Jack Kirby’s The Losers


By Jack Kirby with D. Bruce Berry & Mike Royer (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-184856-194-6 (HB)

There’s a glorious profusion of Jack Kirby material around these days but much of the best and rarest stuff is still – unforgivably – somehow hard to access. This astounding collection of his too-brief run on DC war comic Our Fighting Forces is, for far too many, an unknown delight. You can still find it in the original 2009 hardback edition, but as far as I know, there’s neither digital or even an English-language trade paperback edition to satisfy the desires of fans lacking an infinite bank balance…

Famed for his larger than life characters and gigantic, cosmic imaginings, the King was a decent, spiritual man from another generation, and one who had experienced human horror and bravery as an ordinary grunt during World War II. Whether in the world-weary verité of his 1950s collaborations with Joe Simon or the flamboyant bravado of his Marvel creation Sgt. Fury, Kirby’ combat comics always looked and felt real: grimy, tired, battered yet indomitable.

In 1974, with his newest creations inexplicably not setting any sales records at DC, and while he tentatively pondered a return to Marvel, Jack took over the creative chores on a well-established and compelling but always floundering series that had run in Our Fighting Forces since 1970.

The Losers were an elite unit of American warriors cobbled together by amalgamating three pre-existing war series that had reached the end of their solo star roads. Gunner and Sarge (supplemented by “the Fighting Devil Dog” Pooch) were Pacific-based Marines; debuting in All-American Men of War #67, (March 1959) and running for 50 issues in Our Fighting Forces (#45-94, May 1959 to August 1965), whilst Captain Johnny Cloud – Navaho Ace and native American fighter pilot – shot down his first bogie in All-American Men of War #82 (December 1960). He flew solo until issue #115 (1966).

The final component of the Land/Air/Sea team was filled by Captain Storm, a disabled PT Boat commander (he had a wooden leg) who had his own 18-issue title from 1964 to 1967. All three series were created by comics warlord Robert Kanigher.

The characters had all pretty much passed their sell-by dates when they teamed-up as guest-stars in a Haunted Tank tale in 1969 (G.I. Combat #138 October), but these “Losers” found a new resonance together in the relevant, disillusioned, cynical Vietnam years (and beyond) when their somewhat nihilistic, doom-laden anti-hero group adventures took the lead spot in Our Fighting Forces #123 (January/February 1970). Once again written primarily by Kanigher, the episodes were graced with art from such giants as Ken Barr, Russ Heath, Sam Glanzman, John Severin, Ross Andru and Joe Kubert.

With the tagline “even when they win, they lose” the team saw action all over the globe, winning critical acclaim and a far-too-small, passionate following. In an inexplicable dose of company politics, the discontented Kirby was abruptly given complete control of the series with #151 (November 1974).

His radically different approach was highly controversial at the time but the passage of years has allowed a fairer appraisal and whilst never really in tune with the aesthetic of DC’s other war-books, the King’s run was a spectacular and singularly intriguing examination of the human condition under the worst of all possible situations.

The combat frenzy kicks off in ‘Kill Me with Wagner’ as the Losers infiltrate a French village to rescue a concert pianist before the Nazis can capture her. The hapless propaganda pawn has one tremendous advantage… nobody knows what she looks like.

As with most of this series, a feeling of inevitable, onrushing Gotterdammerung permeates the tale: a sense that worlds are ending and new one’s a-coming. The action culminates in a catastrophic wave of destruction that is pure Kirby magic…

Most of DC’s war titles sported Kubert covers, but #152 featured the first in a startling sequence of hypnotic Kirby illustrations, almost abstract in delivery, to introduce the team to the no-hope proposition of ‘A Small Place in Hell!’ as they find themselves the advance guard for an Allied push, but dropped in the wrong town: one that has not been cleared…

The spectacular action here is augmented by a potent 2-page Kirby fact feature: Sub-machine guns of WWII, and it should be noted and commended that this collection is also peppered with un-inked Kirby pencilled pages and roughs.

Our Fighting Forces #153 is one of those stories that made traditionalists squeak. Behind another Kirby cover, the story of ‘Devastator vs. Big Max’ veers dangerously close to science fiction, but the admittedly eccentric plan to destroy a giant German rail-mounted super-cannon isn’t any stranger than many schemes actual Boffins dreamed up to disinform the enemy during the actual conflict, actually…

That yarn – with two beautiful info-pages on military uniforms and insignia – is followed by a superb parable about personal honour. A bombastic Kirby cover segues into the team’s deployment to the Pacific to remove a Japanese officer whose devotion to ‘Bushido’ has inspired superhuman loyalty and resistance to surrender among his men. The means used to remove him are far from clean or creditable…

Bracketed by 2 pages on war vehicles plus a wonderful pencil cover-rough, and two more on artillery pieces and the pencils for the cover to that issue, ‘The Partisans!’ (OFF #155) takes the Losers into very dark territory indeed, before the team return to America for ‘Good-bye Broadway… Hello Death!’, wherein the lads experience the home-front joys of New York whilst hunting for a notorious U-Boat commander. Naturally there’s more to the story than first appears…

This fast-paced thriller is complemented by a history of battle headgear and another pencilled rough. Issues #157 and 158 comprise a 2-part saga concerning theft, black marketeering and espionage featuring truly unique personage ‘Panama Fattie!’ Her criminal activities almost alter the course of the war; and conclude in the highly charged ‘Bombing Out on the Panama Canal’ with accompanying pages on ships, subs and Nazi super-planes.

Behind the last Kirby cover (#159), ‘Mile-a-Minute Jones!’ details a smaller-scaled duel between a black runner who embarrassed the Nazis at the 1936 Olympics and the Nazi ubermensch he defeated, reigniting on the battlefield with the Losers relegated to subordinate roles.

Kubert and Ernie Chan handled the three remaining covers of this run, an indication that Kirby’s attentions were being diverted elsewhere, but the stories remain powerful and deeply personal explorations of combat. In ‘Ivan’ (OFF #160) the Losers go undercover, impersonating German soldiers on the Eastern Front, and have an unpleasant encounter with Russian Nazi sympathizers whose appetite for atrocity surpasses anything they have ever seen before (supplemented by a 2-page tanks feature) whilst the hellish jungles of the Burma campaign prove an unholy backdrop for traumatic combat shocker ‘The Major’s Dream.’

The volume and Kirby’s DC war work ends with a sly tribute to his 1942 co-creation the Boy Commandos. ‘Gung-Ho!’sees young Gunner training a band of war orphans in Marine tactics only to find fun turn to dire necessity when Germans overrun their “safe” position. This is an optimistic, all-out action romp ending on a note of hope and anticipation, even as the King made his departure for pastures not-so-new. From issue #163 Kanigher resumed the story reins, with artists like Jack Lehti, Ric Estrada and George Evans illustrating, and the Losers returned to their pre-Kirby style and status, with readers hardly acknowledging the detour into another kind of war.

Jack Kirby is unique and uncompromising. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind. That doesn’t alter the fact that his work from 1939 onwards shaped the entire American comics scene, affected the lives of billions of readers and thousands of creators in all areas of artistic endeavour around the world for generations, and which still garners new fans and apostles from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. Jack’s work is instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral and deceptively deep whilst being simultaneously mythic and human.

These tales of purely mortal heroism are in many ways the most revealing, honest and insightful of Jack’s incredibly vast accumulated works, and even the true devotee often forgets their very existence. As Neil Gaiman’s introduction succinctly declaims, “they are classic Kirby… and even if you don’t like war comics, you may be in for a surprise…”

You really don’t want to miss that, do you?
© 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Blackjack: Second Bite of the Cobra


By Alex Simmons & Joe Bennett (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-79852-3 (TPB)

Here in the west nearly 150 years of popular publishing – and its spin-off art forms film, radio, TV and especially comics – has generated a legion of legendary (if human-scaled) action adventurers. These larger than life characters have been called Pulp Heroes and their playground is all of human history and every tomorrow…

Whether you prefer Ivanhoe and Prince Valiant, Allan Quatermain, Sir Percy Blakeney, Richard Hannay, El Borak, Bulldog Drummond, Doc Savage, Mack Bolan, James Bond, Jason Bourne or even Indiana Jones, a succession of steely-eyed, immensely powerful men – and even the occasional woman – have girdled the globe righting wrongs and inspiring millions of dreamers. Although some few had friends, colleagues or assistants of colour, I can’t think of a single leading man who was black…

That all began to change in 1957 when Chester Himes began writing his tales of brutal, uncompromising cops Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones in the Harlem Detective novels… but then again, he was writing them from exile in France.

America’s history of Jim Crow laws and institutionalised racism throughout the media had driven him away from his birthland and long ago stifled the hopes and aspirations of generations of African-Americans looking for a hero all their own.

That started changing in the radical 1960s, when flunky stereotypes and dumb bad-guy representations began to give way to thoughtful portrayals of fully-feeling human beings, intelligent moral champions and powerful, vital, independent heroes – thanks to the efforts of the same media empires which had for so long censored any such image.

Sadly, one look at today’s News tells us America still has some way to go. And of course, for most of that time Britain has been no better…

That’s a rather longwinded and pompous way of recommending a splendid release from Dover’s superb line of lost and rescued graphic gems: a revived edition and a compelling modern classic of the Good Old, Bad Old Days, resurrected in a softcover or digital collection to astound and enthral all lovers of epic bravado and red-handed justice, packed with the usual extras and bonus material.

Preceded with a Foreword from Joe Illidge and the author’s exhilarating Introduction ‘The Past: A Good Time for a Dark Hero’ and bookended by an effusive Afterword by agent David Colley, you can experience a world of dangerous extremes perfectly realised by Brazilian-born illustrator Joe Bennett (X-Men, 52, Supreme).

Alex Simmons is an award-winning African-American author, playwright, comicbook scripter and educator who has produced innumerable strips, games, shows and art-events all over the world. He’s worked for Marvel, DC, Disney, Archie and others and is a passionate advocate for and champion of equality and racial issues.

In 1996 he finally fulfilled a childhood dream by creating a black character as an equal to and worthy of the fictional meta-kingdom of all his childhood heroes as cited above. Following a cruelly recognisable usual pattern, however, the saga of Arron Day AKA Blackjack proved to be a monster hit everywhere… except America…

Following the first two miniseries from Dark Angel Productions, Blackjack adapted to tough times in the comic biz by moving online as both prose and comics forms and through a serial in “Blaxploitation” magazine Bad AzzMofo. In 2001, there was even an audio adventure – Blackjack: Retribution – recorded in front of a live audience at the Museum of TV and Radio in New York City.

Now, with the first epic extravaganza compiled into one scorching saga, action fans have a chance for another bite of the cherry. During the Great War, Matthew “Mad Dog” Day found fame and a little prosperity as a soldier-of-fortune fighting all over the world; attaining the respect and acclaim no North Carolina negro could have by staying in America…

One particularly savage commission from a thankless Egyptian government sent him into the Sahara and pitted him and his fellow mercenaries against diabolical, nigh-messianic rebel Farouk Tea a la Af’a, know to insurgents everywhere as The Cobra.

After a climactic battle between eternal, implacable foes the Arab raider paid him the ultimate mark of disrespect by not bothering to kill him and his remaining comrades before vanishing back into the trackless wastes…

Back in Cairo days later, the foreign survivors were publicly castigated by an ungrateful populace and Mad Dog’s young son learned a harsh lesson. Arron knew who was truly to blame however and swore one day he would meet the Cobra…

Years passed and in 1923 the boy and his sister learned another salutary lesson when their parents were murdered by unknown assassins in Spain. By 1935 Arron has surpassed his father and become a globetrotting man of wealth and means by way of his own martial talents. Gripped by a keen sense of justice and never one to shy away from conflict or confrontation, he has used that money to challenge the American Way by buying a palatial home on Manhattan’s West Side, flying in the face of hostility and outright bigotry, even from the city police …

However, setting up home and aggravating the powers-that-be suddenly loses its appeal when a cable from Cairo arrives. Old uncle Silas – a white man who was Mad Dog’s trusted lieutenant – has learned the Cobra is back and up to his old murderous tricks…

And so begins a spectacular, ferociously gripping duel in the desert as Blackjack hunts for the man who shamed his father – and might well have had him killed – encountering and outwitting corrupt rulers, suspect capitalists hungry for the region’s as yet untapped riches, and gangs of thugs.

Ferreting out the demon from his past accompanied by a trusted band of comrades and lethal new recruit Maryam, Blackjack blazes his way across the war-torn region to meet his promised nemesis and settle forever the family business so long delayed…

As spectacular as Lawrence of Arabia, as fast-paced as The Mummy (1999) and as satisfyingly suspenseful as Hidalgo, this is pure pulp experience no lover of the genre should miss.
Story text © 1995 Alex Simmons. Illustrations © 1995, 1996 Joe Bennett. Cover art © 2015 Scott Hanna. All other material © 2015 its respective owners. All rights reserved.

Shaft Volume 2: Imitation of Life


By David F. Walker, Dietrich Smith & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-52410-260-9 (TPB)

For most of modern history black consumers of popular entertainments have enjoyed far too few fictive role models. In the English-speaking world that began changing in the turbulent 1960s and truly took hold during the decade that followed. A lot of the characters stemming from those days come from a cultural phenomenon called Blaxploitation. Although criticised for its seedy antecedents, stereotypical situations and violence, the films, books, music and art were the first mass-market examples of minority characters in leading roles, rather than as fodder, flunkies or flamboyant villains.

One of the earliest movie icons of the genre was the man called Shaft. His filmic debut in 1971 was scripted by journalist and screenwriter Ernest Tidyman (The French Connection; High Plains Drifter; A Force of One) who adapted his own 1970 novel. Tidyman authored six more between 1972 and 1975, with his timeless urban warrior simultaneously starring in numerous films and a (far, far tamer) TV series. He even starred in his own retro-themed, adults-only comic book…

An eighth prose novel – Shaft’s Revenge – was released in 2016, written by David F. Walker. Amongst his many talents – you should hunt down his online culture-crunching ‘zine BadAzzMoFo: you won’t be sorry – Walker numbers writing intriguing, hard-edged comics (Occupy Avengers; Cyborg; Red Sonja, Planet of the Apes, Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes and many more), so in 2014 it was probably inevitable that he be invited to write that long-overdue comics iteration…

Blockbusting premier miniseries Shaft: A Complicated Man – relating the lone wolf’s origins – happily led to this sequel in 2016, illustrated by Dietrich Smith and coloured by Alex Guimarães (Walker lettered the series himself), and whereas that comic book took its look, settings and tone from the novels more than the Richard Roundtree films, this one gradually refocuses and aims for a satisfactory blending of the prose and film iterations.

Originally released as a 4-issue miniseries, Imitation of Life finds the detective ‘Before and After’, regretting his life choices, successes and recent notoriety as the highly publicised rescue of an abducted girl suddenly make him a famous man…

It’s nothing he wanted: he was literally forced to take the job by a big-time mobster no one in their right mind ever refuses, and now after sorting the problem in his inimitably pitiless manner, Shaft is slowly drinking himself to death on the huge fee he also couldn’t safely turn down…

Eventually guilt and boredom compel him to get back in the game and, with no money worries, he can pick and choose from a big list of inquiries. That said, Shaft can’t explain just why he takes on the pointless problems of the Prossers; a hick couple desperate to find their son. Mike is 18; a good-looking homosexual (we say “gay” today) kid swallowed up by the sleaze-peddlers of 1970s Times Square. He’s legal and not even a real missing person, but there’s something Shaft can’t get out of his head about this particular runaway…

Convinced it’s all pointless, Big John hits the appropriate bars and clubs but no one knows anything: they never do. And then a kid named Tito recognizes him and just like that, the violence starts coming…

Surviving a homophobic attack – and teaching a few bigots the cost of intolerance – Shaft finds his case stalled just as shady wannabe filmmakers seeks to hire him to consult on their new (blaxsploitation) flick The Black Dick. It promises to be an easy gig, but they never are…

Before long Shaft is writhing in discomfort as the script ludicrously bastardises his career and reputation, but when Tito turns up and bamboozles the detective into facing off with a Mafia pornographer just as the secret moneyman behind his own filmic fiasco starts demanding an early return on his investment, it stops being a laugh and becomes deadly serious again. Once more, he remembers there’s no such thing as ‘Easy Money’

As the fictional and real worlds increasingly intersect, Vice cops contact Shaft and he sees that somehow all his irons seem to be stacked in the same fire. When the ludicrous leading man is abducted and troublemaking Tito pops up again with some very dangerous photographs from his own incessant snooping, Shaft discovers in ‘Love & Loss’ just what happened to Mike Prosser and tools up to rescue one bad actor while invading a film set where pornos and snuff films are the preferred hot product…

The strands all pull together in a typically cathartic climax as ‘All the World’s a Stage’ sees order restored, the bad guys dealt with righteously and even sets up a delicious funny ending to usher us out…

Revisiting a foetid cesspool of civic corruption, warring mobsters and get-rich-quick chancers, this tour of a mythic milieu is another wry and intoxicating crime thriller no fan of the genre should miss…
Shaft is ™ and © 2016 Ernest Tidyman. All rights reserved.

Bob Marley in Comics


By Gaets & Sophie Blitman, illustrated by Olivier Desvaux, Ammo, Didier Millotte, Tanguy Pietri, Matthieu Beaulieu, Jena, Efix, Domas, Simon Léturgie, Sarah Williamson, Cyrille Brégère, Julien Modde, Moh, Armel Ressot, Lu-K, Clément Baloup, Joël Alessandra, Julien Atika, Gil & various: translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-250-2 (HB)

Graphic biographies are all the rage at the moment and this one – originally released on the continent in 2018 – is another cracker likely to appeal to a far larger mainstream audience than comics usually reach. It certainly deserves to as it captivatingly deconstructs the life of a truly unique force in music and popular culture…

If you’ve never heard of Bob Marley or don’t like reggae, you might still want to check this out. The singer was deeply spiritual and it’s never too late to see the light and convert or, failing that, just buy a record…

Gathered in this fetching hardback (or eBook) edition are context-providing essays backing up individual comics sections; each chronological article and comics vignettes written by the ever-informative comics scribe Gaets and journalist/children’s author Sophie Blitman, supported by a veritable legion of illustrators providing vivid and vibrant strips, beginning with ‘From Nesta to Robert’ – limned by Olivier Desvaux.

The early life of the musician introduces us to his mother Cedella Malcolm and the old white soldier she married. With Norval Marley disinherited and promptly absconding, Nesta Robert Marley spent his early years in the rural farming community of Nine Miles in Jamaica until at age six, when he was whisked away to Kingston by his dad… who simply dumped him with another woman and vanished again…

Happily, a few years later Cedella joined the boy who was already showing promise as both a fortune telling mystic and award-winning singer. Rendered in stark monochrome by Ammo, ‘The Rude Boys of Trenchtown’ exposes the appalling poverty Nesta endured and the lasting friendships that privation engendered as they played, made music and hung out together: relationships expanded upon in the essay ‘Growing Up Between Worlds’.

Working in muted full colour, Didier Millotte explores ‘Reggae in the Ghetto’ as Robert Marley – now working as a full-time (14-year-old) welder – and his mates Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer are taken under the wing of pro musician Joe Higgs who teaches young Marley to play guitar…

‘Making Friends in Trenchtown’ details the development of the musical genre Reggae from Ska and Marley’s growing influence after which Tanguy Pietri illuminates sordid conditions and lack of opportunities which compel him to make music his life in ‘A Ray of Light in the Dark’

Matthieu Beaulieu reveals the unique way poor Jamaicans consumed pop music in ‘Sound Systems, Ska & Studio One’, how the blossoming star is ripped off for the first – of many – times and how he meets wife-to-be Rita Anderson: a relationship which grows in Jena’s vignette ‘Is This Love?’

Efix delineates Marley’s spiritual growth in historical lecture ‘The Roots of the Rasta Movement’, whilst Domas’ ‘Tuff Gong in Nine Miles’ follows his musical journey to America – until the threat of being drafted into Vietnam – and ultimately to London, where The Wailers become stranded…

Essay ‘The Path to Success’ concentrates upon Marley’s song-writing and musical self-determination which led to the critical meeting with British Producer Chris Blackwell in ‘The Reggae Wave’ (art by Simon Léturgie) and the release of first album Catch a Fire. Now a growing global sensation among young white music fans – as detailed in essay ‘An “International Reggae”’ – Bob Marley and The Wailers retire to Blackwell’s ‘Villa Rasta’ (illustrated by Sarah Williamson), to make more music and bask in fame in their own country whilst enjoying a few rock star trappings of success…

One such is covered in ‘Bob Marley, Rita… And All the Other Women’, recounting the numerous affairs and children the singer indulged in even as the parade of mega-hits began. Cyrille Brégère encapsulates the tone of the times in ‘The Sheriff Died Tonight’ with the financial sharks already circling, as seen in ‘Around the World’ (Julien Modde), leading to the breakup of the founding members…

Throughout this period, Jamaica was descending into political chaos and gangsterism fuelled by economic disparity. This was something no amount of interviews or comments from the pacifist, life-loving musician could affect, but did result in the assassination attempt depicted by Moh in ‘Panic in the Hen House’.

The spark was believed to be proposed peace and reconciliation concert Smile Jamaica, but despite being wounded, three days later the show went on with Marley proudly in the spotlight…

Following more history in ‘The Price of Fame’, Armel Ressot graphically caters a ‘Punk Reggae Party’ as the leading proponents of two landmark musical movements meet and cross pollinate, despite falling foul of British Law, after which ‘From Exile to Exodus’ covers the creation of the classic album before ‘Red Card’ (art by Lu-K) heralds the beginning of the end after an impromptu kickabout in Paris leads to a shocking discovery…

The star’s obsessive passion for the sport of the ghettos is examined in ‘Bob Marley and His Love of Soccer’, as is his refusal to compromise his Rastafari principles by accepting medical treatments unacceptable to his faith. Clément Baloup then pictorially details the escalating civil war in Kingston and Marley’s controversial pre-election solution of a One Love Peace Concert in ‘Ablaze’.

Knowing his end was near, Marley finally visited Ethiopia in 1978 before finishing the album Survival and discovering yet another friend and manager had been stealing from him and his fans. He played controversial concerts in Africa – including the independence ceremony of recently liberated and newly-created Zimbabwe – twice in fact, as the authorities cut the first one short through force of arms – as seen Joël Alessandra’s ‘Roots’.

Penultimate essay ‘For Peace and Unity Among Peoples’ shares his philosophies, awards and legacy, via the peace concerts he headlined, backed up by a moving strip of his final days in ‘All the Way’ (by Julien Atika), after which closing essay ‘Death of the “Pope of Reggae”’ fills in the detail of his passing and ‘What Next?’ by Gil closes the show with the events of the Tuff Gong’s state funeral and his musical legacy, courtesy of his many children.

Bob Marley 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.
Bob Marley in Comics will be released in the UK in February 2020 and is available for pre-order now. NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing at nbmpub.com

The Phantom – The Complete Series: The Charlton Years Volume One


By Dick Wood, Steve Skeates, Bill Harris, D. J. Arneson, Jim Aparo, Frank McLaughlin, Pat Boyette, Bill Lignante & various (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-61345-006-2 (HB)

In the 17th century a British sailor survived an attack by pirates, and, washing ashore on the African coast, swore on the skull of his murdered father to dedicate his life and that of all his descendants to destroying all pirates and criminals. The Phantom fights crime and injustice from a base deep in the jungles of Bengali, and throughout Africa is known as the “Ghost Who Walks”.

His unchanging appearance and unswerving war against injustice have led to him being considered an immortal avenger by the credulous and the wicked. Down the decades one hero after another has fought and died in an unbroken family line, and the latest wearer of the mask, indistinguishable from the first, continues the never-ending battle…

Lee Falk created the Jungle Avenger at the request of his syndicate employers who were already making history, public headway and loads of money with his first strip sensation Mandrake the Magician, and although technically not the first ever costumed hero in comics, The Phantom became the prototype paladin to wear a skin-tight body-stocking and the first to have a mask with opaque eye-slits.

He debuted on February 17th 1936 in an extended sequence pitting him against a global confederation of pirates called the Singh Brotherhood. Falk wrote and drew the daily strip for the first two weeks before handing over the illustration side to artist Ray Moore. A hugely successful Sunday feature began in May 1939.

For such a long-lived and influential series, in terms of compendia or graphic novel collections, The Phantom has been very poorly served by the English language market (except in Australia where he has always been accorded the status of a pop culture god).

Various companies have tried to collect the strips – one of the longest continually running adventure serials in publishing history – but in no systematic or chronological order and never with any sustained success.

But, even if it were only of historical value (or just printed for Australians), surely “Kit Walker” is worthy of a definitive chronological compendium series?

Happily, his comic book adventures have fared slightly better – at least in recent times…

From November 1962 through July 1966 all new adventures were published by West Coast giant Gold Key Comics after which King Features Syndicate dabbled with a comicbook line of their biggest stars – including Popeye, Flash Gordon, Mandrake and The Phantom – between 1966 and 1967. When they gave up the ghost, plucky dependable, cheap Charlton Comics were there to pick up the slack…

The Phantom was no stranger to funnybooks, having been featured since the Golden Age in titles such as Feature Book and Harvey Hits, but only as reformatted newspaper strip reprints. The Gold Key exploits were tailored to a big page and a young readership, a model King maintained for their own run but which was tweaked when Charlton took over the license.

This splendid full-cover hardcover – or eBook for the modern minded – gathers the contents of The Phantom #30-38 (originally released between February 1969 and June 1970) and opens with an erudite Introduction from Christopher Irving relating all you need to know about ‘The Phantom and Charlton Comics’, illustrated by the first of many pages of original art by Jim Aparo.

As with previous publishers, the majority of the stories are scripted by Dick Wood (with some contributions from Bill Harris and Charlton mainstay Steve Skeates) but the big attraction here is a large body of illustration by up-&-coming superstar Jim Aparo in his last work for CC before moving to DC…

Opening the Charlton archive is a brace of thrilling escapades by Dick Wood and Frank McLaughlin (with possibly some inking assistance from Sal Trapani?) beginning with ‘The Secret of the Golden Ransom’ as Julie – sister of the Ghost Who Walks – again dons the purple long-johns to secretly save her brother from a devilish trap, after which the ‘The Living Legend’ sees the jungle guardian put the fear of god into an western-educated tribesman who no longer believes in ghosts…

Issue #31 sees an epic full-length tale by Wood and Aparo as ‘The Phantom of Shang-Ri-La’ finds the hero on a rescue mission to the fabled Valley of the Sun to save his best friend from devious crooks masquerading as benevolent immortals…

Following more original art, #32’s ‘The Pharaoh Phantom’ takes the masked marvel to Egypt and an impossible confrontation with a freshly-revived mummy who claims to be the original and genuine Ghost Who Walks…

Pat Boyette & Nick Alascia limn Wood’s lead story in The Phantom #33 as ‘The Curse of Kallai’ exposes an ancient mystery wherein an Indian death cult returns to plunder Africa, claiming an earlier Phantom was their bound and sworn ally, after which Steve Skeates & Aparo detail how a young native boy is pivotal in reversing ‘The Phantom’s Death’

Using the nom de plume Norm Dipluhm, D. J. Arneson scripts a brace of tales for Aparo in #34 beginning with ‘The Cliff Kingdom’ as the Phantom destroys a tribe hunting low flying aircraft before going on to defeat the far-fromxsupernatural menace dubbed ‘The Giant Ape of Tawth’

Veteran team Bill Harris & Bill Lignante return in #35 to reveal the sinister secret of ‘The Ghost Tribe’ plundering and slave-taking in Bengali, but not before the Phantom infiltrates the marauders’ inner circle and is ‘Trapped’ in an almost inescapable situation. Almost…

Dipluhm & Aparo open #36 with ‘The River That Never Ends’ as the Phantom is drawn into a subterranean underworld whilst battling merciless modern pirates, and close with a pithy smuggling yarn as the spectral avenger intercepts some ‘Very Special Timber’ to punish a very ingenious evildoer…

In #37 the format changes to shorter stories beginning with ‘Bandar Betrayers’ as a strange blossom warps the minds of the Phantom’s greatest friends and allies whilst ‘Skyjack’ sees him undercover as Kit Walker, flying to America when his plane is attacked by a fanatic, and a last exploit sees him back in Africa as a new commander for the private jungle police force is almost compelled to ‘Disband the Patrol’

Wrapping up these volatile verdant voyages, #38 starts on ‘The Dying Ground’ as rogue hunters trap the hero in hopes of learning the location of the fable Elephant’s Graveyard before a crisis of conscience and capability is countered by uncanny natural phenomena in ‘The Phantom’s New Faith’ after which Jungle Patrol intel allows The Phantom to save his ever-so-patient intended bride Diana Palmer from murderous art-thieves setting ‘The Trap’

Packed with original art by Aparo, this is another riveting, nostalgia-drenched triumph: straightforward, captivating rollicking action-adventure that has always been the staple of comics fiction.

If that sounds like a good time to you, this is a traditional action-fest you must not miss…
The Phantom® © 1969-1970 and 2012 King Features Syndicate, Inc. ® Hearst Holdings, Inc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Chicken Fat: Drawings, Sketches, Cartoons and Doodles


By Will Elder (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-704-9 (PB)

Wolf William Eisenberg was born in The Bronx on September 22nd 1921, and you probably have never heard of him. He became a cartoonist, illustrator and commercial artist after changing his name to Will Elder.

Tragically, for many of you, that name won’t ring any bells either, even though he was one of the funniest and most influential cartoonists of the 20th century. Another of those slum kids who changed comics, “Wolfie” studied at New York’s High School of Music and Art – as did future comrades in comedy Al Jaffee, Al Feldstein, John Severin & Harvey Kurtzman.

An artist of astounding versatility, he served in WWII as part of the 668th Engineer Company (Topographical) of the US First Army, instrumental in assuring the success of the Normandy landings. After returning to America, he changed his name and set up the Charles William Harvey Studio with Charles Stern and Kurtzman, operating as a comics shop providing strips and other material for Prize Comics and other publishers.

Elder inked old pal John Severin at EC, and in 1952 when Kurtzman created satire comic Mad, he became a regular contributor of pencils and inks. The spoofs and parodies he crafted for the landmark comic book and sister publication Panic were jam-packed with a host of eye-popping background gags and off-camera shtick, all contributing to the manic energy of the work. He called those extras “chicken fat” and to learn why you should pick up this slim yet satisfying companion collection to comprehensive bio-tome Will Elder: The Mad Playboy of Art. On offer here is a delightful peek at his working process (and outrageous, never-suppressed sense of humour) through roughs, sketches, architectural studies, test runs and abortive strip projects (such as The Inspector, Luke Warm and Adverse Anthony) for numerous clients over the decades, rendered in every medium from loose pencils to charcoal portraits to fully painted finished works, all supplemented by a fulsome Foreword from his son-in-law Gary Vandenbergh and even art from his grandson and successor Jesse Vandenbergh.

A certified touchstone for budding artists, here you’ll see technical illustrations and colour studies, landscapes and murals, as well as candid photos. There are EC model sheets, pop studies confirming Elder’s status as a cultural sponge and perfect mimic of other artist’s styles – a gift Jaffe claimed could have made the cartoonist the “world’s greatest forger”…

Straight magazine illustration lies with a host of sketch research on hundreds of subjects but what most comes out is a never-ending parade of gags and jests, many of which turned up in general interest magazines such as Pageant or Playboy. Elder loved to laugh and he had a very broad and earthy sense of humour so be careful to always swallow what you’re drinking before turning pages here…

As a jobbing cartoonist, Elder was always looking for the next gig and included here are a wonderful assortment of mock – and racy – sci fi pulp covers, star caricatures, political portraits, Time and Newsweek cover roughs and a section devoted to his and Kurtzman’s Goodman Beaver and scathing satirical masterpiece Little Annie Fanny – which Elder limned for 24 years, as well  as wealth of spoofs starring the great and good of comics and the media from Dick Tracy to Popeye to Prince Charles and Lady Diana

A visual tour de force, this is a perfect illustration of how and why cartoonists are and why we’re so lucky to have them.

All material, unless otherwise noted, is © 2006 Will Elder. Little Annie Fanny © 2006 Playboy Enterprises, Inc. Text © 2006 Gary Vandenbergh. All rights reserved.

Marvel Firsts: The 1960s


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Larry Lieber, Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Arnold Drake, Steve Parkhouse, Don Heck, Bill Everett, Dick Ayers, Gene Colan, John Buscema, George Tuska & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5864-6 (TPB)

For most fans, the Marvel Age of Comics began with Fantastic Four #1 at the tail end of 1961, but the company itself cites Marvel Comics #1 from 1939, when the outfit was called Timely as the big natal event. That means this year is their 80th anniversary and has been celebrated in a number of big-ticket compilations.

This hefty trade paperback (or digital edition if you prefer) from 2011 isn’t one of them, but is a superb compilation of the decade which made the House of Ideas a global force and household name. It collects the first story of each character’s own series (not necessarily the same as a debut appearance) and highlights key moments through material taken from Rawhide Kid #17, Amazing Adventures #1, Fantastic Four #1, Tales to Astonish #27, 51 & 70, Incredible Hulk #1, Amazing Fantasy #15, Journey into Mystery #83, Strange Tales #101, 110 & 135, Two-Gun Kid #60, Tales of Suspense #39, 49 & 59, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandoes #1, The Avengers #1, X-Men #1, Daredevil #1, Ghost Rider #1, Marvel Super-Heroes #12, 19-20, Captain Savage #1 and Silver Surfer #1, all collectively covering August 1960 to May 1969 and incorporating a staggering and vast gallery of covers from the other titles that came and went with such breathtaking rapidity in those days.

As stated, the company-that-became-Marvel was still going – albeit in dire straits – when Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and a select band of others started their revolution in comics, and these tales offer unmatched insights into how that all happened by re-presenting official first appearances…

Opening in January 1960 with a selection of 16 genre covers ranging from Battle #70 to Love Romances #87 to Patsy Walker #89, the first inklings of what’s to come are seen in Rawhide Kid #17, by Lee, Kirby and inker Dick Ayers.

The Kid was one of Atlas’ older icons, having starred in his own title since 1955. A stock sagebrush centurion clad in buckskins, he was one of the first casualties when Atlas’ distribution crisis forced the company to cut back to 16 titles in the autumn of 1957.

With westerns huge on TV and youthful rebellion a hot topic in 1960, Lee & Kirby conceived a brand-new six-gun stalwart – a teenager in fact – and launched him in the summer of the year, economically continuing the numbering of his cancelled predecessor.

It’s important to remember that these yarns aren’t trying to be gritty or authentic: they’re accessing the vast miasmic morass of wholesome, homogenised Hollywood mythmaking that generations of consumer preferred to learning the grim everyday toil, travail and terror of the real Old West, so sit back, reset your moral compass to “fair enough” and revel in simplistic Black Hats versus White Hats, with all the dynamic bombast and bravura Kirby & inker Dick Ayers could muster…

It all begins with adopted teen Johnny Bart teaching all and sundry in a cow-town named Rawhide to ‘Beware! The Rawhide Kid’ after his retired Texas Ranger Uncle Ben is gunned down by fame-hungry cheat Hawk Brown. After very publicly exercising his right to vengeance, the naive kid flees Rawhide before he can explain, resigned to living as an outlaw forevermore…

His reputation is further enhanced when he routs a masked gang robbing the ‘Stagecoach to Shotgun Gap!’ after which Don Heck delivers one of his slickly authentic western tales as a veteran gunslinger devises a way to end his own fearsome career ‘With Gun in Hand!’

The issue closes with by Lee, Kirby & Ayers revealing how another tragic misunderstanding confirms Johnny Bart’s destiny ‘When the Rawhide Kid Turned… Outlaw!’

Following a trio of romantic comedy covers – My Girl Pearl #7, Teen-Age Romance #77 and Life with Millie #8 – we turn to the company’s splendidly addictive men-vs-monsters anthology titles wherein Amazing Adventures #1 (cover-dated June 1961) begins a cautious experiment by launching a low-key – un-costumed – paranormal mystically empowered investigator for a short run of pre-superhero escapades.

‘I Am the Fantastic Dr. Droom!’ by Lee & Kirby with Ditko inking finds a seemingly sedate American drawn to Tibet to be trained in ancient mysteries before returning home as an occult consultant after which, the cover for Linda Carter, Student Nurse #1 takes us to the big moment when everything changed…

Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961) introduces a brave new world in the eponymous ‘The Fantastic Four’ as maverick scientist Reed Richards summon his fiancé Sue Storm, their pilot pal Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother Johnnybefore heading off on their first mission. In a flashback we discover that they are driven survivors of a private space-shot that went horribly wrong when Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding. On crashing back to Earth, they found they’d all been hideously mutated into outlandish freaks.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and tragic Ben turned into a shambling, rocky freak. Shaken but unbowed they vow to dedicate their new abilities to benefiting mankind. Crafted by Lee & Kirby with inks by George Klein & Christopher Rule, the drama intensified with ‘The Fantastic Four meet the Mole Man’ as they foil a plan by another outcast who controls monsters and slave humanoids from far beneath the Earth. This summation of the admittedly mediocre plot cannot do justice to the engrossing wonder of that breakthrough issue – we really have no grasp today of just how different in tone, how shocking it all was.

Next comes Ditko’s cover to Amazing Adult Fantasy #7, preceding a throwaway vignette from another of the company’s anthological monster mags. Taken from Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962) a 7-page short introduces Dr Henry Pym, a maverick scientist who discovers a shrinking potion and discovers peril, wonder and a kind of companionship amongst the lowliest creatures on Earth and under it…

This engaging piece of fluff – which owed more than a little to the movie The Incredible Shrinking Man – was plotted by Lee, scripted by his brother Larry Lieber and stunningly illustrated by Kirby & Ayers.

The Incredible Hulk smashed right into his own bi-monthly comic and, after some classic romps by Young Marvel’s finest creators, crashed right out again. After 6 issues the series was cancelled and Lee retrenched, making the Gruff Green Giant a perennial guest-star in other Marvel titles until such time as they could restart the drama in their new “Split-Book” format in Tales to Astonish where Ant/Giant-Man was rapidly proving to be a character who had outlived his time.

Cover-dated May 1962, that first issue observes puny atomic scientist Bruce Banner, sequestered on a secret military base in the American desert and perpetually bullied by bombastic commander General “Thunderbolt” Ross as the clock counts down to the world’s first Gamma Bomb test. Besotted by Ross’s daughter Betty, Banner endures the General’s constant jibes as the timer ticks on and tension increases.

At the final moment Banner sees a teenager lollygagging at Ground Zero and frantically rushes to the site to drag the boy away. Unknown to everyone, the assistant he’s entrusted to delay the countdown has an agenda of his own…

Rick Jones is a wayward but good-hearted kid. After initial resistance he lets himself be pushed into a safety trench, but just as Banner prepares to join him The Bomb detonates…

Somehow surviving the blast, Banner and the boy are secured by soldiers, but that evening as the sun sets the scientist undergoes a monstrous transformation. He grows larger; his skin turns a stony grey…

In 6 simple pages that’s how it all starts, and no matter what any number of TV or movie reworkings or comicbook retcons and psycho-babble re-evaluations would have you believe that’s still the best and most primal take on the origin. A good man, an unobtainable girl, a foolish kid, an unknown enemy and the horrible power of destructive science unchecked…

Written by Lee, drawn by Kirby with inking by Paul Reinman, ‘The Coming of the Hulk’ barrels along as the man-monster and Jones are then kidnapped by Banner’s Soviet counterpart the Gargoyle for a rousing round of espionage and Commie-busting…

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

Lee & Kirby had responded with Fantastic Four and the ahead-of-his-time Incredible Hulk, but there was no indication of the renaissance to come when the cover of officially just-cancelled Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962) highlighted a brand new and rather eerie adventure character.

The wonderment came and went in 11 captivating pages: ‘Spider-Man!’ telling the parable of Peter Parker, a smart but alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider on a high school science trip. Discovering he has developed arachnid abilities – which he augments with his own natural engineering genius – Parker does what any lonely, geeky nerd would do when given such a gift… he tries to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Creating a costume to hide his identity in case he makes a fool of himself, he becomes a minor celebrity – and a vain, self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief flees past, he doesn’t lift a finger to stop him, only to find when he returns home that his Uncle Ben has been murdered.

Crazy for vengeance, Parker stalks the assailant who made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, to find that it is the felon he couldn’t be bothered with. Since his irresponsibility led to the death of the man who raised him, the boy swears to always use his powers to help others…

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

The tragic last-ditch tale struck a chord with the reading public and by Christmas a new comicbook superstar was ready to launch in his own title, with Ditko eager to show what he could do with his first returning character since the demise of Charlton action hero Captain Atom

The Mighty Thor was the comic series in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with all things Cosmic was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s examination of space-age mythology began in modest fantasy title Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by the fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers. JiM #83(August 1962), saw a bold costumed warrior jostling aside the regular fare of monsters, robots and sinister scientists in a brash, vivid explosion of verve and vigour.

The initial exploit follows crippled American doctor Donald Blake who takes a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Fleeing, he is trapped in a cave where he finds an old, gnarled walking stick. When in his frustration he smashes the stick into a huge boulder obstructing his escape, his puny frame is transformed into the Norse God of Thunder Mighty Thor!

Plotted by Lee, scripted by Lieber and illustrated by Kirby & inker Joe Sinnott (at this juncture a full illustrator, Sinnott would become Kirby’s primary inker for most of his Marvel career), ‘The Stone Men of Saturn’ is pure early Marvel: bombastic, fast-paced, gloriously illogical and captivatingly action-packed. The hugely under-appreciated Art Simek was the letterer and logo designer.

It was clear that they were were making it up as they went along – not in itself a bad thing – and all that infectious enthusiasm shows…

Amazing Fantasy #15 came out the same month as Journey into Mystery #83 and a month later Tales to Astonish #35 – the first to feature Henry Pym as the Astonishing Ant-Man in costumed capers appeared. In this volume you’ll find the cover to TtA #35 to mark that occasion…

Hot on the heels of the runaway success of Fantastic Four, Stan & Jack spun the most colourful and youngest member of the team into his own series, hoping to recapture the glory of the 1940s when the original Human Torch was one of the company’s “Big Three” superstars.

Within a year, the magic-&-monsters anthology title Strange Tales became home for the hot-headed hero: in #101, Johnny Storm started his ancillary solo career in the eponymous exploit ‘The Human Torch’.

Scripted by Lieber (over a plot by brother Stan) and sublimely illustrated by Kirby & Ayers, here the plucky lad investigates sabotage at a new seaside amusement park and promptly discovers Commie-conniving thanks to a Red spy called the Destroyer. Kirby would pencil the first few adventures before moving on, after which Ayers would assume control of the series’ look for most of its run although The King would generate some of the best covers of his Marvel career throughout the Torch’s Strange Tales tenure.

An odd inconsistency – or, more likely, tension – and drama-inducing gimmick did crop up here. Although public figures in the FF, Johnny and sister Sue live part-time in Long Island hamlet Glenville where, despite the townsfolk being fully aware of her as the glamorous and heroic Invisible Girl, they seem oblivious to the fact that her baby brother is the equally famous Torch. Many daft-but-ingenious pages of Johnny protecting his secret identity would ensue before the situation was brilliantly resolved…

Despite the runway success of its new superheroes, Marvel was still offering a range of genres such as westerns. August 1962 saw the retooling of another Atlas property as Two-Gun Kid #60 (cover-dated November) introduces Eastern lawyer Matt Hawk who moved to barbarous and unruly Tombstone, Texas in ‘The Beginning of the Two-Gun Kid’ by Lee, Kirby & Ayers. After merciless and relentless bullying, the tenderfoot is mentored by aged gunslinger Ben Dancer and transforms into a powerful, ultrafast deadly accurate shootist…

When Ben is driven out of town by a pack of thugs working for land baron Clem Carter, Hawk adopts a masked identity to see that justice is done…

Don Heck limned stand-alone tale ‘The Outcast’ revealing the naked ambition of a Navajo warrior before Hawk returns to complete his origin story in ‘I Hate the Two-Gun Kid!’ Here, romantic interest Nancy Carter falls foul of a scheme by her stepbrother to defraud her and frame the new hero in town…

More striking covers – Modelling with Millie #21 and Amazing Spider-Man #1 – precede the debut of the next Marvel milestone in Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963 and on the newsstands for Christmas 1962).

Created in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at a time when “Red-baiting” and “Commie-bashing” were national obsessions in the U.S., the emergence of a brilliant new Thomas Edison employing Yankee ingenuity and invention to safeguard the World was an inevitable proposition. Combining the cherished belief that (US) technology could solve every problem with universal imagery of noble knights battling evil and the proposition became certainty. Of course, kids thought it great fun and very, very cool…

Scripted by Lieber (over Lee’s plot) and illustrated by the criminally unappreciated Don Heck, ‘Iron Man is Born’, see electronics wizard Tony Stark field testing his latest invention in Viet Nam when he is wounded by a landmine. Captured by Viet Cong commander Wong-Chu, he is given a grim ultimatum. Create weapons for the Reds and a doctor will remove from his chest the shrapnel that will kill him within seven days. If not…

Knowing Commies can’t be trusted, Stark and aged Professor Yinsen – another captive scientist – build a mobile iron lung (remember this was years before heart transplants and pace-makers) to keep his heart beating, equipping it with all the weapons their ingenuity and resources can secretly build. Naturally they succeed, defeating Wong-Chu, but not without tragic sacrifice…

Next was a new genre title, once again given a fresh treatment by Lee, Kirby & Ayers. Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos (May 1963) was an improbable, over-the-top WWII combat comics series similar in tone to later ensemble action movies such as The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch and The Dirty Dozen. The surly squad of sorry reprobates were the first of three teams concocted by men-on-fire Kirby & Lee to secure fledgling Marvel’s growing position as the publisher to watch.

Sgt. Fury started out as a pure Kirby creation. As with all his various war comics, The King made everything look harsh and real and appalling: the people and places are all grimy and tired, battered yet indomitable.

The artist had served in some of the worst battles of the war and never forgot the horrific and heroic things he saw – and more graphically expressed in his efforts during the 1950s genre boom at a number of different companies. However, even at kid-friendly, Comics Code-sanitised Marvel, those experiences perpetually leaked through onto his powerfully gripping pages.

The saga began with blistering premier ‘Sgt. Fury, and his Howling Commandoes’ (that’s how they spellled it in the storrie-title – altho knot ennyware else): a rip-snorting yarn bursting with full-page panels interrupted by ‘Meet the Howling Commandos’ – a double-page spread spotlighting the seven members of First Attack Squad; Able Company. This comprised Fury himself, former circus strongman/Corporal “Dum-Dum” Dugan and privates Robert “Rebel” Ralston (a Kentucky jockey), college student Jonathan “Junior” Juniper, jazz trumpeter Gabriel Jones, mechanic Izzy Cohen and glamorous movie heartthrob Dino Manelli.

Controversially – even in the 1960s – this battle Rat Pack was an integrated unit with Jewish and black members as well as Catholics, Southern Baptists and New York white guys all merrily serving together. The Howling Commandos pushed envelopes and busted taboos from the very start…

The first mission was a non-stop riot pitting ‘Seven Against the Nazis!’ and putting the squad through their unique paces: a ragged band of indomitable warriors taking on hordes of square-necked Nazis to save D-Day and rescue a French resistance fighter carrying vital plans of the invasion.

A low-key introduction served for the next debut as something different debuted at the back of Strange Tales #110.

When the budding House of Ideas introduced a warrior wizard to their burgeoning pantheon in the summer of 1963 it was a bold and curious move. Bizarre adventures and menacing monsters were still incredibly popular but mention of magic or the supernatural – especially vampires, werewolves and their eldritch ilk – were severely proscribed by a censorship panel which dictated almost all aspects of story content.

At this time – almost a decade after an anti-comics public campaign led to Senate hearings – all comics were ferociously monitored and adjudicated by the draconian Comics Code Authority. Even though some of the small company’s strongest sellers were still mystery mags, their underlying themes and premises were almost universally mad science and alien wonders, not necromantic or thaumaturgic horrors.

That might explain Lee’s unobtrusive introduction of Steve Ditko’s mystic defender: an exotic, twilit troubleshooter inhabiting the shadowy outer fringes of rational, civilised society in one of those aforementioned monster titles.

Tales of Suspense #41 (May 1963) saw newcomer Iron Man battle crazed technological wizard Doctor Strange, and with the name successfully and legally in copyrightable print, preparations began for a truly different kind of ongoing hero.

The company had recently published a quasi-mystic precursor in balding, trench-coated Doctor Droom (who was later rechristened – or is that re-paganed? – Dr. Druid) and when Stephen Strange scored big, the prototype would be subsequently retro-written into Marvel continuity as an alternative candidate and precursor for the ultimate role of Sorcerer Supreme…

Thus, without any preamble, our first meeting with the man of mystery comes courtesy of a quiet little chiller which has never been surpassed for sheer mood and imagination. Lee & Ditko’s ‘Doctor Strange Master of Black Magic!’ in Strange Tales #110 (July 1963) saw a terrified man troubled by his dreams approach an exceptional consultant in his search of a cure…

That perfect 5-page fright-fest introduces whole new realms and features deceit, desperation, double-dealing and the introduction of both a mysterious and aged oriental mentor and devilish dream demon Nightmare in an unforgettable yarn that might well be Ditko’s finest moment…

After a period of meteoric expansion, by mid-1963 the ever-expanding Marvel Universe was finally ready to emulate the successful DC concept that cemented the legitimacy of the Silver Age of American comics – the concept of putting a bunch of all-star eggs in one basket which had made the Justice League of America such a winner and inspired the moribund Atlas outfit to try superheroes again…

Nearly 18 months after Fantastic Four #1, the fledgling House of Ideas had a viable stable of leading men (but only sidekick women) so Lee & Kirby assembled a handful of them and moulded them into a force for justice and soaring sales…

Seldom has it ever been done with such style and sheer exuberance. Cover dated September 1963, The Avengers #1 kicks off with ‘The Coming of the Avengers’: one of the cannier origin tales in comics. Instead of starting at a zero point and acting as if the reader knew nothing, Stan & Jack (plus inker Dick Ayers) assumed readers had at least a passing familiarity with Marvel’s other titles and wasted very little time or energy on introductions.

In Asgard, God of Mischief Loki is imprisoned on a dank isle, hungry for vengeance on his half-brother Thor. Observing Earth, the wicked Asgardian espies monstrous, misunderstood Hulk and mystically engineers a situation wherein the man-brute seemingly goes on a rampage, simply to trick the Thunder God into battling the brute.

When the Hulk’s sidekick Rick Jones radios the FF for assistance, devious Loki diverts the transmission and smugly awaits the outcome of his trickery Sadly, Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp also pick up the redirected SOS. As the heroes converge in the American Southwest to search for the Jade Giant, they soon realize that something is oddly amiss…

This terse, epic, compelling and wide-ranging yarn (New York, New Mexico, Detroit and Asgard in 22 pages) is Lee & Kirby at their bombastic best, but that same month they also premiered another super squad that was the hero team’s polar opposite…

X-Men #1 introduced gloomy, serious Scott “Slim” Summers (Cyclops), ebullient Bobby Drake AKA Iceman, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington III codenamed Angel, and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy as The Beast.

These teens were very special students of Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and achieving integration between the sprawling masses of humanity and Homo Superior: an emergent off-shoot race of mutants with incredible extra abilities.

Scripted by Lee ‘X-Men’ opens with the boisterous students welcoming newest classmate Jean Grey (promptly dubbed Marvel Girl) – a beautiful young woman possessing the ability to move objects with her mind.

Whilst Xavier is explaining the team goals and mission in life, actual Evil Mutant Magneto is single-handedly taking over American missile-base Cape Citadel. A seemingly unbeatable threat, the master of magnetism is nonetheless valiantly driven off by the young heroes on their first outing in under 15 minutes…

It doesn’t sound like much, but the gritty, dynamic power of Kirby’s art, solidly inked by veteran Paul Reinman, imparted a raw aggressive energy to the tale which carried the bi-monthly book irresistibly forward.

As Henry Pym matured from Ant-Man to Giant-Man, he took on a crimefighting partner in Janet Van Dyne – The Wasp. Although she almost never got a chance to solo star, with Tales to Astonish #52 (January 1964) Jan was granted a back-up series where she narrated horror stories like this one. Crafted by Lee, Lieber & Roussos ‘Somewhere Waits a Wobbow!’is a standard cautionary tale of fate and justice catching up to a crooked ne’er-do-well and is followed here by a similar new position for an alien first introduced in Fantastic Four #13. By the same team and in the same month, Tales of the Watcher launched in Tales of Suspense #49 as the omnipotent intergalactic voyeur relates ‘The Saga of the Sneepers!’ as a predatory extraterrestrial race observes Earth and makes plans to conquer humanity…

As the evolved Atlas Comics grew in popularity, it gradually supplanted its broad variety of genre titles with more and more superheroes. The recovering powerhouse was still hampered by a crippling distribution deal that limited the company to 16 titles per month (which would restrict their output until 1968), so each new untried book would have to fill the revenue-generating slot (however small) of an existing title.

Moreover, as the costumed characters were selling, each new similarly-themed title would limit the breadth of the monster, western, war, humour or girls’ comics that had been the outfit’s recent bread and butter. It was putting a lot of eggs in one basket, and superheroes had failed twice before for Marvel.

So Daredevil, the Man Without Fear (April 1964) might have seemed a risky venture. Yes, the artist was one of the industry’s most talented veterans, but not to the young kids who were the audience. Most importantly, he wasn’t Kirby or Ditko… ‘The Origin of Daredevil’ recounts how young Matthew Murdock grew up in the slums, raised by his father Battling Jack Murdock, a second-rate prize-fighter. Determined that the boy will be something, the father extracts a solemn promise from his son that he will never fight. Mocked by other kids who sarcastically dub him “Daredevil”, Matt abides by his vow, but secretly trains his body to physical perfection.

One day he saves a blind man from being hit by a speeding truck, only to be struck in the face by its radioactive cargo. His sight is burned away forever but his other senses are super-humanly enhanced and he gains a sixth: “radar-sense”. He tells no-one, not even his dad.

The senior Murdock is in dire straits. As his career declined, he signed with The Fixer, knowing full well what the corrupt promoter expected from his fighters. Yet Jack’s star started to shine again and his downward spiral reversed itself. Unaware that he was being set up, Murdock got a shot at the Big Time, but when ordered to take a dive, refused. Winning was the proudest moment of his life. When his bullet-riddled corpse was found, the cops had suspicions but no proof…

Heartbroken Matt graduated college with a law degree and set up in business with his room-mate Franklin “Foggy” Nelson. They hired a lovely young secretary named Karen Page and, with his life on track, young Matt now had time to solve his father’s murder…

His promise stopped him from fighting but what if he became somebody else?

Scripted by Lee and moodily illustrated by the legendary Bill Everett (with assistance from Ditko) this is a rather nonsensical yet visually compelling yarn that just goes through the motions, barely hinting at the magic yet to come.

A cover gallery highlighting Marvel Tales Annual #1, Tales to Astonish #60 and photo mag Monsters to Laugh With#1 then leads to the return of Captain America in his own series.

After his resurrection in Avengers #4, the golden Age Cap grew in popularity and was quickly awarded his own solo feature, sharing Tales of Suspense with Iron Man. Sparsely scripted by Lee with the staggeringly perfect team of Kirby & Chic Stone illustrating, ‘Captain America’ is one phenomenal fight scene as an army of thugs invades Avengers Mansion because “only the one without superpowers” is at home. They soon learn the folly of athat misapprehension…

Veteran war-hero Nick Fury was reimagined in Fantastic Four #21 (December 1963) as a grizzled, world-weary and cunning CIA Colonel at the periphery of really big events in a fast-changing world. Fury’s latter-day self then emerged as a big-name star once espionage yarns went global in the wake of popular TV sensations like The Man from U.N.C.L.E.The elder iteration was given a second series beginning in Strange Tales #135 (cover-dated August 1965). Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions with sinister schemes of World Conquest by a subversive, all-encompassing, hidden enemy organisation. The unfolding saga came with captivating Kirby-designed super-science gadgetry…

Kirby’s genius for graphic wizardry and gift for dramatic staging mixed with Stan Lee’s manic melodrama to create a tough and tense series which the writers and artists who followed turned into a non-stop riot of action and suspense…

The main event starts with ST #135 as the Human Torch lead feature is summarily replaced by ‘Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.’- which back then stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division

In the rocket-paced first episode, Fury is asked to volunteer for the most dangerous job in the world: leading a new counter-intelligence agency dedicated to stopping secretive subversive super-science organisation Hydra. With assassins dogging his every move, the Take-Charge Guy with the Can-Do Attitude quickly proves he is ‘The Man for the Job!’ in a potent 12-page thriller by Lee, Kirby & Ayers.

Originally devised by Bill Everett in 1939, Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner is the offspring of a water-breathing Atlantean princess and an American polar explorer: a hybrid being of immense strength, highly resistant to physical harm, able to fly and exist above and below the waves. Namor technically predates Marvel/Atlas/Timely Comics.

He first caught the public’s attention as part of the fire vs. water headlining team in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939 andMarvel Mystery Comics from the second issue onward), sharing honours and top billing with the original Human Torch, but he had originally been seen (albeit in a truncated black and white version) in Motion Picture Funnies: a weekly promotional giveaway handed out to moviegoers earlier in the year.

Rapidly emerging as one of the company’s biggest draws, Namor gained his own title at the end of 1940 (cover-dated Spring 1941) and was one of the last super-characters to go at the end of the first heroic age. In 1954, when Atlas briefly revived its “Big Three” (the Torch and Captain America being the other two) costumed characters, Everett returned for an extended run of superb fantasy tales, but even so the time wasn’t right and the title sunk again.

When Lee & Kirby started reinventing comicbooks in 1961 they revived the all-but forgotten awesome amphibian as a troubled, semi-amnesiac, and decidedly more regal, grandiose anti-hero in Fantastic Four #4. The returnee despised humanity; embittered at the loss of his sub-sea kingdom (seemingly destroyed by American atomic testing) whilst simultaneously besotted with Sue Storm.

Namor knocked around the budding Marvel universe for a few years, squabbling with other assorted heroes such as the Hulk, Avengers and X-Men, before securing his own series as one half of Tales to Astonish. Marvel’s “split-books” had been devised as a way to promote their burgeoning stable of stars whilst labouring under a highly restrictive distribution deal limiting the number of titles, they could release each month. In 1968 the company ended this commitment and expanded exponentially.

After spectacularly battling Daredevil in the Scarlet Swashbuckler’s 7th issue, Tales to Astonish #70 heralded ‘The Start of the Quest!’ as Lee, Gene Colan (in the pseudonymous guise of Adam Austin) & Vince Colletta set the Sub-Mariner to storming an Atlantis under martial law ordered by his usurping Warlord Krang. The effort is for naught and the returning hero is rejected by his own people. Callously imprisoned, the troubled Prince is freed by his oft-neglected and ignored paramour Lady Dorma, compelling him to begin a mystical quest to find the lost Trident of King Neptune which only the rightful ruler of Atlantis can hold…

More covers follow – Monsters Unlimited #1, Patsy Walker’s Fashion Parade #1, reprint anthologies Marvel Collectors’ Items Classics #1, Fantasy Masterpieces #1, Marvel Tales #3, King Size Special Marvel Super-Heroes #1 and Thor #126 (a first issue as Journey into Mystery was sensibly retitled) before a new masked-&- costumed western hero debuted in Ghost Rider #1 (December 1966). ‘The Origin of the Ghost Rider’ by Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas, Ayers & Colletta revealed how Eastern teacher Carter Slade is shot by fake Indians and brought back from the brink of death by real ones. Saved by recently-orphaned Jamie Jacobs, Slade is healed by shaman Flaming Star who trains him in combat and gives him gifts which enable him to perform tricks of stage magic (such as night time invisibility, image projection and bodily discorporation).

Creating a glowing costume, Slade goes after the plundering white men impersonating native tribes – and who killed Jamie’s parents – as a spectral avenging spirit: “He who rides the Night Winds”…

Older fans – or their parents – might possibly recognise this hero as the western legend created by Ray Krank & Dick Ayers for Tim Holt #11 (Magazine Enterprises, 1949) and later immortalised by Frank Frazetta. They are stunningly, litigiously similar and Marvel made good use of the original’s reputation and recently voided copyright ownership…

The same holds true for their next superhero addition, who crops up following another cover gallery featuring Not Brand Echh #1 and animated cartoon tie-in one-shot America’s Best (TV) Comics #1.

After years as an also-ran/up-and-comer, by 1968 Marvel Comics was in the ascendant. Their sales were catching up with industry leaders National/DC Comics and Gold Key, and they finally secured a new distribution deal that would allow them to expand their list of titles exponentially. Once the stars of “twin-books” Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales all got their own titles, the House of Ideas just kept on going.

One dead-cert idea was a hero named after the company – and one with a huge amount of paopular cachet and nostalgic pedigree as well. After the DC/Fawcett court case of the 1940s-1950s, the name Captain Marvel disappeared from the newsstands, but in In 1967 – during the superhero boom and camp craze generated by the Batman TV show, publisher MLF secured rights to the name and produced a number of giant-sized comics featuring an intelligent robot who could divide his body into segments and shoot lasers from his eyes.

Quirky, charming and devised by the legendary Carl (Human Torch) Burgos who had recently worked for Marvel, the feature nevertheless could not attract a large following. Upon its demise, the name was quickly snapped up by the resurgent Marvel Comics Group.

Marvel Super-Heroes was a brand-new title: it had been giant-sized reprint comic book Fantasy Masterpieces, combining monster and mystery tales with Golden Age Timely classics. With #12, it added an all-new lead experimental section for characters without homes such as Medusa and Black Knight when not debuting new concepts like Guardians of the Galaxy, Phantom Eagle (not for some reason included in this volume) – and, to start the ball rolling, an troubled alien spy sent to Earth from the Kree Galaxy. He held a Captain’s rank and his name was Mar-Vell.

Crafted by Lee, Colan & Giacoia, the initial MS-H 15 page-instalment ‘The Coming of Captain Marvel!: Phase One!!’devolved directly from Fantastic Four #64-65 wherein the quartet defeated a super-advanced Sentry robot from a mythical alien race, only to be attacked by a high official of those long-lost extraterrestrials in their very next issue!

After defeating Ronan the Accuser, the FF heard no more from the far-from-extinct Kree, but the millennia-old empire was once again interested in Earth. Dispatching a surveillance mission, the Kree wanted to know everything about us. Unfortunately, the agent they chose was a man of conscience; whilst his commanding officer Colonel Yon-Rogg was a ruthless rival for the love of the ship’s medical officer Una.

No sooner has the good captain made a tentative planet-fall and clashed with the US military from the local missile base than the first instalment ends…

Although cover-dated January 1968, Capt. Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders #1 was released in November of the previous year, and promoted a supporting character from Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos to lead status and the Pacific Theatre of War in WWII. Crafted by Friedrich, Ayers & Syd Shores ‘The Last Banzai!’ sees US submarine commander Simon Savage placed at the head of a squad of elite (multicultural/multi-ethnic) marines to clear the way for the imminent Allied landing on the fortified atoll of Tarawa. It’s a dirty job but…

The aforementioned expansion is celebrated in the covers for Groovy #1, Captain America #100, Incredible Hulk#102, Iron Man and The Sub-Mariner #1, Iron Man #1, Sub-Mariner #1, Captain Marvel #1, Doctor Strange #169, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 and Spectacular Spider-Man #1 and cemented by the first full solo tale of one the company’s breakthrough stars.

Although pretty much a last-minute addition to Fantastic Four #48-50’s ‘Galactus Trilogy’, Jack Kirby’s scintillating creation the Silver Surfer quickly became a watchword for depth and subtext in the Marvel Universe and one Stan Lee kept as his own personal toy for many years.

Tasked with finding planets for space god Galactus to consume and, despite the best efforts of intergalactic voyeur Uatu the Watcher, one day the Surfer discovers Earth, where the latent nobility of humanity reawakens his own suppressed morality; causing the shining scout to rebel against his master and help the FF save the world. In retaliation, Galactus imprisons his one-time herald on Earth, making him the ultimate outsider on a planet remarkably ungrateful for his sacrifice.

The Galactus Saga was a creative highlight from a period where the Lee/Kirby partnership was utterly on fire. The tale has all the power and grandeur of a true epic and has never been surpassed for drama, thrills and sheer entertainment. It’s not included here: for that treat you’ll need to see a Fantastic Four Epic Collection or many other Marvel collections…

In May 1968, after frequent guest-shots and even a solo adventure in the back of Fantastic Four Annual #5, the Surfer finally got his own (initially double-length) title at long last.

‘The Origin of the Silver Surfer!’ is illustrated by John Buscema & Joe Sinnott, with the drama opening on a prolonged flashback sequence of the outcast’s forays on Earth and repeated examples of crass humanity’s brutal callousness and unthinking hostility, detailing how Norrin Radd, discontented soul from an alien paradise Zenn-La, became the gleaming herald of a planetary scourge.

Radd had constantly chafed against a civilisation in comfortable, sybaritic stagnation, but when Galactus shattered their vaunted million years of progress in a fleeting moment, the dissident without hesitation offered himself as a sacrifice to save the world from the Devourer’s hunger.

Converted into an indestructible, gleaming human meteor, Radd agreed to scour the galaxies looking for uninhabited worlds rich in the energies Galactus needs to survive, thus saving planets with life on them from destruction. He didn’t always find them in time…

The stories in this series were highly acclaimed – if not really commercially successful – both for Buscema’s agonised, emphatic and lush artwork as well as Lee’s deeply spiritual and philosophical scripts. The tone was accusatory; with the isolated alien’s travails and social observations creating a metaphoric status akin to a Christ-figure for an audience that was maturing and rebelling against America’s creaking and unsavoury status quo.

The company had early learned the value of reprinting their past glories; both to update new readers and to cheaply monopolise sales points and here a gallery blends ongoing titles such as newly retitled Captain Savage and his Battlefield Raiders #5 and adult-oriented Pussycat #1 with double-sized classics compilations Tales of Asgard #1 and The Mighty Marvel Western #1 before Marvel Super-Heroes #19 (March 1969 and on the stands in December 1968) saw Tarzan analogue Ka-Zar in his first solo story ‘My Father, My Enemy!’ courtesy of  Arnold Drake, Steve Parkhouse, George Tuska & Sid Greene,

Beginning as a barbarian wild man in a lost sub-polar realm of swamp-men and dinosaurs, Ka-Zar eventually evolved into one of Marvel’s more complex – and exceedingly mutable – characters. Wealthy heir to one of Britain’s oldest noble families, his best friend is a sabre-tooth tiger, his wife is feisty jungle warrior/zoologist Shanna the She-Devil and his brother is a homicidal super-scientific bandit. He is one of Marvel/Timely’s oldest heroes (pulp hero predated Martin Goodman’s first foray into comics and strip incarnation Kazar the Great was in Marvel Comics #1, right beside The Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and The Angel…

Lord Kevin Plunder was perpetually torn between the clean life-or-death simplicity of the jungle and the bewildering constant compromises of modern civilisation as he guest-starred in titles as varied as X-Men, Daredevil and Amazing Spider-Man.

As this enjoyable, under-appreciated tale unfolds many of the modern hero’s inconsistencies and conflicts are squared as the aristocratic outsider leaves his British castle for the Antediluvian Savage Land to investigate claims that his dead father was a scientific devil intent on using his discovery of anti-metal for evil…

Tragically, his warped brother Parnival is ruthlessly determined to hide the truth for his own vile ends…

A wild excursion to Antarctica, featuring the discovery and the modern incarnation Dinosaurs, lost cities, spectacular locations, mystery and all-out action: it doesn’t get better than this…

Ending the astounding adventures is a tale taken from February 1969 as the industry began experiencing a downturn in superhero sales and the rise of other genres.

Co-written and pencilled by Lieber with Thomas, Giacoia & Vince Colletta, This Man… This Demon!’ was the last solo try-out from Marvel Super-Heroes (#20, cover-dated May) before it became an all-reprint vehicle, which restated Dr. Victor von Doctor’s origins and revealed his tragic, doomed relationship with a gypsy girl named Valeria. That relationship is then exploited by demon alchemist Diablo who claims to need an ally but actually wants a new slave. The terrifying monarch of Latveria deals with the charlatan in typically effective style…

Marvel continued expanding for the remainder of the decade, but not with superheroes, as a final clutch of covers – Mad About Millie #1, Chili #1, My Love #1, Tower of Shadows #1, Chamber of Darkness #1, Our Love Story #1, Marvel’s Greatest Comics #22, Homer, the Happy Ghost #1, Peter the Little Pest #1, a revived Kid Colt Outlaw(#140), Ringo Kid #1 and Where Monsters Dwell #1 – highlights the publisher’s return to genre themes after which a brief bonus section reveals Stan Lee’s original synopsis for Fantastic Four #1 and a brace of contemporary house ads from the early moments of the decade…

The 1960s was the turning point in the history of American comic books: the moment when a populist industry became a true art form. These are the tales that sparked that renaissance and remain some of the best stories and art you will ever experience. Nuff Said?
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Wonder Woman the Golden Age volume 3


By William Moulton Marston, Harry G. Peter & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9190-7 (TPB)

Wonder Woman was conceived by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston and illustrated by Harry G. Peter in an attempt to offer girls a positive and forceful role model. She debuted as a special feature in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941), before springing into her own series and the cover-spot of new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later. An instant hit, the Amazing Amazon quickly won her own eponymous supplemental title in late Spring of that year (cover-dated Summer 1942).

Once upon a time on a hidden island of immortal super-women, American aviator Steve Trevor of US Army Intelligence crashed to Earth. Near death, he was nursed back to health by young and impressionable Princess Diana.

Fearing her growing obsession with the creature from a long-forgotten and madly violent world, her mother Queen Hippolyte revealed the hidden history of the Amazons: how they were seduced and betrayed by men but rescued by the goddess Aphrodite on condition that they isolated themselves from the rest of the world and devoted their eternal lives to becoming ideal, perfect creatures.

However, when goddesses Athena and Aphrodite subsequently instructed Hippolyte to send an Amazon back with the American to fight for global freedom and liberty, Diana overcame all other candidates and became their emissary – Wonder Woman.

On arriving in America, she purchased the identity and credentials of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, elegantly allowing the Amazon to be close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick medic to join her own fiancé in South America. Soon after, Diana also gained a position with Army Intelligence as secretary to General Darnell, ensuring she would always be able to watch over her beloved.

She little suspected that, although the painfully shallow Steve only had eyes for the dazzling Amazon superwoman, the General had fallen for the mousy but superbly competent Lieutenant Prince…

Using the nom de plume Charles Moulton, Marston (with help in later years from assistant Joye Murchison) scripted almost all of the Amazing Amazon’s many and fabulous adventures until his death in 1947, whereupon Robert Kanigher took over the writer’s role. Venerable veteran illustrator and co-creator H.G. Peter performed the same feat, limning practically every titanic tale until his own death in 1958.

Spanning January to December 1944, this superb full-colour deluxe softcover compilation (also available as an eBook edition) collects Diana’s exploits from Sensation Comics #25-36, Wonder Woman #8-11 plus her adventures from anthological book of (All) Stars Comics Cavalcade #6-8 and epic one-shot Big All-American Comic Book (1944)…

Without preamble, the ongoing triumphs, war-woven epics and imaginatively inspirational dramas of Wonder Woman resume with Sensation #25 and the ‘Adventure of the Kidnapers of Astral Spirits’ as servicewoman Diana Prince witnesses a murder.

However, the killer was asleep at home in bed at the time, and before long more impossible killings occur, drawing the Amazon into an incredible adventure beyond the Walls of Sleep into uncanny realms where even her gifts are useless and only determination and rational deduction can save the day…

Far less outré but no less deadly is the menace of ‘The Masquerader’ who replaces her in #26, following an unshakeable prophecy which sees the champion of Love and Freedom murdered by merciless racketeer Duke Dalgan. It takes the covert intervention of Aphrodite and a Girl’s Best Friend to thwart that dire fate, but Diana never learns just who substituted for her…

When the Amazon, Etta Candy, her sorority Holliday Girls and former convict Gay Frollik resolve to raise a billion dollars for ‘The Fun Foundation’, they don’t expect their most trusted advisor to turn against them, but his greed leads to his downfall and the clearing of a framed woman’s name in Sensation #27, after which Wonder Woman #8 (Spring 1944) delivers another novel-length triumph of groundbreaking adventure.

The drama opens with ‘Queen Clea’s Tournament of Death’ as Steve – on an undercover mission – is snatched by a giant barbarian woman. Hot on his trail, Diana discovers her beau a captive of undersea Amazons from lost Atlantis, living in colossal caverns below the oceans…

Diana soon finds herself embroiled in a brutal civil war facing the forces of usurping conqueror Clea of belligerent state Venturia whilst trying to restore the rightful ruler Eeras to peaceful, beleaguered Aurania. If she fails, Clea intends to invade the upper world, looking for husky men like Steve to replace the depleted, worn-out puny males of her own realm…

After restoring order in Atlantis, the Amazon returns to her military job and civilian identity until a little girl begs for aid in finding her missing father. Closer investigation reveals Clea’s forces have been abducting sailors and airmen, but with the rebel queen imprisoned as ‘The Girl with the Iron Mask’, who can the leader of the raids possibly be?

After another fearsome subterranean clash, the status quo is re-established, but when Diana later meets a huge and powerful student at Holliday College she realises that the adventure is still not over as ‘The Captive Queen’ infiltrates Paradise Island and captures both Wonder Woman and Eeras’ wayward daughter Octavia.

Even after defeating her ponderous perpetual foe the action doesn’t end for the Princess of Power as her return to the land beneath the sea is interrupted by another revolution.

This time the ineffectual Atlantean men had used the constant distractions and American modern weapons to enslave the women, making the sub-sea empire a brutal, domineering patriarchy. But not for long, as Diana and Steve led a brilliant counter-offensive…

The 1938 debut of Superman propelled National Comics to the forefront of their fledgling industry and a year later the company was licensed to produce a commemorative comicbook celebrating the opening of the New York World’s Fair.

The Man of Tomorrow prominently featured on the appropriately titled New York World’s Fair Comics among such four-colour stars as Zatara, Butch the Pup, Gingersnap and The Sandman. In 1940 another abundant premium emerged with Batman added to the roster, and the publishers felt they had an item and format worth pursuing commercially.

The spectacular card-cover 96-page anthologies had been a huge hit: convincing the cautious editors that an over-sized anthology of their pantheon of characters, with Superman and Batman prominently featured, would be a worthwhile proposition. Thus, the format was retained for a wholly company-owned, quarterly high-end package, retailing for the then-hefty price of 15¢.

Launching as World’s Best Comics #1 in Spring 1941, the book transformed into World’s Finest Comics from #2, beginning a stellar 45-year run which only ended as part of the massive clear-out and decluttering exercise that was Crisis on Infinite Earths. During the Golden Age, however, it remained a big blockbuster bonanza of strips to entice and delight readers…

At this time National/DC was in an editorially-independent business relationship with Max Gaines that involved shared and cross promotion and distribution for the comicbooks released by his own outfit All-American Publications. Although technically competitors – if not rivals – the deal included shared logos and advertising and even combining both companies’ top characters in the groundbreaking All Star Comics as the Justice Society of America.

However, by 1942 relations between the companies were increasingly strained – and would culminate in 1946 with DC buying out Gaines, who used the money to start EC Comics.

All-American thus decided to create its own analogue to World’s Finest, featuring only AA characters. The outsized result was Comics Cavalcade with Wonder Woman part of a sales-boosting trinity that included The Flash and Green Lantern

From Spring 1944’s #6, ‘The Mystery of Countess Mazuma’ sees Wonder Woman clash with a wronged and revenge-maddened female prisoner of Monte Cristo who will crush all in the path of her schemes to destroy her treacherous tormentor, after which Sensation Comics #28’s ‘The Malice of the Green Imps’ offers a welcome dose of metaphysical suspense as jealous thoughts and impulses are made manifest, driving gangsters and even good folks to attack the recently opened Fun Foundation Clinics sponsored by Diana and Gay Frollik, after which #29 sees another Amazon in Man’s World for the ‘Adventure of the Escaped Prisoner’.

After imprisoning gambling racketeer and blackmailer Mimi on the Amazons’ prison island, Diana is unaware of the harridan’s subsequent escape, which also brings confused, naively curious sister warrior Mala to New York where she quickly falls in with the wrong crowd…

Marston’s psychiatric background provided yet another weirdly eccentric psychic scenario in #30’s ‘The Blue Spirit Mystery’ as Steve, Etta Candy and Diana investigate Anton Unreal: a mystic and mentalist who offers to send his client to the heavenly Fourth Dimension – for a large fee, of course…

Unfortunately – although a crook – Unreal is no charlatan and the “ascended ones” certainly find themselves in a realm utterly unearthly, but definitely no paradise, until Steve and Diana follow, taking matters into their own immaterial hands…

Wonder Woman #9 discloses the origins of one of the Amazon’s most radical foes in one of her strangest adventures. ‘Evolution Goes Haywire’ opens with zoo gorilla Giganta stealing Steve’s little niece before the Amazon effects a rescue, after which crazy scientist Professor Zool utilises his experimental Hyper-Atomic Evolutionizer to transform the hirsute simian into a gorgeous 8-foot-tall Junoesque human beauty.

Sadly, the artificial amazon retains her bestial instincts and, whilst battling Wonder Woman, damages Zool’s machine, resulting in the entire region being devolved back to the days of cavemen and dinosaurs…

With even Diana converted to barbarism, it’s an uphill struggle to rerun the rise to culture and civilisation sufficiently to achieve a primitive Golden Age in ‘The Freed Captive’, but eventually the twisted time-travel tale brings them back to where they started from, but only after ‘Wonder Woman vs. Achilles’ provides a deranged diversion with Diana rescuing her own mother and people from male oppression by the legendary warrior king…

Comics Cavalcade #7 tells of a deranged outcast who abducts people to become his avian army, compelling the Amazon and Steve to invade ‘The Vulture’s Nest!’, and also provides an extra treat as ‘Etta Candy and her Holliday Girls’ go west to help the war effort as cowgirls and stumble into a robbery scheme perpetrated by outlaws…

Sensation Comics #31 serves up delicious whimsy and biting social commentary when the Princess of Power visits‘Grown-Down Land’ as a wealthy socialite mother neglects her children. The tykes run away and almost die before being saved by Wonder Woman, telling of a dream world far better and happier than reality. Next morning, when the kids can’t be awoken from a deep sleep, Diana realises they have chosen to stay in their topsy-turvy imaginary country. When she enters their dream, she then finds genuine peril of a most unexpected kind…

In #32’s ‘The Crime Combine’, Wonder Woman finds herself at the top of the American underworld’s hit-list. To scotch their plots, Diana asks fully reformed ex-Nazi and trainee Amazon Baroness Paula von Gunther to leave Paradise Island and infiltrate the hierarchy of hate, but it seems that the temptations of Man’s World and allure of evil will seduce the villain back to her wicked ways…

‘The Disappearance of Tama’, from Sensation Comics #33, sees the Amazon’s college friend Etta overhear a plot to kidnap and murder a movie starlet. Ever valiant, she embroils herself and Diana in a delightfully bewildering farrago of deadly doubles and impish impostors, after which Wonder Woman #10 (Fall 1944) doles out a novel-length epic of alien invasion.

In ‘Spies from Saturn’, a rare vacation with Etta and her sorority sister Holliday Girls leads to trouble with outrageous neighbour Mephisto Saturno who is actually leader of a spy ring from the Ringed Planet. However, even after imprisoning his extraterrestrial espionage squad the danger is not ended, as the aliens’ insidious “lassitude gas” turns America into a helpless sleeping nation, forcing the Amazon to take ‘The Sky Road’ to the invaders’ home world, find a cure and rescue her beloved Steve…

The cataclysmic clash concludes in ‘Wonder Woman’s Boots’ as the victorious Earthlings return home, unaware Mephisto is still free and has a plan to avenge his defeat…

Shocking – and not a little disturbing by modern standards – ‘The Amazon Bride’ in Comics Cavalcade #8 then details how the Amazon is drugged and seemingly loses her powers. That’s bad enough, but when Steve takes advantage and convinces the hero she must marry him so that he can protect her forever after, the Amazon has never been in greater peril…

The Big All-American Comic Book was a 128-page super one-shot released in 1944 which starred almost every feature and star in Gaines’ stable in individual adventures. The entire book is reprinted in the fabulous DC Rarities Archive (and I must review it one day), but here and now the Wonder Woman strip therein details how a master spy frames Steve for murder and sparks a national manhunt to capture or clear the heroic soldier in ‘Danny the Demon Had Plans’

Social injustice informs ‘Edgar’s New World’ in Sensation Comics #34, as the Amazing Amazon tackles the case of a “problem child”, near-blind and living in squalor, whilst his mother languishes in jail. Soon, however, the big-hearted heroine unearths political chicanery and grotesque graft behind the murder charge sending innocent Esta Poore to death row…

In #35, ‘Girls Under the Sea’ has Wonder Woman again battling to save lost Atlantis from tyranny and misrule after beneficent ruler Octavia is ousted by a committee of seditious anarchists, whilst #36 pits the Power Princess against deranged actor Bedwin Footh, a jealous loon who envies the Amazon’s headline grabbing, and organises her old foes Blakfu the Mole Man, Duke of Deception, Queen Clea, Dr. Psycho, The Cheetah and Giganta into an army against her. However, all was not as it seems in her ‘Battle Against Revenge’

Wonder Woman #11 (Winter 1944) wraps up this whirl on the Wayback Machine, offering big thrills and rare (for the times) plot continuity as ‘The Slaves of the Evil Eye’ sees Steve and Diana battling an uncanny mesmerist intent on stealing America’s defence plans against Saturn. The trail leads to bizarre performer Hypnota the Great and his decidedly off-kilter assistant Serva, but there are many layers of deceit behind ‘The Unseen Menace’, and a hidden mastermind intent on re-igniting the recently-ended war with Saturn in climactic final chapter ‘The Slave Smugglers’.

This spectacular psycho-drama of multiple personalities and gender disassociation is another masterpiece directly informed by Marston’s psychiatric background and delivers another weirdly eccentric tale unique to the genre…

This exemplary tome is a triumph of exotic, baroque, beguiling and uniquely exciting adventure: Golden Age exploits of the World’s Most Marvellous Warrior Maiden that are timeless, pivotal classics in the development of our medium and still offer astounding amounts of fun and thrills for anyone interested in a grand old time.
© 1943, 1944, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Countdown Annual 1972


By Many & various, edited by Dennis Hooper (Polystyle Publications)
SBN: 85096-018-5

As the 1960s ended, comics editors realised their readership was becoming increasingly sophisticated and sought to keep their attention with upscale rebrandings and style changes. Venerable old TV Comic and even TV21 were no longer dynamic enough and one answer to the situation – from licensing specialist Polystyle – was Countdown.

Running for a mere 58 weeks (beginning 20th February 1971) as a glossy, high end periodical, before its first dramatic makeover – which saw it relaunched on April 1st 1972 as TV Action + Countdown and ultimately TV Action – it subsisted until August 1973 when it was rolled up into TV Comic.

The magazine boasted a rich creative throughput, but the majority of the television-fuelled drama strips were written by editor Dennis Hooper, with additional material from Robin Hillborn, Allan Fennell and possible Angus Allen. However, as the company had access to TV 21’s archive and used reprint material, I could just be misremembering…

This is the only official Annual. The following year it became Countdown Annual… for TV Action, but don’t let that put you off: whether you’re a telly addict or comics fanboy, this book is stuffed with superb entertainment.

The action opens with a full-colour UFO thriller ‘The Circus’ illustrated by Jon Davis. The saga of a predatory alien body-snatcher used as a cash-cow by a failing Irish carnival show is interrupted (like an advert break?) by photo/fact feature ‘The Defenders’, wherein the secrets of Gerry Anderson’s covert anti-extraterrestrial force SHADO (Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defences Organisation) are outlined, but the story finale remains explosive and satisfying.

Rendered in black-&-red on white paper, 2-page gag strip ‘Dastardly and Muttley’ (by Peter Ford?) sees the cartoon clowns still hunting that infernal pigeon, after which a ‘Countdown Quiz’ tests your knowledge of the Space Race.

Staying in the Wild Black Yonder, Don Harley limns tense Thunderbirds thriller ‘Terror at Torreba’ with a crashed meteor bringing madness and destruction to Africa…

Arnold Kingston was the chief writer of extremely contemporary science fact features for the Countdown comic so it’s safe to assume he’s responsible for the ‘Think Tank! News from the Frontiers of Science’ photo noticeboard here, and another ‘Countdown Quiz’ as well as later features in the book.

Dastardly and Muttley then return, afflicted with dreams of cinematic stardom, after which Martin Asbury paints a full-colour ‘Captain Scarlet’ tale as the Mysterons suborn a giant killer robot and let it run amok…

Board game ‘Countdown Rescue Mission’ dovetails into dystopian prose sci fi short story ‘Countdown: Dangerous Friend’ – magnificently illustrated by John M. Burns – whilst ‘Rockets’ provides a potted photo-history of the real march into space.

Abortive Gerry Anderson Property ‘The Secret Service’ (Peter Ford again) finds priest and part-time secret agent Father Unwin leading the charge back into restricted colour as he and his partner Matthew use their Minimiser shrinking ray to steal back microdots from a hostile embassy

Photo feature ‘A Day with Dr. Who’ visits the locations used whilst filming The Daemons, before ‘U.F.O.s in history’offers a more evidential lesson on extraterrestrial encounters, whilst a colour ‘Jon Pertwee pinup’ brings us to a cracking Time Lord tale as Dr. Who battles floral doom in ‘The Plant Master’, brilliantly illustrated by Jim Baikie.

Slim but potent, this box of delight then ends with prose yarn ‘Joe 90 Resigns’ as the 9-year-old breaks the rules to rescue his father from an alpine emergency.

Closing with the ‘Answers’ to all those quiz questions and a stunning UFO photo section, this is a powerful and evocative treat you’d be crazy to miss…
© Polystyle Publications 1971.

Supercar Annual


By Alan Fennel, G. Wood and H.J. Cauldwell (Wm. Collins and Sons)
No ISBN:

For its entire existence British Comics have tapped into and exploited other entertainment icons such as stage, film and radio stars. As television became commonplace in the 1950s and exploded during the late 1960s – especially in the range and variety of children’s shows and cartoons – those programmes increasingly became a staple source for cheap weeklies but especially the Seasonal Annual market, not just for celebrities such as Arthur Askey or Abbott & Costello but increasingly the shows themselves: adding extra episodes to little aficionados’ finite canon.

Moreover, in an era before home recordings of any sort, these were exploits that could be enjoyed over and over again…

During that critical developmental period, Gerry Anderson’s innovative and increasingly high-tech puppet-show dramas revolutionised kids’ TV, and their comics tie-ins did exactly the same for our pictorial reading habits.

TV Century 21 (the unwieldy “Century” was eventually dropped) was patterned on a newspaper – albeit from 100 years into the future – and this shared conceit carried the avid readers into a multimedia wonderland as television and reading matter fed off each other. The incredible graphic adventures were supplemented with stills taken from the TV shows (and later, films), and a plenitude of photos also graced the text features and fillers which added to the unity of one of the industry’s first “Shared Universe” products,

Number #1 launched on January 23rd 1965, instantly capturing the hearts and minds of millions of children, and further proving to our comics editors the unfailingly profitable relationship between television shows and healthy sales.

Filled with high quality art and features, printed in gleaming photogravure, TV21 featured previous shows in strips such as Fireball XL5, Supercar and Stingray to supplement currently airing big draw Thunderbirds. In a bizarre attempt to be topical, the allegorically Soviet state of Bereznik constantly plotted against the World Government (for which read “The West”) in a futuristic Cold War to augment the aliens, aquatic civilisations and common crooks and disasters that threatened the general well-being of the populace. Even the BBC’s TV “tomorrows” were represented by a full-colour strip starring The Daleks.

Before all that, however, there were far simpler and more inclusive epics for kids at Christmas from the Anderson stable: such as this charming tome, credited to future Anderson staff writer Alan Fennel with cartoon art, strips, puzzles and illustrations by G. Wood and H. J. Cauldwell.

Supercar was Anderson’s (in conjunction with designer Reg Hill and scriptwriters Hugh and Martin Woodhouse) second marionette series, following on from comedy western Four-Feather Falls. Soundly science fictional, it was the first to be internationally syndicated and detailed the exploits of a futuristic flying car, as piloted by dashing test pilot Mike Mercury. His adventure prone entourage included batty boffins Professor Rudolph Popkiss and Dr. Horatio Beaker – who invented and built the mechanical beast – as well as boy sidekick Jimmy Gibson and his mischievous pet Mitch who was a monkey…

Located in a desert base at Black Rock, Nevada, the team had daring adventures all over the world (seen in the 39 episodes recorded between 1961-1962), and frequently faced wicked enemy agent Masterspy and his henchman Zarrin.

Broadcasts began in January 1962 and were eagerly awaited by millions of fans who found solace when the show closed by buying TV Comic for further exploits.

There were three annuals released, of which this is the last, offering an unconventional experience since all the strips and prose adventures comprise one large complete saga.

Following an enthralling painted double-page frontispiece of the wonder vehicle at the bottom of the sea, the action opens with Cauldwell’s full-colour strip ‘Killer Whale’ as the action-ready team save ocean-going scientist Doctor Bombay from one of his own maddened experiments. In the aftermath, they learn the savant has been recently been restored to his previous role as Maharajah of Subahn and agree to escort him home to take up the reins of power…

Before they can set off, however, a fresh emergency occurs, and Supercar is needed to fix a sabotaged trestle in Wood’s 2-colour strip ‘Bridge of Danger’ and their base is plundered of secrets in prose mystery yarn ‘The Workshop Robbery’. Thankfully, Mike is as adept at crimefighting and counterespionage as he is at flying…

Following puzzle page ‘World Flight’, monochrome strip ‘Close-Up on Danger’ finally sees the journey to Subahn begin, but during a stopover in London deposed former dictator Randah Singh deploys a hired assassin to kill Bombay in front of a live studio audience…

Plot foiled, the voyagers resume their flight, leaving us to enjoy a puzzle-maze in ‘S-O-S’ before a flashback prose tale details how Beaker and Popkiss discovered ‘The Treasure of Mesa Verde’ despite the larcenous efforts of Masterspy and Zarrin…

Another full-colour section begins with activity pages ‘What is Wrong with this Picture?’ and ‘Memory Game: Exploring Space’, before ‘Sahara Inferno’ finds Supercar diverted again to help extinguish a blazing natural gas well. General knowledge teaser ‘Nevada Quiz’ then segues into a new restricted colour section foe Wood’s ‘Kidnapped’ wherein Randah Singh hires Masterspy and Zarrin to ensure Maharajah Bombay never takes up his throne…

Rebus page ‘The Lost Diplomatic Plane’ leads to another prose flashback for ‘Mission to Destroy’; revealing how Supercar was instrumental in eradicating an illegal weapons cache in Malaya, after which a return to the present sees Bombay’s triumphal accession procession interrupted by the ‘Eruption!’ of the local volcano…

Memories evoked, a prose tale follows of a time in Switzerland when a souped-up mechanical doll triggered ‘The Avalanche’ before the extended saga concludes in full-colour with ‘The Triumphant Procession’ as Randah Singh plays his last murderous ace…

Blending charm with action and exoticism with big laughs, this is a splendid example of simpler times and all-ages storytelling that no nostalgia-afflicted baby boomer could possibly resist.
© 1963, A.P. FILMS and A.T.V. Ltd. All rights reserved.