Showcase Presents Young Love


By Robert Kanigher, Julius Schwartz, John Romita, Bernard Sachs, John Rosenberger, Werner Roth, Bill Draut, Mike Sekowsky, Win Mortimer, John Giunta, Tony Abruzzo, Arthur Peddy, Dick Giordano, Jay Scott Pike Gene Colan & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3438-6

As the escapist popularity of flamboyant superheroes waned after World War II, newer genres such as Romance and Horror came to the fore and older forms regained their audiences. Some, like Westerns and Funny Animal comics, had hardly changed at all but crime and detective tales were utterly radicalised by the temperament of the times.

Stark, uncompromising, cynically ironic novels and socially aware, mature-themed movies that would become categorised as Film Noir offered post-war society a bleakly antiheroic worldview that often hit too close to home and set fearful, repressive, middleclass parent groups and political ideologues howling for blood.

Naturally, these new sensibilities seeped into comics, transforming two-fisted gumshoe and Thud-&-Blunder cop strips of yore into darkly beguiling, even frightening tales of seductive dames, big pay-offs and glamorous thugs. Sensing imminent Armageddon, America’s moral junkyard dogs bayed even louder as they saw their precious children’s minds under seditious attack…

Concurrent to the demise of masked mystery-men, industry giants Joe Simon & Jack Kirby famously invented the love genre for comicbooks with mature, beguiling, explosively contemporary social dramas equally focussed on the changing cultural scene and adult themed relationships. They began with semi-comedic prototype My Date in early 1947 before plunging into the torrid real deal with Young Romance #1 in September of that year.

Not since the invention of Superman had a single comicbook generated such a frantic rush of imitation and flagrant cashing-in. It was a monumental hit and the team quickly expanded: releasing spin-offs such as Young Love (February 1949), Young Brides and In Love.

Simon & Kirby presaged and ushered in the first American age of mature comics – not only with their creation of the Romance genre, but with challenging modern tales of real people in extraordinary situations – before seeing it all disappear again in less than eight years.

Their small stable of magazines produced for the loose association of companies known as Prize/Crestwood/Pines blossomed and wilted as the industry contracted throughout the 1950s.

All through that turbulent period, comicbooks suffered impossibly biased oversight and hostile scrutiny from hidebound and panicked old guard institutions such as church groups, media outlets and ambitious politicians. A number of tales and titles garnered especial notoriety from those social doom-smiths, and hopeful celebration and anticipation amongst tragic, forward-thinking if psychologically scarred comics-collecting victims was quashed when the industry introduced a ferocious Comics Code that castrated the creative form just when it most needed boldness and imagination.

We lost and comics endured more than a decade and a half of savagely doctrinaire, self-imposed censorship.

Those tales from a simpler time, exposing a society in meltdown and suffering cultural PTSD, are mild by modern standards of behaviour, but the quality of art and writing make those pivotal years a creative highpoint long overdue for a thorough reassessment.

The first Young Love ran for 73 issues (1949-1956) before folding and re-launching in a far more anodyne, Comics-Code-approved form as All For Love in Spring 1957.

Unable to find an iota of its previous and hoped-for audience it disappeared after 17 issues in March 1959 before resurrecting as Young Love again a year later with #18. It then ran steadily but unremarkably until June 1963 when the experiment and the company died with #38.

Crestwood sold up its few remaining landmark, groundbreaking titles and properties – Young Romance, Young Love and Black Magic being the most notable – to National/DC and faded from the business…

The new bosses released their first edition in the autumn of 1963 as part of their own small, shy and unassuming romance ring: carrying on with it and a coterie of similar titles targeting teenaged girls (for which, read aspirational and imaginative 8 to 12-year olds) over the next fifteen years.

The savage decline in overall comicbook sales during the 1970s finally killed the genre off. Young Love was one of the last; dying with #126, cover-dated July 1977.

This quirky mammoth monochrome compilation gathers the first 18 DC issues (#39-56 spanning September/October 1963 through July/August 1966) but, although beautiful to look upon, it is sadly plagued with twin tragedies.

The first is that the stories quickly become fearfully formulaic – although flashes of narrative brilliance do crop up with comforting regularity – whilst the second is an appallingly inaccurate listing of creator credits.

Many fans have commented and suggested corrections online, and I’m adding my own surmises and deductions about artists whenever I’m reasonably sure, but other than the unmistakable, declamatorily florid flavour of Robert Kanigher, none of us in fandom are that certain just who was responsible for the scripting of these amatory sagas. However, research continues and sites like the Grand Comicbook Database and Lambiek are continually fixing history for us…

Here, likely contenders include Barbara Friedlander, Dorothy Woolfolk, George Kashdan, Jack Miller, Phyllis Reed, E. Nelson Bridwell and Morris Waldinger but I’m afraid we may never really know.

C’est l’amour…

On these anthological pages, the heartbreak and tears begin with the introduction of a soap-opera serial undoubtedly inspired by the romantic antics of television physicians such as Dr. Kildare (1961-1966) and Ben Casey (1962-1966). Written in an uncomfortably macho “me Doctor Tarzan, you Nurse Jane” style by Kanigher and illustrated with staggering beauty by John Romita, ‘The Private Diary of Mary Robin R.N.’ follows the painful journey and regular heartache of a nurse dedicated to her patients whilst fighting her inbuilt need to “settle down” with the man of her dreams, whoever he is… It’s usually a big-headed, know-it-all medic who has no time to waste on “settling down”…

The serial opened with ‘No Cure for Love’, a 2-part novelette in which a newly-qualified Registered Nurse starts her career at County General Hospital in the OR; instantly arousing the ire of surly surgeon Will Ames whose apparent nastiness is only a mask for his moody man-concern over his poor benighted patients – but never their billables…

However, even as he romances Mary and she dares to dream, the good doctor soon proves that medicine will always be his first and only Love…

I’m not sure of the inker but the pencils on stand-alone back-up ‘You’ve Always Been Nice!’ look like Werner Roth in a novel yarn of modern Texans in love that pretty much sets the tone for the title: Modern Miss gets enamoured of the wrong guy or flashy newcomer until the quiet one who waited for her finally gets motivated…

‘The Eve of His Wedding’ – by Bernard Sachs – goes with the other favourite option: a smug, flashy girl who loses out to the quiet heroine waiting patiently for true love to lead her man back to her…

In #40 Kanigher & Romita ask ‘Which Way, My Heart?’ of Mary Robin and she answers by letting Dr. Ames walk all over her before transferring to Pediatrics. She still found time to fall in love with a thankfully adult patient – but only until he got better…

Filling out the issue are ‘Someone to Remember’ (illustrated by Bill Draut) which sees sensible Judy utterly transform herself into a sophisticated floozy for a boy who actually prefers the old her, and ‘The Power of Love’ (incorrectly attributed to Don Heck but perhaps Morris Waldinger or John Rosenberger heavily inked by Sachs?) in which Linda competes with her own sister over new boy Bill

Although retaining the cover spot, the medical drama was relegated to the end of the comic from #41 on and complete stories led, starting on ‘End With A Kiss’ by Mike Sekowsky & Sachs, wherein calculating Anna almost marries wrong guy Steve until good old Neil puts his foot down, whilst for a girl who dates two men at the same time, ‘Heartbreak Came Twice!’: a tale that was almost a tragedy…

Mary Robin then cries – she cried a lot – ‘No Tomorrow for My Heart!’ as Will Ames continues to call when he feels like it and she somehow finds herself competing with best friend Tess for both him and a hunky patient in their care. She even briefly quits her job for this man of her dreams…

The superb John Rosenberger inking himself – mistakenly credited throughout as Jay Scott Pike – opens #42 with ‘Boys are Fools!’ wherein young Phyllis is temporarily eclipsed by her cynical, worldly older sister Jayne… until a decent man shows them the error of their ways. Vile Marty then uses unwitting Linda as a pawn in a battle of romantic rivals for ‘A Deal with Love!’ (Rosenberger or maybe Win Mortimer & Sachs?). I don’t have any corroborating proof, but a custom of the era was for artists to trade pages or anonymously collaborate on some stories; making visual identification a real expert’s game…

With a ‘Fearful Heart!’, Mary Robin closes up the issue by accidentally stealing the love of a blinded patient nursed by her plain associate. When the hunk’s sight returned, he just naturally assumes the pretty one was his devoted carer…

Young Love #43 opened with the excellent ‘Remember Yesterday’ (looking like Gil Kane layouts over Sachs) in which Gloria relives her jilting by fiancé Grant before embarking on a journey of self-discovery and finding her way back to love… Then the Sekowsky/Sachs influenced ‘A Day Like Any Other’ and ‘Before it’s Too Late’ disclose the difficulties of being a working woman and the temptations of being left at home all alone…

After that, Kanigher & Romita end the affairs by showing the childhood days of Mary Robin and just why she turned to nursing when her childhood sweetheart becomes her latest patient in ‘Shadow of Love!’

Issue #44 declares ‘It’s You I Love!’ (Kane or Frank Giacoia with Sachs?) as wilful Chris foolishly sets her cap for the college’s biggest hunk, whilst in ‘Unattainable’ Lorna learns that she just isn’t that special to playboy Gary before Mary Robin endures ‘Double Heartbreak!’ when her own sister Naomi sweeps in and swoops off with on-again, off-again Dr. Ames…

Sekowsky & Sachs opened #45 with ‘As Long as a Lifetime!’ wherein poor April finds herself torn between and tearing apart best friends Tommy and Jamie, whilst ‘Laugh Today, Weep Tomorrow!’ (which looks like Jay Scott Pike & Jack Abel) has tragic Janet see her best friend Margot’s seductive allure steal away another man she might have loved…

‘One Kiss for Always’ then shows Mary Robin as the patient after a bus crash costs her the use of her legs.

During her battle back to health, and loss of the only man she might have been happy with, the melodrama finally achieves the heights it always aspired to in a tale of genuine depth and passion.

The captivating Rosenberger leads in #46 as Maria and Mark conspire together to win back their respective intendeds and discover exactly ‘Where Love Belongs’, after which Mortimer reveals ‘It’s All Over Now’ for Merrill who only gets Cliff because Addie went away to finishing school.

But then she came back…

This surprisingly mature and sophisticated fable is followed by ‘Veil of Silence!’ in which Nurse Robin takes her duties to extraordinary lengths: allowing a patient to take her latest boyfriend in order to aid her full recovery…

In #47 ‘Merry Christmas’ (Rosenberger) shows astonishing seasonal spirit as Thea cautiously welcomes back sister Laurie – and gives her a second chance to steal her husband – after which secretary Vicky eavesdrops on her boss and boyfriend: almost finishing her marriage before it begins in ‘Every Beat of his Heart!’(Mortimer).

Mary Robin’s ‘Cry for Love’ starts in another pointless fling with the gadabout Ames and ends with her almost stealing another nurse’s man in a disappointingly shallow but action-packed effort, after which – in #48 – ‘Call it a Day’ (Mortimer) finds an entire clan of women united to secure a man for little Alice, before Rosenberger limns ‘Trust Him!’ wherein bitter sister Marta’s harsh advice to love-sick sibling Jill is happily ignored. Kanigher & Romita then explore Mary Robin’s ‘Two-Sided Heart!’ after Ames again refuses to consider moving beyond their casually intimate relationship.

Of course, that shouldn’t excuse what she then does with the gorgeous amnesia patient who has a grieving girlfriend…

Young Love #49 opened with Rosenberger’s ‘Give Me Something to Remember You By!’ with Marge praying that her latest summer romance turns into a something more. Waiting is a torment but ‘Your Man is Mine!’ (Roth) shows what’s worse when sisters clash and Clea again tries taking what Pat has – a fiancé…

‘Someone… Hear my Heart!’ then unselfconsciously dips into the world of TV as Mary Robin dumps Dr. Ames for an actor and a new career on a medical show. It doesn’t end well and she’s soon back where she belongs with the man who can’t or won’t appreciate her…

Roth opened #50 with ‘Second Hand Love’ as Debbie dreads that the return of vivacious Vicky will lead to her taking back the man she left behind, whilst ‘Come into My Arms!’ (Ogden Whitney or Ric Estrada perhaps?) sees Mary Grant visit Paris in search of one man only to fall for another…

Mary Robin then finds herself pulled in many directions as she falls for another doctor and one more hunky patient before yet again rededicating herself to professional care over ‘The Love I Never Held!’

She jumps back to the front in #51 and discovers ‘All Men are Children!’ (still Kanigher & Romita) when an unruly shut-in vindictively uses her to make another nurse jealous, after which Rosenberger delivers a stunning turn with ‘Afraid of Love!’ Here, after years of obsessive yearning, Lois finally goes for it with the man of her dreams.

Romita then took a turn at an anthology solo story with ‘No Easy Lessons in Love’ as Gwen and Peter travel the world and make many mistakes before finally finding each other again.

The nurse finally got her man – and her marching orders – in #52’s ‘Don’t Let it Stop!’, but dashing intern Dan Swift only makes his move on Mary after being hypnotised! Hopefully, she lived happily ever after because, despite being advertised for the next issue, she didn’t appear again…

The abrupt departure was followed by vintage reprint ‘Wonder Women of History: Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch’ (by Julius Schwartz & John Giunta from Wonder Woman #55, September/October 1952), detailing the life of a crusading social campaigner before Roth – possibly inked by Sheldon Moldoff – details how a flighty girl stops chasing husky lifeguards and finds a faithful adoring ‘Young Man for Me!’

‘The Day I Looked Like This!’ (by Dick Giordano, not Gene Colan) celebrates the day tomboy Judi finally starts gussying up like a proper girl and unhappily discovers she is the spitting image of a hot starlet…

Issue #53 opens with ‘A Heart Full of Pride!’ (Sachs) as naïve Mib proves to herself that, just like in school, determination and perseverance pay off in romance, before Mortimer details how standoffish Cynthia learns how she needs to play the field to win her man in ‘I Wanted My Share of Love’.

Romita describes the designs of Kathy who discovers the pitfalls of her frivolous lifestyle in ‘Everybody Likes Me… but Nobody Loves Me!’ before Draut illustrates the lead feature in #54 as ‘False Love!’ exposes a case of painfully mistaken intentions when a gang of kids all go out with the wrong partners… until bold Nan finally speaks her mind.

‘Love Against Time’ by Tony Abruzzo & Sachs shows schoolteacher Lisa that patience isn’t everything, after which ‘Too Much in Love!’(Romita) hints at a truly abusive relationship until Mandy’s rival tells her just why beloved Van acts that way…

‘An Empty Heart!’ (Arthur Peddy & Sachs or possibly Mortimer again) opens #55, revealing how insecure Mindy needs to date other boys just to be sure she can wait for beloved Sam to come back from the army, whilst Sachs’ ‘Heart-Shy’ Della takes took her own sweet time realising self-effacing Lon is the boy for her, after which the original and genuine Jay Scott Pike limns the tale of Janie who at last defies her snobbish, controlling mother and picks ‘Someone of My Own to Love’.

The romance dance concludes here with #56 and ‘A Visit to a Lost Love’ (actually Gene Colan): a bittersweet winter’s tale of paradise lost and regained, after which perpetually fighting Richy and Cindy realise ‘Believe it or Not… It’s Love’ (Abruzzo & Sachs), and ‘I’ll Make Him Love Me!’ (Sachs) show how scary Liz stalks Perry until she falls for her destined soul-mate Bud

As I’ve described, the listed credits are full of errors and whilst I’ve corrected those I know to be wrong I’ve also made a few guesses which might be just as wild and egregious (I’m still not unconvinced that many tales were simply rendered by a committee of artists working in desperate jam-sessions), so I can only apologise to all those it concerns, as well as fans who thrive on these details for the less-than-satisfactory job of celebrating the dedicated creators who worked on these all-but-forgotten items.

As for the tales themselves: they’re dated, outlandish and frequently borderline offensive in their treatment of women.

So were the times in which they were created, but that’s not an excuse.

However, there are many moments of true narrative brilliance to equal the astonishing quality of the artwork on show here, and by the end of this titanic torrid tome the tone of the turbulent times was definitely beginning to change as the Swinging part of the Sixties began and hippies, free love, flower power and female emancipation began scaring the pants off the old guard and reactionary traditionalists…

Not for wimps or sissies but certainly an unmissable temptation for all lovers of great comic art…
© 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Teen Titans: The Silver Age Volume Two


By Bob Haney, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Nick Cardy, Irv Novick, Bill Draut, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8517-3 (TPB)

The concept of kid hero teams was already ancient when the 1960s Batman TV show finally prompted DC to trust their big heroes’ assorted sidekicks with their own regular comic. The outcome was a fab, hip and groovy ensemble as dedicated to helping kids as they were to stamping out insidious evil.

The biggest difference between the creation of the Teen Titans and wartime groups such as The Young Allies, Newsboy Legion and Boy Commandos or even 1950s holdovers like The Little Wise Guys or Boys Ranch was quite simply the burgeoning phenomena of “The Teenager” as a discrete social and commercial force.

These were kids who could – and should – be allowed to do things themselves without constant adult help or supervision…

This quirkily eclectic trade paperback and eBook compilation re-presents the rapidly-evolving and ending swinging Sixties exploits from Teen Titans #12-24 plus a guest-shot from The Brave and the Bold #83 collectively spanning November/December 1967 to November/December 1967 1969.

With Bob Haney still scripting and the accent still heavily on fun, the action resumes here with twin contemporary hot-topics the Space-Race and Disc Jockeys informing whacky sci fi thriller ‘Large Trouble in Space-Ville!’ Illustrated by Irv Novick & Nick Cardy, the gang thwart aliens stealing Earth’s monuments after which Cardy flies solo for TT #13, producing a seasonal comics masterpiece with ‘The TT’s Swingin’ Christmas Carol!’, a stylish retelling that’s one of the most reprinted Titans tales ever.

At this time Cardy’s art really opened up as he grasped the experimental flavour of the times. The cover of #14, as well as the interior illustration for the grim psycho-thriller ‘Requiem for a Titan’, are unforgettable. The tale introduces the team’s first serious returning villain (Mad Mod does not count!): the Gargoyle is mesmerising and memorable, and although Cardy only inked Lee Elias’s pencils for #15’s eccentric tryst with the Hippie counter-culture, ‘Captain Rumble Blasts the Scene!’ is a genuinely unique crime-thriller from a time when nobody over age 25 understood what the youth of the world was doing…

Teen Titans #16 returned to more solid ground with superb, scene-setting thriller ‘The Dimensional Caper!’ as rapacious sinister aliens infiltrate a rural high-school (and how many times have you seen that plot used since this 1968 epic?).

Cardy’s art reached dizzying heights of innovation both here and in the next issue’s waggish jaunt to London ‘Holy Thimbles, It’s the Mad Mod!’ (alternatively and uninspiringly retitled ‘The Return of the Mad Mod’ here). The frantic criminal chase through Cool Britannia which unfolds even includes a command performance from Her Majesty, the Queen!

Next up is a fannish landmark – and hint of things to come – as novice writers Len Wein & Marv Wolfman got their big break with a tale introducing Russian superhero Starfire (latterly redubbed Red Star) which set them firmly on a path of teen super-team writing. ‘Eye of the Beholder’ is a cool cat burglar/super heist yarn set in trendy Stockholm, drawn with superb understatement by Bill Draut, and acting a perfect indicator of the changes in style and attitude that would become part of the Teen Titans and the comics industry itself in later decades…

Maintaining the experiments with youthful authorial voices, the entertainment continues with a beautifully realised comedy-thriller as boy Bowman Speedy joins the team full-time. ‘Teen Titans: Stepping Stones for a Giant Killer!’ (#19, January/February 1969) is by Mike Friedrich, with stunning art from Gil Kane & Wally Wood, and pits the team against youthful criminal mastermind Punch who plans to kill the Justice League of America and thinks a trial run against the junior division a smart idea…

TT #20 took that long-running plot-thread of extra-dimensional invaders and gave it a counterculture twist in ‘Titans Fit the Battle of Jericho’: a spectacular rollercoaster romp deftly blending teen revolt, organised crime, anti-capitalist activism, bug-eyed monsters and cunning extraterrestrial conquerors written by Neal Adams, pencilled by him and Sal Amendola and inked by brush-maestro Nick Cardy – one of the all-out prettiest illustration jobs of that decade.

Team-up vehicle The Brave and the Bold # 83 (April-May 1969) then took a radical turn as in ‘Punish Not my Evil Son!’, the Teen Titans (sans Aqualad, who was dropped to appear more prominently in Aquaman and because there just ain’t that much sub-sea malfeasance) try to save Bruce Wayne’s latest foster-son from his own inner demons in a tense thriller about trust and betrayal by Haney & Adams.

Symbolic super-teens Hawk and Dove briefly join the proceedings for #21’s ‘Citadel of Fear’ (Adams & Cardy), chasing smugglers, finding aliens and ramping up the surly teen rebellion quotient whilst moving the invaders story-arc towards a stunning conclusion. ‘Halfway to Holocaust’ is only half of #22; the abduction of Kid Flash and Robin leading to a cross-planar climax as Wonder Girl, Speedy and a radical new ally quash the invasion forever, but still leave enough room for a long overdue makeover in ‘The Origin of Wonder Girl’ by Wolfman, Kane & Cardy.

For years the series – and DC in general – had fudged the fact that the younger Amazon Princess was not actually human, a sidekick, or even a person, but rather an incarnation of the adult Wonder Woman as a child. As continuity backwriting strengthened its stranglehold on the industry, it was felt that the team-tottie needed a fuller background and this moving tale reveals that she is in fact a human foundling rescued by Wonder Woman and raised on Paradise Island where their super-science gave her all the powers of a true Amazon.

They even found her a name – Donna Troy – and an apartment, complete with hot roommate. All Donna has to do is sew herself a glitzy new costume…

Now thoroughly grounded in “reality”, the team jet south in #23’s fast-paced yarn ‘The Rock ‘n’ Roll Rogue’ (by Haney, Kane & Cardy), seeking to rescue musical rebel Sammy Soul from his grasping family and subsequently, his missing dad from Amazonian headhunters.

This volume, and an era of relative innocence, ends with ‘Skis of Death!’ by the same creative team which sees the adventurous quartet vacationing in the mountains and uncovering a scam to defraud Native Americans of their lands.

It’s a terrific old-style tale but with the next issue (and collected volume) the most radical change in DC’s cautious publishing history made Teen Titans a comic which had thrown out the rulebook…

Although perhaps somewhat dated in delivery, these tales were a liberating experience for kids when first released and remain a highly entertaining experience even now. They truly betokened a new empathy with independent youth and tried to address problems that were more relevant to and generated by that specific audience. That they are so captivating in execution is a wonderful bonus. This is absolute escapism and absolutely delightful.
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Merry Christmas, Boys and Girls!

In keeping with my self-imposed Holiday tradition here’s another pick of British Annuals selected not just for nostalgia’s sake but because it’s my house and my rules…

After decades when only American comics and memorabilia were considered collectable or worthy, the resurgence of interest in home-grown material means there’s lots more of this stuff available and if you’re lucky enough to stumble across a vintage volume or modern facsimile, I hope my words convince you to expand your comfort zone and try something old yet new…

Still topping my Xmas wish-list is further collections from fans and publishers who have begun to rescue this magical material from print limbo in (affordable) new collections…

Great writing and art is rotting in boxes and attics or the archives of publishing houses, when it needs to be back in the hands of readers once again. As the tastes of the reading public have never been broader and since a selective sampling of our popular heritage will always appeal to some part of the mass consumer base, let’s all continue rewarding publishers for their efforts and prove that there’s money to be made from these glorious examples of our communal childhood.

The Dandy Monster Comic (Dandy Annual 1939 Special Facsimile Edition)

By Many and various (DC Thomson & Co/Aurum Press)
ISBN: 978-1- 84513-217-0

This one’s actually older than me – at least in its original incarnation…

Until it folded and was 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 traditional British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under the sequential picture frames.

A colossal success, it was followed eight months later (on July 30th 1938) by The Beano and together they completely revolutionised the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read.

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

As WWII progressed, rationing of paper and ink forced the “children’s papers” into an alternating fortnightly schedule: on September 6th 1941 only The Dandy was published. A week later just The Beano appeared. They only returned to normal weekly editions on 30th July 1949…

As of this grand festive feast however that’s all in the future. Here, masterfully restored, is a treasure trove of joyous pranks and all-ages adventure to delight and enthral. It should be noted however, that all this buffoonery and jolly japery was crafted at a time socially far-removed from our own, and there are some terms and racial depictions that wouldn’t be given houseroom in today’s world. That was then, this is now, and that’s another thing you can be grateful for…

It all opens in classis DCT manner with the entire cast chowing down to a monumental feast – a staple reward of those leaner, impoverished times – before James Crichton’s ‘Korky the Cat’ kicks things off with spot of calamitous dockside fishing after which ‘Jimmy and his Grockle’ – a kind of Doberman dragon – foils a dognapping ring. Illustrated by James Clark, the strip was recycled from prose “Boys Paper” The Rover (where it was “Jimmy Johnson’s Grockle” in 1932).

Most pages come with riddles, jokes or single panel gags and many of the strips are delivered in the signature two colour process that typifies British Annuals and as usual none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists are credited. As always, I’ve offered a best guess as to whom we should thank, and of course I would be so very happy if anybody could confirm or deny my suppositions…

The prolific Allan Morley then details how ‘Keyhole Kate’ falls foul of a burglar and cowboy superman ‘Desperate Dan’ – by indisputable key man Dudley D. Watkins – braves harsh winter clime, before Morley’s ‘Freddy the Fearless Fly’ thwarts a human bully and thrashes a predatory spider.

These colossal tomes were all about variety and value for money and next up is a heavily-illustrated prose story enthrallingly detailing the feudal adventure of young shepherd-boy Gingan’s dragon-slaying quest with magical weapon ‘The Sword of Crad’ after which wandering tramp ‘Barney Boko’ comes a-cropper after defacing public property in a wordless strip from John R. Mason.

As depicted by the superb Eric Roberts, ‘Podge’s Frame-Up’ sees the junior entrepreneur confusing art galleries with glaziers whilst nattily-dressed ‘Archie the Ape’ deals with a hungry lion and ‘Smarty Grandpa’ (by Watkins and a double for strip veteran Pa Broon) has a racially-charged moment at a minstrel show before anthropomorphic tortoise ‘Dan the Night-watchman’ confronts a gang of thieving rats…

‘The Boy that Beat the Band’ is another prose drama (illustrated by Fred Sturrock?) with a young orphan acrobat saving a disabled boy and rewarded with his heart’s desire – a job – after which Jack Glass’ text-block and pic strip ‘The Daring Deeds of Buck Wilson’ sees the singing cowboy battle kidnappers before the animal antics in ‘Bamboo Town’ see daring duo Bongo and Pongo organise a therapeutic gymnasium in a typically busy romp limned by Charlie Gordon.

Sam Fair’s ‘Wig and Wam the Skookum Kids’ were prank-playing Red Indian lads who here trick the Big Chief into baiting a bear before ‘Flippy the Sea Serpent’ – by Frank Minnitt – settles the hash of a snooty octopus whilst Smarty Grandpa fails to steal a pie…

Boneless Bill was a long-running but sadly anonymous strip starring an affable contortionist. Here he astounds an army recruiting officer before ‘Marmaduke Mean the Miser’ pays painfully for stealing a little lad’s Dandy comic before ‘Hungry Horace’ (Morley) finds his appetite briefly diminished after illicitly tapping the wrong barrel and a cunning old codger prevents a mugging in ‘Old Beaver’s Brainwaves’.

‘Wee Tusky’ was long-running prose feature and here the baby elephant’s propensity for trouble leads to deadly danger but secures him a human friend in the end, after which Roberts’ ‘Helpful Henry’ adjusts seating arrangements despite his history of calamitous consequences just as pompous (idiot) detective ‘Trackem Down’ botches another “case”…

Korky the Cat masters the fundamentals of golf whilst Jimmy and his Grockle find fun – and bananas – at the docks, after which Keyhole Kate’s snooping drenches a helpful bystander and Desperate Dan proves that building sites can be dangerous places… at least for other people…

After another get-rich-quick scheme from Podge, sausage-snaffling ‘Dipper the Dodger’ falls foul of the law. Probably drawn by James Jewell, Dipper is a dead ringer for Beano and The People’s Journal cartoon stalwart Wee Peem (“He’s a Proper Scream”), so there might have been some cross-pollination back then.

Freddy the Fearless Fly turns arsonist to escape a spider’s trap before Helpful Henry learns the perils of electricity, after which Jimmy Denton tries rodeo riding to save the ranch with the invaluable assistance of ‘White Star’s Star Turn’ in a prose thriller that leads seamlessly to Podge setting up his own postal service before ‘Bobby, the Boy Scout’ goes too far in his scheme to help a hobo…

Boneless Bill artfully apprehends a thief and Archie the Ape find busking hazardous to health, whilst Hungry Horace loses his lunch to a quick-witted sprinter, but savvy navies ‘Nick & Nack’ find a smart way to keep the cops from confiscating their grub.

Interfering busybodies Bobby, the Boy Scout and Helpful Henry both get it wrong again, after which we head west to see Wig and Wam the Skookum Kids prank their dad yet again even as Desperate Dan falls asleep in the park but still causes chaos

‘Willing Willie and his Pa’ experience decorating woes before we revisit the days of the Raj in prose thriller ‘Pam the Peace-Maker’ wherein a little girl prevents an outbreak of war after which Helpful Henry confuses radio and electric irons and Korky triumphs over a tiger when he goes on safari.

Jimmy and his Grockle clash violently with shopkeepers and Old Beaver’s Brainwaves sees the gamey geezer getting back at the thug who pinched his job after which itinerant Barney Boko pays through the nose for watching football without a ticket.

Dipper the Dodger meets a theatrical strongman and the Bamboo-Town boys convene a swimming class that would certainly have benefitted ‘Sandy Starfish, the Shipwrecked Sailor’ before Fred Sturrock illustrates a prose battle of wits between stubborn old men in ‘The House that Jack the Joker Built’.

More musical mayhem from Archie the Ape precedes Hungry Horace outwitting municipal bylaws in search of a big scoff, even as Podge dupes another crowd of sensation hungry oafs and Helpful Henry wrecks a house before it’s even built: a trick even Desperate Dan can’t match, even if he wasn’t so thirsty…

Mini vignettes for Podge, Barney Boko and Boneless Bill lead into a riotous schoolboy romp in prose – probably illustrated by George Ramsbottom – that I want you to be grown up about. ‘Invisible Dick Spoofs the Spoofer’ is a smart tale from a venerable feature that ran in The Rover for years and when he turns the tables on a cruel stage magician humiliating his school chums you should be proud and not titter or snigger…

A rapid-fire tranche of cartoon antics, starring Bobby the Boy Scout, Podge, Marmaduke Mean the Miser, Flippy the Sea Serpent, Boneless Bill and Willing Willie and his Pa, lead us to another text tale as animal-raised orphan ‘Buffalo Boy’ discovers toffee and begins his slow march back to civilisation…

From here it’s cartoon strip all the way with Korky, Keyhole Kate, Freddy the Fearless Fly, Helpful Henry, Wig and Wam the Skookum Kids, Smarty Grandpa and Dipper the Dodger all doing what they do best before Bamboo-Town brings down the curtain as Bongo and Pongo build an all-animal skating rink…

A marvel of nostalgia and timeless comics wonder, the true magic of this facsimile edition 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 for a half-day to run amok once again.

The DANDY is a trademark of and © D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. 2006. Associated characters, text and artwork © D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. 2006. All rights reserved.

Valiant Annual 1968

By Many & various (Fleetway)
No ISBN

From the late 1950s and increasingly through the 1960s, Scotland’s DC Thomson steadily overtook their London-based competitors – monolithic comics publishing giant Amalgamated Press.

Created by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the twentieth century, AP perpetually sought to regain lost ground, and the sheer variety of material the southerners unleashed as commercial countermeasures offered incredible vistas in adventure and – thanks to the defection of Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid to the enemy – eventually found a wealth of anarchic comedy material to challenge the likes of the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and their unruly ilk.

During the latter end of that period the Batman TV show sent the entire world superhero-crazy. Amalgamated had almost finished absorbing all its other rivals such as The Eagle’s Hulton Press to form Fleetway/Odhams/IPC and were about to incorporate American superheroes into their heady brew of weekly thrills.

Once the biggest player in children’s comics, Amalgamated had stayed at the forefront of sales by latching onto every fad: keeping their material contemporary, if not strictly fresh. The all-consuming company began reprinting the early successes of Marvel comics for a few years; feeding on the growing fashion for US style adventure which had largely supplanted the rather tired True-Blue Brit style of Dan Dare or DC Thompson’s Wolf of Kabul.

Even though sales of all British comics were drastically declining, the 1960s were a period of intense and impressive innovation with publishers embracing new sensibilities; constantly trying new types of character and tales. At this time Valiant and its stable-mate Lion were the Boys’ Adventure big guns (although nothing could touch DC Thomson’s Beano and Dandy in the comedy arena).

Valiant was conceived as a “Boys’ Paper” in 1962 as the indigenous comics industry struggled to cope with a sudden importation of brash, flashy, full-colour comics from America. A weekly anthology concentrating on adventure features and offering a constantly changing arena of action, the magazine was the company’s most successful title for over a decade: absorbing many less successful periodicals between its launch and eventual amalgamation into new-styled, hugely popular Battle Picture Weekly in 1976.

There were 21 Annuals between 1964 to 1985, combining original strips with prose stories; sports, science and general interest features; short humour strips and – increasingly from the 1970s onwards – reformatted reprints from IPC/Fleetway’s vast back catalogue.

From their creative heyday (this book would have been on sale from the autumn of 1967) and sporting a gripping Don Lawrence cover, the all-boys excitement begins with a frontispiece spread of medal-winning British hero war heroes: a typical illustrated historical feature of the era.

The drama continues with a fictionalised full-colour tale of smugglers and the development of the customs men in ‘Contraband’ before ‘Kelly’s Eye’ – sublimely painted by Carlos Cruz (I think) – sees the indestructible adventurer saving beleaguered Coroba from revolutionaries and radioactive doom.

Kelly’s Eye featured ordinary, thoroughly decent chap Tim Kelly who came into possession of the mystical “Eye of Zoltec”: a fist-sized gem that kept him free from all harm… as long as held on to it.

You won’t be surprised to discover that, due to the demands of weekly boys’ adventures, Tim lost, dropped, misplaced and was nefariously deprived of that infernal talisman pretty darned often – and always at the most inopportune moment…

The moody and compelling artwork of Argentinean Francisco Solano Lopez was the prime asset of this series, with Tom Tully and Scott Goodall the usual scripters for this little gem of a series.

Resorting to economical monochrome, we come to ‘The House of Dolmann’. The weekly strip was a curious and inexplicably absorbing blend of super-spy and crime-buster strip from Tully and utterly wonderful master illustrator Eric Bradbury. Dolman’s cover was as a shabby ventriloquist (I digress, but an awful lot of “our” heroes were tatty and unkempt – we had “Grunge” down pat decades before the Americans made a profit out of it!) who designed and constructed an army of specialised robots which he disguised as his puppets.

Using these as his shock-troops, the enigmatic Dolman waged a dark and crazy war against the forces of evil…

Here, he and his hand-crafted squad hunted a scientific maniac pulling satellites out of the sky with a super-magnet.

The first photo/fact feature of the book is a thinly-disguised infomercial for a popular outdoor activity charity, propounding readers get ‘Outward Bound – to Adventure’ after which ‘The Steel Claw’ battles a madman and his gang determined to destroy Britain’s navy (illustrated, it seems to me, by Massimo Belardinelli).

One of the most fondly-remembered British strips of all time, the Steel Claw, ran from 1962- 1973 with Jesús Blasco and his small family studio enthralling the nation’s children through the breakneck adventures of scientist, adventurer, spy and even costumed superhero Louis Crandell. Initially written by novelist Ken Bulmer, the majority of the character’s career was scripted by Tully. Crandall had an artificial hand packed with gimmicks and possessed the disquieting ability to turn invisible whenever he was electrocuted…

‘The Astounding Jason Hyde’ was a series that ran in prose form, written by Barrington J. Bayley with spot illos from Bradbury. Hyde was a blind telepath with an “X-Ray mind” who here tracks missing potholers to an unsuspected cave civilisation populated by brutes and monsters…

After all that action and suspense it’s past time for some light relief and a brace of comedy capers follows: frenetic trend-chasers and backyard inventors ‘The Nutts’ cause carnage with their climate-challenging antics in a superb extended yarn from Spanish cartoonist Ángel Nadal whilst the astoundingly slick and wonderful ‘Sporty’ by Reg (Sporting Sam) Wootton learns a lesson about truth in advertising…

Appalling racist by today’s standards, ‘Captain Hurricane’ was a hugely popular strip for its entire decades-long run. Written by Scott Goodall or Jon Rose, he was originally drawn by R. Charles Roylance, but I think it’s either Jack Pamby or Fred T. Holmes limning this bizarre yarn as – thanks to skiving batman Maggot Malone – the marines are forced to fight their way through Japanese-controlled Malayan jungles to Singapore, armed with nothing but cricket equipment……

Brilliant Reg Parlett’s ‘The Crows’ see the youngest corvid cavorting with bats before – in scintillating pink duo-tones – ‘The Wild Wonders’ (Mike Western and probably Tully on script) offer comedic drama capers. Here Rick and Charlie Wilde and their long-suffering guardian Mike Flynn face ski-slope thrills with a side-order of kidnap and skulduggery… Shipwrecked on remote Worrag Island in the Hebrides, two toddlers were raised by animals and survived to become almost superhuman specimens. When rescued by Olympic swimmer Mike they became sporting sensations able to out-compete most adult athletes in any discipline. They could also talk to animals…

‘Tatty-Mane, King of the Jungle’ offers raucous animal antics as the regal rogue seeks to update his look, but the artist remains a mystery to me. Likely candidates include Nadal or Martz Schmidt (suggested by Steve Holland – you really should read his Bear Alley blog)…

A ‘Sporting Roundabout’ of facts lead into a prose tale of exploration and treasure hunting – illustrated by Weston – with the good guys using an ambulatory super-jeep dubbed ‘The Jungle Walker’ after which venerable schoolboy comedy property ‘Billy Bunter’ quits school and heads out to sea, encountering spies in a quirky yarn possibly illustrated by Parlett but it seems reminiscent of Frank Minnitt to me…

‘Legge’s Eleven’ was a typical example of the humorous freak-show football strip. Lanky player-manager Ted Legge took over failing Rockley Rangers and fields a team of misfits and individualists he struggles to make work together. Here the lads are trapped in a spiral of superstition and missing mascots in the run-up to a crucial international second leg…

Following ‘The Crows’ fowling up a wildlife film, ‘Operation “Rescue”’ (by Mike White?) recreates the 1957 efforts to save Royal Army Air Servicemen lost in the jungles outside Kuala Lumpur before a double dose of ‘“Horse” Laughs’ gags segues into a photo-packed footballing essay on ‘Great Moments with Great Clubs’.

Back in comics, ‘Captain Hurricane’ and crew are in the Western Desert in 1940, battling Italian infantry even as Maggot Malone spreads disorder with his latest fad: weightlifting…

‘Sporty’ disastrously discovers Squash and ‘The Nutts’ cause carnage on a film set before ‘Billy Bunter’s enforced diet creates carnage for the entire county after which another ‘Sporting Roundabout’ leads to a prose thriller about a multi-talented circus performer battling crooks attempting to fix his championship boxing match in ‘The Flying Fighter’.

‘Gabby McGlew – his yarns aren’t true’ is an example of recycled Buster strip Barney Bluffer by Nadal with boastful braggart channelling his inner Baran Munchausen after which photo-history feature ‘A Champion Champion’ details the career and achievements of Henry Cooper before everything wraps up with what I’m sure is another re-tread, even if I can’t find out where.

‘No. 13 Grimm Street’ sees Fleet Street reporter “Hack” Mackenzie struggling to solve a spree of daring art robberies and a house that seems to vanish at will: the answer to both mysteries leads to madness and death…

Eclectic, wide-ranging and always of majestically high quality, this blend of fact, fiction, fun and thrills is a splendid evocation of lost days of joy and wonder. We may not be making books like this anymore but at least they’re still relatively easy to track down. Of course, what’s really needed is for some sagacious publisher to start re-issuing them…
© Fleetway Publications Ltd., 1967

Star Trek Annual 1976

By John David Warner, Allan Moniz, Alberto Giolitti & various (World Distributors)
SBN: 7235-0325-7

British Comics have always fed heavily on other media and as television grew during the 1960s – especially the area of children’s shows and cartoons – those programmes increasingly became a staple source for the Seasonal Annual market. There would be a profusion of stories and strips targeting not readers but young viewers and more and more often the stars would be American not British.

Much of this stuff wouldn’t even be as popular in the USA as here, so whatever comic licenses existed usually didn’t provide enough material to fill a hardback volume ranging anywhere from 64 to 160 pages. Thus, many Annuals such as Daktari, Champion the Wonder Horse, Lone Ranger and a host of others required original material or, as a last resort, similarly-themed or related strips.

This book was produced in a non-standard UK format, with limited but full-colour for both the American comics reprints and the remainder: brief prose pieces, puzzles, games and fact-features on related themes. As for the writers and artists of the originated material your guess is, sadly, as good as or better than mine, but almost certainly generated by the wonderful Mick Anglo’s publishing/packaging company Gower Studios (these yearly slices of screen-to-page magic were an intrinsic part of growing up in Britain for generations and still occur every year with only the stars/celebrity/shows changing, not the package.

Star Trek launched in the USA on September 8th 1966, running until June 3rd 1969: three seasons comprising 79 episodes. A moderate success, the show only really achieved its stellar popularity after going into syndication; appearing in all American local TV regions perpetually throughout the 1970s and beyond.

It was also sold all over the world, popping up seemingly everywhere and developing a fanatically devoted fanbase.

Comicbook franchising specialist Gold Key produced a series which ran for almost a decade beyond the show’s cancellation. Initially these were controversially quite dissimilar from the screen iteration, but by the time of the tales in this sturdy Holidays hardback (reprinting Gold Key’s Star Trek issues #27and #30 from November 1974 and May 1975), quibbling fans had little to moan about and a great deal to cheer as the series was the only source of new adventures starring the beloved crew of the Starship Enterprise.

John David Warner scripted ‘Ice Journey’ and it was illustrated by the ever-amazing Alberto Giolitti. Here the Enterprise is conducting a highly-suspect population survey on sub-arctic world Floe I which soon drops Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and evolutionary specialist Dr. Krisp into the middle of a eugenics-fuelled race war…

Dividing the tale are a brace of UK generated features a compendium of ‘Star Facts’ offering seven salient snippets of astronomical amazement and a ‘Cosmic Crossword’ to challenge your knowledge of the infinite unknown.

Following the conclusion of ‘Ice Journey’, there’s a board game to play at ‘Warp Factor Eight’ before a second serving of ‘Star Facts’ ushers in another comics adventure.

Bisected by an illustrated glossary of ‘Space Age Vocabulary’, Death of a Star’ (by Allan Moniz & Giolitti) comes from Star Trek #30 and finds Enterprise on site to observe a star going nova. The ship is subsequently catapulted into calamity as sensors pick up a planet full of life-readings where none should be. Moving swiftly to evacuate the endangered beings, the crew are astonished to discover only one creature: an old woman who claims to be the dying sun…

Thanks to the vagaries of image licensing, one thing you won’t find herein is a single photograph of any cast member, but there are plenty of nostalgia-tinged, all-ages sci fi thrills and dashing derring-do to delight not just TV devotees and comics fans but also any reader in search of a pictorially powerful grand adventure.
© MCMLX, MCMLXI, MCMLXXII, MCMLXXV Paramount Pictures Corporation.
(These days Star Trek and related marks are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc.) All Rights Reserve

Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman the Deluxe Edition


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Fred Guardineer, Don Cameron, Mort Weisinger, Jerry Coleman, Otto Binder, Edmond Hamilton, Len Wein, Cary Bates, Marv Wolfman, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Joe Kelly, Grant Morrison, Paul Levitz, Mort Meskin, Ed Dobrotka, Fred Ray, Wayne Boring, Al Plastino, Jim Mooney, Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Dick Giordano, Kerry Gammill, Bob McLeod, Ben Oliver, Neal Adams plus Many & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7887-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: the Ultimate Stocking Stuffer… 9/10

It’s a fact (if such mythological concepts still exist): the American comicbook industry would be utterly unrecognisable without the invention of Superman. His unprecedented adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation quite literally gave birth to a genre if not an actual art form.

Within three years of his June 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of eye-popping action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early Man of Steel had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, whimsical comedy and, once the war in Europe and the East embroiled America, patriotic relevance.

In comicbook terms at least Superman is master of the world, having utterly changed the shape of a fledgling industry and modern entertainment in general. There have been newspaper strips, radio and TV shows, cartoons games, toys, merchandise and blockbusting movies. Everyone on Earth gets a picture in their heads when they hear the name.

It all started with Action Comics #1 and this bold compilation celebrates the magic, not just with the now-traditional re-runs of classic Superman tales, but with informative articles and fascinating glimpses of some of the other characters who shared the title with him.

Available as a bonanza hardback and in various digital formats, this epic album offers material from Action Comics #0, 1, 2, 42, 64, 241, 242, 252, 285, 286, 309, 419, 484, 554, 584, 655, 662 and 800, and opens with an Introduction by Paul Levitz, a fond Foreword from Laura Siegel Larson and Jules Feiffer’s scene-setting, context-creating essay ‘The Beginning’ before the immortal wonderment commences…

Most of the early tales were untitled, but for everyone’s convenience have been given descriptive appellations by the editors. Thus, after that unmistakeable, iconic cover and a single page describing the foundling’s escape from exploding Planet Krypton (also explaining his astonishing powers in nine panels), with absolutely no preamble ‘The Coming of Superman’, by Jerry Seigel & Joe Shuster introduces a costumed crusader – masquerading by day as reporter Clark Kent – averting numerous tragedies.

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

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

To say the editors were amazed by Superman’s popularity was an understatement. They had their money bet on a knock-off Mandrake the Magician crafted by veteran cartoonist Fred Guardineer. Zatara: Master Magician’s mystic/illusion powers were fully demonstrated in ‘The Mystery of the Freight Train Robberies’ but it’s still a run-of-the-mill and rather sedate affair when compared to the bombastic stunts of the Caped Kryptonian.

Next up is a sneak peek at ‘The Ashcans’: unused and alternative illustrations that didn’t make that crucial first cut after which Action #2 (with a Leo O’Mealia generic adventure cover) supplies the conclusion of Superman’s first case as ‘Revolution in San Monte’ finds the mercurial mystery-man travelling to the war-zone before spectacularly dampening down the hostilities already in progress…

‘The Times’ by Tom DeHaven deconstructs the mythology of the title before Fred Ray’s Superman cover (from November 194)1 introduces Action #42’s ‘The Origin of the Vigilante’ by Mort Weisinger & the amazing Mort Meskin. This spectacular western-themed hero-romp proves that the anthology title had plenty of other captivating characters to enchant audiences…

Issue #64 debuted ‘The Terrible Toyman’ (Don Cameron, Ed Dobrotka & George Roussos), wherein an elderly inventor of children’s novelties and knick-knacks conducts a spectacular campaign of high-profile and potentially murderous robberies, with Lois as his unwilling muse and accessory, and is followed by a little tale of serendipity as Marv Wolfman harks back to his early days and explains ‘How I Saved Superman’

That’s followed by a genuine lost treasure as ‘Too Many Heroes’ offers an unpublished 1940s Superman tale – credited to Siegel & Shuster – that was rescued from destruction and obscurity. What a gift!

David Hajdu then reveals the allure of the alter ego in ‘Clark Kent, Reporter’ after which we jump to June 1958 and the beginning of the Silver Age. Action Comics #241 cover-featured ‘The Key to Fort Superman’: a fascinating and clever puzzle-play guest-featuring Batman. Scripted by Jerry Coleman with art from Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye, here an impossible intruder vexes the Man of Steel in his most sacrosanct sanctuary…

One month later Otto Binder & Al Plastino introduced both the greatest new villain and most expansive new character concept the series had seen in years. ‘The Super-Duel in Space’ saw evil alien scientist Brainiac attempt to add Metropolis to his collection of miniaturised cities in bottles.

As well as a titanic tussle in its own right, this tale completely changed the mythology of the Man of Steel: introducing Kandor, a city full of Kryptonians who had escaped the planet’s destruction when Brainiac captured them. Although Superman rescued his fellow survivors, the new villain escaped to strike again, and it would be years before the hero could restore the Kandorians to their true size.

After a few intriguing test-runs, a future star of the ever-expanding Superman universe launched in Action Comics #252. In ‘The Supergirl from Krypton!’ (May 1959), Superman discovers he has a living relative. Cousin Kara Zor-El had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, hurled intact into space when the planet exploded. Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris, and her dying parents, observing Earth through their scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they perished.

Landing on Earth, she met Superman and he created the cover-identity of Linda Lee, hiding her in an orphanage in small town Midvale so that she could master her new powers in secrecy and safety.

‘Endurance’ by Larry Tye discusses longevity and political merit before we return to Superman’s official Action Comics co-star…

Hogging the cover (by Super-stalwarts Curt Swan & George Klein) the simpler times of practicing in secret ended as a big change in the Maid of Might’s status occurred. When her new adoptive parents learn of their new daughter’s true origins, Superman allows cousin Kara to announce her existence to the world in 2-part saga ‘The World’s Greatest Heroine!’ (#285 February 1962) and ‘The Infinite Monster!’ (#286, March 196). Here Jerry Siegel & Jim Mooney detail how Supergirl becomes the darling of the universe: openly saving planet Earth and finally getting all the credit for it.

/telethon to pose a tricky puzzler in the hoary old secret-identity save plot. Written by Edmond Hamilton and illustrated by Swan & Klein, it sets up a scene where the Man of Tomorrow can use none of his usual tricks to be both Superman and Clark simultaneously, then delivers a truly shocking and utterly era-appropriate solution…

Hurtling forward to December 1972 and Action #419 we meet a surprisingly successful back-up feature created by Len Wein, Carmine Infantino & Dick Giordano. Debuting in‘The Assassin-Express Contract!’ Christopher Chance is the Human Target: hiring himself out to impersonate endangered individuals such as the businessman “accidentally” sitting in the sights of a hitman, thanks to a disgruntled employee dialling a wrong number…

From a period where Golden Age stories where assumed to have occurred on parallel world Earth-Two, ‘Superman Takes a Wife’ first appeared in 40th Anniversary issue #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…

‘If Superman Didn’t Exist’ by Marv Wolfman & Gil Kane comes from Action #554 (April 1984) and posits an alien-invaded Earth deprived of heroes until two kids with big dreams invent one…

In 1985 DC Comics rationalised, reconstructed and reinvigorated their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths. They then used the event to regenerate their key properties at the same time. The biggest gun they had was Superman and it’s hard to argue that the change was not before time.

The big guy was in a bit of a slump, but he’d weathered those before. So how could a root and branch retooling be anything but a pathetic marketing ploy that would alienate the real fans for a few fly-by-night Johnny-come-latelies who would jump ship as soon as the next fad surfaced? This new Superman was going to suck…

He didn’t.

The public furore began with all DC’s Superman titles being “cancelled” (actually suspended) for three months, and yes, that did make the real-world media sit-up and take notice of the character everybody thought they knew for the first time in decades. However, there was method in this seeming corporate madness.

The missing mainstays were replaced by a 6-part miniseries running from October to December 1986. Entitled Man of Steel it was written and drawn by Marvel’s mainstream superstar John Byrne and inked by venerated veteran Dick Giordano.

The bold manoeuvre was a huge and instant success and the retuned Superman titles all came storming back with the accent on breakneck pace and action. Action Comics #584 had a January 1987 cover-date and featured a team-up with the Teen Titans as the young heroes had to battle an out-of-control hero with a ‘Squatter’ in his head…

Following a gentle cartoon “roasting” by Gene Luen Yang in ‘Supersquare’, ‘Ma Kent’s Photo Album’ (by Roger Stern, Kerry Gammill & Dennis Janke from #655, July 1990) offers some insights into growing up different before a major turning point began.

As the years passed Lois Lane and Clark gradually grew beyond professionalism into a work romance but the hero had always kept his greatest secret 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)…

Action #800 (April 2003) then offers a reverential examination of the ongoing myth thus far as ‘A Hero’s Journey’ combines a Joe Kelly script with art from Pasqual Ferry, Duncan Rouleau, Alex Ross, Tony Harris, Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave Bullock, Ed McGuiness, J.H. Williams III, Dan Jurgens, Klaus Janson, Killian Plunkett, Jim Lee, Tim Sale, Lee Bermejo, Cam Smith, Marlo Alquiza & Scott Hanna: cherry-picking unmissable moments from a life well lived…

In 2011 DC again rebooted their entire line and Superman was reimagined once more. ‘The Boy Who Stole Superman’s Cape’ by Grant Morrison & Ben Oliver comes from Action Comics #0, (November 2012) and focusses on a decidedly blue-collar champion just learning the game and painfully aware of the consequences if he makes a mistake…

Wrapping up the celebrations in April 2018’s ‘The Game’ by Levitz & Neal Adams wherein the ultimate enemies Superman and Luthor face off for another round in their never-ending battle…

Before the curtain comes down, though there’s still more unbridled joy and rekindled memories as ‘Cover Highlights’ brings a selection of stunning examples from the Golden, Silver, Bronze, Dark and Modern ages of the Man of Tomorrow, as well as the very best of Action Comics ‘Now’.

Should you be of a scholarly or just plain reverential mood you can then study the copious ‘Biographies’ section so you know who to thank…

Exciting, epochal and unmissable, this is book for all fans of superhero stories.
© 1938, 1941, 1943, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1963, 1972, 1978, 1984, 1986, 1990, 1991, 2003, 2012, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Golden Age volume 5


By Bill Finger, Don Cameron, Ruth “Bunny” Lyon Kaufman, Horace L. Gold, Joseph Greene, Joe Samachson, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Dick Sprang, Jack Burnley, Ray Burnley, Fred Ray, Norman Fallon & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8461-9 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timely and Evergreen Family Adventure… 10/10

Debuting a year after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (and latterly Robin, the Boy Wonder) confirmed DC/National Comics as the market frontrunner and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

Having established the parameters of the metahuman with their Man of Steel, the physical mortal perfection and dashing derring-do of the strictly-human Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all other four-colour crime-busters were judged.

Batman: The Golden Age is a series of paperback feasts (there are also weightier, pricier, more capacious hardback Omnibus editions available, and digital iterations too) re-presenting the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

Presented in original publishing release order, the tomes trace the character’s growth into the icon who would inspire so many and develop the resilience needed to survive the stifling cultural vicissitudes that coming decades would inflict upon him and his partner, Robin.

Re-presenting a glorious and astounding treasure-trove of cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #75-81, Batman #16-20 plus contemporary companion tales from World’s Finest Comics #10-11: this book covers groundbreaking escapades from April/May 1943 to December/January 1944: as the Dynamic Duo continually develop and storm ahead of all competition.

I’m certain it’s no coincidence that many of these Golden Age treasures are also some of the best and most reprinted tales in the Batman canon. With chief writers Bill Finger and Don Cameron at a peak of creativity and production, everybody on the Home Front was keen to do their bit – even if that was simply making kids of all ages forget their troubles for a brief while. These tales were crafted just as the dark tide was turning and an odour of hopeful optimism was creeping into the escapist, crime-busting yarns – and especially the stunning covers – seen here in the work of Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Bob Kane Jack Burnley, Dick Sprang, Fred Ray and Stan Kaye…

The supplemental writers all pushed the boundaries of the adventure medium whilst graphic genius Sprang began to slowly supersede Kane and Burnley: making the feature uniquely his own while keeping the Dynamic Duo at the forefront of the vast army of superhero successes.

War always stimulates creativity and advancement and these sublime adventures of Batman and Robin more than prove that axiom as the growing band of creators responsible for producing myriad adventures of the Dark Knight hit an artistic peak which only stellar stable-mate Superman and Fawcett’s Captain Marvel were able to equal or even approach.

with

The compelling dramas open with the landmark Batman #16 (cover-dated April/May 1943) and one of three tales by Cameron. ‘The Joker Reforms!’ (Kane, Robinson & Roussos art) sees the Clown Prince suffer a blow to the head and enjoy a complete personality shift… but not for long…, after which Ruth “Bunny Lyons” Kaufman scripted a bold and fascinating Black Market milk caper in ‘The Grade A Crimes!’ for Ray & Jack Burney to dynamically delineate.

‘The Adventure of the Branded Tree’ (Cameron and the Burnleys) has the Gotham Gangbusters heading to lumberjack country for a vacation to become embroiled in big city banditry before the issue wraps up with hilarious thriller-comedy ‘Here Comes Alfred!’ (Cameron, Kane, Robinson & Roussos) which foists a rotund, unwelcome and staggeringly faux-English manservant upon the Masked Manhunters to finally complete the classic core cast of the series in a brilliantly fast-paced spy-drama with loads of laughs and buckets of tension…

Detective Comics #75 (May 1943) introduces a new aristocrat of crime in pompous popinjay ‘The Robber Baron!’ (Cameron, Jack Burnley & Roussos) before the Joker resurfaces in #76 to ‘Slay ‘em With Flowers’: a graphic chiller by Horace L. Gold, Robinson & Roussos.

Next up is Batman #17 which opens with the gloriously human story of B. Boswell Brown: a lonely, self-important old man who claims to be ‘The Batman’s Biographer!’ Unfortunately, ruthless robber The Conjurer gives the claim far more credence than most in a tense thriller by Cameron, Kane, Robinson & Roussos…

Counterbalancing the dark whimsy is ‘The Penguin Goes A-Hunting’ (Cameron, Jack & Ray Burnley): a wild romp wherein the Perfidious Popinjay undertakes a hubris-fuelled crime-spree after being left off a “Batman’s Most Dangerous Foes” list.

The same creative team concocted ‘Rogues Pageant!’ wherein murderous thieves in Western city Santo Pablo inexplicably disrupt the towns historical Anniversary celebrations after which Joe Greene, Kane & Robinson detail the Dynamic Duo’s brutal battle with a deadly gang of maritime marauders in the appealing ‘Adventure of the Vitamin Vandals!’

The creation of Superman propelled National Comics to the forefront of their fledgling industry and in 1939 the company was licensed to produce a commemorative comicbook celebrating the start of the New York World’s Fair, with the Man of Tomorrow prominently featured among the four-colour stars of the appropriately titled New York World’s Fair Comics.

A year later, following the birth of Batman and Robin, National combined Dark Knight, Boy Wonder and Action Ace on the cover of the follow-up New York World’s Fair 1940.The spectacular 96-page anthology was a tremendous success and the oversized bonanza format was established, becoming Spring 1941’s World’s Best Comics#1, before finally settling on the now-legendary title World’s Finest Comics from the second issue, beginning a stellar 45-year run which only ended as part of the massive clear-out and de-cluttering exercise that was Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Until 1954 and the swingeing axe-blows of rising print costs, the only place Superman and Batman ever met was on the stunning covers by the likes of Burnley, Fred Ray and others. Between those sturdy card covers, the heroes maintained a strict non-collaboration policy.

Here World’s Finest Comics #10 (Summer 1943) features Finger, Robinson & Roussos’ ‘The Man with the Camera Eyes’: a gripping battle of wits between the Gotham Guardians and a crafty crook with an eidetic memory, before Finger, Kane & Roussos introduce a fascinating new wrinkle to villainy with the conflicted doctor who operates ‘The Crime Clinic’ in Detective #77. Crime Surgeon Matthew Thorne would return many times over the coming decades…

Issue #78 (August 1943) pushes the patriotic agenda with ‘The Bond Wagon’ (Joseph Greene, Burnley & Roussos) as Robin’s efforts to raise war funds through a parade of historical look-alikes is targeted by Nazi spies and sympathisers, after which Batman #18 starts with a spectacular, visually stunning crime-caper wherein the Gotham Gangbusters clash again with rascally rotund rogues Tweedledum and Tweedledee whilst solving ‘The Secret of Hunter’s Inn!’ (Samachson & Robinson).

‘Robin Studies his Lessons!’ (Samachson, Kane & Robinson) sees the Boy Wonder grounded from all crime-busting duties until his school work improves – even if it means Batman dying for want of his astounding assistance!

Bill Finger and the Burnley bros craft ‘The Good Samaritan Cops’: another brilliantly absorbing human interest drama focused on the tense but unglamorous work of the Police Emergency Squad before the action culminates in a shocking and powerful final engagement for manic physician and felonious mastermind Matthew Thorne. ‘The Crime Surgeon!’ (Finger, Kane & Robinson) here tries his deft and devilish hand at masterminding other crooks’ capers…

Over in Detective Comics #79 ‘Destiny’s Auction’ – Cameron & Robinson – offers another sterling moving melodrama as a fortune teller’s prognostications lead to fame, fortune and deadly danger for a failed actress, has-been actor and superstitious gangster…

World’s Finest Comics #11’s Batman episode reveals ‘A Thief in Time!’ (Finger & Robinson inked by Fred Ray), pitting our heroes against future-felon Rob Callender, who falls through a time-warp and thinks he’s found the perfect way to get rich.

Detective #80 sees the turbulent tragedy of deranged, double-edged threat Harvey Kent, finally resolved after a typically terrific tussle with ‘The End of Two-Face!’ (Finger, Kane, Robinson & Roussos), after which Batman #19 unleashes another quartet of compelling crime-busting cases.

There’s no mistaking the magnificent artwork of rising star Dick Sprang who pencilled every tale in this astounding issue, beginning with Cameron’s ‘Batman Makes a Deadline!’ as the Dark Knight investigates skulduggery and attempted murder at the City’s biggest newspaper. He also scripted breathtaking fantasy masterpiece ‘Atlantis Goes to War!’ with the Dynamic Duo rescuing that fabled submerged city from overwhelming Nazi assault.

The Joker rears his garish head again in anonymously-penned thriller ‘The Case of the Timid Lion!’ (perhaps William Woolfolk or Jack Schiff?) with the Harlequin of Hate enraged and lethal whilst tracking down an impostor committing crazy capers in his name… Samachson, Sprang and inker Norman Fallon then unmask the ‘Collector of Millionaires’ with Dick Grayson covertly investigating his wealthy mentor’s bewildering abduction and subsequent replacement by a cunning doppelganger…

‘The Cavalier of Crime!’ (Detective #81, by Cameron, Kane & Roussos) introduces another bizarre, baroque costumed crazy who tests his rapacious wits and sharp-edged weapons against the Dynamic Duo – naturally and ultimately to no avail…

The Home Front certainly seemed a lot brighter, as can be seen in Batman #20 which opens with the Joker in ‘The Centuries of Crime!’ (Cameron, Jack & Ray Burnley) with the Mountebank of Mirth claiming to have discovered a nefariously profitable method of time-travelling, whilst ‘The Trial of Titus Keyes!’ (Finger, Kane & Robinson) offers a masterful courtroom drama of injustice amended, focussing on the inefficacy of witness statements…

‘The Lawmen of the Sea!’ (Finger & the Burnley boys) finds the Dynamic Duo again working with a lesser known Police Division as they join The Harbor Patrol in their daily duties, uncovering a modern-day piracy ring, before the issue and this collection concludes on an emotional high with ‘Bruce Wayne Loses Guardianship of Dick Grayson!’ as a couple of fraudsters claiming to be the boy’s last remaining relatives petition to adopt him. A melodramatic triumph by Finger, Kane & Robinson, there’s still plenty of action, especially after the grifters try to sell Dick back to Bruce Wayne

This stuff set the standard for comic superheroes. Whatever you like now, you owe it to these tales. Superman gave us the idea, and writers like Finger and Cameron refined and defined the meta-structure of the costumed crime-fighter. Where the Man of Steel was as much social force and wish fulfilment as hero, Batman and Robin did what we ordinary mortals wanted and needed to do.

They taught bad people the lesson they deserved.

The history of the American comicbook industry in almost every major aspect stems from the raw, vital and still powerfully compelling tales of DC’s twin icons: Superman and Batman.

It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in chronological order in a variety of formats from relatively economical newsprint paperbacks to deluxe hardcover commemorative Archive editions – and digital formats too.

These are the stories that cemented the popularity of Batman and Robin and brought welcome surcease to millions during a time of tremendous hardship and crisis. Even if these days aren’t nearly as perilous or desperate – and there ain’t many who thinks otherwise! – the power of such work to rouse and charm is still potent and just as necessary. You owe it to yourself and your family and even your hamster to Buy This Book…
© 1943, 1944, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Beatles in Comics


By Michels Mabel, Gaet’s, Lu-K, Vox, Anne-Sophie Servantie, Ludivine Stock, Amandine Puntous, Romuald Gleyse, Julien Lamanda, Efix, Pierre Braillon, Ben Lebègue, Anthony Audibert, Bloop, Victor Giménez, Akita, Laurent Houssin, Richard Di Martino, Piero Ruggeri et Filipo Neri, Martin Trystram, Clément Baloup, Edwina Cosme et Christophe Billard, Patrick Lacan, Virginie de Lambert, Joël Alessandra, Odile Santi & various: translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-187-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Magical Mystery Tour for All… 10/10

Graphic biographies are all the rage at the moment and this one – originally released on the continent in 2016 – is one of the best I’ve seen and the most likely to appeal to a far larger mainstream audience than comics usually reach. It certainly deserves to…

If you’ve never heard of the Beatles there’s very little point in you carrying on any further.

Still with us? Okay then…

As if cannily repackaged popular culture factoids and snippets of celebrity history – accompanied by a treasure trove of candid photographs, song lyrics, posters and other memorabilia – aren’t enough to whet your appetite, this addition to the lore of the Fab Four adds a vital and enticing extra element.

The individual chronological articles and the comics vignettes they each precede are all written by Michels Mabel & Gaet’s, with an army of illustrators providing vivid and vibrant mini-strips, beginning with the meeting of ‘John, Paul and George’, as envisioned by Lu-K.

Vox details the euphoria of the first gigs in ‘Hamburg’ before Anne-Sophie Servantie details the iconic contribution of photographer ‘Astrid Kirchherr’ to the band’s growing mystique after which the crucial contribution of their tragedy-marked manger is explored in ‘Mister Epstein’ with vivid illustration from Ludivine Stock.

A tone of smug schadenfreude tinges Amandine Puntous’ ‘The Man Who Refused to Sign the Beatles!’ before Romuald Gleyse recalls the moment the magic finally gelled as a proper music producer takes the rowdy kids in hand with ‘George Martin’s Wager’.

With the world at their feet, a close brush with respectability and civil honours are covered in

‘The Queen’s Rebels’ by Julien Lamanda after which Efix encapsulates conquest of the New World and ‘The Beginning of Beatlemania’; with Pierre Braillon tackling key appearances on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and Ben Lebègue depicting ‘Shea Stadium and the American Tour’.

Once they started getting successful, tensions began to fracture the band’s enthusiastic solidarity. The creation of the song ‘Yesterday’ (Anthony Audibert art) and an anticlimactic meeting of giants, as seen in Bloop’s ‘The Beatles and Elvis’ starts tracing the cracks, whilst movie sensation ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ – by Victor Giménez – and Akita’s visualisation of ‘John’s Opinion’ reinforce the tensions.

Courtesy of Laurent Houssin, ‘New Musical Horizons’ are explored, and Richard Di Martino celebrates ‘The Triumph of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ before the hammer falls with the death of their protective manager. ‘Goodbye Brian’ by Piero Ruggeri et Filipo Neri signals a creative explosion and the beginnings of financial disaster as conmen target the band resulting in a fractious ‘Trip to India’ (by Martin Trystram), the advent of ‘Yoko Ono’ (from Clément Baloup) and the musical masterpiece that is ‘The White Album’ as depicted by Edwina Cosme & Christophe Billard.

Patrick Lacan then visually traces the insane and inane conspiracy theories claiming ‘Paul is Dead’ before more artistic triumphs are balanced by incipient catastrophe in Virginie de Lambert’s ‘Abbey Road/Let it Be’.

From there it’s all about ‘The Break-up’ (Joël Alessandra) after which Odile Santi scrapbooks 1971 to now in the postscriptive ‘Post Beatles’ section…

The compelling and remarkable biography concludes on a deliciously whimsical note as ‘Do you want to know a secret?’ offers 18 absurd anecdotes to delight everyone who loves to hear classic absurdism. The Beatles in Comics is an astoundingly readable and beautifully rendered treasure for comics and music fans alike: one that resonates with anybody who loves to listen and look. Without it, you’re simply nowhere, man…

© 2016 Petit as Petit. © 2018 NBM for the English translation.
NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Krampus: The Devil of Christmas


By various, edited by Monte Beauchamp (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-747-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Horrid Holiday Cheers… 8/10

When I lived in New York, the morning after Thanksgiving was when retailers committed Christmas. Staggering out into chilly morning air (I wonder if they still have that?) after a surfeit of everything, one’s eyes would boggle at a profusion of tinsel, glitter and lights with entire buildings done up like stockings or giant parcels.

These utterly mindboggling tributes to understatement would make any stolid Englander quail with disquiet and I still get tremors occasionally around postmen bearing packages… Another way to bring on Christmas chills is with a good book, and this delightfully engrossing hardback celebration from artist, historian and designer Monte Beauchamp (a welcome expansion on his 2004 book The Devil in Design) focuses on a long-lost aspect of the Season of Good Will that’s found renewed interest in recent times thanks to a film franchise and the general malaise affecting glum modern humans…

For decades Monte Beauchamp’s iconic, innovative narrative and graphic arts magazine Blab! highlighted the best and most groundbreaking trends and trendsetters in cartooning and other popular creative fields.

Initially published through the auspices of the much-missed Kitchen Sink Press it moved first to Fantagraphics and carried on as the snazzy hardback annual Blabworld from Last Gasp. Here however Beauchamp looks back not forward to revel in the lost exuberance and dark creativity of a host of anonymous artists whose seasonal imaginings spiced up the Winter Solstice for generations of guilty-until-proven-innocent nippers…

In Western Europe – especially the German-speaking countries but also as far afield as Northern Italy and the Balkans – St Nicholas used to travel out with gifts for good children, accompanied by a goat-headed, satanic servant. Fur-covered, furtive, chain-bedecked, sinister and all-knowing, the beast-man with a foot-long tongue and one cloven hoof wielded a birch switch to thrash the unruly and a copious sack to carry off disobedient kinder.

The Krampus was a fixture of winter life in Austria, Switzerland and the German Principalities, with his own special feast-day (December 5th – just before St. Nikolaus’ Day), parades, festivals and highly enjoyable (for parents, at least) ceremonial child-scaring events. Back then we really knew how to reward the naughty and the nice…

This compelling and enchanting hardback tome – still readily available but not yet as a digital delivery – celebrates the thrilling dark edge of the Christmas experience as depicted through the medium of the full-colour postcards that were a crucial facet of life in Europe from 1869 to the outbreak of World War I.

However, even with fascinating histories of the character and the art-form related in ‘Greetings From Krampus’, ‘Festival of the Krampus’ and ‘Postal Beginnings’, the true wide-eyed wonder and untrammelled joy of this compendium is the glorious cacophony of paintings, prints, drawings collages – and even a few primitive and experimental photographic forays – depicting the delicious dread scariness of the legendary deterrent as he (it?) terrifies boys and girls, explores the new-fangled temptations of airplanes and automobiles and regularly monitors the more mature wicked transgressions of courting couples…

A feast of imagination and tradition ranging from the wry, sardonic and archly-knowing to the outright disturbing and genuinely scary, this magical artbook is a treasure not just for Christmas but for life…

And it’s not nearly as environmentally harmful as coal…
© 2010 Monte Beauchamp. All rights reserved.

Superman: The Golden Age volume 4


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Paul Cassidy, Ed Dobrotka, Leo Nowak, John Sikela, Fred Ray & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7867-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Vital Vintage Superhero Fun and Fantasy… 9/10

As his latest record-breaking anniversary year rapidly approaches its end, the popularity of Superman is on the climb again. The American comicbook industry – if it existed at all by now – would have been an utterly unrecognisable thing without The Man of Tomorrow. His unprecedented invention and adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation gave birth to an entire genre if not an actual art form.

Imitation is the most honest compliment and can be profitable too. Superman triggered an inconceivable army of imitators and variations and, within three years of his Summer 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early Action Ace had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, whimsical comedy.

Once the war in Europe and the East finally involved America, to that list was added patriotic relevance for a host of gods, heroes and monsters – all dedicated to profit through exuberant, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

In comicbook terms at least, Superman was master of the world. He had already utterly changed the shape of the fledgling industry by the time of these tales. There was a successful newspaper strip, foreign and overseas syndication and the Fleischer studio was producing some of the most expensive – and best – animated cartoons ever conceived.

Thankfully the quality of the source material was increasing with every four-colour release, and the energy and enthusiasm of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster had infected the burgeoning studio that grew around them to cope with the relentless demand.

This latest addition to the splendid Golden Age/Silver Age strand of DC reprint compendia presents more of an epochal run of raw, unpolished but viscerally vibrant stories by Siegel, Shuster and the sterling crew of their ever-expanding “Superman Studio” who were setting the funnybook world on fire: crude, rough, uncontrollable wish-fulfilling, cathartically exuberant exploits of a righteous and superior man dealing out summary justice equally to social malcontents, exploitative capitalists, thugs and ne’er-do-wells that initially captured the imagination of a generation.

This fourth remastered paperback collection (also available digitally) of the Action Ace’s early exploits – reprinted in the order they first appeared – covers the turbulent, times spanning September 1941 to April 1942: encompassing escapades from Action Comics #41-47, Superman #12-15 and solo-adventures from World’s Finest Comics #3-5 (an oversized anthology title where he shared whimsical cover-stardom with Batman and Robin).

As always, every comic appearance is preceded by the original cover illustration, all captivating graphic masterpieces from Fred Ray whilst each tale is credited to co-originator Siegel.

Although he & Shuster had very much settled into the character by now, the latter was increasingly involved with the Superman newspaper strip. Even so, the buzz of success still fired them both and innovation still sparkles amidst the exuberance.

Written entirely by Seigel this incredible panorama of torrid tales opens with ‘The Case of the Death Express’: a tense thriller about train-wreckers illustrated by Nowak from the Fall issue of World’s Finest (#3).

Due to the exigencies of periodical publishing, although the terrific tales collected in this compendium take the Man of Steel to December 1941 and beyond, they were all prepared well in advance of Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

Even though spies and sabotage plots were already a solid standby of the narrative currency of the times and many in America felt war was inevitable (patriotic covers were beginning to appear on many comic books), the war was still a distant and exotic affair, impersonal and at one remove from daily life as experienced by the kids who were as the perceived audience for these four-colour fantasies.

That would change radically in the months and issues to come…

Most stories of the time were untitled; these have been named post-hoc simply to provide differentiation and make my task simpler …

Leo Nowak was drawing most of the comic output at this time and is responsible for the lion’s share of these adventures, beginning with the first three from Superman #12 (September/October 1941). ‘Peril on Pogo Island’ sees Lois Lane and Clark Kent at the mercy of rampaging tribesmen, although spies from a certain foreign power are at the back of it all, whilst ‘The Suicide Murders’ finds them facing a particularly grisly band of gangsters. John Sikela inked Nowak on ‘The Grotak Bund’ wherein seditionists attempt to destroy vital US industries, and fully illustrated the final tale as an old foe rears his shiny head once more in ‘The Beasts of Luthor’, accompanied by a spectacular array of giant monsters…

Action Comics #41 (October 1941) exposes ‘The Saboteur’ in a terse tale of a traitor motivated by greed rather than ideology illustrated by Paul Cassidy, whilst Nowak’s ‘City in the Stratosphere’ (Action #42) reveals that a trouble-free paradise floating above Metropolis has been subverted by an old enemy. He also handled most of Superman #13 (November/December 1941).

This issue led with a Cassidy pin-up after which ‘The Light’ debuts an old foe in a new super-scientific guise after which ‘The Archer’ pits the Man of Steel against his first costumed villain. ‘Baby on the Doorstep’ took an opportunity for fun and the feel-good factor as Clark becomes a temporary parent in a tale of stolen battle plans before ‘The City Beneath the Earth’ (illustrated by Sikela) returns to the serious business of action and spectacle as our hero discovers a subterranean kingdom lost since the Ice Age.

World’s Finest Comics #4 (Winter 1941) offers ‘The Case of the Crime Crusade’: another Nowak-rendered socially relevant racketeering yarn before ‘The Crashing Planes’ – from Action #43 and with Superman attacking Nazi paratroopers on the cover – sees the Man of Tomorrow smashing a plot to destroy a commercial airline.

Even though war was undeclared DC and many other publishers had struck their colours well before December 7th. When the Japanese attack filtered through to the gaudy pages the patriotic indignation and desire for retribution would generate some of the very best art and stories the budding art-form would ever see.

Superman’s rise had been meteoric and inexorable and seemed to never stall. He was the indisputable star of Action, World’s Finest Comics and his own dedicated title. A daily newspaper strip had begun on 16th January 1939, with a separate Sunday strip following from November 5th that year, garnered millions of new fans and a thrice-weekly radio serial launched on February 12th 1940. With a movie cartoon series, games, toys, apparel and a growing international media presence, Superman was swiftly becoming everybody’s hero…

Although the gaudy burlesque of monsters and super-villains still lay years ahead of our hero, these captivating tales of villainy, criminality, corruption and disaster are just as engrossing and speak powerfully of the tenor of the times. A perilous parade of rip-roaring action, seedy hoods, vile masterminds, plagues, disasters, lost kids and distressed damsels are all dealt with in a direct and captivating manner by our relentlessly entertaining exemplar in summarily swift and decisive fashion.

No “to be continueds” here!

The sheer escapism continues with ‘The Caveman Criminal’ (Action #44, illustrated by Nowak & Ed Dobrotka), wherein crooks capitalise on a frozen “Dawn Man” who thaws out and goes wild in crime-ridden Metropolis, after which Superman #14 (January/February 1942 begins.

Again primarily a Nowak art affair – following a fabulous page of ‘Superman’s Tips for Super-Health’ by Shuster & Cassidy – the drama commences with ‘Concerts of Doom!’. Here a master pianist learns just how mesmerising his recitals are and joins forces with unpatriotic thieves and dastardly saboteurs, after which the tireless Man of Tomorrow is hard-pressed to cope with the diabolical destruction caused by ‘The Invention Thief’.

Sikela inks Nowak’s pencils in a frantic high fantasy romp resulting from the Man of Steel’s discovery of a friendly mermaid and malevolent fishmen living in ‘The Undersea City’ before Nowak solos again for more high-tension catastrophic graphic destruction signalling Superman’s epic clash with sinister electrical savant ‘The Lightning Master’.

Action #45 (Nowak & Dobrotka) sees ‘Superman’s Ark’ girdle the globe to repopulate a decrepit and nigh-derelict city zoo, whilst issue #46 features ‘The Devil’s Playground’ (Cassidy) wherein masked murderer The Domino stalks an amusement park wreaking havoc and instilling terror.

Spring 1942’s Finest Comics #6 explores the mystery of a flying castle as Superman breaches ‘The Tower of Terror’ to confront an Indian curse and an unscrupulous businessman, whereas in the bimonthly Superman #15 a dandy exercise regimen from Shuster (‘Attaining Super-Health: A few Hints from Superman!’) leads to Nowak’s ‘The Cop Who was Ruined’ wherein the Metropolis Marvel clears framed detective Bob Branigan – a man who even believes himself guilty – before scurvy Orientals menace the nation’s Pacific fleet in ‘Saboteurs from Napkan’ with Sikela again lending his pens and brushes to Nowak’s pencil art.

Thinly-veiled fascist oppression and expansion is spectacularly nipped in the bud with ‘Superman in Oxnalia’– an all-Sikela art job, before Nowak returns to pencils concluding science fiction thriller ‘The Evolution King’. Here, a malignant mastermind artificially ages his wealthy, prominent victims until the invulnerable Man of Steel storms in…

This splendid compilation concludes with a blockbusting, no-holds-barred battle which was only the opening skirmish in a bigger campaign. Action #47 (by Sikela) reveals how Lex Luthor gains incredible abilities after acquiring the incredible ‘Powerstone’, making the mad scientist temporarily Superman’s physical equal – if not mental – match…

As fresh and thrilling now as they ever were, the endlessly re-readable epics are perfectly housed in these glorious paperback collections where the savage intensity and sly wit still shine through in Siegel’s stories – which literally defined what being a Super Hero means – whilst Shuster’s shadows continued to create the basic iconography of superhero comics for all others to follow.

Such Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment at an absurdly affordable price and in a durable, comfortingly approachable format. What dedicated comics fan could possibly resist them?
© 1941, 1942, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Great North Wood


By Tim Bird (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-36-3 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Glorious Ramble to Shake Loose the Cerebral Cobwebs… 9/10

Lots of comics, and most forms of fiction, in fact, depend on strong – or at least memorable – characters and plenty of action to capture the attention. You need to be really good and quite brave to try anything outside those often-infantile parameters.

That’s actually a pretty good description of London-based cartoonist and author Tim Bird whose sundry works explore themes of time and place, history, memory and myth as well as our connection to the planet in such comics as the award-winning From The City To The Sea. He calls these forays psychogeography…

Here that empathy is transformed into a far-too-brief lyrical travelogue and sharing of lost folklore as this oversized (178 x 279 mm) colour paperback traces the slow decline and curtailment of the vast forest that swathed Britain before humanity, whilst highlighting those icons of modernity and great survivors who seem to adapt to all changes with dogged aplomb.

As Man took hold, the trees grew small and fragmented, so our far-ranging focus takes in the range of Southern England described in the title and relates experiences from before writing to just a few moments from now…

The scene is set with symbolic guile in ‘An Ancient Forest’ before focusing in to define ‘The Great North Wood’ then and now. The origins of place names such as ‘Norwood’ and its satellites are accompanied by captivating expositions on local tales such as ‘The Vicar’s Oak’. It’s interesting to consider just how many comics artisans and popular arts creators have lived in the many sites listed in Bird’s introductory map. I’m just one of them. I could list dozens more…

The origin of the ‘Honor Oak’ leads to outlaw glamour in ‘The Story of Ned Righteous’ whilst ‘Gipsy Hill’ (a place and a person) segues beguilingly into ‘Bombs’ after which a visit to the still relatively-abundant ‘Sydenham Hill Woods’ takes us to a hopeful note in ‘A Forest Again’

Even now I’ll recite the chapter headings like a mantra and remember the places cited herein where I’ve lived over the last four decades and feel I’m also part of something bigger than me…

This paean to a feeling of belonging – to both time and space – evokes the same vibrant elegiac tone as Harry Watt and Basil Wright’s 1936 documentary Night Mail (with its evocative poem/soundtrack by W. H. Auden and score by Benjamin Britten). It’s a feeling no one can decry or wish to end…

Sadly, this glorious celebration is not available digitally yet, but that just means you can give physical copies to all your friends, suitably gift-wrapped and ready to be properly appreciated by all the tactile senses as well as cerebral ones…

A graphic marvel to savour and ponder over and over again.
© Tim Bird 2018. All rights reserved.

The Best of Battle


By Pat Mills, John Wagner, Tom Tully, Steve McManus, Eric & Alan Hebden, Mark Andrew, Gerry Finley-Day, Mike Western, Joe Colquhoun, Eric Bradbury, Carlos Ezquerra, Geoff Campion, Cam Kennedy, Colin Page, Pat Wright, Giralt, Jim Watson, Mike Dorey, John Cooper & various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-025-3 (PB)

For most of the medium’s history, British comics have been renowned for the ability to tell a big story in satisfying little instalments and this, coupled with superior creators and the anthological nature of our publications, has ensured hundreds of memorable characters and series have seared themselves into the little boy’s psyche inside most British adult males.

One of the last great weekly anthology comics was the all-combat Battle, which started service as Battle Picture Weekly – launched on 8th March 1975.

Through absorption, merger and re-branding (becoming in swift succession Battle Picture Weekly & Valiant, Battle Action, Battle, Battle Action Force and Battle Storm Force) it was eventually subsumed into the revived, faltering but too-prestigious-to-fail Eagle on January 23rd 1988. For 673 blood-soaked, testosterone-drenched issues, it had fought its way into the bloodthirsty hearts of a generation, consequently producing some of the best and most influential war stories ever told.

This action-packed compendium features the opening salvos of some of the very best from those 13-odd years produced by a winning blend of Young Turk writers – Pat Mills, John Wagner, Steve McManus, Mark Andrew and Gerry Finley-Day – and stalwarts of the old guard – Tom Tully, Eric and Alan Hebden. The art comes from Colin Page, Pat Wright, Giralt, Carlos Ezquerra, Geoff Campion, Jim Watson, Mike Western, Joe Colquhoun, Eric Bradbury, Mike Dorey, John Cooper and Cam Kennedy.

The strips featured are D-Day Dawson (a sergeant with only a year to live and nothing to lose) by Gerry Finley-Day, Ron Carpenter & Colin Page, spy serial Day of the Eagle (by ex-SOE agent Eric Hebden and artist Pat Wright), The Bootneck Boy (a little lad who lives his dream by becoming a Marine), by Finley-Day, Ian McDonald & Giralt, and the legendary Dirty Dozen-inspired Rat Pack, by Finley-Day and featuring some of the much-missed Carlos Ezquerra’s earliest UK artwork.

Ezquerra also shone on Alan Hebden’s anti-establishment masterpiece Major Eazy, whilst Fighter from the Sky is the first of the comic’s groundbreaking serials telling World War II stories from a German viewpoint. Written by Finley-Day and drawn by the superb Geoff Campion, it tells of a disgraced paratrooper fighting for his country, even if they hated him for it…

Hold Hill 109 by Steve McManus & Jim Watson was a bold experiment: basically a limited series as a group of Eighth Army soldiers have to hold back the Afrika Korps for seven days, with each day comprising one weekly episode. Unbelievably, only the first three days are collected here, though, as apparently there wasn’t room for the complete saga!

Darkie’s Mob (John Wagner & Mike Western) is another phenomenally well-regarded classic wherein a mysterious British (?) maniac takes over a lost and demoralised squad of soldiers in the Burma jungles, intent on using them to punish the Japanese in ways no man could imagine.

Then Finley-Day & Campion’s Panzer G-Man tells of a German tank commander demoted and forced to endure all the dirty jobs foisted on the infantry that follow behind the steel monsters, before Johnny Red – by Tom Tully and the great Joe Colquhoun – follows a discharged RAF pilot who joins the Russian air force to fight in the bloody skies over the Soviet Union.

Joe Two Beans by Wagner & Eric Bradbury traces an inscrutable Blackfoot Indian through the Hellish US Pacific campaign, The Sarge (Finley-Day& Mike Western) reveals the trials of a WWI veteran as he leads Dunkirk stragglers back to England and then on to North Africa, and Hellman of Hammer Force (Finley-Day, Western, Mike Dorey & Jim Watson) follows a charismatic and decent German tank commander as he fights Germany’s enemies and the SS who want him dead.

Alan Hebden and Eric Bradbury’s Crazy Keller is an US Army maverick who steals, cheats and breaks all the rules. He was also the most effective Nazi-killer in the invasion of Italy, whilst The General Dies at Dawn sees Finley-Day and John Cooper repeat the miniseries experiment of Hold Hill 109 (this time in 11 instalments, each representing one hour – pre-dating Jack Bauer by two decades) as Nazi General and war hero Otto von Margen tells his jailor how he came to be sentenced to the firing squad by his own comrades even as Berlin falls to the allied forces.

I don’t really approve of Charley’s War being in this book. Despite it being the very best war story ever written or drawn, uncompromising and powerfully haunting, as well as Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun’s best-ever work, it’s already available in beautiful hardback collector volumes and economical paperback editions so the 15 pages here could have been better used to complete Hold Hill 109 or even reprint some of the wonderful complete-in-one-part war tales the comic often carried.

Enough barracking: Fighting Mann, by Alan Hebden & Cam Kennedy, was the first British strip set in Viet Nam, and follows the hunt of retired US Marine Walter Mann who goes “in-country” in 1967 to track down his son, a navy pilot listed as a deserter. This terrific tome (still unavailable in any digital format, as far as I can tell) then concludes with Death Squad!: A kind of German Rat Pack full of Wehrmacht criminals sent as a punishment squad to die for the Fatherland in the icy hell of the Eastern Front. Written by Mark Andrew and illustrated by the incomparable Eric Bradbury, this is one of the grittiest and most darkly comedic of Battle’s martial pantheon.

This spectacular blend of action, tension and drama, with a heaping helping of sardonic grim wit from both sides of World War II – and beyond – offers a unique take on the profession of soldier, and hasn’t paled in the intervening years. These black-&-white gems are as powerful and engrossing now as they’ve ever been.

Fair warning though: Many of the tales here do not conclude. For that you’ll have to campaign for a second volume…
© 2009 Egmont UK Ltd. All rights reserved.