Mighty Samson Archives volume 3


By Otto Binder, Gerry Boudreau, Jack Sparling, José Delbo, Jack Abel?, George Wilson & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-705-0 (HB)

As we have elections in Britain at the moment here’s another classic compilation focusing on Dystopias and why fiction remains so much less implausible than grim reality

These days all the attention in comics circles goes to big-hitters and headline-grabbing groundbreakers, but once upon a time, when funnybooks were cheap as well as plentiful, a kid (whatever their age) could afford to follow the pack and still find time and room to enjoy quirky outliers: B through Z listers, oddly off-kilter concepts and champions falling far short of the accepted parameters of standard super-types…

A classic example of that exuberant freedom of expression was the relatively angst-free dystopian tomorrow of Mighty Samson, who had a sporadic yet extended comics career of 32 issues spanning 1964 to 1982. In this volume the unearthed treasure come from issues #15 – 24 cover-dated August 1968 to June 1974. At the latter end of this time mass entertainment was filled with a fascination in post-disaster scenarios and revival of dystopian fiction. Comic books responded, with the most successful entries being Jack Kirby’s Kamandi at DC and Marvel contemporaneous Planet of the Apes adaptations.

Although set in the aftermath of an atomic Armageddon, the story of the survivors was a blend of updated myth, pioneer adventure and superhero shtick, liberally leavened with variations of those incredible creatures and sci fi monsters the industry thrived on back then.

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

Another connection was with fellow Western subsidiary K.K. Publications (named for licensing legend Kay Kamen who facilitated extremely lucrative “license to print money” merchandising deals for Walt Disney Studios between 1933 and 1949). From 1938, the affiliated companies’ comic book output was released under a partnership deal with a “pulps” periodical publisher under the umbrella imprint Dell Comics – and again those creative staff and commercial contacts fed into the line-up of the Big Little, Little Golden and Golden Press books for younger children. This partnership ended in 1962 and Western had to swiftly reinvent its comics division as Gold Key.

Western had been a major player since comics’ earliest days, blending a vast tranche of licensed titles – including newspaper strips (like Nancy and Sluggo, Tarzan and The Lone Ranger), TV tie-in and Disney titles with in-house originations such as Turok, Son of Stone, Brain Boy and Kona: Monarch of Monster Isle. Dell and Western split just as a comic book resurgence triggered a host of new titles and companies, and a superhero boom. Independent of Dell, new outfit Gold Key launched original adventure titles including Dr. Solar, Man of the Atom; Magnus – Robot Fighter; M.A.R.S. Patrol Total War; Space Family Robinson and many more. As a publisher, Gold Key never really “got” the melodramatic, frequently mock-heroic Sturm und Drang of the Silver Age superhero boom – although for many of us, the understated functionality of classics like Magnus and Doctor Solar or crime-fighting iterations of classic movie monsters Dracula, Frankenstein and Werewolf were utterly irresistible. The sheer off-the-wall lunacy of features like Neutro or Dr. Spektor I shall reserve for a future occasion…

The post-dystopian wonder warrior had been anonymously created by industry giants Otto Binder & Frank Thorne in 1964. Binder was the quintessential jobbing writer: he and his brother Earl were early fans of science fiction, with their first professional sale to Amazing Stories in 1930. As “Eando Binder” their pulp-fiction and novels output continued well into the 1970s, with Otto rightly famed for his creation of primal robotic hero Adam Link. From 1939 onwards, Otto was also a prolific comic book scripter, most beloved and revered for the invention and perfection of a humorous blend of spectacular action, self-deprecating humour and gentle whimsy as characterised by the Fawcett Captain Marvel line of titles (and later in DC’s Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen). Binder was also constantly employed by many other publishers and amongst his most memorable inventions and innovations are Timely’s Young Allies, Mr. Mind, Brainiac, Super Dog Krypto and the Legion of Super-Heroes. In later life, he moved into editing, producing factual science books and writing for NASA.

This third splendid full-colour hardback compilation – printed on a reassuringly sturdy and comforting grainy old-school pulp stock rather than glossy paper – gathers Mighty Samson #15-24, spanning August 1968 to June 1974 and begins with a heady appreciation of the life and stellar career by author Dylan Williams in ‘Otto Binder: The Working Life of Comics’ Mightiest Dramatist’

His art partner for the tales in this volume was another experienced comics veteran. John Edmond “Jack” Sparling (June 21st 1916 – February 15th 1997) was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba but migrated young to the USA. After studying in New Orleans and at the Corcoran School of Art, he left a cartooning gig at the New Orleans Item-Tribune to create the strip Hap Hopper, Washington Correspondent for United Features Syndicate (1940) which was followed in 1943 by Claire Voyant. That strip ended in 1948 and thereafter Sparling concentrated on comic books, becoming a wandering regular whose work appeared in Classics Illustrated, Dell/Gold Key, Marvel, DC, Charlton and others on strips like Robin Hood, Captain America, Tiger Girl, Space Man, Neuro, Secret Six, Eclipso, The Day after Doomsday, Challengers of The Unknown, Unknown Soldier and more.

Ideally suited for short story and humorous fare, he worked continuously for Gold Key’s horror anthologies and was a key contributor when DC revived its House of Secrets and House of Mystery titles (co-creating with Bob Haney undying horror-host Cain in HoM #175). Sparling was particularly adept on licensed properties, illustrating Bomba, Family Affair, Six Million Dollar Man, Bionic Woman, Welcome Back, Kotter, Adam-12, Microbots, The Outer Limits ad nauseum…

What you need to know: Mighty Samson #1 (July 1964) had introduced the bombed-out metropolis of N’Yark: a dismal dangerous collection of enclaves and regions where human primitives clung to the ruins, scattered into rival tribes all striving daily against mutated plants and monsters as well as less easily identified blends somewhere in between…

One day when a toddler was grabbed by a predatory plant he casually tore the terror apart with his podgy little hands. Years passed and the child grew tall and clean-limbed, and it was clear that he too was a mutant: immensely strong, incredibly fast and improbably durable…

Impassioned by his mother’s dying words – “protect the weak from the powerful, the good from the evil” – Samson became the champion of his people; battling beasts and monsters imperilling the city. Sadly, those struggles were not without cost, and when he killed an immense Liobear, it cost the young hero his right eye…

The clash proved a turning point for Samson since his wounds were dressed by a stranger named Sharmaine. She and her father Mindor were voluntary outcasts in the city: shunning contact with superstitious tribes whilst gathering lost secrets of science. Already toiling constantly to bring humanity out of its second stone age and fired with inspiration, Samson joined their self-appointed mission: defending them from all manner of threat and menace as they carry out their work….

Now and here the Altered World odyssey resumes with Mighty Samson #15, cover-dated August 1968. Binder and Sparling were in top form for ‘The Plot of Gold’ and its sequel chapter ‘Danger in the Vaults’ as old enemy Queen Terra of Jerz attempts to seduce the tribes of N’Yark by reintroducing the concept of money. Of course she is the sole source of currency (gold from the buried US Mint) and tries to corner the market on the beguiling new means of expediting trade…

As confusion mounts and the primitives struggle to understand, Samson spends his precious time settling squabbles and battling rampaging beasts like the choke-foam monster and giant cave centipedes, before resolving to end the chaos by destroying Terra’s deadly booby-trapped repository. With Mindor and Sharmaine stubbornly beside him, that proves harder than expected…

With monsters so popular, the action is supplemented by another regular fact page in the Gold Key Club: enthusing readers with the lowdown on Dinosauria – Pterodactyl and an essay on ‘Lost Civilizations: Nomad Empire’, introducing kids to the lost tribe called Scythians…

Cover-dated November 1968, #16 brought new invaders to N’Yark. ‘The Smoky Realm’ saw fresh peril for the subterranean Undermen as brutal “Gnarly Men” attack the subway dwellers after being driven from their own realm deep below what was once the Radio City complex.

Eager to keep the peace, Samson and Co explore and find a fire breathing dragon has upset the status quo and determine that a concerted ‘The Call to Arms’ is the best way to proceed…

Sadly, the real problem is the ancient Radio City air conditioning system has malfunctioned, depriving the invaders of oxygen, forcing some quick thinking and patient re-engineering to solve the crisis.

The bonus material here offers Gold Key Club: Dinosauria – Plesiosaur and a Lost Civilizations tract on ‘Ur – Mother of Cities’ in advance of #17 (February 1969) seeing Terra sprinkling ‘Seeds of Disaster’ on Samson’s primal protectorate. Allied with roof dwelling hostile horticulturalists, the Queen almost destroys her enemies with deadly fast growing giant ‘Assassin Plants’ but yet again underestimates the power and determination of Mighty Samson. The issue closed Gold Key Club: Dinosauria – Triceratops and the lowdown on Hittites in prose expose ‘Forgotten Empire’.

On its quarterly schedule, the 18th tale was designated May and saw giant monster birds and mutant winged men blitz N’Yark, but King Zorr of ‘The Winged Raiders’ – although savage and cunning – was unprepared for the saviour strongman to confront the wingmen head on in ‘Battle in the Skies’ and helpless after his traitorous deputy Hawkarr became smitten with Sharmaine…

Flooding looked likely to inundate everyone in #19’s ‘Day of the Deluge’ as incessant rainfall triggers a human exodus and mass monster stampedes that reduce the relic metropolis to a enclave of canals. With the people trapped and starving on ramshackle rooftops whilst batwing pelicans, lightning eels and fire fish pick off stragglers, Samson looks for a way to transport stranded survivors out of N’Yark, only to discover the ungrateful mob have sold him out to the Queen  of Jerz…

However, once Terra finds a whole new population too much to handle or feed, she drives them all back to the strongman and ‘The Drowning City’…

Bonus features return in this issue with a Gold Key Club Readers Page Monsters selection of their own creepy critters and another educational read in ‘Lost Civilizations: Carthage’ prior to Mighty Samson #20 (November 1969) picking up the watery saga as the exiled expats return to N’Yark just in time endure an undersea assault by expansionist amphibian King Nepthoon whose merciless ‘Attack of the Fishmen’ further reduces the human population. Wielding whirlpools, mermen and mutant monsters, his ‘Dam of Doom’ has turned Manhattan into a permanent water feature… but only until Samson pulls the colossal plug and drains the pool…

Issues #21 (August 1972) & 22 (December 1973) were reprints – MS #7 & #2 respectively – and are represented here by the painted covers from the miraculous George Wilson plus text essay ‘Lost Civilizations: Atlantis: Fable or Fact?’ and comics fact page ‘Space Station’.

The long hiatus was caused by a combination of dwindling sales, changing tastes and a personal tragedy Binder suffered: all leading to the series’ “soft” cancellation.

A revival came mere months after the second reprint issue, bringing a flashy new logo and new costume for the strongman star. Cover-dated March 1974, Mighty Samson #23 is credited here to Jack Abel as writer, although later research suggests Gerry Boudreau as the scribe. There’s no doubt about the art as limned by José Delbo.

Argentinean illustrator José María Del Bó was born December 9th 1933 and became a professional comics artist aged 16 when he began drawing serial Poncho Negro. As Argentina became politically unstable, he migrated to Brazil in 1963 and two years later settled in the USA as José Delbo. He worked for Charlton Comics (Billy the Kid and genre shorts) but found his niche at Dell/Gold Key/Western Publishing, specialising in licensed titles. Amongst many titles he illustrated in his clean, no-nonsense realistic style were The Brady Bunch, Hogan’s Heroes, Mod Squad, The Monkees, Twilight Zone, The Lone Ranger and prestige specials Dwight D. Eisenhower and Yellow Submarine.

His first DC work was in The Spectre #9 (May/June 1969) and after taking on the revived Mighty Samson at Gold Key in 1974, Delbo settled at the home of Superman, drawing an epic 10-year run on Wonder Woman (#222-286: March 1976-December 1986) as well as on Batman Family, Jimmy Olsen in Superman Family, DC Comics Presents, World’s Finest Comics, and Batgirl in Detective Comics. His greatest impact and visibility came after moving to Marvel in 1986, where he drew more licensed product including NFL SuperPro, Brute Force, Thundercats and The Transformers.

He taught at the Joe Kubert School (1990-2005) and set up his own version (Delbo Cartoon Camp) for school-aged kids in Boca Raton, Florida. He died aged 90 on February 5th 2024.

‘In the Country of the Blind’ parts 1 & 2 sees Sharmaine kidnapped by a tribe of sightless hyper sensitive souls led by a seeing chief soon to breathe his last. Kouran needs a replacement to serve as his people’s eyes as they pursue a war with the rival Pan’m people and face monsters invisible to human eyes. The war goes badly however until Samson finds them and ends the strife in his own unique way

Closing this book, MS #24 begins with text piece ‘Lost Civilizations: The Phoenicians’ before accessing the then-ubiquitous kung fu craze for ‘The Manchu of C’nal Street – The Challenge of Chang’ as the heroic trio stumble onto previously unexplored Chinatown and discover relative modernity in an ancient building called Martial Arts Training Academy. Soon Samson is clashing with its hereditary champion unaware that Chang is already sworn to the service of Queen Terra. However, her treacherous nature, Chang’s conscience and an inevitable duel of skill against strength soon proves the cost of ‘Death Before Dishonor’ before one final comics fact page – ‘Satellites of the Future’ – and fulsome Creator Biographies bring the future frolics to a halt.

Bizarre, brilliantly off-kilter and outrageously bombastic, these myths of a rationalist brute battling atom-spawned titans and human devils offer stunning spectacle and thrill-a-minute wonderment from start to finish. Captivatingly limned by Sparling and Delbo, these lost gems from an era when fun was paramount and entertainment a mandatory requirement are comics the way they were and perhaps might be again…
Mighty Samson ® Volume Three ™ & © 2010 Random House, Inc. Under license to Classic Media LCC. All rights reserved. All other material, unless otherwise specified, © 2010 Dark Horse Comics, Inc. All rights reserved.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: The Brittle Mastery of Donald Duck


By Carl Barks (Gladstone Comic Album #7)
ISBN: 978-0-94459-906-8 (Album PB)

Although experts quibble over the details of Donald Duck’s debut (I cleave to the notion we should use the premier of The Wise Little Hen on 3rd May rather than the June 9th US general release date), everybody agrees 1934 was the year and that the magnificent mallard is 90 this year. In honour of that achievement, here’s a lovely old book starring Disney’s top cartoon star that you might be lucky enough to find. Even if you can’t, the stories are scattered throughout Fantagraphics’ magnificent Carl Barks library editions which we will continue sporadically reviewing and which you really should already own…

Donald Duck ranks among a small group of fictional characters to have transcended the bounds of reality and become – like Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Popeye and James Bond -meta-real. As such, his origins are complex and convoluted. His official birthday is June 9th 1934: a dancing, nautically-themed bit-player in the Silly Symphony cartoon short The Wise Little Hen.

The animated cartoon was adapted by Ted Osborne & Al Taliaferro for the Silly Symphonies Sunday newspaper strip and thus classified by historians as Donald’s official debut in Disney comics. Controversially, he was also reported to have pre-originated in The Adventures of Mickey Mouse strip which began 1931. Thus the Duck has more “birthdays” than he knows what to do with, which presumably explains why he’s such a bad-tempered cuss.

Visually, Donald Fauntleroy Duck was largely the result of animator Dick Lundy’s efforts, and, with partner-in-fun Mickey Mouse, is one of TV Guide’s 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time. The Duck has his own star on the Hollywood walk of fame and has appeared in more films than any other Disney player. Throughout the 1930s, his screen career grew from background and supporting roles via a team act with Mickey and Goofy to a series of solo cartoons beginning with 1937’s Don Donald. That one also introduced love interest Daisy Duck and the irrepressible nephews Huey, Louie and Dewey

By 1938 The Duck was officially more popular than corporate icon Mickey Mouse, and even more so after his national service as a propaganda warrior in a series of animated morale boosters and information features during WWII. The merely magnificent Der Fuehrer’s Face garnered the 1942 Academy Award for Animated Short Film

Crucially for our purposes, Donald is also planet Earth’s most-published non-superhero comics character, and blessed with some of the greatest writers and illustrators ever to punch a keyboard or pick up a pen or brush. A publishing phenomenon and megastar across Europe – particularly Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland – Donald (& Co) have spawned countless original stories and many immortal characters. Sales are stratospheric across all age groups there and in upwards of 45 other countries they export to. Japan’s manga publishers have their own iteration too…

The aforementioned Silly Symphonies adaptation and Mickey strip guest shots were trumped in 1937 when Italian publisher Mondadori launched an 18-page comic book story crafted by Federico Pedrocchi. It was quickly followed by a regular serial in Britain’s Mickey Mouse Weekly (a comic produced under license by Willbank Publications/Odhams Press that ran from 8th February 1936 to 28th December 1957). Issue #67 (May 15th 1937) premiered Donald and Donna – a prototype Daisy Duck girlfriend – drawn by William A. Ward. Running for 15 weeks, it was followed by Donald and Mac before ultimately settling as Donald Duck – a fixture until the magazine folded. The feature inspired similar Disney-themed publications across Europe, with Donald regularly appearing beside company mascot Mickey…

In the USA, a daily Donald Duck newspaper strip launched on February 2nd 1938, with a colour Sunday strip added in 1939. Writer Ted Karp joined Taliaferro in expanding the duck cast and history: adding a signature automobile, pet dog Bolivar, goofy cousin Gus Goose, and grandmother Elvira Coot whilst expanding the roles of both Donna and Daisy. In 1942, his comic book life began with October cover-dated Dell Four Color Comics Series II #9: AKA Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold. It was conceived by Homer Brightman & Harry Reeves, scripted by Karp and illustrated by Disney Studios employees Carl Barks & Jack Hannah. That was the moment everything changed…

Carl Barks was born in Merrill, Oregon in 1901, and raised in rural areas of the West during some of the leanest times in American history. He tried his hand at many jobs before settling into the profession that chose him. His early life is well-documented elsewhere if you need detail, but briefly, Barks was a cartoonist, then an animator before quitting the Studio in 1942 to work in the new-fangled field of comic books. From then until his retirement in the mid-1960s (he officially downed tools in 1966 but was cajoled into scripting stories well into 1968), Barks worked in self-imposed seclusion: writing, drawing and devising a vast array of adventure comedies, gags, yarns and covers that gelled into a Duck Universe of memorable and highly bankable characters like Gladstone Gander (1948), Gyro Gearloose (1952), Magica De Spell (1961) and the nefarious Beagle Boys (1951) to supplement the Studio’s stable of cartoon actors.

His greatest creation was crusty, energetic, paternalistic, money-mad giga-gazillionaire Scrooge McDuck: the World’s wealthiest winged nonagenarian and frequent spur/gadfly and reluctant sugar daddy to the adventuresome youngsters…

Whilst producing all that landmark material Barks was also just a working guy, generating cover art, drawing other people’s scripts as asked, and always adding stories to a burgeoning international canon of Duck Lore. Only after Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Barks material in books like this during the 1980s, did he discover the well-earned appreciation he never imagined existed. Media Historian Leonard Maltin called Barks “the most popular and widely read artist/writer in the world”…

So potent were Barks’ creations that they fed back into Disney’s overarching animation output, despite all his brilliant comic work being for Dell/Gold Key and not the studio. The greatest tribute was undoubtedly animated series Duck Tales, based on his classic Uncle Scrooge adventures. Barks was a fan of wholesome action, unsolved mysteries and epics of exploration, and this led to him perfecting the art and technique of the blockbuster tale: blending wit, history, plucky bravado and sheer wide-eyed wonder into rollicking rollercoaster romps that utterly captivated readers of every age and vintage. Without the Barks expeditions there would never have been an Indiana Jones

During his working life Barks was utterly unaware that his work – uncredited due to company policy, as was all Disney’s comics output – had been recognised by a rabid and discerning public as “the Good Duck Artist”. When some of his most dedicated fans finally tracked him down, belated celebrity began.

In 2013, Fantagraphics Books began chronologically collecting Barks’ Duck stuff in curated archival volumes, tracing his output year-by-year in hardback tomes and digital editions that finally did justice to the quiet creator. These will eventually comprise the Complete Carl Barks Disney Library. Physical copies are sturdy and luxurious albums – 193 x 260mm – to grace any bookshelf.

Gladstone Publishing began re-releasing Barks material and sundry other Disney strips in the late-1980s and this album is one of their best. Printed in the European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) this joyous compendium collects an occasional series of similarly-themed yarns: some of the best and funniest Duck tales ever crafted.

The “Brittle Master” series is the name given by devotees to a group of stories wherein the perennial failing, fiery-tempered and eternally put-upon everyman Donald displays an excellence in some unique skill or service, winning the approval and veneration of all and sundry – only to have his own smug hubris bring about his ultimate humiliation and downfall.

The first untitled tale, from Walt Disney Comics and Stories #156 (1953) sees Donald as an airplane-piloting, cloud-sculpting Master Rainmaker catering to increasingly outrageous requests from his adoring public. This leads him inevitably to disaster – in this case the creation of a full-blown, devastating Ice-storm…

Next, from WDC&S #222 (1959) comes the tale of the Master Mover, as Donald displays an uncanny ability to transport anything anywhere, only to come a crushing cropper when he guarantees to shift an entire zoo to a mountaintop in one afternoon!

From Donald Duck #68 (also from 1959) ‘The Master Glasser’ (we’d call him a glazier) is a wickedly satirical glimpse at small-town America as the arrogant artificer at the height of his fame attempts to repair the aged fascia of Duckburg’s giant clock. Perhaps he shouldn’t have tried to do it live on TV?

The fourth tale is one where I suspect Donald actually found his true calling. The ‘Master Wrecker’ (WDC&S #26, 1962) is the go-to-duck if you need something demolished with no muss or fuss, and even in this hilarious yarn Donald doesn’t actually fail. The target is utterly razed: it’s just not the one he was supposed to demolish…

This delightful collection ends with the satisfyingly sharp ‘Spare That Hair’ (WDC&S #272, 1963) as Donald the Master Barber finally wins one for a change, even though he mistakenly shaves a gorilla and inspires the ire of a rowdy circus ringmaster…

Barks was as adept with quick-fire gag stories as epic adventures; blending humour with drama and charm with action, and even if you can’t find this particular volume, most of his unforgettable work is readily accessible through a number of publications and outlets and in many languages. So if you seek to become a Master Reader, you know what you need to do…
© 1988, 1963, 1962, 1959, 1953 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents World’s Finest volume 4


By Cary Bates, Bob Haney, Robert Kanigher, Denny O’Neil, Mike Friedrich, Curt Swan, Ross Andru, Dick Dillin, Mike Esposito & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3736-3 (TPB)

For decades Superman and Batman were quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest team”. The affable champions were best buddies as well as mutually respectful colleagues, and their pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could happily cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships.

This fourth monochrome compendium re-presents cataclysmic collaborations from the dog days of the 1960’s into the turbulent decade beyond (World’s Finest Comics #174-202, spanning March 1968 to May 1971), as shifts in America’s tastes and cultural landscape created such a hunger for more mature and socially relevant stories that even the Cape & Cowl Crusaders were affected – so much so in fact, that the partnership was temporarily suspended: sidelined so that Superman could guest-star with other icons of the DC universe.

However, after a couple of years, the relationship was revitalised and renewed with the “World’s Finest Heroes” fully restored to their bizarrely apt pre-eminence for another lengthy run until the title was cancelled in the build-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986.

The increasingly grim escapades begin with ‘Secret of the Double Death-Wish!’ by Cary Bates, Pete Costanza & Jack Abel from #174 (cover-dated March 1968, so actually the last issue of 1967) wherein mysterious voyeurs seemingly kidnap the indomitable heroes and psychologically crush their spirits such that they beg for death.

Smart and devious, this conundrum was definitely old-school, but a New Year saw subtle changes as, post-Batman TV show, the industry experienced superheroes waning in favour of war, western and especially supernatural themes and genres. Thus 1968 saw radical editorial makeovers at National/DC. Edgier stories of the costumed Boy Scouts began as iconoclastic penciller Neal Adams started turning heads and making waves with his stunning covers and two spectacularly gripping Cape & Cowl capers. It began in WFC #175 with ‘The Superman-Batman Revenge Squads!’, scripted by Leo Dorfman and inked by Dick Giordano. The story details how an annual contest of wits between the crimebusting pals is infiltrated by alien and Terran criminal alliances intent on killing their foes whilst they are off guard.

Issue #176 featured beguiling thriller ‘The Superman-Batman Split!’ (Bates, Adams & Giordano). Ostensibly just another alien mystery, this twisty little gem has a surprise ending for all and guest stars Robin, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl and Batgirl, with the artist’s hyper-dynamic realism lending an aura of credibility to the most fanciful situations, and ushering in an era of gritty veracity to replace the anodyne and frequently frivolous Costumed Dramas.

Jim Shooter, Curt Swan & Mike Esposito also edged closer towards constructive realism with #177’s ‘Duel of the Crime Kings!’ as Lex Luthor again joins forces with The Joker. This go-round the dastardly duo used time-busting technology to recruit Benedict Arnold, Baron Hieronymus Carl Friedrich von Munchausen and Leonardo Da Vinci to plan crimes for them, only to then fall foul of the temporally displaced persons’ own unique agendas…

WFC #178 began a 2-part Imaginary Tale with ‘The Has-Been Superman!’ (Bates, Swan & Abel) which has the Action Ace lose his Kryptonian powers and subsequently struggle to continue his career as Batman-style masked crimebuster Nova. More determined than competent, he soon falls under the influence of criminal mastermind Mr. Socrates – a brainwashed stooge programmed to assassinate Batman…

The moody suspense saga was interrupted by #179 – a regularly scheduled, all-reprint 80-Page Giant featuring bright-&-shiny early tales from the team’s formative years – represented in this collection by its striking Adams cover – before the alternate Earth epic concludes in #180 with ‘Superman’s Perfect Crime!’ courtesy of Bates and new regular art team Ross Andru & Mike Esposito.

During the late 1950s when the company’s editors cautiously expanded the characters’ continuities, they learned that each new tale was an event which added to a nigh-sacred canon, and that what was printed was deeply important to the readers – but no “ideas man” would let all that aggregated “history” stifle a good plot situation or sales generating cover.

Thus “Imaginary Stories” were conceived as a way of exploring non-continuity plots and scenarios, devised at a time when editors knew that entertainment trumped consistency and fervently believed that every comic read was somebody’s first and – unless they were very careful – potentially their last…

Bates, also scripted #181’s ‘The Hunter and the Hunted’ wherein an impossibly powerful being from far away in space and time relentlessly pursues and then whisks away the heroes to a world where they were revered as the fathers of the race, whilst in the next issue ‘The Mad Manhunter!’ depicted a suspenseful shocker which found Batman routinely rampaging like a madman due to a curse. Naturally, what seemed was far from what actually was

Another massive con-trick underscored #183’s Dorfman-scripted drama as apes from the future accused the Man of Steel of committing ‘Superman’s Crime of the Ages!’ and Batman and Robin had to arrest their greatest ally. In WFC #184 Bates, Swan & Abel concocted another bombastic Imaginary Tale which revealed ‘Robin’s Revenge!’, tracing the troubled teen sidekick’s progress after Batman is murdered, with Superman powerless to assuage the Boy Wonder’s growing hunger for revenge…

Robert Kanigher joined old collaborators Andru & Esposito from #185 onwards, detailing the bizarre story of the ‘The Galactic Gamblers!’ who press-ganged Superman, Batman, Robin and Jimmy to their distant world to act as living stakes and game-pieces in their gladiatorial games of chance, before taking the heroes on a time-tossed 2-part supernatural thriller.

In #186, anecdotal stories of Batman’s Colonial ancestor “Mad Anthony Wayne” prompt the heroes to travel back to the War of Independence where the Dark Knight is accused of infernal deviltry as ‘The Bat Witch!’ and sentenced to death. Of course, it’s actually the Action Ace who is possessed to become ‘The Demon Superman!’ in the follow-up before all logic and sanity are restored by exorcism and judicious force of arms…

After the cover to World’s Finest #188 – another reprint Giant – Bates returns in #189 with a (still) shocking 2-parter opening in ‘The Man with Superman’s Heart!’ wherein the Caped Kryptonian crashes from space to Earth and is pronounced Dead On Arrival. As per his wishes, many of his organs are harvested (this was 1969 and still purely speculative fiction at that time) and bequeathed to worthy recipients. When Batman refuses to accept any organic bequests, Superman’s eyes, ears, lungs, heart and hands (yes, I know… just go with it) are simply stored …until Luthor steals them to auction off to gangland’s highest bidders…

Concluding episode ‘The Final Revenge of Luthor!’ sees a quartet of crooks running wild as the transplants bestow mighty powers Batman and Robin cannot combat, but the tragedy has a logical – if rather callous – explanation as the real Man of Steel appears to save the day…

Bates, Andru & Esposito then explore ‘Execution on Krypton!’ in WFC #191, as incredible events on Earth lead Superman and Batman back to Krypton before Kal-El was born. Here he learns how his revered parents Jor-El and Lara became radicalised college lecturers, and why they were teaching their students all the subversive tricks revolutionaries needed to know…

Bob Haney joined Andru & Esposito from #192 for a dark, Cold War suspense thriller as Superman is captured by the Communist rulers of Lubania and held in ‘The Prison of No Escape!’ When Batman tries to bust him out, he too is arrested and charged with spying by sadistic Colonel Koslov, utilising brainwashing techniques to achieve ‘The Breaking of Superman and Batman!’ in the next issue. However, the vile totalitarian’s torturous treatment disguises an insidious master-plan which the World’s Finest almost fail to foil…

Popular public response to Mario Puzo’s phenomenal novel The Godfather most likely influenced Haney, Andru & Esposito’s next convoluted 2-parter. WFC #194 sees Superman and Batman undercover ‘Inside the Mafia Gang!’ and hoping to dismantle the organisation of “Big Uncle” Alonzo Scarns from within. Sadly, a head wound muddles the Gotham Gangbuster’s memory and Batman begins to believe he is actually the “Capo di Capo Tutti”, condemning Robin and Jimmy to ‘Dig Now, Die Later!’ Helplessly watching, Superman is almost relieved when the real Scarns shows up…

An era ended with #196 as ‘The Kryptonite Express!’ (Haney, Swan & George Roussos) details how a massive meteor shower bombards the US with tons of the deadly green mineral. After countless decent citizens gather up the Green K, a special train is laid on to collect it all and ship it to somewhere it can be safely disposed of. Superman is ordered to stay well away whilst Batman takes charge of the FBI operation, but they have no idea master racketeer and railway fanatic K.C. Jones has plans for the shipment and a guy on the inside…

After #197 – another all-reprint Superman/Batman Giant – a new era launches (for the entire experiment you should see World’s Finest: Guardians of Earth please link to 2021, June 3rd) as the Fastest Man Alive teams with the Man of Tomorrow. DC Editors of the 1960s generally avoided questions like who’s best/strongest/fastest for fear of upsetting a portion of their tenuous and assuredly temporary fanbase, but as the tide turned against superheroes in general and upstart Marvel began making serious inroads into their market, the notion of a definitive race between the almighty Man of Steel and Scarlet Speedster became increasingly enticing and sales-worthy.

They had raced twice before (Superman #199 and Flash #175 – August & December 1967) with the result deliberately fudged each time, but when they met for a third round a definitive conclusion was promised – but please remember it’s not about the winning, but only the taking part. As World’s Finest became a team-up vehicle for Superman, Flash again found himself in contrived competition. ‘Race to Save the Universe!’ and conclusion ‘Race to Save Time!’ (#198-199, November and December 1970, by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella) up the stakes as the high-speed heroes are conscripted by the Guardians of the Universe to circumnavigate the cosmos at their greatest velocities thereby undoing the rampage of mysterious Anachronids: faster-than-light creatures whose pell-mell course throughout creation is unwinding time itself. Little does anybody suspect Superman’s oldest enemies are behind the entire appalling scheme…

In anniversary issue #200, Mike Friedrich, Dillin & Giella focus on brawling brothers on opposite sides of the teen college scene, abducted with unruly youth icon Robin and “Mr. Establishment” Superman to a distant planet. Here undying vampiric aliens wage eternal war on each other in ‘Prisoners of the Immortal World!’ Green Lantern then pops in for #201, contesting ‘A Prize of Peril!’ (O’Neil, Dillin & Giella) which will give either Emerald Gladiator or Man of Steel sole jurisdiction of Earth’s skies.

Batman returns for a limited engagement in #202. The final tale in this compilation, O’Neil, Dillin & Giella’s ‘Vengeance of the Tomb-Thing!’ sees archaeologists unearth something horrific in Egypt as Superman seemingly goes mad: attacking his greatest friends and allies. A superb ecological scare-story, this tale changed the Man of Tomorrow’s life forever…

These are gloriously smart, increasingly mature comic book yarns whose dazzling, timeless style informed the evolution of two media megastars, which still have the power and punch to enthral even today’s jaded seen it-all audiences. The contents of this titanic team-up tome are a veritable feast of witty, gritty, pretty thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have. Utterly entrancing adventure for fans of all ages!
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Battle Stations – War Picture Library


By Hugo Pratt & Don Avenell (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-752-7 (HB/Digital Edition)

Born in Rimini, Ugo Eugenio Prat, AKA Hugo Pratt (June 15th 1927 – August 20th 1995) was wandered the world in his early life, whilst becoming one of its paramount comics creators. His enthralling graphic inventions since Ace of Spades (whilst still a student at the Venice Academy of Fine Arts in 1945) were many and varied. His signature character – based in large part on his own exotic formative years – is mercurial soldier (perhaps sailor is more accurate) of fortune Corto Maltese.

Pratt was a consummate story-teller with a unique voice and a stark graphic style that should not work, but so wonderfully does: combining pared-down, relentlessly modernistic narrative style with memorable characters, always complex whilst still bordering on the archetypical. By placing a modern, morally ambivalent anti-hero in a period where old world responsibilities should make him a scoundrel and villain, yet keeping him true to an utterly personal but iron-clad ethical integrity that goes beyond considerations of race, class or gender, he has created a yard-stick with which we cannot help but measure all heroes. As empires fade and colonies fall Corto Maltese deals with and is moved by people, not concepts or traditions. He is also a whimsical man of action and a faithful humanist with a talent for being in the wrong place at the right time. We’ll return to him another time…

After working in both Argentinean and – from 1959 – on English comics like top gun Battler Briton, plus combat stories for extremely popular digest novels in assorted series such as War Picture Library, Battle Picture Library, War at Sea Picture Library and others – Pratt returned to and settled in Italy and later France in the 1960s. In 1967 with Florenzo Ivaldi he produced a number of series for monthly comic Sgt. Kirk.

In addition to the Western lead star, he created pirate strip Capitan Cormorand, detective feature Lucky Star O’Hara, and a moody South Seas adventure called Una Ballata del Mare Salato (A Ballad of the Salty Sea). When it folded in 1970, Pratt took one of Una Ballata’s characters to French weekly, Pif Gadget before eventually settling in with legendary Belgian periodical Le Journal de Tintin. Corto Maltese proved as much a Wild Rover in reality as in his historic and eventful career…

In Britain the ubiquitous delights of the mini-books also included Super Picture Library, Air Ace Picture Library, Action Picture Library and Thriller Picture Library: uniformly half-sized, 64-page monochrome booklets with glossy soft-paper covers and presenting complete stories in 1-3 panels per page, with yarns that were regularly recycled and reformatted. The story featured here was printed twice – as War at Sea #34, June 1963 and in War Picture Library #1078, June 1975 – with the painted covers and fascinating, well-annotated features on art changes as inflicted on the tale with each iteration making a compelling fact-feature at the end. Rebellion boss Ben Smith even offers an informative Introduction to launch the whole affair…

During his sojourn in British comics Pratt crafted all unheralded a number of mini-masterpieces like this one. Rescued and suitably repackaged by Rebellion Studios in their Treasury of British Comics imprint, Battle Stations was written by national hero and unsung legend Donne Avenell, who began his own strips career before WWII in the editorial department of Amalgamated Press – which evolved into Fleetway and eventually IPC. Avenell’s starter was anthological household name Radio Fun.

Born in Croydon in 1925, he served with the Royal Navy during the war, before returning to publishing: editing an AP architectural magazine whilst pursuing writing for radio dramas and romances under a slew of pseudonyms. He returned to comics in the 1950s, with many contributions to childhood icons like War Picture Library and Lion, directing the sagas of The Spider, The Phantom Viking, Oddball Oates, Adam Eterno and more. He co-wrote major international features like Buffalo Bill, Helgonet (The Saint) and The Phantom for Swedish publisher Semic, and devised the strip Django and Angel whilst also toiling on assorted licensed Disney strips.

In 1975, with Norman Worker, he co-wrote Nigeria’s Powerman comic which helped launch the careers of Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons. Avenell was equally at home on newspaper strips such as Axa (1978-1986, drawn by Enrique Romero), Tiffany Jones and Eartha (illustrated by John M. Burns). He also worked in television, writing series like The Saint and their subsequent novelisations. He died in 1996.

This story concerns just another small battle lost in the bigger war as three sailors on convoy escort duty in June 1942 endure the sinking of their anti-sub trawler off the coast of the USA. When the vessel they were guarding goes down too, their shipmates and the merchant marine survivors are all machined gunned in the water at the command of the German U-boat captain, and an implacable bond of undying hatred grips Stoker First Class Scully, Lieutenant Rayner and Leading Seaman Ford

Months later, rescued, recuperated and reassigned to Light Cruiser H.M.S. Vengeful, the trio are looking for payback and clearly suffering what we today know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when their ship again encounters the ruthless enemy. A savage battle then leaves all ships gone and sailors stuck in a drifting lifeboat. Scully, Rayner and Ford are still alive, but due to the exigencies of combat they’re lost in the Atlantic with an equal number of despised Germans in the lifeboat…

What happens next is powerful, shocking and not at all what you’d expect from a kid’s comic crafted to sell in the heyday of UK war films commemorating the conflict their parents lived through.

A powerful psychological thriller that beaks the rules of comics combat, Battle Stations is

subtly subversive, straightforwardly told and startlingly compelling, far from the bread & butter war stories that sustained British comics readers for decades; and few have ever looked so good doing it. If you’re a connoisseur of graphic thrills and dramatic tension, don’t miss these salty sagas.
© 1963, 2019 Rebellion Publishing IP Ltd. All rights reserved.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection volume 1


By Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird, Steve Lavigne & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-007-8 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-298-3

FORTY(!!!) years ago this month an indie comic by a pair of cannily adroit wannabe creators began making waves and soon sparked a revolution. The guys were Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird and their work did remarkably well, interesting companies outside our traditionally cautious insular industry and garnering a few merchandising deals. Thanks to TTE (the Telescoping Time Effect that renders the passage of many years between adulthood and the grave to the blink of an eye), my comics generation still regard these upstart critters as parvenu newcomers.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first appeared in May 1984, bombastically occupying an oversized, self-published black-&-white parody mag. Eastman & Laird were huge fans of Ditko and Kirby, and so set up Mirage Studios so they could control their efforts, having great fun telling pastiche adventures notionally derived and inspired by contemporary superhero fare.

They especially honed in on the US marketplace’s obsession with Frank Miller’s reinterpretations of manga stars Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima: particularly Lone Wolf & Cub. There were also smart pokes at and conceptual themes poached from other top trends as inspired by The X-Men, New Teen Titans and outsider icon Howard the Duck. This was at a time when the US industry was experiencing an explosive boom in do-it-yourself comics: one that changed forever the very nature of the industry and destroyed the virtual monopoly od DC and Marvel.

Eastman & Laird’s quirky concept became the paradigm of Getting Rich Quick: a template for many others and – in their case at least – an ideal example of beneficial exploitation. Their creation expanded to encompass toys, movies, games, food, apparel, general merchandising and especially television cartoons. In 1987 it became – and remains – a globally potent franchise. There’s probably another movie on the go even as I type this…

None of that matters here as I want to look at the actual comics that started everything and there’s no better way than with this carefully curated edition chronologically covering the primal tales and offering commentaries and reminiscences from the guys who were there…

Just as Los Bros Hernadez had done with Love and Rockets in 1981, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted as a self-published (print run of 3000 copies), self-financed one-shot that was swiftly picked up by a legion of independent comics shops run by fans for fans. Word of mouth and frantic demand generated a wave of reprintings and much speculative imitation. The rest is history…

This book – re-presenting issues #1-7 and one-shot Raphael Micro-Series – was the first of a sequence of collections published a dozen years ago by licensing specialists IDW. By that time the original creators had long sold the rights and moved well on, to the extent of even occasionally revisiting their baby through nostalgia, but here their fevered passion in their creation and the sheer joy of having fun by learning was at its intoxicating height.

Drafted with verve, gusto and no respect for “the rules”, the saga of ‘Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens with four outlandish humanoids fighting for their lives in a dingy alley. The enemy are thugs and street scum and – once they’re emphatically taken care of – with victory assured, the bizarre heroes retreat into the sewers…

Here they greet a giant rat dressed as a sensei and discuss their origins and goals. You all already know the tale – or just don’t care – but briefly: the pet rat of martial artist Yoshi absorbed kung fu skills and concepts of honour and duty by observation. He also witnessed romantic rivals become arch foes. The losing suitor’s brother subsequently destroys the lovers (even after they fled to New York) and is now leader of ninja clan The Foot.

The youngster – Oroku Saki but known as The Shredder – pursued his warped obsession in the New World and murdered the lovers, even as nearby a boy saved an old one from being hit by a truck carry toxic material. The kid was blinded when the cannister hit his eyes, but as he was carted off to his own comics destiny, the canister that hit him broke, leaking mutagens into sewers where an uncaring owner had dumped somebaby turtles and where Yoshi’s escaped pet was hiding…

Over years exposure changed them all. The rat called Splinter became a sagacious humanoid rodent who diligently trained four brilliant, rapidly growing reptiles in the skills he had observed with his master. Splinter named them Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael and at last deemed them sufficiently advanced to obtain vengeance for his murdered master.

Called to battle, the villain employs all his minions but nevertheless falls to turtle justice…

Fast-paced and action-packed, the tale delivers a sure no-frills punch and – as revealed in the commentary ‘Annotations’ section that follows – left the creators with a rare dilemma: overnight success, demands for reprints and readers demanding more of the same…

Each issue’s bonus section also provides background, insights and developmental drawings but the meat is contained in the stories as the debutantes quickly gained confidence and ran wild. The second issue introduced insufferable mad scientist Baxter Stockman who unleashes robot rat-hunters (“Mousers”) in a scheme to get rich by cleaning up the sewers. In fact, he is also using them to rob from below and when his assistant April O’Neil finds out he frames and tries to kill her. Thankfully the turtles step in to save her and New York…

The third episode reveals heroism comes at a cost: when they return to their underground lair, the Turtles discover it devastated, with Mouser fragments and rat blood everywhere… but no Master Splinter…

When April offers them shelter, relocation turns into a major headache as the strange, heavily shrouded quartet are mistaken for burglars, triggering a massive police car chase through the streets. The spectacular road riot is appended by an ‘Epilogue’ revealing exactly what happened to Splinter, leading to major plot developments in #4, as mystery company TCRI are revealed as the creators of the mutagen and far more than they seem.

Before that though, the Raphael Micro-Series offers all-action romp ‘Me, Myself and I’ as the moody, anger-management-challenged young warrior loses control whilst sparring and flees the team in shame. Sadly, Raphael seeks to calm down by prowling the streets and encounters well-meaning street vigilante Casey Jones thrashing a gang of molesters. Of course, a violent misunderstanding ensues…

In TMNT #4, the search for Splinter is interrupted by an army of Foot ninjas, but the ambush drops our heroes right into TCRI HQ. With the corporate logo from that fateful cannister blazoned across a skyscraper, priorities shift and the turtles retrench. When they infiltrate the building, the shock of finding Splinter is instantly erased by finding out just what they’re facing, but it is as nothing to the trauma of being teleported to another universe…

The fifth issue came out in November 1985, the first to sport a full colour cover and used to expand a phenomenon into a merchandisable continuity universe by guest-starring another, subsequent Eastman & Laird creation – Fugitoid. The little droid was a (non-Terran) human teleportation scientist whose discoveries made him a target of the local military dictatorships on a world packed with hundreds of different sentient species. When Honeycutt was killed, his mind was trapped in a small mechanoid and his plight intersected that of the shanghaied shellbacks. They join forces to thwart evil tyrant General Blanque and an army of secretly invading “Triceratons”, all whilst Honeycutt finds a way to send them home…

Sadly, that route leads directly to an orbiting Triceraton war base in #6 and magnifies the manic mayhem and martial arts magic as the Turtles battle every creature imaginable and still end up as interstellar gladiators before another transmat glitch sends them, Fugitoid and some Triceratons back to Earth and the heart of TCRI.

Of course, in the interim, the building has been surrounded by America’s military and the robotic-augmented Kraangs who run the place are in full battle mode. Cue much more ray gun shenanigans and sword-filled fists of fury as TMNT #7 offers conflict, contusions, confusions, conclusion, explanations and a long-awaited reunion…

To Be Continued…

Fast, furious, fun-filled and funny, but with all sharp edges prominently featured (so nervous parents might want to pre-assess the material before giving this book to true youngsters) this debut saga of the shell-backed sentinels of the sewers offers a superb slice of excitement and enjoyment that will keep kids and adults alike bouncing off the walls with eager appreciation.
© 2011 Viacom International Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Batman volume 3


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showcase Presents the Trial of The Flash


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Reid’s Creepy Creations


By Ken Reid, with Reg Parlett, Robert Nixon & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-660-5 (HB/Digital edition)

If you know British Comics, you’ll know Ken Reid. He was one of a select and singular pantheon of rebellious, youthful artistic prodigies who – largely unsung – went about transforming British Comics, entertaining millions and inspiring hundreds of those readers to become cartoonists too.

Reid was born in Manchester in 1919 and drew from the moment he could hold an implement. Aged nine, he was confined to bed for six months with a tubercular hip, and occupied himself by constantly scribbling and sketching. He left school before his fourteenth birthday and won a scholarship to Salford Art School, but never graduated. He was, by all accounts, expelled for cutting classes to hang about in cafes. Undaunted, he set up as a commercial artist, but floundered until his dad began acting as his agent.

Ken’s big break was a blagger’s triumph. Accompanied by his unbelievably supportive and astute father, Ken talked his way into an interview with the Art Editor of the Manchester Evening News and came away with a commission for a strip for its new Children’s Section. The Adventures of Fudge the Elf launched in 1938 and ran until 1963 with only a single, albeit lengthy, hiatus from 1941 to 1946 when Reid served in the armed forces.

From the late 1940s onwards, Reid dallied with the resurgent comics periodicals: with work (Super Sam, Billy Boffin, Foxy) published in Comic Cuts and submissions to The Eagle, before a fortuitous family connection (Dandy illustrator Bill Holroyd was Reid’s brother-in-law) brought DC Thomson managing editor R.D. Low to his door with a cast-iron offer of work. On April 18th 1953, Roger the Dodger debuted in The Beano. Reid drew the feature until 1959 whilst creating many more, including the fabulously mordant doomed mariner Jonah, Ali Ha-Ha and the 40 Thieves, Grandpa and Jinx amongst many more.

In 1964, Reid and equally under-appreciated co-superstar Leo Baxendale jumped ship to work for DCT’s arch-rival Odhams Press. This gave Ken greater license to explore his ghoulish side: concentrating on comic horror yarns and grotesque situations in strips like Frankie Stein, and The Nervs for Wham! And Smash! as well as more visually wholesome but still strikingly surreal fare as Queen of the Seas and Dare-a-Day Davy.

In 1971 Reid devised Face Ache – arguably his career masterpiece – for new title Jet. The hilariously horrific strip was popular enough to survive the comic’s demise – after a paltry 22 weeks – and was carried over in a merger with stalwart periodical Buster where it thrived until 1987. During that time, Reid continued innovating and creating through a horde of new strips such as Harry Hammertoe the Soccer Spook, Wanted Posters, Martha’s Monster Makeup, Tom’s Horror World and a dozen others. One of those – and the worthy subject of this splendid collection – is Creepy Creations. Gathered here are all 79 full colour portraits from Shiver & Shake: episodes spanning March 10th 1973 to October 5th 1974 as well as related works from contemporaneous Christmas annuals.

After the initial suggestion and 8 original designs by Reid, Creepy Creations featured carefully crafted comedic horrors and mirthful monsters inspired by submissions from readers, who got their names in print plus the-then princely sum of One Pound (£1!) Sterling for their successful efforts. The mechanics and details of the process are all covered in a wealth of preliminary articles beginning with ‘Creepy Creation Spotter’s Guide’ listing the geographical locations so crucial to the feature’s popularity and is backed up by a fond – if somewhat frightful – family reminiscence from Anthony J. Reid (Ken’s son) in ‘The Erupting Pressure Cooker of Preston Brook’.

The convoluted history of Ken’s feature (which came and went by way of 1960s cult icon Power Comics, Mad magazine, Topps Trading Cards and even stranger stops), originally intended to save him having to draw the same old characters every day, is detailed in an engrossing historical overview by Irmantas Povilaika dubbed ‘Plus a “Funny Monsters” Competition with These Fantastic Prizes’ before the true wonderment ensues.

Astounding popular from beginning to end, Creepy Creations offered a ghastly, giggle-infused grotesque every week: a string of macabre graphic snapshots (some, apparently, too horrific to be published at the time!) beloved by kids who adore being grossed out.

Seen here are ratified Reid-beasts like ‘The One-Eyed Wonk of Wigan,’, ‘The Chip Chomping Tater Terror of Tring’ and the ‘The Boggle-Eyed Butty-Biter of Sandwich’, his stunning kid collaborations on arcane animals like ‘The Gruesome Ghoul from Goole’ or ‘Nelly, the Kneecap-Nipping Telly from Newcastle’, and – due to the staggering demands of weekly deadlines – also offers cartoon contributions from UK comics star Reg Parlett & Robert Nixon.

Supplementing and completing the eldritch, emetic experience are a selection of Creepy Creations Extras, comprising images and frontispieces from Christmas Annuals, the entire ‘Creepy Creations Calendar for 1975’, 4-pages of ‘Mini Monsters’ and the entire zany zodiac of ‘Your HORRORscope’

Piling up even more comedy gold, this tome also includes tantalising excepts from the Leo Baxendale Sweeny Toddler compilation and Reid’s magnificent World-Wide Wonders collections.

Ken Reid died in 1987 from complications of a stroke he’d suffered on February 2nd. He was at his drawing board, putting the finishing touches to a Face Ache strip. On his passing, the strip was taken over by Frank Diarmid who drew until its cancellation in October 1988.

This astoundingly absorbing comedy classic is another perfect example of resolutely British humorous sensibilities – absurdist, anarchic and gleefully grotesque – and these cartoon capers are amongst the most memorable and re-readable exploits in all of British comics history: painfully funny, beautifully rendered and ridiculously unforgettable. This a treasure-trove of laughs to span generations which demands to be in every family bookcase.
© 1973, 1974, & 2018 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Flash Gordon on the Planet Mongo volume 1: Sundays 1934-1937 (The Complete Flash Gordon Library


By Alex Raymond & Don Moore, with restorations by Peter Maresca (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-154-6 (HB)

By any metric, Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb but cruelly dated Jungle Jim running as its supplementary “topper” strip) as response to revolutionary, inspirational, but clunky Buck Rogers (by Philip Nolan & Dick Calkins and which had also began on January 7th but in 1929), a new element was added to the realm of fantasy wonderment: Classical Lyricism.

Where Rogers offered traditional adventures laced with blue sky science concepts, its new competitor reinterpreted Fairy Tales, Heroic Epics and Mythology. It did so by spectacularly draping them in trappings of a contemporary future, varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for trusty swords and lances (although there were also plenty of those) and exotic flying craft and contraptions standing in for Galleons, Chariots and Magic Carpets.

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for concise, elegant detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip all young artists swiped from. When all-original comic books began some few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean lined Romanticism of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Most of the others went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (which also began in 1934 – and who will get his go another day).

Thankfully in this 90th anniversary year there are still many collections knocking about, and I’m plumping here for 2012’s hardcover archive from British publisher and keeper of traditions Titan Books, who boldly began a Complete Library of the stellar crusader’s exploits that year. We’re still waiting for its conclusion…

Augmenting the epic entertainment is a brace of photo and illustration-packed introductory essays, beginning with uber-artist/fan Alex Ross’ exploration of ‘The Flash Gordon Legacy’ and continuing with ‘Birth of a Legend’ by comics writer and historical publisher Doug Murray, detailing the fantasy milieu into which the dauntless hero was born…

The immortal saga begins with a rogue planet about to smash into Earth. As panic grips the planet, polo player Flash and fellow airline passenger Dale Arden narrowly escape disaster when a meteor fragment downs the plane they’re traveling on. Parachuting out, they land on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov – who imprisons them on a rocket-ship he has built. His plan? To fly directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it!

…And that’s just the first 13-panel episode. ‘On the Planet Mongo’ ran every Sunday until April 15th 1934 when, according to this wonderful full-colour book, second adventure ‘Monsters of Mongo’ (22nd April – 18th November 1934) began, promptly followed by ‘Tournaments of Mongo’ (25th November 1934 to 24th February 1935).

To readers back then, of course, there were no such artificial divisions. There was just one continuous, unmissable Sunday appointment with utter wonderment. The machinations of the impossibly evil but magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet, Flash’s battles and alliances with myriad exotic races subject to the Emperor’s will and the Earthman’s gradual victory over oppression captivated America and the World in tales that seemed a direct and welcome contrast to an increasingly darker reality in the days before World War II.

In short order the Earthlings become firm friends – and in the case of Flash & Dale, much more – as they encounter, battle and frequently ally with beautiful, cruel Princess Aura, the Red Monkey Men, Lion Men, Shark Men, Dwarf Men, and crucially King Vultan and the winged Hawkmen. The epic rebellion against seemingly unbeatable Ming really started with the awesome ‘Tournaments…’ sequence wherein Raymond seemed to simply explode with confidence. It was here that true magic blossomed, with every episode more spectacular than the last. Without breaking step, Raymond moved on to his next mini-epic, as our hero entered ‘The Caverns of Mongo’ on March 3rd until 14th April 1935.

Veteran editor Don Moore was only 30 when he was convinced to “assist” Raymond with the writing, starting soon after the strip first gained momentum and popularity. Moore remained until 1953, long after Raymond had gone. The artist had joined the Marines in February 1944, with the last page he worked on published on April 30th of that year. On demobilisation, Raymond moved to fresh strip fields with detective strip Rip Kirby. Mercifully, that still leaves a decade’s worth of spectacular, majestic adventure for us to enjoy…

Without pausing for breath, the collaborators introduced a host of new races and places for their perfect hero to win over in the war against Ming’s timeless evil. On increasingly epic Sunday comics pages, Flash and his entourage confronted the ‘Witch Queen of Mongo’ (April 21st – 13th October 1935), found themselves ‘At War with Ming’ (20th October 1935 – April 5th 1936) and discovered ‘The Undersea Kingdom of Mongo’ (12th April – 11th October 1936). The sheer glorious beauty and drama of the globally-syndicated serial captivated readers all over the world, resulting in not only some of the medium’s most glorious comic art, but also novels, 3 movie serials, radio and TV shows, a monochrome daily strip (by Raymond’s former assistant Austin Briggs), comic books, merchandise and so much more.

The Ruritanian flavour of the series was enhanced continuously, as Raymond’s slick, sleek futurism endlessly accessed and refined a picture-perfect Romanticism of idyllic Kingdoms, populated by idealised heroes, stylised villains and women of staggering beauty. In these episodes Azura, Witch Queen of Mongo wages brutal, bloody war against Flash and his friends for control of the underworld, eventually leading to all-out conflict with Ming the Merciless – a sequence of such memorable power that artists and movie-men would be swiping from it for decades to come.

When the war ends our heroes are forced to flee, only to become refugees and captives of the seductive Queen Undina in her undersea Coral City. The never-ending parade of hairsbreadth escapes, fights and/or chases continues as Flash, Dale & Zarkov crash into the huge jungle of Mongo. As this initial tome ends the refugees enter ‘The Forest Kingdom of Mongo’ (October 18th 1936 to January 31st 1937): barely surviving its wild creatures before weathering horrific tunnels of ‘The Tusk-Men of Mongo’ (February 7th to June 5th 1938). Here, struggling through desperate hardship and overcoming both monsters and the esoteric semi-humans they finally reach Arboria, the Tree kingdom of Prince Barin, Ming’s son-in-law. He is not what he seems…

And so the book ends, but not the adventure. Even stripped down to bare plot-facts, the drama is captivating. Once you factor in the by-play, jealousies and intrigues – all rendered with spectacular and lush visualisation by the master of classical realism – you can begin to grasp why this strip captured the world’s imagination and holds it still. To garnish all this enchantment, there’s even ‘The Alex Raymond Flash Gordon Checklist’ and biographies of both creators and this astounding tome’s key contributors

Along with Hal Foster (Prince Valiant) and Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon), Raymond’s work on Flash Gordon is considered pivotal to the development of American – if not world – comic art. These works overwhelmingly influenced everyone who followed until the emergence of manga and the advancement of computer technology. If you’ve only heard how good this strip is, you owe it to yourself to experience the magic up close and personal.

I never fail to be impressed by the quality of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon. Yes, plots are formulaic and some gender and social attitudes need to be embraced on their own historical terms but what commercial narrative medium of any vintage is free of that? What is never dull or repetitive is the sheer artistry and bravura staging of the tales. Every episode is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, but the next episode still tops it. You are a fool to yourself if you don’t try this wonderful strip out.

Flash Gordon © 2012 King Features Syndicate Inc., ™ & © Hearst Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents World’s Finest volume 3


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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