Voyage to the Deep


By Sam J. Glanzman. Paul S. Newman, Lionel Ziprin & various (It’s Alive!/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-68405-450-3 (HB)

If you have any kind of vintage to you, you’ll have heard of Irwin Allen’s techno-fantasy Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: as a movie or in its later television incarnation. The franchise was a huge global hit in the 1960’s and spawned lots of the usual spin-offs in games, toys and comicbooks.

You might not be aware that between the comics adaptation of the movie (in Four-Color # 1230, November 1961) and the 16-issue series based on the TV sensation (published between December 1964 and May 1969), another undersea phenomenon saved the world a few times, equally inspired by atomic age wonders of the briny depths and (arguably) that movie…

The details are revealed in Steve Bissette’s informative Introduction ‘The Proteus Prophecies (The Cold War SFusion of Voyage to the Deep)’: tracing the history of submersible vehicles, nuclear subs – in fact and fiction – and the richly-mined seam of subsea adventure in comics. A handy sidebar – ‘The Voyage of Voyage’ – then traces the efforts of director Irwin Allen as he brought Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea to screens large and small and thus created a comics sub-genre (sorry; couldn’t resist).

Once upon a time Dell Comics and Gold Key were the same publishing monolith, Western Print and Litho. As Whitman Publishing, they produced their own books and comics for decades through their Dell and Gold Key imprints, rivalling and often surpassing DC and Timely/Marvel at the height of their powers. Famously, they never capitulated to the wave of anti-comics hysteria which resulted in the crippling self-censorship of the 1950s.

Dell Comics never displayed a Comics Code Authority symbol on their covers. They never needed to: their canny blend of media and entertainment licensed titles were always produced with a family market in mind and the creative staff took their editorial stance from the mores of the filmic Hayes Code and its analogues in the burgeoning television industry.

Just like the big and little screen, the product enticed but never shocked and kept contentious social issues implicit instead of tacit. It was a case of “violence and murder are fine, but never titillate.”

Moreover, most of their adventure comics covers were high quality photos or paintings – adding a stunning degree of veracity and verisimilitude to even the most outlandish of concepts for us wide-eyed waifs in need of awesome entertainment. For decades, the company seemed the only first choice for a licensed comicbook, and to be honest, the results seldom disappointed.

They also employed some of the best artists in America as well as the wider world…

After far too many years as a secret darling of the comics cognoscenti, in his last years Sam J. Glanzman was finally awarded his proper station as one of American comics’ greatest and most remarkable creators – thanks in no small part to the diligent efforts of editor Drew Ford, (initially at publishing house Dover, and later his own It’s Alive! imprint) which revived groundbreaking graphic novel sequence A Sailor’s Story, astonishing semi-autobiographical series USS Stevens and other non-superhero classics and enshrined them on bookshelves across the world.

Apart from his time in the Navy, Glanzman drew and wrote comics from the 1940s until his death in 2017, most commonly in the classic genres – war, western, mystery, adventure and fantasy – where his raw, powerful and subtly engaging style and wry wit made his work irresistibly compelling to generations of readers

On titles such as Kona, Monarch of Monster Island, Combat, Jungle Tales of Tarzan, Hercules, The Haunted Tank, The Green Berets and cult classic The Private War of Willie Schultz, Glanzman always produced magnificently rousing yarns which fired the imagination and stirred the blood. That unceasing output always sold well and won him a legion of fans (most vocally amongst fellow artists), if not from the insular and over-vocal fan-press. Most of the above cited are also now or soon to be available in archival editions (mostly brilliantly cleaned-up and remastered by Now Read This’ own Allan Harvey) and – if I live long enough – I’ll be urging you to get them too via reviews like this one…

One of Glanzman’s early jobs for Dell was the movie adaptation of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, so with his maritime experience and gritty style he must have been the only choice to limn the adventures of another fantastic super submarine: Proteus in Voyage to the Deep

Scripted by Paul S. Newman and Lionel Ziprin, four fully-restored, mammoth issues of fantastic science fantasy begin with the eponymous ‘Voyage to the Deep’ as #1 introduces the next wave of submersible technology in the fluid form of Proteus: a twin-skinned atomic submarine that can alter its shape to counter the appalling pressure of the sea bottom.

Commanded by Admiral Jonathan Leigh, and skippered by Captain Duke Peters, the exploratory prototype is soon seconded into drastic action after an unseen Enemy inimical to all life tampers with the planet’s molten core and tips the planet off its axis. By attacking the Marianas Trench, the shift displaces all the world’s oceans, sparking colossal tsunamis to wipe out civilisation.

With humanity drowning and undiscovered monsters awakening, Proteus attempts to rectify the apocalyptic damage to the sea floor. They have only one chance, if only the crew can hold their nerve…

Remember I said Dell never acknowledged Comics Code Authority dictates? Be prepared for an astounding and compelling slice of doomsday fiction with a truly staggering body count…

With the battered Earth barely recovering from its close call, the second issue (May-July 1963) saw the doughty submariners facing ‘The Ice Menace’ as a follow-up attack finds humanity facing global extreme snowfalls. Dreading the prospect of a new ice age, Leigh’s super-sub heads to the North pole on a data-gathering mission and the maritime genius devises a way to reverse the Enemy’s geological sabotage and save mankind once more…

The threat had not ended and #3 (August-October 1963) reveals the Proteus being refitted just in time to hunt down ‘The Anti-Matter Threat’ hidden somewhere on Earth and slowly building to a critical mass…

The constant war of nerves concludes but did not end with the ‘Mysterious Mission’ in #4, as Proteus goes hunting for the Enemy technology that sparks a chain of underwater volcanoes that threaten to rip the world apart…

This epic hardcover or digital tome is bursting with extras: beginning with a rousing cover gallery of painted monster masterpieces by John McDermott and continuing with the extra strips that came as standard in the mainly-advert-free comics. These include context-contributing fact-features ‘Creatures of the Deep’, ‘The Great Flood’, ‘Fire and Water’, ‘Ice Ages’, ‘Arctic Creatures’, ‘Dangerous Waters’ and ‘Trial by Fire’ – all by Glanzman – and ‘The Never-Ending Hunt’ by Alex Toth & Mike Peppe.

One place that did sell ad-space was the back cover, and a gallery of those tantalisingly offer again the toys and prizes generations of British kids drooled over because they were exotic, bombastic and generally unreachable on pocket money that didn’t come in dollars and cents…

Wrapping up with a fond appreciation in ‘E Pluribus Unum’, an erudite Afterword by this volume’s cover artist Rufus Dayglo (who also adds a tentacle-bestrewn spot illustration here in the Kickstarter edition that you should pray is included in the mainstream edition!), as well as a welcome biographies section, this is a marvellously manic and sublimely seductive nostalgia wave any fan of fantastic fiction would be mad to miss.
Voyage to the Deep illustrations © the estate of Sam J. Glanzman. “The Proteus Prophecies” © 2018 Stephen R. Bissette. “E Pluribus Unum” © 2018 Rufus Dayglo. Voyage to the Deep All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Superman volume 1


By Otto Binder, Jerry Coleman, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel, Robert Bernstein, Alvin Schwartz, Wayne Boring, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, Dick Sprang, Kurt Schaffenberger & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0758-8

Although we all think of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s iconic creation as the epitome of comicbook creation, the truth is that very soon after his launch in Action Comics #1 he became a multimedia star and far more people have seen or heard the Man of Steel than have ever read him – and yes, that does include the globally syndicated newspaper strip.

By the time his 20th anniversary rolled around he had become a mainstay of radio, starred in a series of astounding animated cartoons – plus two movies – and just ended his first smash live-action television serial.

In his future were many more (Superboy, Lois & Clark and Smallville, Krypton et al), a stage musical, a franchise of stellar movies and an almost seamless succession of TV cartoons beginning with The New Adventures of Superman in 1966 and continuing ever since. Even Krypto got in on the small-screen act…

It’s no wonder then that the tales from this Silver Age period should be so draped in the wholesome trappings of Tinseltown – even more so than most of celebrity-obsessed America. It didn’t hurt that editor Whitney Ellsworth was a part-time screenwriter, script editor and producer as well as National DC’s Hollywood point man.

However, that’s not all there is to these gloriously engaging super-sagas culled from Action Comics #241-257 and Superman #122-133, reliving the period June 1958 to November 1959 in crisp, clean black and white in this first economical Showcase Presents collection.

I’d love to plug more modern, full-colour archival editions here, but for some reason DC’s powers-that-be have been woefully slow in gathering this material – and the equally superb all-ages Superboy stuff. I’m not getting any younger but I still eagerly wait in hope – and so should you…

In the meantime, then…

By the mid-1950s The Man of Tomorrow had settled into an ordered existence. Nothing could really hurt him, nothing would ever change, and thrills seemed in short supply. With the TV show cementing the action, writers increasingly concentrated on supplying wonder, intrigue, imagination and, whenever possible, some laughs as well.

The adventure begins here with the lead tale from Action Comics #241 and ‘The Key to Fort Superman’: a fascinating, clever puzzle-play guest-featuring Batman, written by Jerry Coleman and illustrated by Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye, wherein an impossible intruder vexes the Man of Steel in his most sacrosanct sanctuary, after which Superman #122 (July, 1958) proffers 3 yarns by veteran scripter Otto Binder, beginning with ‘The Secret of the Space Souvenirs’ (illustrated by Al Plastino) as temporary madness seems to grip the Man of Steel while he gathers artefacts for a proposed time-capsule. ‘Superman in the White House’ is a fanciful dream by Jimmy Olsen also drawn by Plastino whilst the closing Boring/Kaye bamboozler finds the hero investigating an outbreak of super-powers at a US military base in ‘The Super-Sergeant’

That same month Binder & Plastino introduce both the greatest new villain and most expansive new character concept the series had seen in years with The Super-Duel in Space’ Action Comics #242) wherein an evil alien scientist named Brainiac tries to add Metropolis to his collection of miniaturised cities in bottles.

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

Superman #123 (August 1958) featured ‘The Girl of Steel’ by Binder, Dick Sprang & Kaye which tested the potential of a distaff Supergirl as part of a 3-chapter yarn involving a magic wishing totem, which tragically segued into ‘The Lost Super-Powers’ before granting the hero’s greatest dream and facilitating ‘Superman’s Return to Krypton’.

Action #243 (Binder & Boring) sees Superman mysteriously transformed into a beast in ‘The Lady and the Lion’, after which Superman #124 provides the intriguing menace of ‘The Super-Sword’ by Coleman & Plastino, Binder & Kurt Schaffenberger’s delightful desert island drama wherein Lois Lane becomes ‘Mrs. Superman’ and Clark Kent’s investigation of construction industry corruption which compels him to become ‘The Steeplejack of Steel’ (Binder, Boring & Kaye).

Curt Swan pencilled Binder’s ‘Super-Merman of the Sea’ (inked by Kaye) in Action #244: a canny mystery wherein the Man of Steel abandons the surface world for an alien aquatic princess, before Boring & Kaye delineate Binder’s compelling thriller ‘The Shrinking Superman!’: featuring an insidious menace from the Bottle City of Kandor…

‘Lois Lane’s Super-Dream’ (Coleman & Schaffenberger) led in Superman #125 (October/November 1958) with another potentially offensive and certainly sexist parable wherein the plucky news-hen learns a salutary lesson about powers and responsibility, whilst ‘Clark Kent’s College Days’ (illustrated by Plastino) opened an occasional series of Untold Tales of Superman: revealing just how, when and why Superboy became the Man of Tomorrow, before Boring & Kaye conclude Coleman’s hat-trick with ‘Superman’s New Power’ as the hero gained new and incomprehensible abilities with catastrophic consequences…

Action #246 featured ‘Krypton on Earth!’ (Binder, Boring & Kaye) as a trip to tourist attraction “Krypton Island” reveals a crafty criminal scam, and #247 presented ‘Superman’s Lost Parents!’ (Binder & Plastino), wherein a criminal scheme to reveal the hero’s secret identity prompts an extreme face-saving solution. Superman #126 had Binder, Boring & Kaye reveal ‘Superman’s Hunt for Clark Kent’: a thrilling tale of amnesia and deduction whilst ‘The Spell of the Shandu Clock’ (Coleman, Boring & Kaye), provides spooky chills and clever ploys to outwit a malevolent mastermind and ‘The Two Faces of Superman’ (Coleman & Schaffenberger) again saw “conniving” Lois learn an – apparently – much-needed lesson in humility.

Action #248 (January 1959) was a rare contribution from Bill Finger, illustrated by Boring & Kaye wherein the Caped Kryptonian becomes ‘The Man No Prison Could Hold!’ to topple a war criminal tyrant, before Superman #127 opened with another Untold Tale of Superman, ‘When There Was No Clark Kent!’ (Coleman, Swan & Kaye) as an accident temporarily deprives the hero of his treasured alter ego, after which Coleman, Boring & Kaye expose ‘The Make-Believe Superman’ as a depressed dad tries to impress his son with a most preposterous fib. The issue closed with the debut of another hugely popular character in ‘Titano the Super-Ape!’. The chimpanzee who is transformed into a giant ape with Kryptonite vision was one of the most memorable “foes” of the period, courtesy of Binder, Boring & Kaye’s sublime treatment combining action, pathos and drama to superb effect.

‘The Kryptonite Man!’, by Binder & Plastino in Action #249, sees Lex Luthor deliberately irradiate himself with Green K to avoid capture, but his evil genius proves no match for our hero’s sharp wits, used with equal aplomb in ‘The Eye of Metropolis!’ (Finger & Boring) as a prominent TV journalist seeks to expose Superman’s secret identity in #250.

Finger scripted the entirety of #128 as ‘Superman versus the Futuremen’ (limned by Boring & Kaye) and ‘The Secret of the Futuremen’ finds the Metropolis Marvel framed for heinous crimes and hijacked to the impossible year of 2000AD, before outwitting his abductors and returning in time to encounter ‘The Sleeping Beauty from Krypton!’ – actually Lois in another hare-brained scheme to trap her beloved into marriage, and deliciously illustrated by the unmistakable and fiendishly whimsical Kurt Schaffenberger.

‘The Oldest Man in Metropolis!’ – Robert Bernstein & Plastino – reveals how an unfortunate lab accident ages Superman many decades overnight in Action#251, whilst Superman #129 (May 1959) reveals ‘The Ghost of Lois Lane’ (Coleman, Boring & Kaye) to be anything but before Binder & Plastino’s ‘Clark Kent, Fireman of Steel!’ depicts the reporter’s aggravating and hilarious “luck” as a temporary fire-fighter. Another major debut follows before introducing the bewitching mermaid Lori Lemaris in ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past’ – a moving Untold Tale of Superman (from Finger & Boring) which again refined the Man of Steel’s intriguing early life.

From the same month, Action Comics #252 would have been significant enough merely for introducing the threat of John Corben, a criminal whose crushed skeleton is replaced by a robot body and Kryptonite heart to become ‘The Menace of Metallo!’ (Bernstein & Plastino), but a new back-up strip also began in that issue which utterly revolutionised the Man of Tomorrow’s ongoing mythology.

‘The Supergirl from Krypton!’ introduced Kal-El’s cousin Kara Zor-El in another captivating, groundbreaking yarn by Binder & Plastino. The Maid of Might would occupy the rear of Action and alternate covers for a decade and more to come, carving her own unique legend…

Issue #253 featured ‘The War Between Superman and Jimmy Olsen!’ by Alvin Schwartz, Swan & Kaye as an alien presence gives the boy reporter super-powers and a mania to conquer the world whilst Superman #130 presented ‘The Curse of Kryptonite!’ (Binder & Plastino), wherein the Action Ace relives his past experiences with the lethal mineral; ‘The Super-Servant of Crime!’ (Bernstein, Swan & John Sikela) which finds the hero turning the tables on a petty crook who thinks he’s fooled the Man of Tomorrow, and ‘The Town That Hated Superman!’ (Binder, Boring & Kaye) which happy hamlet has outlawed the hero. He simply has to know why…

‘The Battle with Bizarro!’(Action #254, by Binder & Plastino) re-introduces an imperfect duplicate super-being who had initially appeared in a well-received Superboy story (#68, from the previous year), courtesy of Luthor’s malfunctioning duplicator ray.

Even way back then high sales trumped death and so popular was the fatally-flawed character that the tale was continued over two issues, concluding with ‘The Bride of Bizarro!’ in #255 – an almost unheard-of luxury back then. Here that bombastic, traumatic conclusion is separated by the contents of Superman #131, which firstly reintroduces a long-vanished pestiferous annoyance with ‘The Menace of Mr. Mxyzptlk!’ by Coleman & Plastino, before Lois Lane is granted a tantalising glimpse of ‘Superman’s Future Wife’ (Bernstein & Schaffenberger) and ‘The Unknown Super-Deeds’ reveals hitherto hidden connections with the Daily Planet staff long before Superboy left Smallville in another Untold Tale… from Binder & Plastino.

Action #256 seemingly unleashes ‘The Superman of the Future’ (Binder, Swan & Kaye) whilst in Superman #132 (October 1959) Batman and the projections of a super-computer show what might have happened had Superman grown up on an unexploded Krypton in the 3-chapter epic ‘Superman’s Other Life’, ‘Futuro, Super-Hero of Krypton!’ and ‘The Superman of Two Worlds!’ by Binder, Boring & Kaye.

Action #257 reveals Clark Kent as ‘The Reporter of Steel!’ after he is hit by a ray from mad scientist Luthor in a cunning yarn by Binder, Boring & Kaye, before the contents of Superman #133 brings to a close this potent premier compendium with ‘The Super-Luck of Badge 77’ (Binder & Plastino) with the reporter trying his hand as a beat cop, before we can enjoy the first new tales by co-creator Jerry Siegel in nearly a decade: ‘How Perry White Hired Clark Kent’ (art by Plastino) and the wryly light-hearted ‘Superman Joins the Army!’ illustrated by Boring & Kaye.

Superman has proven to be all things to all fans over his decades of existence and with the character seemingly undergoing almost constant radical overhaul nowadays, these timeless tales of charm and joy and wholesome wit are more necessary than ever: not just as a reminder of great memories past but also as an all-ages primer of wonders still to come…
© 1959-1963, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman: The Golden Age Volume Two


By William Moulton Marston & Harry G. Peter with Frank Godwin, Frank Harry & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8536-4 (TPB)

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

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

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

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

On arriving in America, she purchased the identity and credentials of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, elegantly allowing the Amazon to be close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick medic to join her own fiancé in South America. Soon Diana also gained a position with Army Intelligence as secretary to General Darnell, ensuring she would always be able to watch over her beloved. She little suspected that, although the painfully shallow Steve only had eyes for the dazzling Amazon superwoman, the General had fallen for the mousy but superbly competent Lieutenant Prince…

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

Spanning March to December 1943 this superb full-colour deluxe softcover compilation (also available as an eBook edition) collects her exploits from Sensation Comics #15-24, Wonder Woman #4-7 plus her adventures from anthological book of (All) Stars Comics Cavalcade #2-5…

In Sensation #15 ‘Victory at Sea’ pits Diana and Steve against murderous saboteurs set on halting military production and working with shady lawyers, whilst in #16 ‘The Masked Menace’ is one of very few stories not illustrated by H.G. Peter but the work of illustrator and strip cartoonist Frank Godwin, stepping in as the crushing workload of an extra 64-page comicbook every couple of months piled the pressure on WW’s artistic director.

The tale sees steadfast Texan Etta Candy ready to elope with slick and sleazy Euro-trash Prince Goulash, until Diana and Steve crash the wedding party to expose spies infiltrating across the Mexican border and a plot to blow up the invaluable Candy family oil-wells…

The inescapable war-fervour was tinged with incredible fantasy in Wonder Woman #4 which opened with ‘Man-Hating Madness!’, wherein a Chinese refugee from a Japanese torture camp reaches America and draws the Amazon into a terrifying scheme to use biological weapons on the American Home Front.

Cruel and misogynistic ‘Mole Men of the Underworld’ then kidnap collegiate sidekicks the Holliday Girls and Diana and reformed and recuperated former-Nazi genius Baroness Paula von Gunther rescue them, free a race of female slaves and secure America’s deepest border from further attack.

‘The Rubber Barons’ provide a rousing romp wherein greedy corporate profiteers attempt to hold the Government and war effort to ransom with a new manufacturing process in a high-tech tale involving mind-control, gender role-reversal and behaviour modification, as only a trained and passionate psychologist could promote them…

The issue concludes with an untitled saga as Paula, now fully accepted into Amazon society, is attacked by Mavis, one of her erstwhile spy-slaves. The traumatised victim then abducts her ex-mistress’ daughter little Gerta and Wonder Woman, burdened with responsibility, is compelled to hunt her down…

A famed classic from Sensation #17 follows ‘Riddle of the Talking Lion’ (also probably drawn by Godwin) wherein Diana Prince visits an ailing friend and discovers that Sally’s kids have overheard a Zoo lion speaking – and revealing strange secrets…

Although Steve and Diana dismiss the tall tale, things take a peculiar turn when the beast is stolen. The trail leads to Egypt and a plot by ambitious Nazi collaborator Princess Yasmini

At this time National/DC was in an editorially-independent business relationship with Max Gaines that involved shared and cross promotion and distribution for the comicbooks released by his own outfit All-American Publications.

Although technically competitors if not rivals, the deal included shared logos and advertising and even combining both companies’ top characters in the groundbreaking All Star Comics as the Justice Society of America.

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

All-American thus decided to create its own analogue to mammoth sized anthology World’s Finest, featuring top AA characters. The outsized result was Comics Cavalcade

Next up following a Frank Harry cover of AA Big Three Flash, Green Lantern and our Princess, is Wonder Woman’s first offering from the second issue of that epic title: ‘Wanted by Hitler, Dead or Alive’ (Godwin art), pitting her against devious gestapo agent Fausta Grables

Also illustrated by superbly gifted classical artist Frank Godwin, ‘The Secret City of the Incas’ from Sensation #18 sees Diana rescue a lost Inca tribe from a despotic theocracy and ancient greed.

  1. G. Peter drew the vast entirety of Wonder Woman #5 (June/July 1943), presenting an interlinked epic in the ‘Battle for Womanhood’. Here war-god Mars (who instigated the World War from his HQ on the distant red planet through his earthly pawns Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito) returns to plague humanity directly. This time he enlists the aid of a brilliant but deformed and demented woman-hating psychologist with psychic powers. Tormented Dr. Psycho uses his talents to marry and dominate a medium named Marva, and employs her abilities to form ectoplasmic bodies as he seeks to enslave every woman on Earth.

Happily, Wonder Woman counters his divinely-sponsored schemes, after which prominent sidekicks ‘Etta Candy and her Holliday Girls’ comedically crush a burglary before ‘Mars Invades the Moon’ resumes the overarching tale as the frustrated war-god is ousted by devious deputy the Duke of Deception.

In attempting to take over the Moon – home of peace-loving goddess Diana – Mars makes the biggest error of his eternal life as the Amazing Amazon spearheads a spectacular rescue mission which results in the invaders’ utter rout.

The issue then concludes with ‘The Return of Dr. Psycho’, who escapes prison and again perpetrates a series of ghastly attacks on America’s security and the freedom of women everywhere… until the Holliday Girls and their demi-divine mentor stepped in…

Sensation #19 (Godwin again) features ‘The Unbound Amazon’ who responds to a little boy’s letter and stumbles onto big trouble in the far north woods. Of course, Diana knows little Bobby (as seen in the Adventure of the Talking Lion), and with Nazi spy Mavis on the loose, isn’t about to take any chances.

This terrific thriller is notable for the revelation that if an Amazon removes her Bracelets of Submission she turns into a raving, uncontrolled engine of sheer destruction…

Issue #20 was by H.G. Peter – who was coming to grips with the increased extra workload of the explosively popular 64-page Wonder Woman series every 3 months – and ‘The Girl with the Gun’ sees Diana Prince investigating sabotage at a munitions factory and the murder of a General at WAACs training base Camp Doe. To the Amazon’s complete surprise, the culprit seems to be Marva Psycho, but there is far more going on than at first appears…

In Comics Cavalcade #3, Diana exposes and destroys ‘The Invisible Invader’ devastating American men and munitions…

Godwin again handled the art for Sensation Comics #21 as Steve and Diana track down insidious traitor “the American Adolf” as he conducts a murderous ‘War Against Society’, whilst Wonder Woman #6 – another all-Peter extravaganza – introduces another macabrely memorable foe in ‘Wonder Woman and the Cheetah’.

Marston’s psychiatric background provided yet another deeply disturbed antagonist in the form of sugar sweet debutante Priscilla Rich who shared her own body with a jealously narcissistic, savage feline counterpart dedicated to murder and robbery. The Cheetah frames the Amazing Amazon and almost destroys Steve, Etta and the Holliday girls before Wonder Woman finally quashes her wild rampages.

It wasn’t for long: the Cheetah immediately returns to mastermind an espionage-for-profit ring in ‘The Adventure of the Beauty Club’, resulting in the Perfect Princess being captured by Japan’s High Command before spectacularly busting loose for a final confrontation in ‘The Conquest of Paradise’. Here the Feline Fury infiltrates the home of the Amazons and almost irretrievably poisons the minds of the super women sequestered there…

By this time Peter was fully adapted to his new schedule and in Sensation Comics #22 takes the psychological dramas to new heights as a cured Priscilla Rich is seemingly attacked by her manifested evil self after the Cheetah steals America’s latest weapon ‘The Secret Submarine’

In issue #23 the creators tackle school bullying and women in the workplace as production line staff are increasingly stricken by ‘War Laugh Mania’. Only one of the problems is being promulgated by Nazi spies though…

Comics Cavalcade #4 (Fall 1943) sees Wonder Woman and the Holliday Girls capture Nazi superspy Bertha Nagle and return ‘The Purloined Pressure Coordinator’ before a resumption of straight action in Sensation #24 where ‘The Adventure of the Pilotless Plane’ sees Steve abducted by Japanese agents whilst investigating a new gas weapon which prevents US aircraft from flying. The vile villains have nothing that can stop Wonder Woman from smashing them and freeing him, however, and the status quo is fully restored by the time Wonder Woman #7 offers an optimistic view of the future in a fantastic fantasy tale…

‘The Adventure of the Life Vitamin’ depicts America in the year 3000AD: a utopian paradise ruled by a very familiar female President, where a miracle supplement has expanded longevity to such an extent that Steve, Etta and all Diana’s friends were still thriving.

Sadly, some old throwbacks still yearn for the days when women were second-class citizens subservient to males, meaning there is still work for the Amazing Amazon to do…

‘America’s Wonderland of Tomorrow’ continues the wry but wholesome sex war with Steve going undercover with the rebel forces: uncovering a startling threat in ‘The Secret Weapon’ before the focus returns to the present and a far more intimate crisis for wilful child Gerta whose mother Paula is forced to deal with a ‘Demon of the Depths’. But is that the evil octopus at the bottom of the paddling pool or her daughter’s dangerously anti-authoritarian attitudes…?

Closing out this epic compilation is one last tale from Comics Cavalcade (#5 Winter 1943) as the Amazon Avenger investigates the ‘Mystery of the Crimson Flame’ exposing a cruel cult of subjugation and terrorism led by conniving man-hating High Priestess Zara

Too few people seem able to move beyond the supposed subtexts and incontrovertible imagery of bondage and subjugation in Marston’s tales – and frankly there really are a lot of scenes with girls tied up, chained or about to be whipped (men too) – but I just don’t care what his intentions might have been.

I’m more impressed with the skilful drama and incredible imaginative story-elements that are always wonderfully, intriguingly present: I mean, just where do such concepts as giant battle kangaroo steeds or sentient Christmas trees stem from…?

Exotic, baroque, beguiling and uniquely exciting, these Golden Age adventures of the World’s Most Famous female superhero are timeless and pivotal classics in the development of comics books and still provide lashings of fun and thrills for anyone looking for a great nostalgic read.
© 1943, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman, Batman vs. The Penguin, Batman vs. The Joker


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Alvin Schwartz, Edmond Hamilton, David Vern Reed, Bill Woolfolk, Dick Sprang, Sheldon Moldoff, Lew Sayre Schwartz & various (Four Square/New English Library)
ISBNs: 1688, 1692 and 1694

The Silver Age of comicbooks utterly revolutionised the medium, bringing a modicum of sophistication to the returning genre of masked mystery men. However, for quite some time the changes instigated by Julius Schwartz in Showcase #4 (October 1956) which rippled out in the last three years of the decade to affect all of National/DC Comics’ superhero characters generally passed by Batman and Robin.

Fans buying Batman, Detective Comics, World’s Finest Comics and even Justice League of America would read adventures that in look and tone were largely unchanged from the safely anodyne fantasies that had turned the Dark Knight into a mystery-solving, alien-fighting costumed Boy Scout just as the 1940s turned into the1950s.

By the end of 1963, Schwartz having – either personally or by example – revived and revitalised much of DC’s line and the entire industry with his modernization of the Superhero, was asked to work his magic with the creatively stalled and nigh-moribund Caped Crusaders.

Bringing his usual team of top-notch creators with him, the Editor stripped down the core-concept, downplaying all the ETs, outlandish villains and daft transformation tales, bringing a cool modern take to the capture of criminals whilst overseeing a streamlining rationalisation of the art style itself. The most apparent change to us kids was a yellow circle around the Bat-symbol but, far more importantly, the stories also changed. A subtle aura of genuine menace had crept back in.

At the same time, Hollywood was preparing to produce a television series based on Batman and, through the sheer karmic insanity that permeates the universe, the producers were basing their interpretation upon the addictively daft material that the publishers were turning their Editorial backs on and not the “New Look Batman” that was enthralling the readers.

The TV show premiered on January 12th 1966 and ran for 3 seasons (120 episodes in total), airing twice weekly for its first two seasons. It was a monumental, world-wide hit and sparked a wave of trendy imitation. The resulting media hysteria and fan frenzy generated an insane amount of Bat-awareness, no end of spin-offs and merchandise – including a movie – and introduced us all to the phenomenon of overkill.

“Batmania” exploded across the world and then, as almost as quickly, became toxic and vanished.

To this day, no matter how much we might squeal and foam about it, or what has occurred since in terms of comics, games or movies, to a huge portion of this planet’s population Batman is always going to be that “Zap! Biff! Pow!” costumed buffoon…

To tap into the frenzy, American book publisher Signet/New American Library – a company well-used to producing media tie-in titles such as Girl from U.N.C.L.E. or novelisations like Breakfast at Tiffany’s – released 5 paperbacks starring Batman and Robin, beginning in March 1966.

Technically, it was 4 plus a prose adaptation of the movie that was released later in the year (and the second was in fact an all-new prose novel by Winston Lyon – AKA William Woolfolk – which I’ll be covering in a later review), so in the proper fashion of the times, British counterparts quickly followed.

This terrific little trio of monochrome paperback pocket books – spearhead of National Periodical Publications’ on-going efforts to reach wider reading audiences – were published in 1966 to accompany the launch of the Batman TV show, and fully fuelled the “Camp” superhero craze which saw Masked Manhunters and costumed crazies sneak into every aspect of popular entertainment.

Each breathtaking tome contains 5 reformatted stories of the Dynamic Duo, culled from the archives and crafted by some of the greatest scripters and illustrators the industry has ever seen. Collected here in incontrovertible black-&-white are the tales from this trio of cartoon books which blew my unformed little mind in that most auspicious year for fun and fantasy escapism…

The first UK release was Batman which featured primarily crime stories rather than the baroque super-villain fare that informed and monopolised the television iteration. In the aforementioned mid-1950s, fancy-dress felons had all but vanished from view, and the new Schwartz Batman also eschewed costumed crazies … at least until the TV show made them stars in their own right.

The reformatted mini-masterpieces start with the positively eerie 1940 origin tale ‘The Legend of the Batman – Who He Is and How He Came to Be!’ by Gardner Fox, Bob Kane & Sheldon Moldoff from Batman #1 (Spring 1940). This piece was actually recycled from portions of Detective Comics #33 and 34 (1939) but still offers in 13 perfect panels what is effectively the best ever origin of the character.

The drama continued with ‘The Web of Doom’ (from Batman #90, March 1955, by Bill Finger, Moldoff & Charles Paris), in which a biologist loses a package of deadly germ phials somewhere in Gotham City. Batman and Robin have only days to track down 3 criminals who hold the key to restoring the savant’s shattered memories and retrieving the deadly parcel…

Batman #92, from June 1955, provided ‘Fan-Mail of Danger!’ (Finger, Moldoff & Paris) as letters to the gracious heroes pile up and the lads hired a secretary to handle the load. Sadly, Susie Smith’s over-eager diligence almost exposes Batman’s secret identity to a cunning counterfeiter…

There was one exception in this collection to the “no loons” rule. The Joker tale ‘The Crazy Crime Clown!’ is something extra-special from Batman #74 (December 1952/January 1953, by Alvin Schwartz, Dick Sprang & Charles Paris) and sees the exotic but strictly larcenous Harlequin of Hate apparently go bonkers.

He is committed to the Gotham Institute for the Insane but, naturally, there’s method in the seeming madness which Batman only discovers after he too infiltrates the worthy asylum in disguise…

Cunning criminal mastermind Mr. Blank almost takes over the underworld by destroying a new super-computer in ‘The Crime Predictor!’ (Batman #77, June/July 1953, courtesy of Edmond Hamilton, Bob, Lew Sayre Schwartz & Paris), and it took all of the ingenuity of the World’s Greatest Detective to unravel the deadly mire of duplicity and prevent his own infallibly predicted demise…

‘The Man Who Could Change Fingerprints!’ (Batman #82, March 1954 by David Vern Reed, Sprang & Paris) is another clever scheme by brilliant killers who think to outwit the Caped Crusaders, before this initial volume closes with a thrilling suspense shocker in ‘The Testing of Batman!’ (Batman #83, April 1954) by Hamilton, Sprang & Paris.

Here a scientist’s exercise research is usurped by thugs who wanted to have fun killing the enemies of crime. At least that’s what they told the captive Gotham Gangbusters…

 

Six months later a second volume was released.

Batman vs. The Penguin followed the same beguiling format but, with flamboyant arch-foes predominating on the silver screen, the emphasis had shifted. As the title clearly shows, this compilation concentrated on cases featuring the Felonious Fowl and Bird of Ill Omen, but it also harboured a secret surprise…

The all-ages action and excitement kicked off with ‘The Parasols of Plunder’ (Batman #70 April/May 1952 by Bill Woolfolk, Kane, Sayre Schwartz & Paris) and details how, after being released from prison, The Penguin gives up his obsession with birds and starts selling umbrellas. But, oh… what deadly umbrellas…

He returned to ornithology for ‘The Golden Eggs!’ in Batman #99 (April 1956, Finger, Moldoff & Paris), as whilst on the run his hobby inspired a deadly retaliatory crime wave before Batman scrambled all his plans, whilst in ‘The Penguin’s Fabulous Fowls’ the Umbrella King turns crypto-biologist, capturing mythical avian monsters and turning them loose to devastate Gotham in a sharp suspense shocker from Batman #76 (April/May 1953 by Hamilton, Kane, Sayre Schwartz & Paris)…

His last appearance was in ‘The Return of the Penguin’ (Finger, Moldoff & Paris from Batman #155 May 1963) which sees the Bird Bandit coming out of retirement to match wits with Batman again. If only the Pompous Peacock had ignored the teasing of the other crooks when they called him a “has-been”…

This tome wraps up with a classic Catwoman yarn, as the Feline Temptress puts all the contestants of Gotham City’s “Queen for a Day” gala into catatonic trances. Moreover, suspiciously still-awake competitor Selina Kyle claims complete innocence and insists some other Catwoman was responsible for creating the ‘The Sleeping Beauties of Gotham City!’ in a taut mystery by Reed, Moldoff & Stan Kaye from Batman #84 (June 1954)…

 

Batman vs. The Joker followed a month later with a full quintet of comicbook curios starring Batman’s ultimate nemesis. The madcap mayhem began with ‘The Challenge of The Joker’ (Batman #136, December 1960 by Finger, Moldoff & Paris) in which the Clown Prince of Crime determines to prove to the world that modern police science is no match for cunning and the 4 ancient elements…

Then ‘The Joker’s Winning Team!’ (Batman #86, September 1954 Woolfolk, Moldoff & Kaye) reveals how the baseball-inspired brigand assembles a squad of crime specialist pinch-hitters to ensure he never loses a match against the Gotham Gangbuster, after which the gloriously engaging saga of ‘The Joker’s Millions!’ (Detective Comics #180, February, 1952 by Reed, Sprang & Paris) discloses how the villain’s crime rival takes deathbed revenge by leaving the Harlequin of Hate too rich to commit capers.

It is a double-barrelled scheme though and makes the Joker twice a fool, as the Caped Crusaders find to their great amusement…

‘The Joker’s Journal’ (Detective #193, March 1953 from Reed, Kane, Sayre Schwartz & Paris) follows the theme after the penniless Punchinello leaves prison and starts a newspaper. Everyone in Gotham knows it was only a matter of time until the Mountebank of Mirth returns to his old tricks, and this final volume concludes in the only way possible as the eternal archenemies’ minds are swapped in a scientific accident. Soon a law-abiding Joker and baffled Robin have to hunt down ‘Batman – Clown of Crime!’: a rousing romp by Reed, Moldoff & Paris from Batman #85, August 1954.

As I’ve constantly averred, the comics tales themselves are always special but somehow when they appeared in proper books it always made those fantastic adventure dreams a little more substantial; and perhaps even real…

Batman has proven to be all things to all fans over his decades of existence and, with the character undergoing almost perpetual overhaul these days, the peerless parables of wit and bravery encapsulated here are more welcome than ever: not just as memorial to what has been but also as a reminder that once upon a time everybody could read the fabulous Tales of Gotham City…

These books are probably impossible to find today – even though entirely worth the effort – but completists can achieve miracles if they put their minds to it and frankly, whatever format or collection you happen upon, in this anniversary year, such forgotten stories of the immortal Dark(ish) Knight are part of our cultural comics heritage and must always be treasured.
© 1940, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1963, 1966 National Periodical Publications. All rights reserved.

The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer: The Secret of the Swordfish


By Edgar P. Jacobs, coloured by Philippe Biermé & Luce Daniels, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBNs: 978-1-84918-148-8, 978-1-84918-161-7 and 978-1-84918-174-7

Belgian Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs (1904-1987) is rightly considered one of the founding fathers of the Continental comics industry. Although his output is relatively meagre when compared to some of his contemporaries, the iconic series he worked on formed the basis and backbone of the art-form in Europe, and his splendidly adroit, roguish and impeccably British adventurers Blake and Mortimer, created for the first issue of Le Journal de Tintin in 1946, swiftly became a staple of post-war European kids’ life the way Dan Dare would in Britain in the 1950s.

Edgar P. Jacobs was born in Brussels, a precocious child who began feverishly drawing from an early age but was even more obsessed with music and the performing arts – especially opera. He attended a commercial school but – determined never to work in an office – pursued art and drama following his graduation in 1919.

A succession of odd jobs at opera-houses – scene-painting, set decoration, acting and singing as an Extra – supplemented his private performance studies, and in 1929 Jacobs won a Government award for classical singing. His proposed career as an opera singer was thwarted by the Great Depression, however, as the arts took a nosedive following the stock market crash.

Picking up whatever stage work was going – including singing and performing – Jacobs switched to commercial illustration in 1940. Regular employment came from the magazine Bravo. While illustrating short stories and novels, he famously took over the syndicated Flash Gordon strip, after the occupying German authorities banned Alex Raymond’s quintessentially All-American Hero and left the publishers desperately seeking someone to satisfactorily complete the saga.

Jacob’s Stormer Gordon lasted less than a month before being similarly sanctioned by the Nazis, after which Jacobs created his own epic science-fantasy feature in the legendary Le Rayon U: a milestone in both Belgian comics and science fiction adventure.

The U Ray was a huge hit in 1943 and scored big all over again a generation later when Jacobs reformatted the original “text-block and picture” material to incorporate speech balloons and re-ran the series in Le Journal de Tintin with subsequent releases as a trio of graphic albums in 1974.

I’ve read differing accounts of how Jacobs and Tintin creator Hergé got together – and why they parted ways professionally, if not socially – but as to the whys and wherefores of the split, I frankly don’t care. What is known is this: whilst creating the weekly U Ray, one of Jacob’s other jobs was scene-painting, and during the staging of a theatrical version of Tintin and the Cigars of the Pharaoh Hergé and Jacobs met and became friends. If the comics maestro was unaware of Jacob’s comics output before then, he was certainly made aware of it soon after.

Jacobs began working on Tintin, colouring the original monochrome strips of The Shooting Star from newspaper Le Soir for a forthcoming album collection. By 1944, Jacobs was performing similar service for Tintin in the Congo, Tintin in America, King Ottokar’s Sceptre and The Blue Lotus. By now, he was also contributing to the illustration as well, on extended epic The Seven Crystal Balls/Prisoners of the Sun.

Jacob’s love of opera made it into the feature as Hergé (who loathed the stuff) teasingly created bombastic Bianca Castafiore as a comedy foil and based a number of bit players (such as Jacobini in The Calculus Affair) on his long-suffering assistant.

After the war and liberation, publisher Raymond Leblanc convinced Hergé, Jacobs and a number of other creatives to work for his new venture. Launching publishing house Le Lombard, he also started Le Journal de Tintin, an anthology comic edited by Hergé, with editions in Belgium, France and Holland starring the intrepid boy reporter and a host of newer heroes.

Beside Hergé, Jacobs and writer Jacques van Melkebeke, the comic featured Paul Cuvelier’s Corentin and Jacques Laudy’s ‘The Legend of the Four Aymon Brothers’. Laudy had been a friend of Jacobs’ since they worked together on Bravo, and the first instalment of epic thriller serial ‘Le secret de l’Espadon’ starred a bluff, gruff British scientist as well as an English Military Intelligence officer closely modelled on Laudy: Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake

The story ran from issue #1 (26th September 1946 to 8th September 1949): cementing Jacobs’ status as a star in his own right. In 1950, with the first 18 pages slightly redrawn, Le secret de l’espladon V1 (The Secret of the Swordfish) became Le Lombard’s first album release; with the concluding part published three years later. The volumes were reprinted nine more times between 1955 and 1982, with an additional single complete deluxe edition released in 1964.

In 1984 the story was reformatted and repackaged in English translation as three volumes with additional material (mostly covers from the weekly Tintin added to the story as splash pages) as part of a European push to win some of Britain’s lucrative Tintin and Asterix market, but failed to find an audience and ended after seven volumes.

Happily, Cinebook have successfully introduced us to the dashing duo – albeit after publishing the later adventures first – and you can revel in the wonderment in either paperback album or eBook formats…

Hergé and Jacobs purportedly suffered a split in 1947 when the former refused to grant the latter a by-line on new Tintin material, but since they remained friends for life and Jacob’s continued to produce Blake and Mortimer for the Belgian weekly, I think it’s fair to say that if such was the case it was a pretty minor spat.

I rather suspect that The Secret of the Swordfish was simply taking up more and more of the brilliant, diligent artist’s time and attention…

The U Ray also provided early visual inspiration for Blake, Mortimer and implacable nemesis Colonel Olrik, who bear a more than passing resemblance to heroic Lord Calder, Norlandian boffin Marduk and viperous villain Dagon from that still lauded masterwork – one that is also well overdue for translation…

One minor word of warning: by having the overarching enemies of mankind be a secret Asiatic “Yellow Peril” empire of evil, there’s some potential for offence – unless one actually reads the text and finds that the assumed racism is countered throughout by plenty of “good” ethnic characters and “evil” white folk…

 

The Secret of the Swordfish Part 1 – Ruthless Pursuit

The incredible journey begins with ‘The Incredible Chase’ as a secret army in the Himalayas prepares to launch a global Blitzkrieg on a world slowly recovering from its second planetary war. The wicked Basam Damdu, Emperor of Tibet, has assembled an arsenal of technological super-weapons and the world’s worst rogues such as insidious Colonel Olrik in a bid to seize control of Earth.

However, a bold British-Asian spy has infiltrated the hidden fortress and surrenders his life to get off a warning message…

In England, physicist and engineer Philip Mortimer and MI5 Captain Francis Blake discuss the worsening situation at an industrial installation where the boffin’s radical new aircraft engine is being constructed. When the warning comes that the war begins that night, the old friends swing into immediate action…

As the super-bombers rain destruction down on all the world’s cities, Mortimer’s dedicated team prepares his own prototype, the Golden Rocket, for immediate launch, taking off just as Olrik’s bombers appear over the desolate complex. Despite heavy fire, the Rocket easily outdistances the rapacious Imperial forces, leaving ruined homes in its wake as the fleeing Britons fly into a hostile world now brutally controlled by Basam Damdu…

Whilst seeking to join British Middle East resistance forces who have another prototype super-plane, teething troubles and combat damage create tense moments in the fugitives’ flight. When the Rocket is attacked by a flight of jets, the test ship’s superior firepower enables it to fight free, but only at the cost of more structural deterioration.

Failing now, the Rocket goes down in the rocky wilds between Iran and Afghanistan. Parachuting free of the doomed Rocket, Blake, Mortimer and the crew are machine-gunned by pursuing Empire jets and only three men make it to the ground safely…

After days of struggle Blake, Mortimer and the indomitable Jim are cornered by Iranian troops who have joined Olrik’s forces. Sensing disaster, the Britons hide the plans to Mortimer’s super-plane but one of the Iranians sees the furtive act. When no one is looking – especially his superiors – Lieutenant Ismail hurriedly scoops up the documents, but misses one…

Under lock and key and awaiting Olrik’s arrival, the prisoners are accosted by Ismail, who sees an opportunity for personal advancement which the Englishmen turn to their own advantage. Denouncing him to his superiors, Blake instigates a savage fight between Ismail and his captain. During the brief struggle Jim sacrifices himself, allowing Blake and Mortimer to escape with the recovered plans. Stealing a lorry, the desperate duo drive out into the dark desert night…

Followed by tanks into the mountain passes, the ingenious pair trap their pursuers in a ravine just as hill partisans attack. The Imperial collaborators are wiped out and, after exchanging information with the freedom fighters, the Englishmen take one of the captured vehicles to a distant rendezvous with the second Rocket. Lack of fuel forces them to stop at a supply dump where they are quickly discovered.

By setting the dump ablaze the heroes escape again, but in the desert Olrik has arrived and finds the sheet of notes left behind by Ismail. The cunning villain is instantly aware of what it means…

Fighting off aerial assaults from Empire jets and streaking for the mountains, Blake and Mortimer abandon their tank. Forced to travel on foot, they at last reach the meeting point where British-trained Sergeant Ahmed Nasir awaits them. The loyal Indian served with Blake during the last war and is delighted to see him again, but as the trio make their way to the target site, they become aware that Olrik has already captured their last hope…

Only temporarily disheartened, the trio use commando tactics to infiltrate Olrik’s camp, stealing not the heavily-guarded prototype but the villainous Colonel’s own Red-Wing super-jet. Back on course to the British resistance forces, the seemingly-cursed trio are promptly shot down by friendly fire: rebels perceiving the stolen plane as another enemy target…

Surviving this crash too, the trio are ferried in relative safety by the apologetic tribesmen to enemy-occupied town Turbat, but whilst there a spy of the Empire-appointed Wazir recognises the fugitive Englishmen. When Nasir realises they are in trouble, he dashes to the rescue but is too late to prevent Mortimer from being drugged.

Sending the loyal Sergeant on ahead, Blake tries frantically to revive his comrade, even as Imperial troopers rapidly mount the stairs to their exposed upper room…

To Be Continued…

This Cinebook edition includes a tantalising preview of the next volume as well as stand-alone adventure The Yellow “M”, plus biographical features and chronological publication charts.

 

Volume 16: The Secret of the Swordfish Part 2 – Mortimer’s Escape

This second instalment carries the tale to the next epic level, as the frantic action resumes with soldiers bursting into an empty chamber before being themselves attacked by the Khan. After a bloody firefight the Englishmen emerge from their cunning hiding place and flee Turbat, which has been seized by a furious spur-of-the-moment rebellion.

Unknown to the fugitives, devious spy Bezendjas is hard on their heels and soon finds an opportunity to inform Olrik. With the city in flames and fighting in every street, the callous colonel abandons his own troops to pursue Nasir, Blake and Mortimer into the wastes beyond the walls…

On stolen horses the heroes endure all the ferocious hardships of the desert, but cannot outdistance Olrik’s staff-car. After days of relentless pursuit, they reach the rocky coastline and almost stumble into another Empire patrol. Whilst ducking them, Blake nearly falls to his doom…

Narrowly escaping death, the trio continue to climb steep escarpments and it is dusk before the Intelligence Officer realises that he has lost the precious plans and documents they have been carrying since fleeing England…

Realising that somebody must reach the British resistance at their hidden Eastern base, the valiant comrades split up. Blake and Nasir continue onwards whilst Mortimer returns to the accident site. Finding the plans is a stroke of sheer good fortune, immediately countered by an ambush from Olrik’s troops. Despite a Herculean last stand, the scientist is at last taken prisoner but only after successfully hiding the lost plans…

Three months later, Olrik is called to account in the exotic city-fortress of Lhasa. Basam-Damdu’s ruling council are unhappy with the Colonel’s lack of progress in breaking the captive British scientist, and even more infuriated by a tidal-wave of sabotage and armed rebellion throughout their newly-conquered territories. Even Olrik’s own spies are warning him that his days as an agent of the Yellow Empire are numbered…

Given two days to make Mortimer talk, the Colonel returns to his base in Karachi just as another rebel raid allows Nasir to infiltrate the Empire’s HQ. Blake is also abroad in the city, having joined British forces in the area…

With less than a day to act, the MI5 officer rendezvous with a British submarine and travels to a vast atomic-powered secret installation under the Straits of Hormuz. Here, the Royal Navy are stoically preparing for a massive counter-attack on the Empire. With raids liberating interned soldiers all the time, the ranks of scientists, technicians and soldiers are swelling daily…

Meanwhile, Nasir has his own desperate plan to free Mortimer, who is still adamantly refusing to talk of the mysterious “Swordfish” Olrik’s agents continually hear rumours of…

Aware of his danger and the Sergeant’s efforts, Mortimer instead cunningly informs Nasir of the lost plans’ location, even as the impatient Emperor’s personal torturer arrives from Lhasa…

Always concerned with the greater good, Blake and a commando team secure the concealed plans and are met by Nasir who has been forced from Karachi after realising Bezendjas has recognised him. It appears that time has run out for their scholarly comrade…

Mortimer, however, has taken fate into his own hands. When the devious doctor Sun Fo begins his interrogation, the Professor breaks free and escapes into the fortress grounds during an earth-shattering storm.

Trapped in a tower with only a handgun, he is determined to sell his life dearly, but is rescued by Blake and Nasir in a Navy Helicopter. Using the storm for cover, the heroes evade jet pursuit and an enemy naval sweep to link up with a British sub and escape into the night…

To Be Concluded…

This edition includes a preview of the next volume and excerpts from stand-alone saga S.O.S. Meteors, plus the usual biography features.

 

Volume 17: The Secret of the Swordfish Part 3 – SX1 Strikes Back!

After three years of stunning intrigue, mystery and action, E.P. Jacobs’ groundbreaking saga of a battle for world peace and universal liberty concluded in a spectacular duel below the Earth and in the skies of the embattled world. SX1 Strikes Back! is a tension-drenched race against time as Blake, Mortimer and the shattered dregs of Great Britain’s military forces prepare for a last-ditch strike using the Professor’s greatest inventions to win freedom for the oppressed peoples of Earth…

The final chapter opens with a stunning reprise of past events – cunningly compiled from a succession of six full-page illustrations (presumably original covers from weekly Le Journal de Tintin) – after which a daring commando raid liberates a trainload of British prisoners.

Brought to a fabulous subterranean fortress, the assorted scientists and engineers discover an underground railway, factory, armaments-facilities and even an atomic pile, all furiously toiling to complete the mysterious super-weapon dubbed “Swordfish”.

The former prisoners readily join the volunteers, blithely unaware that supremely capable scoundrel Olrik is amongst them in devilish disguise…

Days pass and as preparations for the Big Push produce satisfactory results, a series of disastrous accidents lead to one inescapable conclusion: there is a saboteur in the citadel…

Eventually Olrik becomes overconfident and Mortimer exposes the infiltrator in a crafty trap, but after a fraught confrontation the Colonel escapes after almost causing a nuclear catastrophe. Fleeing across the seabed, the harried spy narrowly avoids capture by diver teams and a hungry giant octopus…

The flight takes its toll upon Olrik and he barely reaches land alive. Luckily for him, Bezendjas has been checking out the region of coastline and finds the exhausted villain trapped in his stolen deep-sea suit. After a lengthy period, the dazed desperado recovers and delivers his hard-won information. Soon, Imperial forces are converging on the British bastion…

As air and sea forces bombard the rocky island and sea-floor citadel, Olrik dispatches crack troops to break in via a concealed land entrance, resulting in a staggering battle in the depths of the Earth.

They were almost in time…

After months of desperate struggle, Mortimer and his liberated scientists have rushed to complete the incredible Swordfish: a hypersonic attack jet with uncanny manoeuvrability and appallingly destructive armament.

Astoundingly launched from beneath the sea, the sleekly sinister plane single-handedly shoots the Empire jets out of the skies before sinking dozens of attacking ships. Ruthlessly piloting SX1 is Francis Blake; and even as he wreaks havoc upon the invading force, he is joined by SX2 -a second, equally unstoppable super-jet…

Soon the Yellow Empire is in full retreat and a squadron of Swordfish is completed. With the once-occupied planet in full revolt, it’s not long before Lhasa gets a taste of the flaming death it callously inflicted upon a peaceful, unsuspecting and now extremely vengeful world…

They are only just in time: the insane and malignant Emperor is mere moments away from launching a doomsday flight of atomic missiles to every corner of the planet he so briefly owned…

This Cinebook edition also includes fascinating illustrated essay ‘Jacobs: 1946, The Swordfish, starting point of a masterful work’, first seen in The World of Edgar P. Jacobs, a tantalising preview of later epic The Oath of the Five Lords (by Yves Sente & André Juillard) plus a biographical feature and chronological publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts.

Gripping and fantastic in the truest tradition of pulp sci-fi and Boy’s Own Adventures, Blake and Mortimer are the very epitome of dogged, heroic determination; always delivering grand, old-fashioned Blood-&-Thunder thrills and spills in timeless fashion and with astonishing visual punch.

Despite an epic body count and dated milieu, any kid able to suspend modern mores and cultural disbelief (call it alternate Earth history or bakelite-punk if you want) will experience the adventure of their lives… and so will their children.
Original editions © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud – Lombard S.A.) 1984, 1985, 1986 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2012, 2013 Cinebook Ltd.

Showcase Presents Young Love


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C’est l’amour…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then she came back…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teen Titans: The Silver Age Volume Two


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, Boys and Girls!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Premiering on December 4th 1937, The Dandy broke the mould of traditional British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under the sequential picture frames.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A marvel of nostalgia and timeless comics wonder, the true magic of this facsimile edition is the brilliant art and stories by a host of talents that have literally made Britons who they are today, and bravo to DC Thomson for letting them out for a half-day to run amok once again.

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

Valiant Annual 1968

By Many & various (Fleetway)
No ISBN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Trek Annual 1976

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman the Deluxe Edition


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From a period where Golden Age stories where assumed to have occurred on parallel world Earth-Two, ‘Superman Takes a Wife’ first appeared in 40th Anniversary issue #484 (June 1978).

Here Cary Bates, Curt Swan & Joe Giella detail how the original Man of Tomorrow became editor of the Metropolis Daily Star in the 1950s and married Lois. Thanks to villainous rogues Colonel Future and the Wizard who had discovered a way to make Superman forget his own existence, only she knew that her husband was once Earth’s greatest hero…

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

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

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

He didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Batman: The Golden Age volume 5


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They taught bad people the lesson they deserved.

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

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

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