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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection volume 6 – 1970-1972: The Death of Captain Stacy


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gil Kane, John Romita, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302929084 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Amazing Spider-Man was first seen in the middle of 1962, so expect more wallcrawling reviews over the coming months, and if any of us make it to the end I’m sure we’ll all be well-versed in Arachnid Lore with our book shelves (physical or digital) positively groaning with sublimely re-readable tales and tomes…

As an added bonus, this collection also represents the debut of a current Marvel Movie-verse monster masterwork. Oooh, scary…

The Amazing Spider-Man was always a comic that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead of – its fan-base. In this superbly scintillating compilation of chronologically corrected webspinning wonderment (in ponderous paperback or ephemeral eBook formats), the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero barely survives another rocky period of transformation as the second great era of Amazing Arachnid artists moved inevitably to a close. Although the elder John Romita would remain closely connected to the Wallcrawler’s adventures for some time yet, these tales would number amongst his last sustained run as lead illustrator.

After a rather nervous nativity The Amazing Spider-Man soon became a certified sensation with kids of all ages. Before too long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes impatiently elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old thirty-something mystery-men of previous publications and hallowed tradition.

Smart-but-alienated Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider during a school trip. Discovering strange superhuman abilities – which he augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – the kid did what any lonely, geeky nerd would do with such newfound prowess: he tried to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Making a costume to hide his identity in case he made a fool of himself, Parker became a minor media celebrity – and a criminally self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief fled past him one night, he didn’t lift a finger to stop him. That self-serving arrogance cost him dearly, as when he returned home, he learned his guardian uncle Ben Parker had been murdered.

Crazed and vengeful, Peter hunted the assailant who’d made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, discovering to his horror that it was the self-same felon he had neglected to stop. His irresponsibility had resulted in the death of the man who raised him, and the traumatised boy swore to forevermore use his powers to help others…

Since that night, the wondrous wallcrawler tirelessly battled miscreants, misanthropes, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them…

Stan Lee’s scripts were in tune with the times – as understood by most kids’ parents at least – and the heavy dose of soap opera kept older readers glued to the series even if the bombastic battle sequences didn’t.

This sixth full-colour collection of chronologically congregated and curated early Amazing Arachnoid Epics sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero foreshadowing a major change in the tone and timbre of comics even while continuing the long climb to global stardom…

Re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #86-104 (originally released between July 1970 and January 1972) these spider-sagas began the next stage in the hero’s evolution as Lee first surrendered the scripting privileges: here to his ordained understudy Roy Thomas. Lee would reclaim the role briefly but as with The Fantastic Four and Thor, it was time for new voices…

The drama begins with drastic transformation for a conflicted Cold War leftover as Lee’s ‘Beware… the Black Widow!’ gave John Romita (senior) and Jim Mooney leave to redesign and relaunch the Soviet super-spy. Looking for a fresh start, the sometime-Avenger stole the show in an enjoyable if highly formulaic misunderstanding/clash-of-heroes yarn with an ailing Spider-Man never really endangered. The entire episode was actually a promotion for the Widow’s own soon-to-debut solo series…

‘Unmasked at Last!’ found Parker convinced that his powers were fading forever and suffering from a raging fever. Delirious, Parker exposes his secret identity to all the guests at his girlfriend’s party but on recovering – from flu – acts to save his other life, using the kind of logic and subterfuge that only works in comics and sitcoms. Asking ex-villain Hobie (The Prowler) Brown for help, Parker subsequently convinces everybody that it was only a flu-induced aberration…

Spider-Man at this time became a permanent, unmissable part of youngsters’ lives and did so by living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the Comics Code would allow. Blending cultural authenticity with spectacular art, and making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness that most of the readership daily experienced, resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive emotionally-intense instalments, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.

The wonderment resumes in ‘The Arms of Doctor Octopus!’ with the many-tentacled terror escaping jail and capturing a jetliner full of Chinese diplomats. It all ends with explosive suddenness and apparent suicide after the wallcrawler intervenes, yet is promptly followed a month later by ‘Doc Ock Lives!’ This heralded a new era of visual dynamism as Gil Kane began a sporadic but memorable run as penciller, with Romita reverting to chief inker. Here Octopus rampages through town, causing carnage until Spider-Man again confronts him. The battle takes a lethal turn in ‘And Death Shall Come!’ wherein Parker’s attempts to stop him leads to the death of a beloved cast member…

With that tragic demise of a cast regular, the webslinger became a wanted fugitive. Already fanatical publisher J. Jonah Jameson began backing “Law and Order” election hopeful Sam Bullitt in a campaign ‘To Smash the Spider!’, unaware of the politician’s disreputable past and ultra-right-wing agenda, but the secret is exposed (by Bugle sub-editor Joe Robertson) in #92’s ‘When Iceman Attacks’…

The ambitious demagogue convinced the youngest X-Man that Spider-Man had kidnapped Parker’s paramour Gwen Stacy but the Wondrous Wallcrawler’s explosive battle against the mutant exposed the corrupt and explicitly racist Bullit in an all-out action extravaganza featuring some of the best fight-art of the decade by two of the industry’s greatest names.
Romita resumed pencilling with issue #93, which saw the return of an almost forgotten frenemy in ‘The Lady and… The Prowler!’. Hobie Brown was a reformed super-burglar but when he saw that the Amazing Arachnid was wanted, he too was all too ready to believe the media hype…

Amazing Spider-Man #94 (Lee, Romita & Sal Buscema) offered a fresh glimpse of the hero’s fabled origin as part of a dynamic dust-up with The Beetle ‘On Wings of Death!’, after which Peter headed for London to woo his estranged girlfriend Gwen, who had fled the manic violence of America after her father’s death.

Typically, ‘Trap for a Terrorist’ finds the city under threat from a gang of bombers, which apparently only Spider-Man can handle. Gwen returned home, never knowing Parker had come after her, and had to stay out of sight once the wallcrawler was seen in Westminster.

Everything was forgotten in the next issue when deeply disturbed and partially amnesiac industrialist Norman Osborn abruptly remembered he once had another more macabre persona. Restored and enraged he once again attacked Peter in #96’s ‘…And Now, the Goblin!’ by Lee, Kane & Romita.

Stan Lee had long wanted to address the contemporary drugs situation in Marvel’s stories but was forbidden by Comics Code Authority strictures. When the Nixon administration, in the form of the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, approached him to tackle the issue, Lee devised the 3-part Green Goblin tale. When it was inevitably refused Code approval, the writer-editor went ahead and published it anyway…

Although the return of the madman who knew all Spider-Man’s secrets was the big fan-draw, the real meat of the tale was how Osborn’s son Harry – a perfectly average rich white kid and Peter Parker’s best friend – is drawn into a web of addiction, abuse and toxic overdose. Frank Giacoia began inking Kane with the second instalment, ‘In the Grip of the Goblin!’ as the elder Osborn runs riot, almost killing the webslinger and preparing for his final deadly assault, even as his son lies dying. The saga spectacularly concludes with ‘The Goblin’s Last Gasp!’ as, in the clinch, the villain’s deeply-buried paternal love proves his undoing and Parker’s salvation…

Amazing Spider-Man #99 portrays ‘A Day in the Life of…’: an all-action, social drama-tinged palate-cleanser with Peter and Gwen finally getting their love-life back on track, only marginally diverted by a prison breakout easily quelled by the Arachnid Avenger, whilst highlighting the growing scandal of prison conditions.

Celebrating a major anniversary, and heralding a dramatic change to the entire comics industry, an astonishing tales begins with ‘The Spider or the Man?’ (Lee, Kane & Giacoia) as, determined to retire and marry, Peter attempts to destroy his powers with an untested self-concocted serum. The result is a hallucinogenic trip wherein action ace Kane draws an all-out battle between Spidey and an army of old enemies, culminating in a waking nightmare when Parker regains consciousness and discovers he’s grown four additional arms…

With #101 Roy Thomas stepped in as scripter for ‘A Monster Called… Morbius!’, wherein the eight-limbed hero desperately seeks some way to reverse his condition. Fortuitously, he stumbles across a murderous costumed horror who drinks human blood. Making matters even worse is old foe The Lizard who suddenly turns up, determined to kill them both…

Amongst the many things banned by the Comics Code in 1954 were horror staples vampires and werewolves, but changing tastes and rising comics production costs of the early 1970s saw superhero titles dropping like flies in a blizzard. With interest in suspense and the supernatural growing, all comics publishers were pushing to re-establish horror comics again, and the covert introduction of a “Living Vampire” in superhero staple Spider-Man led to another challenge to the CCA; the eventually revision of the horror section of the Code and a resurgent rise of supernatural heroes and titles.

For one month Marvel also experimented with double-sized comicbooks (DC’s switch to 52-page issues lasted almost a year – August 1971-June 1972 cover-dates) and Amazing Spider-Man #102 featured an immense, 3-chapter blockbuster beginning with ‘Vampire at Large!’, wherein the octo-webspinner and anthropoid reptile join forces to hunt a science-spawned bloodsucker after discovering a factor in the vampire’s saliva could cure both part-time monsters’ respective conditions…

‘The Way it Began’ briefly diverges from the main narrative to present the tragic secret origin of Nobel Prize winning biologist Michael Morbius, and how be turned himself into a haunted night-horror, before kThe Curse and the Cure!’ brings the tale to a blistering conclusion and restores the status quo and requisite appendage-count.

Designed as another extra-length epic, ‘Walk the Savage Land!’ began in now conventionally paginated #103, but was sliced in half and finished as #104’s ‘The Beauty and the Brute’.

When The Daily Bugle suffers a financial crisis, bellicose publisher Jameson takes Parker and his extremely photogenic girlfriend Gwen on a monster-hunt to the Lost World under the Antarctic. The intention is to encounter dinosaurs and cavemen but the stunt goes awry, dragging in noble savage Ka-Zar, perfidious villain Kraven the Hunter and a terrifying giant alien baby dubbed Gog in a fabulous pastiche and homage to Willis O’Brien’s King Kong, delivered with love and pride from Thomas, Kane & Giacoia.

Although this romp ends the narrative on a rousing high, there still more to see, beginning with the Romita Sr. covers from all-reprint Amazing Spider-Man Annual’s #7-8; contemporary house-ads and scads of un-inked Kane art pages. That’s supplemented by a bridging story-page by Kane & Mike Esposito from Marvel Tales #83; and a selection of covers from numerous other reprints of these stories: illustrated by Jim Calafiore, Glen Orbik, Steve Lightle, Nghia Lam & Jason Rodriguez, Al Rio & Thomas Velazquez, Romita Sr. Bruce Timm, Mike Wieringo, Tim Townsend, Sean Chen & Eric Cannon, but the true treat for comics historians are various versions of Kane’s original cover for #97 and the turning point of the drugs story. A far stronger and more explicit view of Harry’s addiction, both the colour rough and amended full cover art were rejected by the CCA.

Spider-Man became a permanent unmissable part of many teenagers’ lives at this time and did so by living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the Comics Code would allow. Blending cultural authenticity with glorious narrative art, and making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness most of the readership experienced daily, resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive soap-opera slices, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.

This book is Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak. Come see why.
© 2021 MARVEL

Lois Lane: A Celebration of 75 Years.


By Jerry Seigel & Joe Shuster, Don Cameron, William Woolfolk, Whitney Ellsworth, Jerry Coleman, Robert Kanigher, Cary Bates, John Byrne, Jeph Loeb, Phil Jimenez, Katheryn Immonen, Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison, Ed Dobrotka, Sam Citron, Al Plastino, Wayne Boring, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Ed McGuiness, Matthew Clark, Renato Guedes, Frank Quitely & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4703-4 (HB/digital)

The greatest romance in comics is undoubtedly the first one. Whether as humble Clark Kent or the magnificent Man of Steel, the eternal relationship between a feisty female reporter and Superman is the first and longest-lasting couple dynamic in comic books

When the Man of Steel debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) he was instantly the centre of attention, but even then, the need for a solid supporting cast was understood and cleverly catered for. Glamorous daredevil journalist Lois Lane premiered right beside Kent – rival, companion and foil from the outset.

This stunning compilation – part of a dedicated series introducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of venerable DC icons – is still available in hardback and digital formats, even if DC have decided not to give her an 80-year update like so many of her near contemporaries, offering a sequence of snapshots detailing how the original “plucky news-hen” has evolved right beside the Man of Tomorow in that “never-ending battle”…

The groundbreaking appearances selected are preceded here by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in Lois’ development, beginning with Part I 1938-1956: Girl Reporter

Most early tales were untitled, but for everyone’s convenience have been given descriptive appellations by the editors. Thus, after describing the foundling’s escape from exploding Planet Krypton and explaining his astonishing powers in nine panels, with absolutely no preamble, the wonderment begins in ‘Superman, Champion of the Oppressed’ and ‘War in San Monte’ from Action Comics #1 & 2 (June and July 1938 by Jerry Seigel & Joe Shuster) as the costumed crusader – masquerading by day as a reporter – began averting numerous tragedies.

As well as saving an innocent woman from the electric chair and roughing up a wife-beater, the tireless crusader worked over racketeer Butch Matson – consequently saving his suave and fearless colleague from abduction and worse since she was attempting to vamp the thug at the time!

The mysterious Man of Steel made a big impression on her by then outing a lobbyist for the armaments industry who was bribing Senators on behalf of greedy munitions interests fomenting war in Europe…

The next breathtaking instalment sees the mercurial mystery-man travelling to the actual war-zone and spectacularly dampen down the hostilities already in progress, after which (in #6) canny chiseller Nick Williams attempts to monetise the hero – without asking first. ‘The Man Who Sold Superman’ (Action Comics #6 1938, by Seigel & Shuster) had Superman’s phony Manager even attempting to replace the real thing with a cheap, musclebound knock-off before learning a very painful lesson in business ethics…

In those turbulent times, the interpretation of our dogged data-fiend was far less derogatory than the post-war sneaky minx of the 1950s and 1960s. Lois might have been ambitious and life-threateningly precipitate, but it was always to advance her own career, help underdogs and put bad guys away, not trap a man into marriage. At his time, she was much more Nellie Bly than Zsa Zsa Gabor.

After proving a worthy rival and foil to Kent and his alter ego, Lois won her own solo feature beginning in Superman #28 (May/June 1944). Examples included here begin with ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Bakery Counterfeiters’(Superman #29, July/August 1944, by Don Cameron, Ed Dobrotka & George Roussos), which finds her turning her demotion to the women’s cookery pages into another blockbusting scoop after uncovering a crafty money scam at a local patisserie…

In Superman #33 (March 1945), Whitney Ellsworth & Ed Dobrotka detailed how a typically cruel prank by male colleagues and cops turns into another front-page scoop as ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Purloined Piggy Bank’ has her help a little kid and unmask big time jewel thieves before ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Foiled Frame Up’ (Superman#34 May 1945 by Ellsworth, Sam Citron & Roussos) sees her ferret out political corruption by exposing grafters seeking to discredit Daily Planet Editor Perry White

Originally seen in Superman #58 (May-June 1949), ‘Lois Lane Loves Clark Kent’ is by William Woolfolk, Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye: a beguiling teaser finding our “Girl Friday” (that’s a movie reference: look it up) consulting a psychiatrist because of her romantic obsession with the Man of Steel. The quack tells her to switch her affections to her bewildered, harassed workmate!

Part II 1957-1985: Superman’s Girl Friend takes us into the world of consumerist domesticity and when Lois Lane – the oldest supporting character/star in the Superman mythology if not the DC universe – finally received her own shot at a solo title, it was very much on the terms of the times.

When the Adventures of Superman television show launched in the autumn of 1952, it was an overnight sensation and National Periodicals began cautiously expanding their revitalised franchise with new characters and titles. First to win promotion to solo-star status was the Daily Planet’s impetuously capable if naïve “cub reporter”. His gloriously charming, light-hearted, escapades began in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 (September-October 1954): the first tie-in titan in the Caped Kryptonian’s ever-expanding entourage.

It took three years for cautious Editors to tentatively push the boat out again. In 1957, just as the Silver Age of Comics was getting going, try-out title Showcase followed up the launches of The Flash in #4 and Challengers of the Unknownin #6, delivered a brace of issues entitled Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane.

Soon after, the she had a series of her own. Technically it was her second, following her brief mid-1940s solo back-ups in Superman, but this time that caped guy was always hanging around…

In previous reviews I’ve banged on at length about the strange, patronising, parochial – and to some of us, potentially offensive – portrayals of kids and most especially women during this period, and although at least fairer and more affirmative instances were beginning to appear, the warnings still bear repeating. Don’t even dream of any characters of colour at this time, unless they look like contemporary cinematic sultans and sheiks…

At that time, Lois Lane was one of precious few titles with a female lead, and, in the context of today, one that gives many 21st century fans a few uncontrollable qualms of conscience. Within the confines of her series, the valiant, capable working woman careened crazily from man-hungry, unscrupulous bitch, through ditzy simpleton to indomitable and brilliant heroine – often all in the same issue.

The comic was clearly intended to appeal to the family demographic that made I Love Lucy a national phenomenon and Doris Day a saccharine saint, with many stories played for laughs in that same “father knows best” or  “gosh, aren’t women funny?” tone that appals me today – but not as much as the fact that I still love them to bits.

It honestly helps that they’re mostly sublimely illustrated by the wonderfully whimsical Kurt Schaffenberger.

During the 1950s and early 1960s in America, being different was a bad thing. Conformity was sacrosanct, even in comic books, and everybody and thing was meant to keep to its assigned and intended role. For the Superman family and cast, the tone of the times dictated a highly-strictured code of conduct and ironclad parameters: Daily Planet Editor Perry White was a stern, shouty elder statesman with a heart of gold, Cub Reporter Jimmy Olsen was a bravely impulsive unseasoned fool – with a heart of gold – and Plucky News-Hen (what does that even mean?) Lois was brash, nosy, impetuous, unscrupulous and relentless in her obsession to marry Superman, although she too was – deep down – also in possession of an Auric aorta.

Yet somehow, even with these mandates in place the talented writers and artists assigned to detail their wholesomely uncanny exploits managed to craft tales both beguiling and breathtakingly memorable: frequently as funny as they were exciting.

I must shamefacedly admit to a deep, nostalgic affection for her bright, breezy, fantastically fun adventures, but as a free-thinking, (notionally) adult liberal of the 21st century I’m simultaneously shocked nowadays at the jolly, condescending misogynistic attitudes underpinning too many of the stories.

Yes, I’m fully aware that the series was intended for young readers at a time when “dizzy dames” and matronly icons played to the popular American gestalt stereotype of Woman as jealous minx, silly goose, diffident wife and brood-hungry nester, but to ask kids to seriously accept that intelligent, courageous, ambitious, ethical and highly capable females would drop everything they’d worked hard for to lie, cheat, inveigle, manipulate and entrap a man just so that they could cook pot-roast and change super-diapers is just plain crazy and tantamount to child abuse.

I’m just saying…

Showcase #9 (cover-dated July/August 1957) featured Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane and opened with the seminal yarn ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past’ (by Jerry Coleman & Al Plastino) wherein Lois first meets red-headed hussy Lana Lang: childhood sweetheart of Superboy and a pushy conniving go-getter out to win Lois’ intended at any and all costs. Naturally Miss Lane invited Miss Lang to stay at her apartment and the grand rivalry was off and running…

Then ‘The New Lois Lane’ (Otto Binder, Ruben Moreira & Plastino) aggravatingly sees Lois turn over a new leaf and stop attempting to uncover his secret identity just when Superman actually needs her to do so…

Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #1 (March/April #1958) then confirms all stereotypes in Binder & Schaffenberger’s ’The Fattest Girl in Metropolis’: wherein a plant growth ray accidentally super-sizes our vain yet valiant reporter. Imagine her reaction when she finds out that Superman had deliberately expanded her dimensions… for good and solid reasons, of course…

In ‘The Kryptonite Girl’ (Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #16, April 1960), Siegel & Schaffenberger were responsible for another cruel lesson as Superman tries to cure Lois’ nosy impulses by tricking his own girlfriend into believing she has a radioactive death-stare. Of course, as all married couples know, this power develops naturally not long after the honeymoon… I love these stories, but sometime words just fail me…

As contrived by Leo Dorfman & Schaffenberger, a personality-altering head blow then causes Lois to try tricking her Man of Steel into matrimony in ‘The Romance of Superbaby and Baby Lois’ (#42, July 1963). Sadly, whilst conniving, she employs a stolen rejuvenation chemical which cause them to de-age below the age of legal consent…

Happily, the late 1960s, Feminism and the general raising of female consciousness rescued Lois from demented domesticity, and by the time of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106 (November 1970) she was a competent, combative, totally capable go-getting journalist every inch the better of her male rivals. It’s a shame more of those stories aren’t included in this collection.

However, ‘I Am Curious (Black)!’ by Robert Kanigher, Werner Roth & Vince Colletta showed the lengths she would go to get her story. Unable to truly grasp the nature of being African American, she borrows Kryptonian tech to become black for 24 hours, and realises how friends, acquaintances and even fellow liberals respond to different skins. She even asks Superman if he would marry her in her altered state…

Big changes and modifications were set in place for Part III 1986-1999: Lois and Clark.

When DC Comics decided to rationalise and reconstruct their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths, they used the event to regenerate their key properties. The biggest shake-up was Superman, and it’s hard to argue that the change was unnecessary. The old soldier was in a bit of a slump, but he’d weathered those before. So how could a root and branch overhaul be anything but a marketing ploy that would alienate real fans for a few fly-by-night chancers who would jump ship as soon as the next fad surfaced?

Superman’s titles were cancelled/suspended for three months, and boy, did that make the media sit-up and take notice – for the first time since the debut Christopher Reeve movie. But there was method in this corporate madness…

Man of Steel – written and drawn by John Byrne and inked by Dick Giordano – stripped away vast amounts of accumulated baggage and returned the hero to the far from omnipotent, edgy but good-hearted reformer Siegel & Shuster had originally envisioned. It was a huge and instant success, becoming the industry’s premiere ‘break-out’ hit, and from that overwhelming start Superman re-inhabited his suspended comic book homes with the addition of a third monthly title premiering the same month.

The miniseries presented six complete stories from key points in Superman’s career, reconstructed in the wake of the aforementioned Crisis. Man of Steel #1 revealed a startling new Krypton in its final moments before following the Last Son in his escape, through his Smallville years to his first recorded exploit and initial encounter with Lois.

Byrne was a controversial choice at the time, but he magnificently rekindled the exciting, visually compelling, contemporary and even socially aware slices of sheer exuberant, four-colour fantasy that was the original Superman, making it possible and fashionable to be a fan again, no matter your age or prejudice. Superman had always been great, but Byrne had once again made him thrilling and unmissable.

Included here is ‘The Story of the Century’ from Man of Steel #2 (October 1986) wherein fiery lead reporter Lois Lane puts all her efforts into getting the landmark exclusive first interview with Metropolis’ mystery superhero, only to be ultimately scooped by a nerdy, hick new hire named Kent…

We then skip to anniversary issue Action Comics #600 (May 1988) for an untitled segment courtesy of Byrne, Roger Stern, Schaffenberger, Jerry Ordway of a mammoth ensemble piece. Codified for easy access as “Lois Lane”, the tale depicts the jaded journalist – fresh from beating up and arresting a gang of thugs – rendezvous with rival Kent to discuss Superman’s possible romance with Wonder Woman

As years passed, Lois and Clark grew beyond professionalism into a work romance, but the hero kept his other identity from her. That all changed after the Man of Tomorrow narrowly defeated mystic predator Silver Banshee and decided there would no more ‘Secrets in the Night’ between him and his beloved (Action Comics #662, February 1991, by Stern & Bob McLeod).

Having finally married her man (in 1996) Lois and Clark settled down into a life of hectic wedded bliss, but trouble was never far from the happy couple.

Created as part of the Girlfrenzy publishing event, ‘Lois Lane’ from one-shot Superman: Lois Lane #1 (June 1998 by Barbara Kesel, Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti) sees the relentless reporter heading to Canada to singlehandedly bust a child-snatch ring and illicit genetics-mutation lab…

In Part IV 2000-Present: Twenty-First Century Lois, the era of domesticity was marred by many external problems, such as Lex Luthor finagling himself into America’s presidency. ‘With This Ring’ (Superman #168, May 2001 from Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuiness & Cam Smith) details how Lois and Batman infiltrate the White House to steal the gimmick Bad PotUS has been using to keep the Man of Steel at bay, after which ‘She’s a Wonder’ (Wonder Woman #170 (July 2001, by Phil Jimenez, Joe Kelly & Andy Lanning) offers a pretty but relatively slow day-in-the-life tale.

Here Lois interviews the impossibly perfect Amazon cultural ambassador to Mans’s World – and potential romantic rival – providing readers with valuable insights into both.

Greg Rucka, Mathew Clark, & Renato Guedes & Nelson then craft ‘Battery: Part Five’ (Adventures of Superman #631, October 2004) as Lois’s devil-may-care luck finally runs out and the Caped Kryptonian arrives seconds too late after she becomes a sniper’s target.

Slipping back into comedy, ‘Patience-Centred Care’ comes from Superman 80-Page Giant 2010, where Katheryn Immonen & Tonci Zonjic show how even the Action Ace can’t cope with a bed-ridden wife who won’t let flu stop her nailing a story…

Part V 1957-1985: Imaginary Tales then takes a step sideways to highlight the many memorable out-of-continuity stories the Superman-Lois relationship has generated. ‘The Wife of Superman’ was part of an occasional series running in early issues of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane. Probably scripted by Seigel and definitely drawn by Schaffenberger, this third outing (from #23, February 1961), revisits a possible future wherein Lois is worn to a frazzle by two unmanageable super-toddlers and yearns for her old job at the Daily Planet…

From a period where Golden Age stories were assumed to have occurred on parallel world Earth-Two, ‘Superman Takes a Wife’ comes from 40th Anniversary issue Action Comics #484 (June 1978). Here Cary Bates, Curt Swan & Joe Giella detail how the original Man of Tomorrow became editor of the Metropolis Daily Star in the 1950s and married Lois. Thanks to villainous rogues Colonel Future and the Wizard who had discovered a way to make Superman forget his own existence, only she knew that her husband was once Earth’s greatest hero…

When I was a nipper, Superman had outlandish adventures and was a decent regular guy. His head could be replaced by a lion’s or an ant’s and he loved playing jokes on his friends. His exploits were routinely mind-boggling and he kept a quiet dignity about him. He only shouted to shatter concrete, and not to bully villains. He was quietly cool.

And in All Star Superman he was again. Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely produced a delightful evocation of those simpler, gentler times with a guided tour of the past redolent with classic mile-markers. Superman was the world’s boy scout, Lois was spending her days trying to prove Clark is the Man of Steel, Jimmy Olsen was a competent young reporter dating Lucy Lane and all of time and space knew they could always rely on the Man of Tomorrow.

As seen in All-Star Superman #2 and 3 (February and May 2006), ‘Superman’s Forbidden Room’ and ‘Sweet Dreams, Superwoman’ sees Lois takes centre stage as a plot to kill Superman forces the hero to acknowledge his feelings for her. The result is an astonishing trip to his Fortress of Solitude and a hyper-empowering birthday gift she will never forget… Wrapping up the recollections is an astounding Cover Gallery to accompany the works already seen in conjunction with the stories cited above, with covers by Shuster, Swan & Stan Kaye, Schaffenberger, Murphy Anderson, Byrne, Kerry Gammill & Brett Breeding, Leonard Kirk & Karl Story, Ed McGuiness & Cam Smith, Adam Hughes, Gene Ha, José Luis García-López, Quitely & Jamie Grant.

These extras comprise Superman #51 (March/April 1948) and Action Comics #137 (October 1949), both by Boring & Kaye; Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #1 (April 1958) by Swan & Kaye; issue #25 (May 1961) by Schaffenberger; #80 (January 1967) by Swan & Neal Adams and #111 (July 1971) by Giordano.

Later classics covers include Superman volume 2 #59 (September 1991) by Dan Jurgens & Brett Breeding; Superman: The Wedding Album and Beyond (1995) by Jurgens & Ordway; Superman volume 2 #157 (June 2000) by McGuiness & Smith; Superman Returns Prequel #4 (August 2006) by Hughes; Superman Confidential #2 (February 2007) by Tim Sale and Superman Unchained #1 (2013 variant cover) by José Luis García-López.

This monolithic testament to the most enduring love affair in comics is a guaranteed delight for fans of all ages and a perfect introductory time capsule for all readers of fantastic fiction.
© 1940, 1942, 1952, 1954, 1957, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1972, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2014, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Popeye volume 1: Olive Oyl & Her Sweety (The E.C. Segar Popeye Sundays


By Elzie Crisler Segar with Sergio Ponchione, Cathy Malkasian & various(Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1- 68396-462-9 (PB/digital edition)

Popeye popped up in the Thimble Theatre comic strip for January 17th 1929. The strip was an unassuming feature that debuted on 19th December 1919: one of many newspaper cartoon funnies to parody, burlesque and mimic the era’s silent  movies serials. Its more successful forebears included C.W. Kahles’ Hairbreadth Harry and Ed Wheelan’s Midget Movies / Minute Movies .

These all used a repertory company of characters to play out generic adventures firmly based on those expressive cinema antics. Thimble Theatre’s cast included Nana and Cole Oyl, their gawky daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor, and Horace Hamgravy, Olive’s sappy, would-be beau.

The series ticked along for a decade, competent and unassuming, with Castor and Ham Gravy (as he became) tumbling through get-rich-quick schemes, fear-free adventures and simple gag situations until September 10th 1928, when explorer uncle Lubry Kent Oyl gave Castor a present from his latest exploration of Africa: a hand-reared Whiffle Hen – most fabulous of all birds. It was the start of something groundbreaking.

Whiffle Hens are troublesome, incredibly rare and possessed of fantastic powers, but after months of inspired hokum and slapsick shenanigans, Castor was resigned to Bernice – for that was the hen’s name – when a series of increasingly peculiar circumstances brought him into contention with the ruthless Mr. Fadewell, world’s greatest gambler and king of the gaming resort of ‘Dice Island’.

Bernice clearly affected writer/artist E.C. Segar, because his strip increasingly became a playground of frantic, compelling action and comedy during this period…

When Castor and Ham discovered that everybody wanted the Whiffle Hen because she could bestow infallible good luck, they sailed for Dice Island to win every penny from its lavish casinos. Sister Olive wanted to come along but the boys planned to leave her behind once their vessel was ready to sail. It was 16th January 1929…

The next day, in the 108th instalment of the saga, a bluff, irascible, ignorant, itinerant and exceeding ugly one-eyed old sailor was hired by the pair to man the boat they had rented, and the world was introduced to one of the most iconic and memorable characters ever conceived. By sheer, surly willpower, Popeye won the hearts and minds of readers: his no-nonsense, grumbling simplicity and dubious appeal enchanting the public until by the end of the tale, the walk-on had taken up full residency. He would eventually make the strip his own…

The Sailor Man even affably bulldozed his way onto the full-colour Sunday Pages which form the main course of this curated collection spanning 2nd March 1930 through February 28th  1932.

This paperback is the first of four that will contain the entire Segar Sunday canon and is designed to be stored in a forthcoming slipcase. Spiffy as that sounds, the wondrous stories are also available in digital editions if you want to think of ecology or mitigate age and muscle strain in your spinach-deprived muskles…

Since many papers only carried dailies or Sundays, not necessarily both, a system of differentiated storylines developed early in American publishing, and when Popeye finally made his belated appearance, he was already a fairly well-developed character.

Thus, Segar concentrated on more family-friendly gags – and eventually continued mini-sagas – and it was here that the Popeye/Olive Oyl modern romance began: a series of encounters full of bile, intransigence, repressed hostility, jealousy, mind games and passion which usually ended in raised voices and scintillating cartoon violence – and they are still as riotously funny now as then. Olive was well ahead of her time: the serendipitous stick insect knew her mind and always gave better than she got…

Preceding the vintage treats, this tome also offers some modern and very lovely laudatory comic strips in Sergio (DKW; Grotesque; Memorabilia) Ponchione’s ‘Have a Segar’ and Cathy (Percy Gloom; Eartha) Malkasian’s ‘Oomph – A Popeye Short’: each offering their unique interpretations of Segar’s now meta-real cast and how they changed the world…

When the wondrous weekly full-page instalments start we see Castor Oyl heading home at the heart of the Depression accompanied by Ham Gravy who is appalled to find a ghastly sailor man pitching woo at his (presumed) sweet patootie. When the rival suitors clash, it’s Olive who has the final word …and throws the last punch!

From there onwards, in done-in-one gag instalments an unlikely but enduring romance blossomed (withered, bloomed, withered some more, hit cold snaps and early harvests – you get the idea…) as Olive pursued her man and Popeye vacillated between ignoring her and moving mountains to impress her. As she always kept her options open, he spent a lot of time fighting off – literally – her other gentlemen callers…

A mercurial creature, the maiden miss Oyl spent a lot of her time trying to stop her beau’s battles – tricky, as he spent his time ashore as an extremely successful “sprize fighter” – but would batter mercilessly any floozy who cast cow eyes at the devil-may-care matelot…

In these early formative Sundays, we see how Castor becomes Popeye’s manager and how originally-philanthropic millionaire Mr. Kilph moves from eager backer to demented arch enemy, willing to pay any price to see Popeye pummelled. Opponents include husky two-fisted guys with names like Bearcat, Mr. Spar, Kid Sledge, Joe Barnacle, Kid Smack, Kid Jolt, The Bullet, Johnny Brawn, an actual giant dubbed Tinearo and even a trained gorilla (Kid Klutch), but none ever win and Kilph goes crazier and crazier…

Among many timeless supporting characters, mega moocher J. Wellington Wimpy debuts here as a lazy and corrupt ring referee in extended, trenchant and scathingly witty sequences about boxing. Rowdy, slapstick cartoon violence is at a premium – family values were different then – but Segar’s worldly, probing satire and Popeye’s beguiling (but relative) innocence and lack of experience keeps the entire affair in hilarious perspective whilst making him an unlikely and lovable waif, albeit one eternally at odds with cops and rich folk…

We see softer sides of the sailor-man as he repeatedly gives away multiple purses – and even houses – to widows and “orphinks”, and his rebellious core with numerous jail sentences self-commuted. Popeye always escapes, but – being scrupulously fair-minded – never fails to turn himself in when his latest escapade ends.

After a riot of fun, bonkers pugilism and mad love, this initial outing closes with the Sailor Man’s bold disclosure that the secret of his strength is spinach. Cue a riot at Rough-House’s seedy diner…

Segar famously considered himself an inferior draughtsman – most of the world disagreed and still does – but his ability to weave a yarn was unquestioned, and grew to astounding and epic proportions in these strips.

Week after week he was creating the syllabary and graphic lexicon of a brand-new art-form: inventing narrative tricks and beats that generations of artists and writers would use in their own cartoon creations.

Popeye is fast approaching his centenary and well deserves his place as a world icon. How many comics characters are still enjoying new adventures 93 years after their first? These volumes are the perfect way to celebrate the genius and mastery of E.C. Segar and his brilliantly flawed superman. These are books that belong in every home and library.
This edition of Popeye Volume 1: Olive Oyl and Her Sweety is © 2021 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All Segar comics and drawings © 2021 King Features Syndicate. Inc./ ™Hearst Holdings, Inc. Strips provided by Bill Blackbeard and his San Francisco Academy of Comic Art, “Have a Segar!” © Sergio Ponchione. Translation © Jamie Richards. “Oomph” © Cathy Malkasian. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Superman Volume 2


By Otto Binder, Jerry Siegel, Jerry Coleman, Bill Finger, Robert BernsteinWayne Boring, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger  & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1041-0 (TPB)

Although we all think of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s iconic creation as the epitome of comic book creation, the truth is that very soon after his launch in  Action Comics #1, Superman became a fictional multimedia star in the same league as Mickey Mouse, Popeye, Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes.

Far more people have seen or heard the Man of Steel than have ever read him – and yes, that does include the globally syndicated newspaper strips. By the time his 20th anniversary rolled around, he had become a radio star; helmed a series of 17 astounding animated cartoons; been turned into literature by George Lowther’s novel; and spawned two movies, He was a perennial success for toy and puzzle manufacturers and had just ended his first smash live-action television serial. In his future were many more, a stage musical, a franchise of stellar movies and an almost seamless succession of games, bubble-gum cards and TV cartoons, beginning in 1966 with The New Adventures of Superman and continuing ever since. Even Krypto got in on the small-screen act…

However, that’s not all there is to these gloriously engaging super-sagas culled from the Metropolis Marvel’s lead feature in Action Comics #258-277 and the all-star sagas from Superman #134-145 (reliving the period November 1959 to May 1961, and including selected snippets from Superman Annuals #1 & 2) presented in crisp, clean monochrome for this sterling second Showcase Presents collection. Of course, in an ideal world  – or even just a little bit better than this one – we’d be able to see these tales in glorious full colour either on paper or digitally…

During the 1950s, even as his back-story was expanded and elaborated, Superman had settled into an ordered existence. Nothing could really hurt him, nothing ever changed, and pure thrills seemed in short supply. With the TV show supplying live action, the Comics Code-hamstrung funnybook writers concentrated on supplying wonder, intrigue, imagination and, whenever possible, a few laughs as well…

The wholesome intrigue and breathtaking fantasy commence here with Action Comics #258’s ‘The Menace of Cosmic Man’. This sharp mystery written by Bill Finger – illustrated by Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye – focuses on an impoverished European dictatorship which suddenly announces it has its own all-powerful costumed champion: drawing Lois Lane and Clark Kent into a potentially deadly investigation. Action #259’s hallucinogenic thriller ‘The Revenge of Luthor!’ (Jerry Siegel & Al Plastino) delivers a seemingly impossible clash between the Man of Tomorrow and his own younger self which almost led to death for Lois and school sweetheart Lana Lang

Solo title Superman #134 (January 1960) sees a full-length epic from Otto Binder, Boring & Kaye as ‘The Super-Menace of Metropolis’ has the Caped Kryptonian apparently undertake a concerted attack upon humanity, leading to shocking revelations in ‘The Revenge Against Jor-El!’ before a blockbusting final battle against an unsuspected Kandorian foe in ‘Duel of the Supermen!’

There’s the usual heartbreak for Lois when Superman and Supergirl perpetrate a romantic hoax on the world to thwart a potential alien attack in ‘Mighty Maid!’ (Action #260, Binder & Plastino), as Superman #135 served up three Siegel stories beginning with the Plastino illustrated Untold Tale ‘When Lois First Suspected Clark was Superman!’ before ‘Superman’s Mermaid Sweetheart!’ (Boring & Kaye) reintroduces Clark’s college love Lori Lemaris in another superbly effective, bittersweet tear-jerker, after which Plastino’s ‘The Trio of Steel!’ finds the Man of Steel again battling his most impossible foe in a classy conundrum…

Action #261 revealed the secret history of ‘Superman’s Fortress of Solitude!’ by unravelling a cunning criminal plot against the indomitable hero in a clever yarn from Siegel, Boring & Kaye, after which ‘When Superman Lost his Powers!’(#262, Robert Bernstein, Boring & Kaye) sees the Daily Planet staff trapped in another dimension where the Man of Tomorrow is merely mortal and Lois’ suspicions are again aroused…

Superman #136 began with ‘The Man who Married Lois Lane!’ (Bernstein, Boring & Kaye) wherein the frustrated reporter finally gives in, settling for a superman from the future with tragic results, after which another Untold Tale reveals how the world first learned ‘The Secret of Kryptonite!’ (Jerry Coleman & Plastino) and how, as ‘The Super-Clown of Metropolis!’, Superman is blackmailed into attempting to make a millionaire misanthrope laugh in a smart, character-driven yarn from Siegel & Plastino.

Action #263 introduced ‘The World of Bizarros!’ (Binder, Boring & Kaye) as the ghastly doppelganger uses an imperfect duplicator machine to create an entire race in his broken image, after which Superman #137 – ‘The Super-Brat from Krypton!’ by Siegel, Curt Swan & John Forte – reveals how an energy duplicate of baby Kal-El is raised by criminals to become ‘The Young Super-Bully’ before finally confronting his noble counterpart in ‘Superman vs. Super-Menace!’

In Action Comics #264, a clash with the newly-minted artificial race culminates in the Caped Kryptonian almost becoming ‘The Superman Bizarro!’ in a tense thriller from Binder, Boring & Kaye whilst ‘The “Superman” from Outer Space!’ in #265 (Binder, Swan & Forte) details the tragically short career of Hyper-Man, planetary champion of Earth-like world Oceania, before Superman #138 debuts ‘Titano the Super-Ape!’: a chimpanzee mutated into a Kryptonite-empowered King Kong clone with a devotion to Lois and big hatred for the Man of Steel: a beloved masterpiece by Binder, Boring & Kaye combining action, pathos and drama to superb effect.

‘Superman’s Black Magic!’ (Siegel & Plastino) balanced the epic tear-jerker with a clever yarn seeing the Action Ace instigate a devilish sting to catch superstitious crooks whilst ‘The Mermaid from Atlantis!’ ( Siegel, Boring & Kaye) finds newlywed Lori Lemaris attempt to trick Superman into finally proposing to Lois.

Action #266 has the heroic hunk ‘The Captive of the Amazons’ and trapped on another world. The queen wants the Man of Tomorrow for her sixth husband and is prepared to destroy Earth to make her dreams come true…

Superman #139 opens with ‘The New Life of Super-Merman!’ as the Caped Kryptonian and Lori scheme to marry Lois off to a nice, safe multi-millionaire who really loves her in a rather dated and potentially offensive tale by Siegel, Boring & Kaye, whereas ‘The Jolly Jailhouse!’ (Coleman & Plastino) is safe and solid entertainment, providing a light-hearted clash between a would-be dictator and the World’s Most Uncooperative political prisoner… Clark Kent.

‘The Untold Story of Red Kryptonite!’ (Binder, Boring & Kaye) then delivers a dramatic dilemma, a redefinition of the parameters of the deadly crimson mineral, and plenty of thrills with the Man of Steel forced to risk deadly danger and lots of informative flashbacks to rescue a sunken submarine…

Binder, Boring & Kaye produced spectacular 2-chapter clash ‘Hercules in the 20th Century!’ and ‘Superman’s Battle with Hercules!’ (Action #267-268, and separated here by the cover of all-reprint  Superman Annual #1) as Luthor brings the Hellenic demi-god to Metropolis to battle “evil king” Superman. Events turn even more serious when the legendary warrior falls for Lois and marshals all the magical powers of the Olympians to destroy his unwitting rival…

Although later played for laughs, most of the earlier appearances of Superman’s warped double were generally moving comic-tragedies, such as issue #140 wherein  Binder, Boring & Kaye’s ‘The Son of Bizarro!’ sees the fractured facsimile and wife Bizarro-Lois have a perfect, human baby. The fast growing tyke is super-powered but shunned by the populace of the world of monsters.

His simple-minded, heartbroken father has no choice but to exile his son in space where chance brings the lad crashing to Earth as ‘The Orphan Bizarro!’. Sent to the same institution where Supergirl resided, “Baby Buster” is soon a permanent headache for the Girl of Steel until a tragic accident seemingly mutates him. Eventually his distraught father comes looking for him at the head of an angry army of enraged Superman duplicates and a devastating battle is narrowly avoided with a happy ending only materialising due to the introduction of ‘The Bizarro Supergirl!’

Action Comics #269 tells a clever tale of identity-saving when Lois tricks Clark into standing before ‘The Truth Mirror!’(Siegel, Swan & George Klein), whilst Superman #141 again shows the writer’s winning form in ‘Superman’s Return to Krypton!’ Illustrated by Boring & Kaye, the epic Grand Tragedy shows in ‘Superman Meets Jor-El and Lara Again!’ how an accident maroons the adoptive Earth hero in the past on his doomed home-world. Reconciled to dying there with his people, in ‘Superman’s Kryptonian Romance’ Kal-El finds love with soul-mate Lyla Lerrol, only to be torn from her side and returned to Earth against his will in concluding chapter ‘The Surprise of Fate!’

This bold saga was a fan favourite for decades thereafter, and remains one of the very best stories of the period.

In Action #270 Binder, Swan & Forte provide a whimsical interlude in ‘The Old Man of Metropolis!’ as the Metropolis Marvel glimpses his own twilight years whilst ‘Voyage to Dimension X!’ – Binder & Plastino in #271 – sees him narrowly escape his greatest foe’s latest diabolical plot.

Superman #142 opened with ‘Lois Lane’s Secret Helper!’ (Binder & Kurt Schaffenberger, as faithful Krypto tried to play matchmaker before ‘Superman Meets Al Capone!’ has the time-lost Man of Tomorrow clash with the legendary mobster (Binder, Boring & Kaye) before battling a wandering ‘Flame-Dragon from Krypton!’ with some helpful assistance from his best super-buddies in a sharp yarn from Siegel, Boring & Kaye.

Another prototype team-up featured in Action #272’s ‘Superman’s Rival, Mental Man!’: a clever criminal-sting by Siegel, Swan & Kaye centring around Lois’ unsuspected talents as a comic strip creator, whilst over in Superman #143, ‘The Great Superman Hoax!’ (Bernstein, Boring & Kaye) sees a criminal try to convince Lois that he is actually the Man of Might. ‘Lois Lane’s Lucky Day!’ (Siegel & Forte) then finds the daring reporter busting a crooked carnival – with a little covert Kryptonian help – before ‘Bizarro Meets Frankenstein!’ (Binder, Boring & Kaye) finds the befuddled duplicate invading Earth to prove he is the scariest monster of all time…

Action #273 has Superman turn the table on the pestiferous Fifth Dimensional pixie by invading ‘The World of Mxyzptlk!’– a light-hearted romp from Siegel & Plastino – and in the next issue lose his abilities to Lois in ‘The Reversed Super-Powers!’ (Siegel & Schaffenberger.

Superman #144 led with Siegel, Swan & Kaye’s combative thriller ‘The Super-Weapon!’, after which Siegel & Plastino revealed the Untold Tale of ‘Superboy’s First Public Appearance!’ before going on to describe the terrifying plight of Superman, Supergirl and Krypto as ‘The Orphans of Space!’

Action #275 delivers a classic clash with alien marauder Brainiac, whose latest weapon is ‘The Menace of Red-Green Kryptonite!’ (Coleman, Boring & Kaye) after which Superman #145 opens on a salutary fable by Siegel, Swan & Kaye proving why Lois can’t be trusted with ‘The Secret Identity of Superman!’

Bernstein & Plastino’s ‘The Interplanetary Circus!’ then holds Earth hostage until the Man of Steel agrees to join them, but even after outwitting those interplanetary scoundrels, Superman is utterly flummoxed by the incredible events of ‘The Night of March 31st – a deliciously surreal, whimsical and bizarre mystery-puzzle from Siegel, Swan & Sheldon Moldoff.

This second superb collection concludes with the stirring cover of Superman Annual #2 and a scintillating double-page Map of Krypton by Siegel & Plastino which enflamed the imagination of every kid who ever saw it…

Superman has proven to be all things to all fans over his decades of existence, and with the character undergoing another radical overhaul at this time, these timeless tales of joyous charm and wholesome wit are more necessary than ever: not just as a reminder of great times past but as an all-ages primer of wonders still to come…
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 1: “I Yam What I Yam!”


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-779-7 (HB)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY POPEYE!

The incredible Sailor-Man first shumbled onto the world stage in comic strip Thimble Theatre on January 17th 1929. Even though last year Fantagraphics began rereleasing this material in smaller less copious volumes – which I’ll also be reviewing – this initial colossal collection is probably my favourite vintage book ever and I mourn much that it’s out of print and unavailable digitally. I live in hope though…

Thimble Theatre was an unassuming comic strip which began on 19th December 1919; one of many newspaper features that parodied/burlesqued/mimicked the era’s (silent) movies. Its more successful forebears included C.W. Kahles’ Hairbreadth Harry and Ed Wheelan’s Midget Movies (later renamed Minute Movies).

These all used a repertory company of characters to play out generic adventures firmly based on those expressive cinema antics. Thimble Theatre’s cast included Nana and Cole Oyl, their gawky daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor, and Horace Hamgravy, Olive’s sappy would-be beau.

The series ticked along for a decade, competent and unassuming, with Castor and Ham Gravy, as he became, tumbling through get-rich-quick schemes, gentle adventures and simple gag situations until September 10th 1928 (the first strip reprinted in this astonishingly lavish and beautiful collection), when explorer uncle Lubry Kent Oyl gave Castor a present from his latest exploration of Africa: a hand-reared Whiffle Hen – most fabulous of all birds. It was the start of something groundbreaking.

As eny fule kno Whiffle Hens are troublesome, incredibly rare and possessed of fantastic powers, but after months of inspired hokum and slapsick shenanigans, Castor was resigned to Bernice – for that was the hen’s name – when a series of increasingly peculiar circumstances brought him into contention with the ruthless Mr. Fadewell, world’s greatest gambler and king of the gaming resort of ‘Dice Island’.

Bernice clearly affected writer/artist E.C. Segar, because his strip increasingly became a playground of frantic, compelling action and comedy during this period…

When Castor and Ham discovered that everybody wanted the Whiffle Hen because she could bestow infallible good luck, they sailed for Dice Island to win every penny from its lavish casinos. Sister Olive wanted to come along but the boys planned to leave her behind once their vessel was ready to sail. It was 16th January 1929…

The next day, in the 108th instalment of the saga, a bluff, irascible, ignorant, itinerant and exceeding ugly one-eyed old sailor was hired by the pair to man the boat they had rented, and the world was introduced to one of the most iconic and memorable characters ever conceived. By sheer, surly willpower, Popeye won the hearts and minds of readers: his no-nonsense, grumbling simplicity and dubious appeal enchanting the public until by the end of the tale, the walk-on had taken up full residency. He would eventually make the strip his own…

The journey to Dice Island was a terrible one: Olive had stowed away, and Popeye – already doing the work of twelve men – did not like her. After many travails the power of Bernice succeeded and Castor bankrupted Dice Island, but as they sailed for home with their millions Fadewell and his murderous associate Snork hunted them across the oceans. Before long, Popeye settled their hash too, almost at the cost of his life…

Once home, their newfound wealth quickly led Castor, Ham and Olive into more trouble, with carpetbaggers, conmen and ne’er-do-wells constantly circling, and before long they lost all their money (a common occurrence for them), but one they thing they couldn’t lose was their sea-dog tag-along. The public – and Segar himself – were besotted with the unlovable, belligerent old goat. After an absence of 32 episodes Popeye shambled back on stage, and he stayed for good.

Although not yet the paramour of Olive, Popeye increasingly took Ham’s place as a foil for sharp-talking, pompous Castor Oyl, and before long they were all having adventures together. After escaping jail at the start of ‘The Black Barnacle’ (December 11th 1929) they found themselves aboard an empty ship and at the start of a golden age of comic strip magic…

Segar famously considered himself an inferior draughtsman – most of the world disagreed and still does – but his ability to weave a yarn was unquestioned, and it grew to astounding and epic proportions in these strips.

Day by day he was creating the syllabary and graphic lexicon of a brand-new art-form, inventing narrative tricks and beats that a generation of artists and writers would use in their own works, and he did it while being scary, thrilling and funny all at once.

‘The Black Barnacle’ introduced the dire menace of the hideous Sea-Hag – one of the greatest villains in fiction – and the scenes of her advancing in misty darkness upon our sleeping heroes are still the most effective I’ve seen in all my years…

This incredible tale leads seamlessly into diamond-stealing, kidnappings, spurned loves, an African excursion and the introduction of wealthy Mr. Kilph, whose do-gooding propensities lead Castor and Popeye into plenty of trouble, beginning with the eerie science fiction thriller ‘The Mystery of Brownstone Hill’ and the return of the nefarious Snork, who almost murders the salty old seadog a second time…

The black and white dailies section ends with ‘The Wilson Mystery’ as Castor and Popeye set up their own detective agency – something that would become a common strip convention and the perfect maguffin to keep adventurers tumbling along. Even Mickey Mouse donned metaphoric deerstalker and magnifying glass for much of his own strip service…

These superb and colossal hardcover albums (200 pages and 368 mm by 268 mm) are augmented with fascinating articles and essays; including testimonial remembrances from famous cartoonists – Jules Feiffer in this first volume – and accompanied by the relevant full colour Sunday pages from the same period.

Here then are the more gag-oriented complete tales from 2nd March 1930 through February 22nd 1931, including the “topper” Sappo.

A topper was a small mini-strip that was run above the main feature on a Sunday page. Some were connected to the main strip, but many were just extraneous filler. They were used so that individual editors could remove them if their particular periodical had non-standard page requirements. Originally entitled The 5:15, Sappo was a surreal domestic comedy gag strip created by Segar in 1924 which became peculiarly entwined with the Sunday Thimble Theatre as the 1930s unfolded – and it’s a strip long overdue for consideration on its own unique merits….

Since many papers only carried dailies or Sundays, not necessarily both, a system of differentiated storylines developed early in American publishing, and when Popeye finally made his belated appearance, he was already a fairly well-developed character. Thus, Segar concentrated on more family-friendly gags – and eventually continued mini-sagas – and it was here that the Popeye/Olive Oyl modern romance began: a series of encounters full of bile, intransigence, repressed hostility, jealousy and passion which usually ended in raised voices and scintillating cartoon violence – and they are still as riotously funny now as then.

We saw softer sides of the sailor-man and, when Castor and Mr. Kilph realised how good Popeye was at boxing, an extended, trenchant and scathingly witty sequence about the sport of prize-fighting began. Again, cartoon violence was at a premium – family values were different then – but Segar’s worldly, probing satire and Popeye’s beguiling (but relative) innocence and lack of experience kept the entire affair in hilarious perspective whilst making him an unlikely and lovable waif.

Popeye is fast approaching his centenary and still deserves his place as a world icon. How many comics characters are still enjoying new adventures 93 years after their first? These magnificent volumes are the perfect way to celebrate the genius and mastery of EC Segar and his brilliantly imperfect superman. These are books that every home and library should have.

© 2006 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2006 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beano and Dandy Gift Book 2022- Arty Farty!


By Dudley D. Watkins, Allan Morley, Reg Carter, Davy Law, Bill Holroyd, Leo Baxendale, Ken Reid, Eric Roberts, James Crichton, Paddy Brennan, and many & various (DC Thomson & Co)
ISBN: 978-1-84535-856-3 (HB)

This splendidly oversized (225 x 300mm) 144 page hardback compilation rightly glories in the incredible wealth of ebullient creativity that paraded through the flimsy, colourful pages of The Beano and The Dandy during a particularly bleak and fraught period in British history… aren’t they all? Tragically, neither it nor its companion volumes are available digitally yet, but hope springs ever eternal…

Until it folded and was briefly reborn as a digital publication on 4th December 2012, The Dandy was the third-longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937).

Premiering on December 4th 1937, The Dandy broke the mould of its traditional British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under sequential picture frames. A huge success, it was followed eight months – on July 30th 1938 – later by The Beano and together they utterly revolutionised the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read.

Over decades the “terrible twins” spawned a bevy of unforgettable and beloved household names who delighted countless avid and devoted readers, and the unmissable end of year celebrations were graced with bumper bonanzas of the comics’ weekly stars in extended stories in magnificent hardback annuals.

This particularly tome is a collation of strips examining “Art” and a superb tribute to Celtic creativity, packed literally cover-to-cover with brilliant strips, with the mirth starting on the inside front with a rather psychedelic and fourth-wall rending confrontation between The Bash Street Kids and the ever-interventionist “Beano/Dandy artist” actually illustrated by David Sutherland, I suspect.

Sadly, as usual none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists, but I’ve offered a best guess as to whom we should thank, and of course would be so very happy if anybody could confirm or deny my suppositions…

When not in monochrome or full colour, DC Thomson titles were always extremely inventive in using their two-colour printing plate format. Way back when, most annuals and many comics were jazzed up by a wonderful “half-colour” process British publishers used to keep costs down. This was done by printing sections (“Signatures”) of the books with only two plates, such as Cyan (Blue) and Magenta (Red) or Yellow and Black. The sheer versatility and colour range provided was simply astounding…

This book shows that pagination skill over and over again in strips that exploit the print process and deftly subordinate it to the narratives. What splendid fellows their printers must have been to go to all that extra effort…

Here and now though, the picture-in-picture gag cover of Dandy Annual 1971 – a Korky the Cat visual pun by James Crichton or possibly Richard Nixon – segues into a monochrome Big Eggo strip from Reg Carter before indisputable key man Dudley D. Watkins shines in black, white and red with magical lad Peter Piper (from short-lived junior title The Magic Comic) animating pictures at an exhibition before Good King Coke (He’s Stoney Broke) seeks fame in a frame thanks to early art and orange tints from Eric Roberts.

Also from The Magic Comic comes Dolly Dimple – Not So Simple: a monochrome romp by Allan Morley that leads to an Orange section starting with Julius Sneezer the Sneezing Caesar (Morley); Lord Snooty, by the incredibly prolific Watkins, detailing an art heist from an early annual, after which Morley renders more magic with Sammy’s Super Rubberand posh poseur Swanky Lanky Liz – by Charles Holt – makes more enemies with a school painting competition…

Morley’s Old Ma Murphy the Strong-Arm School-Ma’rm gets away with what we’d deem child abuse in her art class before three Dennis the Menace strips from David Law prove that chaos is an art. They’re followed by a drawing lesson with Minnie the Minx (by Jim Petrie?) and a Law full colour Beryl the Peril strip he did for a Topper Annual with the girly menace trying her hand at photography before we enjoy some black, white and red poetry-appreciation piece from a Beano Book The Bash Street Kids extended episode by Sutherland. It precedes a classic Desperate Dan diversion where he paints the town – guess what hue? – and Korky’s Catty Dictionary by Robert Nixon.

A red-toned double bill of Roger the Dodger japes by Ken Reid neatly diverts to fantastic crime as an extended (orange-flavoured) Captain Woosh caper sees the wily jetpack bandit again outwitted by good-hearted errand boy Terry Ball in a stunning Dandy Annual exploit from Charles Grigg, after which Sutherland triumphs in a pan-toned (black, red, yellow and white) classic starring The Bash Steet Kids and Teacher

Following colourful puzzle pages ‘Blank Looks’ and ‘You Can Draw Me!’, Law’s Dennis the Menace plays ‘Pranks with Paint!’ and shares ‘Drawings by Dennis’ before we all go green with Watkins’ Desperate Dan and enjoy ‘Arty-Crafty!’and ‘Crafty Arty!’ hijinks with perilous Beryl…

Winker Watson gets a fresh look – courtesy of Terry Bave, I believe – as the wily waif interrupts a school painting chore before Ken H. Harrison’s blue period sees Harry and his Hippo get the snapping bug before the Bash Street Dogs of Pup Parade (Nigel Parkinson?) get their portraits done and Bill Holroyd’s robot rascal Brassneck saves the school play – from surly teacher Mr. Snodgrass

Minnie the Minx endures a multi-coloured assault from a mischievous Beano artist (Tom Paterson?) before Dennis regrets ‘Making his Mark’ as a prelude to more full colour fun from Bill Ritchie’s Baby Crockett and Gordon Bell’s Colonel Blink, before Pup Parade with the Bash Street Dogs resorts to orange tints for a kennel painting prank…

Advancing print technology finally catches up and the remainder of the collection is all full-colour, beginning with Neighbourhood Witch as a little sorceress gets too interested in the family tree, after which Ritchie’s love-starved Smittengoes to extraordinary lengths to find a girlfriend…

Harrison’s Lord Snooty makes no friends when he voluntarily takes up the trumpet, whilst Paterson’s Little Larry truly turns heads (away) with his candid snaps before Bully Beef and Chips (Wayne Thompson?) clash over painted portraits whilst Dennis decrees ‘It’s a Draw’ and The Bash Street Kids romp in extended mayhem looking for cash rewards in ‘A Load of Junk’

Robot toy manipulator General Jumbo then gets some highly specialised new units to win a painting competition, before activity page ‘Be a Dandy Artist’ segues into a Korky curated museum visit before ‘Quick on the Draw with Ivy the Terrible’ (by Lew Stringer?) ends the tour with a far more accessible lesson learned.

As you leave the volume please be sure to enjoy Sutherland’s classic Beano Book 1971 cover and denouement of the frontispiece saga that opened this extravaganza, and don’t forget to tip your reviewer…

A marvel of nostalgia and timeless comics wonder, the true magic of this collection is the brilliant art and stories by a host of talents that have literally made Britons who they are today, and bravo to DC Thomson for letting them out to run amok once again.
© DCT Consumer Products (UK) 2021 Ltd.

Decades: Marvel in the ‘60s – Spider-Man Meets the Marvel Universe


By Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Roy Thomas, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, John Romita Sr, Gene Colan, Werner Roth & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1660-2 (TPB)

The Amazing Spider-Man was first seen in the middle of 1962, so expect plenty of wallcrawling reviews over the next twelve months, and if any of us make it to the end I’m sure we’ll all be well-versed in Arachnid Lore with our book shelves (physical or digital) positively groaning with sublimely re-readable tales and tomes…

For Marvel, it’s always been all about the team-ups…

In the company’s 80th Anniversary year of 2019, they published plenty of reprint material in archival formats designed to highlight specific triumphs of the House of Ideas. One of the mot interesting was the Decades project: collecting material from each era seen through a themed lens. For the 1960s – with so very much astounding innovation to be proud of – the editors opted to re-present critical confrontations of the company’s signature star with the other breakthrough characters that formed the bedrock of the Marvel Universe. After all, it’s always been all about the team-ups…

Within this trade paperback/digital delight – in full or in extract – are bombastic battles and eccentric encounters between the wondrous wallcrawler and the other growing stars of the ever-expanding firmament, culled from Amazing Spider-Man #1, 8, 14, 16; Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2; Fantastic Four #73; Fantastic Four Annual #1; Strange Tales Annual #2; Tales to Astonish #57; The Avengers #11; The Avengers Annual #3; Daredevil #16, 17, 27 and The X-Men #35 spanning March 1963 to 1968. The curated cruise begins with a context-setting Introduction from Jess Harrold, before we see a skinny kid in a costume meet his heroes for the first time…

Marvel is often termed “the House that Jack Built” and Kirby’s contributions are undeniable and inescapable in the creation of a new kind of comic storytelling, but there was another unique visionary toiling at Atlas-Comics-as-was, one whose creativity and even philosophy seemed diametrically opposed to the bludgeoning power, vast imaginative scope and clean, broad lines of Jack’s ever-expanding search for the external and infinite.

Steve Ditko was quiet and unassuming, voluntarily diffident to the point of invisibility, but his work was both subtle and striking: simultaneously innovative and meticulously polished. Always questing for the ideal, he explored the man within. He saw heroism and humour and ultimate evil all contained within the frail but noble confines of humanity. His drawing could be oddly disquieting… and, when he wanted, decidedly creepy.

Crafting extremely well-received monster and mystery tales for and with Stan Lee, Ditko had been rewarded with his own title. Amazing Adventures/Amazing Adult Fantasy featured a subtler brand of yarn than Rampaging Aliens and Furry Underpants Monsters: an ilk which, though individually entertaining, had been slowly losing traction in comics ever since DC had successfully reintroduced costumed heroes.

Lee & Kirby had responded with Fantastic Four and the ahead-of-its-time Incredible Hulk but there was no indication of the renaissance ahead when officially just-cancelled Amazing Fantasy featured a brand new and rather eerie adventure character…

It wasn’t a new story, but the setting was familiar to every kid reading it and the artwork was downright spooky. This wasn’t the gleaming high-tech world of moon-rockets, mammoth monsters and flying cars… this stuff could happen to anybody…

The debut of Spider-Man and his pathetic, loser, young alter ego Peter Parker was a landmark moment. The hard luck hero effortlessly made the jump to his own title. Holding on to the “Amazing” prefix to jog reader’s memories, the bi-monthly Amazing Spider-Man #1 arrived with a March 1963 cover-date and two complete stories. It also prominently featured the aforementioned FF and took the readership by storm. Excerpted here are the 5 pages wherein the cash-strapped youngster breaks into the Baxter Building determined to get himself hired by the team and ends battling his idols…

That’s followed by a back-up story from 1963’s Fantastic Four Annual #1 which expanded the incident into a proper yarn. ‘The Fabulous Fantastic Four Meet Spider-Man sees Kirby redraw the moment with Ditko inking and it is superb, smartly segueing into the lead feature from the same year’s Strange Tales Annual #2. This terrific romp from Lee, Kirby & Ditko depicts an early Marvel Misapprehension as the wallcrawler is framed by international art thief and disguise-master The Fox, and hot-headed Johnny Storm determines to bring the aggravating arachnid to justice. Guess how that works out…

Cover-dated January 1964, Amazing Spider-Man #8 led with a battle against the computer dubbed the Living Brain, but you’ll need to look elsewhere for that. An extra vignette in that issue provided another Lee/Kirby/Ditko delight. ‘Spiderman Tackles the Torch!’ is a 6-page comedy romp wherein a boisterous and envious wall-crawler gate-crashes a beach party thrown by the flaming hero’s girlfriend… with suitably explosive consequences.

Marvel’s growing band of stars were pooping up everywhere in others titles by this time, and the next snippet – 5 pages culled from Amazing Spider-Man #14 (July 1964) – sees the webspinner’s battle against the Green Goblin and Enforcers interrupted by the Incredible Hulk who delivers an unforgettable lesson in staying in your own weight class. That same month, Tales to Astonish #57 saw Giant-Man and the Wasp ‘On the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!’ – courtesy of Lee, Dick Ayers & Paul Reinman – with sinister mastermind Egghead pulling strings to make the complete strangers into mortal enemies…

September 1964 found Amazing Spider-Man #16 extending the wallcrawler’s circle of friends and foes whilst battling the Ringmaster and his Circus of Evil and encountering freshly minted fellow loner hero in a dazzling and delightful‘Duel with Daredevil’ (Lee & Ditko), after which The Avengers #11 (by Lee, Don Heck & Chic Stone) details how ‘The Mighty Avengers Meet Spider-Man!’ This is a clever and classy cross-fertilising tale featuring time-bending tyrant Kang the Conqueror who attempts to destroy the team by insinuating within their serried ranks a robotic duplicate of the outcast hero.

Next up is arguably Ditko’s greatest artistic triumph of this era: the lead tale from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 (October of that year and filled out with vintage Spidey classics).

Ditko was on peak form: fast enough to handle two monthly strips, and at this time also blowing away audiences with another ill-fitting, oddly tangential superhero. The disparate crusaders met in ‘The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange!’: an entrancing fable unforgettably introducing the Amazing Arachnid to arcane realities and metaphysical mysteries as he joins the Master of the Mystic Arts to battle power-crazed mage Xandu in a phantasmagorical, dimension-hopping masterpiece involving ensorcelled zombie thugs and the stolen Wand of Watoomb. After this, it was clear that Spider-Man could work in any milieu and that nothing could hold him back…

Now sporting his signature all-red outfit, the Man Without Fear re-encountered Spider-Man in Daredevil #16-17 (May & June 1966 and crafted by Lee, John Romita the elder and inker Frank Giacoia) as ‘Enter… Spider-Man!’ introduces diabolical criminal mastermind Masked Marauder who has big plans; the first of which is to get DD and the wallcrawler to kill each other…

With chapter ‘None are so Blind…’ opens a convoluted a sub-plot which would lead to some of the highest and lowest moments of the early Daredevil series – such as Spidey accusing Law-firm partner Foggy Nelson of being the Scarlet Swashbuckler and Matt Murdock inventing a twin brother Mike – but the art is superb and the action is nonstop, so there’s not much to complain about…

Next comes Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 3 and ‘…To Become an Avenger!’ with the World’s Mightiest Heroes offering the webspinner membership if he can capture and bring them the Hulk. As usual, all is not as it seems but the action-drenched epic, courtesy of Lee, Romita (on layouts), Don Heck, & Mike Esposito is the kind of guest-heavy, power-punching package that made these summer specials such a prize…

Jumping to April 1967, Daredevil #27 (Lee, Gene Colan & Giacoia) closes a chapter as a leaner, moodier Man Without Fear manifested. Earlier episodes saw the hopeless romantic triangle of Murdock, best friend Foggy and their secretary Karen Page become a whacky quadrangle by introducing fictitious twin Mike Murdock. Now he would be “exposed” as Daredevil to divert suspicion from the blind attorney who actually battled all those weird villains…

Well that happened, and – still skulking in the background – arch-villain Masked Marauder slowly honed in on DD’s actual alter ego. He got closest in ‘Mike Murdock Must Die!’ after Stilt-Man teams with the Marauder before Spider-Man abrasively helped out in a brief cameo to take down the long-legged loon…

Cover-dated August 1967, The X-Men #35 finally found Marvel’s top teens in the same story. At that time the mutant heroes were hunting secret cabal Factor Three who had used robot arachnoids to kidnap Professor X.

When ally Banshee is captured mid-sentence during a crucial communication with the team in ‘Along Came A Spider…’(by Roy Thomas, Werner Roth & Dan Adkins) everybody’s favourite wallcrawler is mistaken for a foe. After the desperate, distraught mutants find the hero amidst robot wreckage, he is forced to battle for his life against the increasingly unstable teens…

Ending this chronological collaboration excursion is Fantastic Four #73 (April 1968) which carried an instant-classic crossover that overlapped an ongoing Thor storyline and conclusion to a long-running Daredevil story wherein the sightless crusader is ousted from his own body by Doctor Doom. After warning the FF of imminent attack, the Swashbuckler subsequently defeats Doom on his own, but neglects to tell the heroes of his victory…

Thus, outmatched and unable to convince them any other way, DD enlists currently the de-powered Thunder God and ever-eager webspinner in to solve the problem Marvel style – with a pointless, spectacular and utterly riveting punch-up – in ‘The Flames of Battle…’

These timeless team-ups of Marvel’s original loner comprise a superb catalogue of splendid triumphs to be enjoyed over and over again. How can you not?
© 2019, MARVEL

Mighty Warriors Annual 1979


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

crime-fighting iterations of classic movie

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

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

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

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

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

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