wrenching sagas were simply launched as all-new complete graphic novels, until the magnificent opus concluded in 2010.

One clarifying note: in the canon, “Hypsis” is counted as the 12th tale, due to collected albums being numbered from The City of Shifting Waters. When Les Mauvais Réves was finally released in a collected edition in 1983 it was given the number #0. The City of Shifting Waters was originally published in two tranches; La Cité des Eaux Mouvantes (#455-468, 25th July – 24th October 1968) followed by Terre en Flammes (Earth in Flames, #492-505, 10th April – 10th July 1969).

Both are included here and the action opens with the odd couple dispatched to 1986 – when civilisation on Earth was destroyed due to ecological negligence, political chicanery and atomic holocaust. Their orders are to recapture Xombul, still hellbent on undermining Galaxity and establishing himself as Dictator of the Universe. To attain this goal the renegade travelled to New York after the nuclear accident melted the ice caps and flooded the city – and almost everywhere else. He’s hunting lost scientific secrets that would allow him to conquer the devastated planet and prevent the Terran Empire ever forming… at least that’s what his Galaxity pursuers assume…

Plunged back into an apocalyptic nightmare where Broadway and Wall Street are submerged, jungle vines connect deserted skyscrapers, tsunamis are an hourly hazard and bold looters snatch up the last golden treasures of a lost civilisation, the S-T agents find unique allies to preserve the proper past, but are constantly thwarted by Xombul who has constructed deadly robotic slaves to ensure his schemes.

Visually spectacular, mind-bogglingly ingenious and steeped in delicious in-jokes (the utterly-mad-yet-brilliant boffin who helps them is a hilarious dead ringer for Jerry Lewis in 1963 film The Nutty Professor) this is a timelessly witty Science Fiction delight which climaxes in a moody cliffhanger…

Immediately following, Earth in Flames concludes the saga as our heroes head inland, encountering hardy survivors of the holocaust. Enduring more hardships, they escape even greater catastrophes such as the eruption of a super-volcano under Yellowstone Park before finally frustrating the plans of the most ambitious mass-killer in all of history… and as Spatio-Temporal Agents they should know…

Concluding this first fantastic festive celebration is The Empire of a Thousand Planets (originally seen in Pilote #520-541, October 23rd 1969 – March 19th 1970) as veteran and rookie are despatched to fabled planet Syrte the Magnificent. It is the capital of a vast system-wide civilisation and a world in inexplicable and rapid technological and social decline. The mission is threat-assessment: staying in their base time-period (October 2720) the pair must examine the first galactic civilisation ever discovered which has never experienced any form of human contact or contamination. As usual, events don’t go according to plan…

Despite easily blending into a culture with a thousand separate sentient species, Valerian & Laureline find themselves plunged into intrigue and dire danger when the cheekily acquisitive girl buys an old watch in the market. Nobody on Syrte knows what it is since all the creatures of this civilisation have an innate, infallible time-sense, but the gaudy bauble quickly attracts the attention of one of the Enlightened – a sinister cult of masked mystics who have the ear of the Emperor and a stranglehold on all technologies.

The Enlightened are responsible for the stagnation within this once-vital interplanetary colossus and they quickly move to eradicate the Spatio-Temporal agents. Narrowly escaping doom, the pair reluctantly experience the staggering natural wonders and perils of the wilds beyond the capital city before dutifully returning to retrieve their docked spaceship. Sadly, our dauntless duo are distracted, embroiled in a deadly rebellion fomented by the Commercial Traders Guild. Infiltrating the awesome palace of the puppet-Emperor and visiting the mysterious outer planets, Valerian & Laureline discover a long-fomenting plot to destroy Earth – a world supposedly unknown to anyone in this Millennial Empire…

All-out war looms and the Enlightened’s incredible connection to post-Atomic disaster Earth is revealed just as interstellar conflict erupts between rebels and Imperial forces, with our heroes forced to fully abandon their neutrality and take up arms to save two civilisations a universe apart yet inextricably linked…

Comfortingly familiar and always innovative, this savvy space-opera is fun-filled, action-packed, spectacular, visually breathtaking and mind-bogglingly ingenious. Drenched in wide-eyed fantasy wonderment, science fiction adventures have never been better than this.
© Dargaud Paris, 2016 by Christin, Mézières & Tranlê. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Mega Robo Bros: Nemesis


By Neill Cameron & various (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-315-8 (TPB)

Mighty in metal and potent in plastic, here’s the latest upgrade in this sterling, solid gold all-ages sci fi saga from Neill (Tamsin of the Deep, Pirates of Pangea, How to Make Awesome Comics, Freddy) Cameron. Perfect purpose-built paladins, the mecha-miraculous Mega Robo Bros find that even they can’t punch out intolerance or growing pains in these electronic exploits balancing frantic fun with portents of darker, far more violent days to come…

It’s still The Future! – but maybe not for much longer…

In a London far cooler but just as embattled as ours, Alex and his younger brother Freddy Sharma are notionally typical kids: boisterous, fractious, perpetually argumentative yet still devoted to each other. They’re also not too bothered that they’re adopted. It’s really no big deal for them that they were meticulously and covertly constructed by the mysterious Dr. Roboticus before he vanished, and are considered by those “in the know” as the most powerful – and only fully SENTIENT – robots on Earth. Of course, ultimately events conspire to challenge that comforting notion…

Dad is just your average old guy who makes lunch and does a bit of writing (he’s actually an award-winning journalist), but when not being a housewife, Mum is pretty extraordinary herself. Surprisingly famous and renowned robotics boffin Dr. Nita Sharma harbours some shocking secrets of her own…

Life in the Sharma household aims to be normal. Freddy is insufferably exuberant and over-confident, whilst Alex is at the age when self-doubt and anxiety hit hard and often. Moreover, the household’s other robot rescues can also be problematic. Programmed to be dog-ish, baby triceratops Trikey is ok, but eccentric French-speaking ape Monsieur Gorilla can be tres confusing, and gloomily annoying, existentialist aquatic waterfowl Stupid Philosophy Penguin hangs around ambushing everyone with quotes from dead philosophers…

The boys have part-time jobs as super-secret agents, although because they aren’t very good at the clandestine part, almost the world now knows them. 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 all 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 human activities, actual but rare fun, games-playing, watching TV and constant training in the combat caverns under R.A.I.D. HQ. Usually, when a situation demands, the boys 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.

Originally published in UK weekly comic The Phoenix, the saga reopens with the lads’ reputations as global heroes increasing coming under fire and into question. After defeating dangerous villains like Robot 23 and thwarting a robot rebellion sparked by artificial life activist The Caretaker, the Bros battled monstrous, deadly damaged droid Wolfram in the arctic and learned he might be their older brother. Even so, they had to destroy him; leaving Alex deeply traumatised by the act…

Over the course of that case they learned that fifteen years previously their brilliant young roboticist Mum worked under incomparable but weird genius Dr. Leon Robertus. His astounding discoveries earned him the unwelcome nickname Dr. Roboticus and perhaps that’s what started pushing him away from humanity. Robertus allowed Nita to repurpose individually superpowered prototypes into a rapid-response team for global emergencies. Their Mum had been a superhero, leading manmade The Super Robo Six and while saving lives with them she first met crusading journalist/future husband Michael Mokeme. He proudly took her name when they eventually wed…

Robertus was utterly devoid of human empathy but – intrigued by the team’s acclaim and global acceptance – created a new kind of autonomous robot. Wolfram was more powerful than any other construct, and equipped with foundational directives allowing him to make choices and develop his own systems. He could think, just like Alex and Freddy can. Only, as it transpired, not quite…

When Robertus demoted Nita and made Wolfram leader of a 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, R.A.I.D. was formed. They tried to shut down Robertus and decommission Wolfram, but the superbot rejected their judgement, leading to a brutal battle, the robot’s apparent destruction and Roboticus vanishing…

As the boys absorbed their “Secret Origins” Wolfram returned, attacking polar restoration project Jötunn Base. It covered many miles and was carefully rebalancing the world’s climate, when Wolfram took it over: reversing the chilling process to burn the Earth and drown humanity. Ordered by Baroness Farooq to stay put and not help, Alex and Freddy rebelled, but by the time the Bros reached Jötunn, Wolfram had crushed a R.A.I.D. force led by their friend Agent Susie Nichols. After also failing to stop the attacker, kind contemplative Alex found a way to defeat – and perhaps, destroy – his wayward older brother and save humanity…

Their exploit made the Bros global superstars and whilst immature Freddy revels in all the attention Alex is having trouble adjusting: not just to the notoriety and acclaim, but also the horrifying new power levels he achieved to succeed and also the apparent onset of robot puberty. It’s afflicted him with PTSD…

A drawing together of many long-running plot threads, Nemesis opens with a potential disaster in the city as human intolerance breaks out everywhere. As this penultimate epic begins, friction between the brothers is constantly building: petty nagging spats that seem pointless but are driving a wedge between them. It’s not helping that a growing faction of people -calling themselves “Humanity First” are actively agitating to get rid of all robots, and their spokesman is targeting the Bros specifically as a threat to mankind on the R-Truth show, and is particularly hateful about Alex’s well-publicised friendship with the next king of Britain, Crown Prince Eustace.

Peril increases after both the fleshy and metallo-plastic members of the Sharma clan start a well-deserved holiday in Brighton. As Alex nearly succumbs to a beach romance with ardent fan Erin and mischievous hijinks with her wayward sibling Finn, a trip to the robotic Steel Circus leads to an accidental but catastrophic encounter with old foes the Bros had completely forgotten even existed…

The consequent riot is readily contained, but the clowns the kids capture at the end clearly don’t have the ability to do what has just been done and the return home is fraught and pensive…

As school starts again, The Baroness calls a conference to discuss the rise in anti-automaton hate crimes, before – in a bid to promote inclusivity – ordering Alex and Freddy to appear on TV show Mega Robo Warriors. Sadly, it’s all another trap and as Freddy delightedly trashes a host of war bots, his self-control starts to slip and Alex realises his hostile attitudes and violent reactions have been building for some time…

Soon after, a protest by Humanity First at Tilbury Port is deliberately escalated into a full-on meat vs metal riot, and Freddy goes apparently berserk, attacking humans trashing helpless mech droids. What might have happened next is thankfully forestalled when all the robots – including R.A.I.D.’s police drones – are corrupted by the perniciously hostile Revolution 23 virus. Total chaos is only avoided when Wolfram appears to offer all liberated machines sanctuary in his robot republic Steelhaven: a cloaked robot utopia of liberated mechanoids that has declared independence from humanity.…

Clashes between the brothers are almost constant when Alex decides to forget his troubles for a day and go out with his friends Taia and Mira…and – under duress – Freddy. The trip to Camden Lock is spiced up by a holographically incommunicado Prince Eustace, and provides a vast bonus when Mira finds a junked bot and works out the secret of the Revolution 23 Malware. It’s just in time to see common people begin to turn on Humanity First’s fanatics…

Thanks to Mira, the battling Bros finally have a lead on the mastermind behind all their current woes, but Freddy’s emotional problems have reached a point where he just won’t be talked down. Fired by righteous fury, the younger bot blasts off, hot-headedly streaking into another trap by their most cunning and patient foe. Descending into rage and madness, he begins razing London, and Alex realises that to stop his to little brother he may have to destroy him…

How that all works out sets up the saga for a spectacular finale, so let’s stop here with the now-mandatory “To Be Concluded…”

Crafted by Cameron and colouring assistant Austin Baechle (with a cohort of robots designed by readers of The Phoenix), this rip-roaring riot isn’t quite over yet. Adding informational illumination are activity pages on ‘How To Draw Robot 23’ and ‘How To Draw Mr. Donut’, and a bonus Preview selection of what the periodical Pheonix has to offer

Bravely and exceedingly effectively interweaving real world concerns by addressing issues of gender and identity with great subtlety and in a way kids can readily grasp, this epic yarn blends action and humour with superb effect. Excitement and hearty hilarity is balanced here with poignant moments of insecurity and introspection, affording thrills, chills, warmth, wit and incredible verve. Alex and Freddy are utterly authentic kids, irrespective of their origins, and their antics and anxieties strike exactly the right balance of future shock, family fun and superhero action to capture readers’ hearts and minds. What movies these tales would make!
Text and illustrations © Neill Cameron 2024. All rights reserved.

Mega Robo Bros Nemesis will be released on May 2nd 2024 and is available for pre-order now.

Showcase Presents Batman volume 2


By John Broome, Gardner F. Fox, Robert Kanigher, Carmine Infantino, Sheldon Moldoff, Joe Giella, Sid Greene, Chic Stone, Murphy Anderson and with covers from Gil Kane and Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
ISBN 978-1-84576-661-0 (TPB)

This volume from the wonderfully cheap & cheerful, crushingly much-missed Showcase Presents… line serves up in sharp, crisp monochrome 36 more Bat-stories from September 1965 to December 1966 as originally seen in Batman #175-188 and Detective Comics #343-358. Other than covers it excludes Batman #176, 182, 185 & 187, which were all-reprint 80-Page Giants.

These tales were produced in the months leading up to the launch of and throughout year one of the blockbuster Batman television show (premiering January 12th 1966 and running 3 seasons of 120 episodes in total). The show aired twice weekly in its first two seasons, resulting in vast amounts of Bat-awareness, no end of spin-offs and merchandise, a movie and the overkill phenomenon of “Batmania”. No matter how much we might squeal and foam about it, to a huge portion of this planet’s population Batman will always be that “Zap! Biff! Pow!” buffoonish costumed Boy Scout…

Regrettably this means the comic stories published during that period have been similarly excoriated and maligned by many ever since. It is true some tales were crafted with overtones of the “camp” comedy fad – presumably to accommodate newer readers seduced by the arch silliness and coy irony of the show – but no editor of Julius Schwartz’s calibre would ever deviate far from characterisation that had sustained Batman for nearly three decades, or the then-recent relaunch which had revitalised the character sufficiently for television to take an interest at all.

Nor would such brilliant writers as John Broome, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox or Bob Kanigher ever produce work which didn’t resonate on all the Batman’s complex levels just for a quick laugh and cheap thrill. The artists tasked with sustaining the visual intensity included such greats as Carmine Infantino, Sheldon Moldoff, Chic Stone, Joe Giella, Murphy Anderson and Sid Greene, with covers from Gil Kane and Joe Kubert supplementing the stunning and trend-setting, fine-line Infantino masterpieces.

Most stories in this compendium reflect those gentler times and an editorial policy to focus on Batman’s reputation as “The World’s Greatest Detective”, so colourfully costumed, psychotic veteran supervillains are in a minority, but there are first appearances for a number of exotic foes who would become regular menaces for the Dynamic Duo in later years.

The mayhem and mystery begin with book-length epic ‘The Secret War of the Phantom General!’ from Detective Comics #343 (September 1965). Written by John Broome and limned by Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, it incorporates back up star Elongated Man: a costumed sleuth blending the charm of Nick “The Thin Man” Charles with the outré hero antics of Plastic Man

This tense thriller pits hard-pressed heroes against a hidden army of gangsters and Nazi war criminals, before #344 introduces intellectual bandit Johnny Witts, ‘The Crime-Boss Who Was Always One Step Ahead of Batman!’ in a sharp duel of mentalities from Gardner Fox, Sheldon Moldoff & Giella. The same creative team produced epic shocker ‘The Decline and Fall of Batman’ in the 175th issue of his own titular magazine, wherein fringe scientist Eddie Repp almost ends the Caped Crusaders’ careers by assaulting them with electronic ghosts, after which Detective #345 debuts a terrifying and tragic new villain in ‘The Blockbuster Invasion of Gotham City!’ (Fox, Infantino & Giella), as a monstrous giant with the mind of a child and raw, physical power of a tank is constantly driven to madness at sight of Batman and only placated by the sight of Bruce Wayne

Batman #177 opens with Bill Finger, Moldoff & Giella’s puzzler, ‘Two Batmen Too Many’ complete with a brace of superhero guest-stars, after which ‘The Art Gallery of Rogues!’ (Broome, Moldoff & Sid Greene) combines good-natured matchmaking with murderous burglary before ‘Batman’s Inescapable Doom-Trap!’ (Detective #346, Broome, Moldoff & Giella) highlights the Gotham Gangbuster’s escapology skills when a magician-turned-thief alpha-tests his latest stunt on the unwilling, unwitting hero.

Fox, Infantino & Giella reveal ‘The Strange Death of Batman!’ in Detective # 347, launching habitual B-list villain The Bouncer in a bizarre experimental yarn which must be seen to be believed, whereas it’s all-action business as usual in Batman #178 when the ‘Raid of the Rocketeers!’ (Kanigher, Moldoff & Giella) set the Caped Champions on the trail of jet-packed super-thugs after which Broome, Moldoff & Greene start referencing the TV series’ tone in light-hearted caper ‘The Loan Shark’s Hidden Horde!’

Whilst ‘The Birdmaster of Bedlam!’ (Kanigher, Moldoff & Giella) who hatched his first sinister scheme in Detective #349 proves ultimately incapable of containing the heroes, Batman #179 provides more of a challenge with ‘Clay Pigeon for a Killer!’ Kanigher, Moldoff & Greene (erroneously credited as Giella here) see Batman using television’s “Most Wanted” show to trap a murderer beyond reach of the law whilst ‘The Riddle-less Robberies of The Riddler!’ (Broome Moldoff & Giella), fully reinvents the Prince of Puzzlers as the felon discovers he cannot escape or defy an obsessive psychological compulsion preventing him from committing crimes unless he sends clues to Batman first! Sadly, even when Eddie Nigma cheats, the Masked Manhunter keeps solving the clues…

The microcephalic man-brute who hates Batman returns as ‘The Blockbuster Breaks Loose!’ in a blistering, action-fuelled thriller by Fox, Infantino & Giella (Detective #349) which also hints at the return of a long-forgotten foe, whilst ‘The Monarch of Menace!’ (#350 by Kanigher, Moldoff & Giella) introduces the greatest criminal in the world, who starts well but inevitably falls to the Gotham Guardian’s indomitable persistence.

Illustrated by Moldoff & Giella, Batman #180 debuts the uncanny Death-Man in ‘Death Knocks Three Times!’ – Kanigher’s best tale of this era and an early indication of the Caped Crusader’s eerie potential, after which Detective #351 premieres game-show host turned felonious impresario Arthur Brown in ‘The Cluemaster’s Topsy-Turvy Crimes!’ courtesy of Fox, Infantino & Greene.

‘Beware of… Poison Ivy!’ in Batman #181 introduces the deadly damsel to the Caped Crusader’s Rogues Gallery, but in this tale she’s only a criminal boss using sex as her weapon to split up the Dynamic Duo and defeat rival villainesses in a sly tale from Kanigher, Moldoff & Giella. Following an iconic pin-up courtesy of Infantino & Murphy Anderson comes a superb Mystery Analysts of Gotham City shocker. Fox, Moldoff & Greene detail ‘The Perfect Crime… Slightly Imperfect!’, before Detective #352 sees Broome, Moldoff & Giella explore ‘Batman’s Crime Hunt A-Go-Go!’ wherein Batman hits an incredible hot-streak, repeatedly catching criminals in the act with incredible hunches. Of course, it’s no such thing and sinister stage mentalist Mr. Esper is manipulating the crime campaign for his own sinister ends…

After another stunning Infantino & Anderson Bat pin-up, narrative action resumes with ‘The Weather Wizard’s Triple-Treasure Thefts!’ (Fox, Infantino & Giella) in #353, pitting the Dynamic Duo in spectacular opposition to The Flash’s archenemy: one of the first times a DC villain moved out of his usual stamping grounds. Batman #183 opens with ‘A Touch of Poison Ivy!’ (Kanigher, Moldoff & Giella) as the seductive siren tries again to turn the Caped Crusader’s head before excellent “fair-play” mystery ‘Batman’s Baffling Turnabout!’ sees Gardner Fox challenge readers to deduce what turns the hero against a baffled Boy Wonder…

‘No Exit for Batman’ (Detective #354, by Broome Moldoff & Giella) introduces bloodthirsty oriental fiend Dr. Tzin-Tzin and gives me another excellent opportunity to remind you just how far we’ve all come in confronting all those pernicious stereotypes that underpinned so much popular fiction…

The tale itself is a bruising all-action battle with the hero targeted by a Chinese ganglord seeking to break him down by fighting an army of foes, followed by Fox’s ‘Mystery of the Missing Manhunters!’ which generated one of the most memorable covers of the decade for Batman #184 and a back-up Robin solo tale: ‘The Boy Wonder’s Boo-Boo Patrol!’ (Fox, Chic Stone & Greene) showing the kid’s potential in a smart tale of thespian skulduggery and clever conundrum solving.

Detective #355 again highlights our hero’s physical prowess and deductive capabilities in blistering yarn ‘Hate of the Hooded Hangman!’ (Broome, Infantino & Giella), after which an extended duel with a mutated mastermind culminates in ‘The Inside story of the Outsider!’ and the miraculous resurrection of faithful retainer Alfred in a landmark, game-changing, classic confrontation by Fox, Moldoff & Giella from Detective Comics #356.

Batman #186 sees the Clown Prince of Crime in possibly his most innocuous exploit ‘The Joker’s Original Robberies’ as Broome, Moldoff & Giella sought to out-Camp the TV show, whereas ‘Commissioner Gordon’s Death-Threat!’ (written by Fox) put the artists’ talents to far better use in a terse and compelling kidnap thriller. Broome redeems himself in Detective #357 with sharp secret identity saving puzzler Bruce Wayne Unmasks Batman!’ (limned by Infantino & Giella).

Batman #188 featured ‘The Eraser Who Tried to Rub Out Batman!’ (Broome, Moldoff & Giella) and Fox, Moldoff & Greene’s decidedly sharper and less silly murder-mystery ‘The Ten Best-Dressed Corpses in Gotham City!’ after which this collection concludes on a note of psychological intrigue as Broome, Moldoff & Giella use Detective #358 to outline ‘The Circle of Terror’, wherein the Masked Manhunter is progressively driven to the edge of madness by Op Art maestro The Spellbinder.

With covers by Infantino, Gil Kane, Murphy Anderson and Joe Kubert, pin-up extras, frequent reprint compendiums and lots of cross-pollination with the TV series, DC were pulling out all the stops to capitalise on the screen exposure and ensure the comic buying public got their 12¢ worth, but the most effective tool in the arsenal was always the sheer scope and variety of the stories. The bulk of the yarns reprinted here are thefts, capers and sinister schemes by heist men, murderers, would-be world-conquerors or mad scientists and I must say it’s a joy to see such once-common staples of comic books in play again. Call me radical or reactionary but I say you can have too much psycho-killing, and just how many alien races really and truly can be bothered with our poxy planet – or our women?

…And yes, there are one or two utterly daft escapades included here, but overall this book is a magical window onto a simpler time but not burdened by simpler fare. These Batman adventures are tense, thrilling, engrossing, engaging and even amusing and I’d have no qualms giving them to my niece or my granny. It’s such a shame DC seems to disagree but at least by seeking this out you can Tune In and become a proper Bat-Fan.
© 1965, 1966, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wolverine: Weapon X Gallery Edition


By Barry Windsor-Smith, with Chris Claremont, Frank Tieri, Avalon’s Raymund Lee, Jim Novak, Tom Orzechowski & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-3395-1 (HB/Digital edition) TPB

Wolverine is all things to most people and in his long life has worn many hats: Comrade, Ally, Avenger, Teacher, Protector, Punisher. He first saw print in a tantalising teaser-glimpse at the end of The Incredible Hulk #180 (cover-dated October 1974 and Happy 50th, Eyy?): prior to indulging in a full-on scrap with the Green Goliath – and accursed cannibal critter The Wendigo – in the next issue. The Canadian super-agent was just one more throwaway foe for one of Marvel’s mightiest stars, and vanished until All-New, All Different X-Men launched.

The semi-feral Canadian mutant with fearsome claws and killer attitude rode – or perhaps fuelled – the meteoric rise of those rebooted outcast heroes. He inevitably won a miniseries try-out and his own series: two in fact, in fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents and an eponymous monthly book (of which more later and elsewhere).

In guest shots across the MU plus cartoons and movies he carved out a unique slice of super-star status and screen immortality. He hasn’t looked back since, and over those years many untold tales of the aged agent (eventually revealed to have been born in the 19th century) explored his erased exploits in ever-increasing intensity and detail. Over decades, his many secret origins and a stream of revelatory disclosures regarding his extended, self-obscured life slowly seeped out. Cursed with recurring periodic bouts of amnesia, mind-wiped ad nauseum by sinister or even well-meaning friends and foes, the Chaotic Canucklehead packed a lot of adventurous living into decades of existence – but mostly didn’t remember much of it. This permanently unploughed field conveniently resulted in a crop of dramatically mysterious, undisclosed back-histories, the absolute best of which is re-presented here.

Spanning March to September of 1991 in 8-page instalments, Marvel Comics Presents # 72-84 hosted a much-demanded semi-origin for the mystery mutant, revealing how he was internally enrobed with wonder-metal adamantium. The tale delivered a ‘Prologue’, 12 highly visual revelatory chapters and a concluding ‘Interlude & Escape’. In 1993, when the tale was collected into a graphic novel, Larry Hama wrote a prose ‘Epilogue’ to dot all the “I”s and cross all the “T”s, and that’s included here, plus thematic continuations to the saga that shook the Marvel firmament. Those include an excerpt from Wolverine #166 and the contents of the Smith co-crafted X-Men #205.

A visual tour de force with truly visceral imagery – almost medical torture porn – the story of how a burned-out spy walks into a bar and eventually regains his senses sometime later, changed beyond all recognition, is told in overlapping, interwoven flashbacks within flashbacks.

The abduction, who did to what to “Logan” under the illicit auspices of “Experiment X” – and why – is all here to experience in gorge-rising detail, but the easy answers you want won’t be easy to see. The monstrous tale of forced transmutation, fight for survival and autonomy and the dichotomy of what separates Man from Animal reveals facts yet leaves truths to later stories. What you have here is how a victim of atrocity overcomes his tormentors and lives free by not dying… and it is truly spectacular.

Written, illustrated, coloured and lettered by Barry Windsor-Smith, Weapon X is short and pretty to look upon, a masterpiece of visual storytelling that must be seen to be believed. It’s also a superb shock-horror tribute to Frankenstein, exposing the true nature of the tortured soul underneath the imposed layers unknown enemies have smothered Logan in for so very long and the first step towards his ultimate emancipation.

Following the Hama conclusion, an extract from Wolverine #166 (September 2001) sees Windsor-Smith return to his opus in a flashback sequence scripted by Frank Tieri: focusing on one of the nameless army grunts (and rare survivor) who faced the berserk escaping Experiment X. Accompanied by Windsor-Smith’s cover for #167 and mirrored by his cover for Uncanny X-Men # 205 (May 1986), they precede his collaboration with Chris Claremont on ‘Wounded Wolf’; another boldly visual triumph as Wolverine faces vengeance-crazed, adamantium augmented cyborg Lady Deathstrike in a compelling fable of obsession guest-starring little Katie Power from pre-teen titans Power Pack.

Although there are many versions of this collection available, this Gallery Edition is a dream for fans of Windsor-Smith art, closing with 17 pages of original art and a selection of X-related covers, images and pin-ups by the author. These are culled from the back of Wolverine #4, Marvel Comics Presents # 72-84, and assorted X-collections including Weapon X Hardcover (1993), Weapon X Trade Paperback (2001), Wolverine: Weapon X Marvel Premiere Classic Hardcover,  X-Men: Lifedeath Marvel Premiere Classic Hardcover, There are also house ads, promo posters, and variant covers for Uncanny X-Men #395, New X-Men #115,and Deadpool #57-60.

Short, fierce, relentless and unmissable.
© 2022 MARVEL.

Showcase Presents World’s Finest volume 2


By Jerry Coleman, Bill Finger, Edmond Hamilton, Ed Herron, Dave Wood, Curt Swan, Jim Mooney, Dick Sprang, Sheldon Moldoff, Stan Kaye, John Forte, George Klein & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-053-6 (TPB)

For decades Superman and Batman were the quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest” team. They were friends as well as colleagues and the pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships. This most inevitable of Paladin Pairings first occurred on the Superman radio show in 1945, whilst in comics the pair briefly met whilst on a Justice Society of America adventure (in All-Star Comics #36, August/September 1947) and perhaps even there they missed each other in the gaudy hubbub…

They heroic headliners had shared the covers of World’s Finest Comics from the outset, but never crossed paths inside, sticking firmly to solo adventures within. Once that Rubicon was crossed due to spiralling costs and dwindling page-counts, the industry never looked back…

This blockbusting monochrome chronicle gathers their cataclysmic collaborations from WFC #112-145, spanning September 1960 to November 1964, just prior to the entire planet going superhero crazy and Batman mad. Jerry Coleman, Dick Sprang & Sheldon Moldoff  crafted #112, featuring a unique and tragic warning in ‘The Menace of Superman’s Pet’, as a phenomenally cute teddy bear from space proved to be an unbelievably dangerous menace and unforgettable true friend. Bring tissues, you big baby…

In an era when disturbing menace was frowned upon, many tales featured intellectual dilemmas and unavoidable pests. Both Gotham Guardian and Man of Steel had their own magical 5th dimensional gadflies and it was therefore only a matter of time until ‘Bat-Mite Meets Mr. Mxyzptlk’ in a madcap duel to see whose hero was best with America caught in the metamorphic middle. WFC #114 saw Superman, Batman & Robin shanghaied to distant planet Zoron as ‘Captives of the Space Globes’ where their abilities were reversed but justice was still served in the end, after which ‘The Curse that Doomed Superman’ saw the Action Ace consistently outfoxed by a scurrilous Swami with Batman helpless to assist him. Curt Swan & Stan Kaye illustrated #116’s thrilling monster mash ‘The Creature From Beyond’ as a criminal alien out-powers Superman whilst concealing an incredible secret, and all the formula bases were covered as Lex Luthor used ‘Super-Batwoman and the Super-Creature’ to execute his most sinister scheme against the heroes.

For #118 Sprang & Moldoff illustrated ‘The Creature That was Exchanged for Superman’ as the Action Ace is hijacked to another world so a transplanted monster can undertake a sinister search with the Dynamic Duo fighting a desperate holding action, after which ‘The Secret of Tigerman’ (#119 and inked by Stan Kaye) reveals a dashing new hero in charge as the valiant trio attempt to outwit a sinister criminal mastermind. Veteran artist Jim Mooney began illustrating Coleman’s scripts in #120, starting with ‘The Challenge of the Faceless Creatures’ as amorphous monsters repeatedly siphon off Superman’s powers for nefarious purposes before the Gotham Gangbuster is eerily transformed into a destructive horror in trans-dimensional thriller ‘The Mirror Batman’ and #122 (Kaye inks) sees an alien lawman cause a seeming betrayal by the Dark Knight, leading to ‘The Capture of Superman’

Zany frustration and magical pranks were the order of the day in #123 as ‘The Incredible Team of Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk’ (Sprang & Moldoff) returned to again determine whose hero was greatest, whilst ‘The Mystery of the Alien Super-Boy’ (#124, art by Swan & Moldoff) pits our heroes against a titanic teenager with awesome powers and a hidden agenda whilst ‘The Hostages of the Island of Doom’ (Mooney & John Forte) has Batman & Robin used as pawns to force Superman’s assistance in a fantastic criminal’s play for power.

Luthor’s eternal vendetta inadvertently created an immensely destructive threat in ‘The Negative Superman’ (#126, by Ed Herron, Mooney & Moldoff) stretching Batman and Robin’s ingenuity to the limit, after which ‘The Sorcerer From the Stars’ (Coleman) challenges the heroes to stop his plundering of Earth’s mystic secrets and ‘The Power that Transformed Batman’ (#128, Coleman & Mooney) briefly makes the hero a deadly menace.

Dave Wood, Mooney & Moldoff pitted the World’s Finest team against their greatest enemies in #129’s ‘Joker-Luthor, Incorporated!’ whilst Coleman & Mooney posed an intergalactic puzzle with devastating consequences for the heroes in ‘Riddle of the Four Planets!’ and Bill Finger, Sprang & Moldoff present a stirring action thriller when the team inexplicably add a surplus and incompetent fourth hero to the partnership in #131’s ‘The Mystery of the Crimson Avenger’.

With Finger as regular scripter, tense mysteries played a stronger part, such as when Superman was forced to travel back in time to rescue ‘Batman and Robin, Medieval Bandits’ (art by Mooney) and clear their names of historical ignominy, whilst #133 sees ‘The Beasts of the Supernatural’ (Mooney & Moldoff) leeching the Man of Steel’s power. The Gotham Guardian is hard-pressed to fool the mastermind behind those attacks after which the heroes battle for their lives against an alien dictator and ‘The Band of Super-Villains’ (Mooney)…

World’s Finest Comics #135 (August 1963, inked by Moldoff) was Sprang’s last pencil job on the series and a superb swansong as ‘Menace of the Future Man’ has the heroes valiantly and vainly battling a time-tossed foe who knows their every tactic and secret, after which ‘The Batman Nobody Remembered’ (Mooney & Moldoff) pitches a paranoid nightmare wherein the Dark Detective faces a hostile world which thinks him mad, before ‘Superman’s Secret Master!’ (#137, Finger & Mooney) seemingly turns the Action Ace into a servant of crime… until Batman deduces the true state of affairs.

Finger bowed out in #138 with ‘Secret of the Captive Cavemen’ as an alien spy’s suicide leads the heroes back 50,000 years to foil a plot to conquer Earth, after which Dave Wood, Mooney & Moldoff provide eerie sci fi thriller ‘The Ghost of Batman’ and a classic clash of powers in #140’s ‘The Clayface Superman!’ (Mooney) as the shape-shifting bandit duplicates the Metropolis Marvel’s unstoppable abilities…

A new era dawned in World’s Finest Comics #141 (May 1964) as author Edmond Hamilton and artists Curt Swan & George Klein ushered in more realistic and less whimsical tales beginning with ‘The Olsen-Robin Team vs. “the Superman-Batman Team!”’, wherein the junior partners rebel and set up their own crime-fighting enterprise. Of course, there’s a hidden meaning to their increasingly wild escapades…

In #142 an embittered janitor suddenly gains all the powers of the Legion of Super-Heroes and attacked the heroes out of frustration and jealousy in ‘The Composite Superman!’ after which the Gotham Knight suffers a near-fatal wound and nervous breakdown in ‘The Feud Between Batman and Superman!’: a condition cured only after a deadly and disastrous recuperative trip to the Bottle City of Kandor. Super-villains were growing in popularity and #144 highlighted two of the worst when ‘The 1,000 Tricks of Clayface and Brainiac!’ almost destroy the World’s Finest Team forever before this stellar selection ends on an enthralling high note as Batman is pressganged to an alien ‘Prison For Heroes!’: not as a cellmate for Superman and other interplanetary champions, but as their sadistic jailer…

These are gloriously clever yet uncomplicated tales whose dazzling style has returned to inform if not dictate the form of DC’s modern television animation – especially Batman: the Brave and the Bold series – and the contents of this tome are a veritable feast of witty, charming thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have.
© 1960-1964, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.