Mandrake the Magician: Dailies volume 1 – The Cobra


By Lee Falk & Phil Davis (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1178276-690-2 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Masterpiece of Vintage Mystery and Imagination… 9/10

Considered by many as the first superhero, Mandrake the Magician debuted as a daily newspaper strip on 11th June 1934. An instant hit, it was soon supplemented by a full-colour Sunday companion page which launched on February 3rd 1935.

Creator Lee Falk had actually sold the strip to King Features Syndicate years earlier as a 19-year old college student, but asked the monolithic company to let him finish his studies before dedicating himself to the strip full time. With his schooling done, the 23-year old master raconteur settled in to begin his life’s work: entertaining millions with his astounding tales.

Falk – who also created the first costumed superhero in the moodily magnificent form of The Phantom – spawned an actual comicbook subgenre with his first creation. Most publishers of the Golden Age boasted at least one (and usually many more) nattily attired wonder wizards amongst their gaudily-garbed pantheons; all roaming the world making miracles and crushing injustice with varying degrees of stage legerdemain or actually sorcery.

Characters such Mr. Mystic, Ibis the Invincible, Sargon the Sorcerer, and an assortment of “…the Magician” such as Zanzibar, Zatara, Kardak and so many, many more all borrowed heavily and shamelessly from the uncanny exploits of the elegant, enigmatic man of mystery who graced the pages of the world’s newspapers and magazines.

In the Antipodes, Mandrake was a suave stalwart regular of the Australian Women’s Weekly and also became a cherished icon of adventure in the UK, Italy and Scandinavia.

Over the years he has been a star of radio, movie chapter-serials, a theatrical play, television and animation (as part of the cartoon series Defenders of the Earth). With that has come the usual merchandising bonanza of games, toys (including magic trick kits), books, comics and more…

Falk worked on Mandrake and “The Ghost who Walks” until his death in 1999 (even on his deathbed he was laying out one last story), but also found a few quiet moments to become a renowned playwright, theatre producer and impresario, as well as an inveterate world-traveller.

A man of many talents, Falk actually drew the first few weeks himself before uniting with sublimely polished cartoonist Phil Davis whose sleekly understated renditions took the daily strip – especially the expansive full-page Sunday offerings collected in a sister volume – to unparalleled heights of sophistication. His steady, assured realism was the perfect tool to render the Magician’s mounting catalogue of spectacular miracles.

Those in the know are well aware that Mandrake was educated at the fabled College of Magic in Tibet, thereafter becoming a suave globe-trotting troubleshooter, always accompanied by his faithful African friend Lothar and beautiful companion (eventually, in 1997, bride) Princess Narda of Cockaigne, co-operatively solving crimes and fighting evil.

Those days, however, are still to come as a wealth of fact-filled features begins here with college Classics Professor Bob Griffin vividly recalling ‘From Fan to Friend: My Memories of Lee Falk’. Mathematics lecturer and comics historian Rick Norwood then traces comic book sorcerers and sources in ‘Mandrake Gestures Hypnotically’ before the comics section of this luxury monochrome landscape hardback (also available digitally, but impossible to gift wrap) opens on the hero’s first case.

A classy twist on contemporary crime dramas and pulp fiction, ‘The Cobra’ (June 11th – November 24th 1934) sees the eponymous criminal mastermind menace the family of US ambassador Vandergriff until a dapper haunting figure and his gigantic African companion insert themselves into the affair. Initially mistrusted, Mandrake and Lothar guide the embattled diplomat through a globe-girdling vendetta against a human fiend with mystic powers and a loyal terrorist cult. Employing their own miracles, wonders and ruthless common sense, the heroes defeat every scheme leading to a ferocious final clash in the orient and the seeming destruction of the wicked evil wizard.

At their ease in Alexandria, Mandrake and Lothar are targeted by criminal mastermind ‘The Hawk’ (November 26th 1934 – February 23rd 1935) and meets distrait socialite Narda of Cockaigne, who employs her every wile to seduce and destroy them. Thwarting every plot, Mandrake eventually learns her actions are dictated by a monstrous stalker who is blackmailing Narda’s brother Prince Sigrid. With his true enemy revealed, the Magician sets implacably to work to settle the villain’s affairs for good…

With a sense of further entanglements to come, the wanderers leave Narda and eventually fetch up in the Carpathians, encountering a lonely embattled woman tormented by crazed Professor Sorcin and ‘The Monster of Tanov Pass’(February 25th – June 15th 1935). This time, there’s a fearsomely rational explanation for all the terror and tribulations…

Mandrake and Lothar meet weary policeman Inspector Duffy and clash with a brilliant mimic and master thief in Arabia where ‘Saki, the Clay Camel’ (June 17th – November 2nd 1935) drives the occupying British authorities to distraction. An offer of mystic assistance brings danger, excitement and a surprise reunion with Narda before the crook and his army of desperate criminals are defeated…

Heading north to frozen climes, the magician and the strongman encounter persecuted Lora, saving her from her own unscrupulous and cash-crazed family and ‘The Werewolf’ (November 4th 1935 – February 29th 1936) before this first volume concludes with ‘The Return of the Clay Camel’ March 2nd – July 18th 1936): a rip-roaring romp showing off Falk’s deft gift for comedy…

It begins with our heroes curing a raging sportsman of the urge to hunt and expands into a baffling mystery as the long vacationing Sir Oswald returns home to England only to discover someone has been perfectly impersonating him for months…

Devolving into a cunning robbery and comedy of mistaken identity, Mandrake and the false faced Saki test wits and determination, but even with the distraction of an impending marriage being hijacked too, its certain that the canny conjuror is going to come out on top…

Closing with ‘The Phil Davis Mandrake the Magician Complete Daily Checklist 1934-1965’ this thrilling tome offers exotic locales, thrilling action, bold belly laughs, spooky chills and sheer elegance in equal measure. Master taleteller Falk instinctively knew from the start that the secret of success was strong – and crucially recurring – villains to test and challenge his heroes and made Mandrake an unmissable treat for every daily strip addict. These stories have lost none of their impact and only need you reading them to concoct a perfect cure for the 21st century blues.
Mandrake the Magician © 2016 King Features Syndicate. All Rights Reserved. All other material © 2016 the respective authors or owners.

Marney the Fox


By Scott M. Goodall & John Stokes (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-598-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Shocking, Unforgettable and Unmissable British Drama… 10/10

At first glance British comics prior to the advent of 2000AD seem to fall into fairly ironclad categories. Back then, you had genial and fantastic preschool fantasy, a large selection of adapted TV and media properties, action, adventure, war and comedy strands. A closer look though, would confirm that there was always a subversive undertone, especially in such antihero series as Dennis the Menace, The Spider or the early Steel Claw.

…And then there was Marney the Fox.

Created and scripted by prolific veteran Scott Goodall (Captain Hurricane, Kelly’s Eye, Cursitor Doom, Captain Scarlet and dozens more), the series ran in multipurpose anthology Buster from June 22nd 1974 to September 4th 1976 and – even in a weekly periodical notorious for its broad and seemingly mismatched mix of themes and features – stuck out like a sore thumb.

Not for any lack of quality, of course.

Compellingly scripted by Goodall and set in his beloved Devonshire country, the serial was lavishly, almost hauntingly illustrated by frequent collaborator John Stokes (Black Knight, Father Shandor, Maxwell Hawke, L.E.G.I.O.N., Aliens, Star Wars, The Invisibles), with whom the writer had already crafted for Buster seminal classics Fishboy and The War Children.

Marney the Fox was very much a passion project and a creature of its times. If you look at the ordering descriptions online or even revel in the gorgeous and serene cover embellishing this luxurious hardback or digital compilation, you might conclude it’s a natural history strip or animal adventure along the lines of Lassie or Black Beauty.

Don’t be deceived. The books you should be thinking of here are Ring of Bright Water, Tarka the Otter and A Kestrel for a Knave (or Kes, if you don’t read As Much As You Should, but do watch movies). The deftly-constructed atrocities beautifully limned in every 2-page monochrome instalment were – and remain – brilliant naturalist propaganda and should be mandatory reading for every person who lives in, near or with the natural environment…

For two years the trials and tribulations of barely-weaned orphan fox cub Marney the Wandering One were a painfully beautiful, harrowing account of the horrors rural folk – from poachers to soldiers on manoeuvres to roadbuilders to landed gentry and their bloody hounds – all casually inflicted on unwelcome wildlife and ones that must have traumatised and successfully indoctrinated a generation of kids.

From his first encounter with and narrow escape from despicable mankind, young Marney endures a ghastly litany of close shaves, bolstered by far too few happy, peaceful moments as he flees from crisis to crisis until mercifully finding refuge and contentment. I had to put that last bit in because this is a sublime piece of comics wonderment, that everybody should read, but the weekly cliff hangers and sheer mental and physical abuse the little guy barely survives every seven days would have Batman, Captain America and Judge Dredd rushing for Valium and comfort blankies in an instant…

So take it from me: the fox lives happily ever after, okay?

Augmented by an Introduction from John Stokes, this is magical and unique comics entertainment, suitably acid-coating the hard, harsh life of British wildlife and the ignorance and cruelty of many – but not all – people. It’s also a story you must see and will never forget.
™ & © 1974, 1975, 1976, & 2017 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Golden Age Volume Five


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, John Sikela, Leo Nowak, Ed Dobrotka, George Roussos, Sam Citron & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8797-9 (TPB)

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

The American comicbook industry – if it existed at all by now – would have been an utterly unrecognisable thing without The Man of Tomorrow. His unprecedented invention and adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation gave birth to an entire genre if not an actual art form.

Imitation is the most honest compliment and can be profitable too. Superman triggered an inconceivable army of imitators and variations and, within three years of his Summer 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early Action Ace had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, and whimsical comedy. Once the war in Europe and the East finally involved America, to that list was added patriotic relevance for a host of gods, heroes and monsters – all dedicated to profit through exuberant, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

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

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

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

This fifth remastered paperback collection (also available digitally) of the Action Ace’s early exploits – reprinted in the order they first appeared – covers the turbulent, times spanning May 1942 to February 1943: encompassing escapades from Action Comics #48-57, Superman #16-19 and his solo-adventures from World’s Finest Comics #6-8 (an oversized anthology title where he shared whimsical cover-stardom with Batman and Robin).

As always, every comic appearance is preceded by the original cover illustration depicting Superman trouncing scurrilous Axis War-mongers and reminding readers what we were all fighting for – captivating graphic masterpieces from Fred Ray, Jack Burnley and John Sikela – whilst each tale is credited to prolific co-originator Siegel.

I sometimes think – like many others I know – that superhero comics were never more apt or effective than when they were whole-heartedly combating global fascism with explosive, improbable excitement courtesy of a myriad of mysterious, masked marvel men.

All the most evocatively visceral moments of the genre seem to come when gaudy gladiators soundly thrashed – and I hope you’ll please forgive the offensive contemporary colloquialism – “Nips and Nazis”. However, even in those long-ago dark days, comics creators were wise enough to offset their tales of espionage and imminent invasion with a barrage of home-grown threats and gentler or even more whimsical four-colour fare…

Jerry Siegel was producing some of the best stories of his career, showing the Action Ace in all his morale-boosting glory; thrashing thugs, spies and masters of bad science whilst America kicked the Axis fascists in the pants…

Co-creator Joe Shuster, although plagued by punishing deadlines for the Superman newspaper strip and his rapidly failing eyesight, was still fully involved in the process, overseeing the stories and drawing character faces whenever possible, but as the months passed the talent pool of the “Superman Studio” increasingly took the lead in the comicbooks as the demands of the media superstar grew and grew. Thus, most of the stories in this volume were drawn by John Sikela with occasional support from others…

The magic begins with ‘The Merchant of Murder!’ from Action Comics #48 wherein the hero topples an insidious gang of killers led by The Top who uses wartime restrictions to sell used cars with deadly faults and defects until reporter Lois Lane and her soft-spoken leg man get involved…

Sikela flew solo on all of Superman #16, beginning with ‘The World’s Meanest Man’ as the Caped Kryptonian crushes a mobster attempting to plunder a social program giving deprived slum-kids a holiday in the countryside, before moving on to battle an astrologer prepared to murder his clients to prove his predictions in ‘Terror from the Stars’.

‘The Case of the Runaway Skyscrapers’ pits the Metropolis Marvel against Mister Sinister, a trans-dimensional tyrant who makes buildings vanish, after which the power-packed perilous periodical concluded with a deeply satisfying and classic campaign against organised crime as Superman crushes the ‘Racket on Delivery’.

Action Comics #49 introduced The Puzzler – a despicable, deadly and obsessive criminal maniac who hated losing and never played fair in ‘The Wizard of Chance’ (inked by Ed Dobrotka).

The debut of Superman propelled National Comics to the forefront of their fledgling industry and in 1939 the company collaborated with the organisers of the New York World’s Fair: producing two commemorative comic books celebrating the event. The Man of Tomorrow prominently featured on the appropriately titled New York World’s Fair Comics beside such four-colour stars as Zatara, Gingersnap, The Sandman and Batman and Robin. The spectacular card-cover 96-page anthologies were a huge hit and convinced National’s owner and editors that such an over-sized package of their pantheon of characters, with Superman and Batman prominently featured, would be a worthwhile proposition.

The bountiful format was retained for a wholly company-owned quarterly which retailed for the then-hefty price of 15¢. Launching as World’s Best Comics #1 (Spring 1941), the book transformed into World’s Finest Comics from #2, beginning a stellar 45-year run which only ended as part of the massive decluttering exercise that was Crisis on Infinite Earths.

From WFC #6 (Summer 1942), Siegel, Leo Nowak & Sikela’s ‘The Man of Steel vs. the Man of Metal’ pits our hero and newsboy Jimmy Olsen against Metalo: a mad scientist whose discoveries make him every inch Superman’s physical match…

Back in Action Comics #50, Clark Kent and Lois are despatched to Florida to scope out sporting skulduggery in ‘Play Ball!’– a light-hearted baseball tale illustrated by Nowak & Ed Dobrotka before Superman #17 offers a quartet of tales beginning with ‘Man or Superman?’ (pencilled by Shuster with Sikela inking), wherein Lois first begins putting together snippets of evidence and at last sensing that klutzy Clark might be hiding a Super-secret, even as the subject of her research tangles with sinister saboteur The Talon.

Following that, ‘The Human Bomb’ (art by Nowak) sees a criminal hypnotist transform innocent citizens into walking landmines until the tireless Action Ace scotches his wicked racket.

Sikela handled the last two tales in the issue beginning with ‘Muscles for Sale!’, in which Superman’s Fortress of Solitudeand Trophy Room debut and the Man of Steel battles another mad mesmerist turning ordinary citizens into dangerously overconfident louts, bullies and thieves, whilst ‘When Titans Clash!’ depicts a frantic and spectacular duel of wits and incredible super-strength after Luthor regains the mystic Power Stone to become Superman’s physical – but never intellectual – master …

Action Comics #51 introduces the canny faux-madness of practical-joking homicidal bandit The Prankster in the rollercoaster romp in Sikela’s ‘The Case of the Crimeless Crimes’ and the next issue features the ‘The Emperor of America!’, wherein an invading army are welcomed with open arms by all Americans except the indignantly suspicious Man of Steel who single-handedly liberates the nation in a blistering, rousing call-to-arms classic…

As the war progressed the raw passion and sly wit of Siegel’s stories and the rip-roaring energy of Shuster and his team were galvanised by the parlous state of the planet and Superman got even became better and more flamboyant to deal with it all. His startling abilities and take-charge, can-do attitude won the hearts of the public at home and he was embraced as a patriotic tonic for the troops across the war-torn world.

The rise was meteoric, inexorable and unprecedented. He was the indisputable star of Action and World’s Finest Comics plus his own dedicated title, whilst a daily newspaper strip (begun on 16th January 1939, with a separate Sunday strip following from 5th November of that year) garnered millions of new fans globally. A thrice-weekly radio serial had been running since February 12th 1940 and, with a movie cartoon series, games, toys, apparel and a growing international media presence, Superman was swiftly becoming the entire Earth’s hero…

Although the gaudy burlesque of evil aliens, marauding monsters and slick super-villains still lay years ahead of our hero, thrilling tales of villainy, criminality, corruption and disaster were just as engrossing and spoke powerfully of the tenor of the times, and are all dealt with in a direct and captivating manner by our relentlessly entertaining champion in summarily swift and decisive fashion.

No “To Be Continueds” here!

A perfect example of the done-in-one tale is Siegel, Nowak & Sikela’s ‘The Eight Doomed Men’ from World’s Finest Comics #7: a tale involving a coterie of ruthless millionaires targeted for murder because of the wicked past deeds of their privileged college fraternity. This enthralling crime mystery is suitably spiced up with flamboyant high-tech weaponry that pushes the Man of Tomorrow to his limits…

Superman #18 (September/October 1942) then offers a quartet of stunning sagas, leading with Sikela’s ‘The Conquest of a City’ wherein Nazi infiltrators use a civil defence drill to infiltrate the National Guard and conquer Metropolis in the Fuehrer’s name… until Superman spearheads the counter-attack…

Nowak’s ‘The Heat Horror’ posits an artificial asteroid threatening to burn the city to ashes until the Metropolis Marvel defeats Lex Luthor, the manic mastermind who initially aimed it at Earth.

‘The Man with the Cane’ offers a grand, old-fashioned and highly entertaining espionage murder mystery for Dobrotka & Sikela to illustrate after which Superman takes on his first fully costumed super-villain when ‘The Snake’ perpetrates a string of murders during construction of a river tunnel in a moody Nowak-drawn masterpiece.

Sikela is inked by George Roussos on fantastic thriller ‘The Man Who put Out the Sun!’ from Action Comics #53, wherein bird-themed bandit Night-Owl uses “black light” technology and ruthless gangsters to plunder at will until the Man of Steel takes charge, whilst in #54, ‘The Pirate of Pleasure Island!’ (Sikela) follows the foredoomed career of upstanding citizen Stanley Finchcomb, a seemingly civilised descendent of ruthless buccaneers who succumbs to madness and becomes a modern day merciless marine marauder. Or perhaps he truly is possessed by the merciless spirit of his ancestor Captain Ironfist in this enchanting supernatural thriller…?

A classic (and much reprinted) fantasy shocker opened Superman #19. ‘The Case of the Funny Papers Crimes’ (Sikela & Dobrotka) sees bizarre desperado Funnyface bring the larger-than-life villains of the Daily Planet’s comics page to terrifying life in a grab for loot and power, after which ‘Superman’s Amazing Adventure’ (Nowak) finds the Man of Steel battling incredible creatures in an incredible extra-dimensional realm – but all is not as it seems…

Some of the city’s most vicious criminals are commanded to kill a stray dog by the infamous Mr. Z in ‘The Canine and the Crooks’ (Nowak) and it takes all of Clark and Lois’ deductive skills to ascertain why before ‘Superman, Matinee Idol’breaks the fourth wall for readers as the reporters visit a movie house to see a Superman cartoon in a shameless yet exceedingly inventive and thrilling “infomercial” plug for the Fleischer Brothers cartoons then currently astounding movie-goers; all lovingly rendered by Shuster and inked by Sikela…

This latest leaf through times gone by continues with a witty and whimsical Li’l Abner spoof illustrated by Sikela & Dobrotka. ‘A Goof named Tiny Rufe’ focuses on desperate cartoonist Slapstick Sam who co-opts, plagiarises and ruins the simple lives of a couple of naïve hillbillies to fill his idea-empty panels and pages… until Superman intercedes to give the hicks their lives back and the devious dauber the drubbing he so richly deserves……

World’s Finest #8 (Winter, 1942-1943) next exposed ‘Talent Unlimited’ (Sam Criton & Sikela) as Superman tracks down a missing heiress who had abandoned wealth for a stage career and poor but honest theatrical friends. Unfortunately, even though she didn’t want her money, other people did…

A brace of episodes from Action Comics brings this gleaming Golden Age visit to a close, starting with ‘Design for Doom!’ from #56. Illustrated by Sikela, it pits the Caped Kryptonian against a deranged architect who creates global city-wrecking catastrophes simply to prove the superiority of his own creations.

Superman was pitifully short on returning villains in the early days so #57’s return of the Prankster as ‘Crime’s Comedy King’ made a welcome addition to his meagre Rogues Gallery, especially as the Macabre Madcap seems here to have turned over a new philanthropic leaf. Of course, there’s malevolence and a big con job at the heart of his transformation…

As fresh, thrilling and compelling now as they ever were, these endlessly re-readable epics are perfectly presented in these glorious paperback collections where the graphic magic defined what being a Super Hero means, with every tale dictating the basic iconography of the genre for all others to follow.

These Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment at absurdly affordable prices and in a durable, comfortingly approachable format. What dedicated comics fan could possibly resist them?
© 1942, 1943, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Mandrake the Magician: The Hidden Kingdom of Murderers – Sundays 1935-1937


By Lee Falk & Phil Davis (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-572-8 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because We Believe in Magic… 10/10

Regarded by many as the first superhero, Mandrake the Magician debuted as a daily newspaper strip on 11th June 1934. An instant hit, it was soon supplemented by a full-colour Sunday companion page which launched on February 3rd 1935.

Creator Lee Falk had actually sold the strip to King Features Syndicate years earlier as a 19-year old college student, but asked the monolithic company to let him finish his studies before dedicating himself to it full time. With his schooling done, the 23-year old master raconteur settled in to begin his life’s work: entertaining millions with his astounding tales.

Falk – who also created the first costumed superhero in moodily magnificent mystery man The Phantom – spawned an actual comicbook subgenre with his first creation. Most publishers of the Golden Age boasted at least one (and usually many more) nattily attired wonder wizards amongst their gaudily-garbed pantheons; all roaming the world making miracles and defeating injustice with varying degrees of stage legerdemain or actual sorcery.

Characters such Mr. Mystic, Ibis the Invincible, Sargon the Sorcerer, and an assortment of “…the Magicians” such as Zanzibar, Zatara, Kardak and so many, many more, all borrowed heavily and shamelessly from the uncanny exploits of the elegant, enigmatic white knight who graced the pages of the world’s newspapers and magazines.

In the Antipodes, Mandrake was a stalwart regular of the Australian Women’s Weekly, and also became a cherished star in the UK, Italy and Scandinavia. Over the years he has been a star of radio, movie chapter-serials, a theatrical play, television and animation as part of the cartoon series Defenders of the Earth. With that has come the usual merchandising bonanza of games, toys (including magic trick kits), books, comics and more…

Falk worked on Mandrake and “The Ghost who Walks” until his death in 1999 (even on his deathbed he was laying out one last story) but he also found time to become a playwright, theatre producer and impresario, as well as an inveterate world-traveller.

A man of many talents, Falk drew the first few weeks himself before uniting with sublimely imaginative cartoonist Phil Davis, whose sleekly understated renditions took the daily strip – and especially these expansive full-page Sunday offerings – to unparalleled heights of sophistication: his steady assured realism the perfect tool to render the Magician’s mounting catalogue of wondrous miracles…

Those in the know are well aware that Mandrake was educated at the fabled College of Magic in Tibet, thereafter becoming a suave globe-trotting troubleshooter, always accompanied by his faithful African partner Lothar and beautiful, feisty companion (and eventually, in 1997, bride) Princess Narda of Cockaigne, solving crimes and fighting evil. Those days, however, are still to come as the comics section opens in this splendidly oversized (315 x 236 mm) full-colour luxury hardback – and digital equivalents – with ‘The Hidden Kingdom of Murderers’ (which ran from February 3rd to June 2nd 1935) as the urbane Prince of Prestidigitation and his herculean companion are approached by members of the international police to help expose a secret society of criminals and killers acting against the civilised world from their own hidden country.

After officer Duval is assassinated, Mandrake and Lothar – accompanied by panther woman Rheeta and surviving cop Pierce – embark upon a multi-continental search which, after many adventures, eventually brings them to a desolate desert region where they are confronted by bloody-handed Bull Ganton, King of Killers.

With the master murderer distracted by Rheeta, Mandrake easily infiltrates the odious organisation and quickly begins dismantling the secret society of two million murderers. By the time Ganton wises up and begins a succession of schemes to end Mandrake, it’s too late…

That deadly drama concluded, Mandrake and Lothar head to India to revisit old haunts and end up playing both peacemaker and cupid in the ‘Land of the Fakirs’ (running from June 9th to October 6th).

When Princess Jana, daughter of Mandrake’s old acquaintance Jehol Khan is abducted by rival ruler Rajah Indus of Lapore, the Magician ends his mischievous baiting of the street fakirs to intervene. In the meantime, Captain Jorga – who loves Jana despite being of a lower caste – sets off from the Khan’s palace to save her or die in the trying…

After many terrific and protracted struggles, Mandrake, Lothar and Jorga finally unite to defeat the devious and duplicitous Rajah before the westerners set about their most difficult and important feat; overturning centuries of tradition so that Jorga and Jana might marry…

Heading north, the peripatetic performers stumble into amazing fantasy after entering the ‘Land of the Little People’ (13thOctober 1935 to March 1st 1936), encountering a lost race of tiny people embroiled in a centuries-long war with brutal cannibalistic adversaries. After saving the proud warriors from obliteration, Mandrake again plays matchmaker, allowing valiant Prince Dano to wed brave and formidable commoner Derina who fought so bravely beside them…

With this sequence illustrator Davis seemed to shake off all prior influences and truly blossomed into an artist with a unique and mesmerising style all his own. That is perfectly showcased in the loosely knit sequence (spanning 8th March to 23rd August 1936) which follows, as Mandrake and Lothar return to civilisation only to narrowly escape death in an horrific train wreck.

Crawling from the wreckage, our heroes help ‘The Circus People’ recapture and calm the animals freed by the crash, subsequently sticking around as the close-knit family of nomadic outcasts rebuild. Mighty Lothar has many clashes with jealous bully Zaro the Strongman, culminating in thwarting attempted murder, whilst Mandrake uses his hypnotic hoodoo to teach sadistic animal trainer Almado lessons in how to behave, but primarily the newcomers act as a catalyst, making three slow-burning romances finally burst into roaring passionate life…

Absolutely the best tale in this tome and an imaginative tour de force which inspired many soon-to-be legendary comicbook stars, ‘The Chamber into the X Dimension’ (30th August 1936 to March 7th 1937) is a breathtaking, mind-bending saga starting when Mandrake and Lothar search for the missing daughter of a scientist whose experiments have sent her literally out of this world.

Professor Theobold has discovered a way to pierce the walls between worlds but his beloved Fran never returned from the first live test. Eager to help – and addicted to adventure – Mandrake and Lothar volunteer to go in search of her and soon find themselves in a bizarre timeless world where the rules of science are warped and races of sentient vegetation, living metal, crystal and even flame war with fleshly humanoids for dominance and survival.

After months of captivity, slavery, exploration and struggle our human heroes finally lead a rebellion of the downtrodden fleshlings and bring the professor the happiest news of his long-missing child…

Concluding this initial conjuror’s compilation is a whimsical tale of judgement and redemption as Mandrake uses his gifts to challenge the mad antics of ‘Prince Paulo the Tyrant’ 14th (March 14th – 29th August 1937).

The unhappy usurper stole the throne of Ruritanian Dementor and promptly turned the idyllic kingdom into a scientifically created madhouse. Sadly, Paulo had no conception of what true chaos and terror were until the magician exercised his mesmeric talents…

This epic celebration also offers a fulsome, picture-packed and informative introduction to the character – thanks to Magnus Magnuson’s compelling essay ‘Mandrake the Magician Wonder of a Generation’ – plus details on the lives of the creators (‘Lee Falk’ and ‘Phil Davis Biography’ features) plus a marvellous Davis pin-up of the cast to complete an immaculate confection of nostalgic strip wonderment for young and old alike.
Mandrake the Magician © 2016 King Features Syndicate. All Rights Reserved. “Mandrake the Magician Wonder of a Generation” © 2016 by Magnus Magnuson.

Blackwood


By Hannah Eaton, (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-908434-71-5 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-908434-72-2

It’s all about personal tastes in the end, but when I assessed the many horror-themed and Halloween-adjacent review copies despatched from kind creators, PR sentinels and hopeful publishers this month (thank you one and all!), from very early on I knew we had to end on this one. Read on, read Blackwood itself and learn just why…

As nations and cultures, we all think we’re special, but every so often a piece of art comes along and you think “no other nationality could have produced this…” That’s an especially inescapable conclusion after indulging in the glorious melange that is this intriguing annal of Albion.

Rendered and reproduced as soft and subtle pencil drawings, Blackwood is quintessentially English: channelling our beloved countryside, quirky folk of different classes (co-existing if not actually living in harmony), witchcraft, cosy murder-mysteries, corrupt councils, devil-worshipping mystic masons, ordinary people well in over their heads, inbred insularity and racism, an extremely reserved, controlled sense of events getting away from you. There’s also a chilling sense that there’s always more going on under the surface of civility and respectability than meets your eye…

Best of all, as this tale of identical rural murders occurs simultaneously 65 years apart, we get to see – up close and personal – just how much and how little society has changed, especially when the modern-day killing draws in troublesome nosy strangers from outside the community… and even foreigners…

Augmented by an Afterword detailing the generational tale’s real-world inspirations, this is a yarn that only comes from gifted, thoughtful artists like Hannah Eaton (check out Naming Monsters while you’re at it) who have seen a bit of the world before settling down to devise their own.

Channelling delicious notes of Gary Spencer Milledge’s Strangehaven and the first series of Gracechurch, this very human-scaled drama is funny, scary and seductively compelling, like the best Scandi-dramas, but with tea and a Victoria Sponge all laid on.

Is Blackwood a heartfelt paean to a forgotten place and time or a devious attack on oppressive social structures and change-based bias that still hold us apart and down? Yes, no, maybe and mind your own business. It is a chilling, delightful and utterly compelling mystery that, once read, will not be forgotten.

So, go do that then, right?
© Hannah Eaton 2020. All rights reserved.

Doom Patrol: The Silver Age volume 2


By Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, Bruno Premiani, Bob Brown, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0098-4 (TPB)

1963 was the year when cautious comicbook publishers finally realised that superheroes were back in a big way and began reviving or creating a host of costumed characters to battle outrageous menaces and dastardly villains.

Thus it was that the powers-that-be at National Comics decided venerable anthology-mystery title My Greatest Adventure would dip its toe in the waters with a radical take on the fad. Still, famed for cautious publishing, they introduced a startling squad of champions with their thematic roots still firmly planted in the B-movie monster films of the era that informed the parent comic.

No traditional team of masked adventurers, this cast comprised a robot, a mummy and an occasional 50-foot woman, joining forces with and guided by a vivid, brusque, domineering, crippled mad scientist to fight injustice in a whole new way…

Covering June 1965 to November 1966, this stunning trade paperback – and eBook – compilation collects the Fabulous Freaks’ eccentric exploits from Doom Patrol #96-107, and includes a brace of team-ups: one from The Brave and the Bold #65 and an early crossover from Challengers of the Unknown #48.

The dramas were especially enhanced by the drawing skills of Italian cartoonist and classicist artist Giordano Bruno Premiani, whose highly detailed, subtly humanistic illustration made even the strangest situation dauntingly authentic and grittily believable. He was also the perfect vehicle to squeeze every nuance of comedy and pathos from the captivatingly involved and grimly light-hearted scripts by Arnold Drake who always proffered a tantalising believably world for the outcast heroes to strive in.

Premier tale ‘The Doom Patrol’ was co-scripted by Drake & Bob Haney, detailing how a mysterious wheelchair-bound scientist summoned three outcasts to his home through the promise of changing their miserable lives forever…

Competitive car racer Cliff Steele had died in a horrific pile up, but his undamaged brain had been transplanted into a fantastic mechanical body. Test pilot Larry Trainor had been trapped in an experimental stratospheric plane and become permanently radioactive, with the dubious benefit of gaining a semi-sentient energy avatar which could escape his body to perform incredible stunts for up to a minute at a time.

To pass safely amongst men Trainor had to constantly wrap himself in special radiation-proof bandages.

Ex-movie star Rita Farr had been exposed to mysterious swamp gases which gave her the terrifying, unpredictable and – at first – uncontrolled ability to shrink or grow to incredible sizes.

The outcasts were brought together by brilliant but enigmatic Renaissance Man the Chief, who sought to mould the solitary misfits into a force for good. He quickly proved his point when a mad bomber attempted to blow up the city docks. The surly savant directed the trio of strangers in defusing it and no sooner had the misfits realised their true worth than they were on their first mission…

…And they were off and running…

Now two years later Doom Patrol #96, opens on ‘The Day the World Went Mad!’, as frantic investigations reveal that a global wave of insanity is being caused by a deadly alliance of old foes The Brotherhood of Evil, alien tyrant Garguax and undying terrorist General Immortus. Cue last-ditch heroics …

In issue #97 that sinister syndicate attacks Earth by transforming innocent citizens into crystal, spectacularly resulting in ‘The War against the Mind Slaves’, heralding the return of super-rich wannabee and self-made superhero Mento, resulting in a stunning showdown free-for-all on the moon, after which #98 sees both ‘The Death of the Doom Patrol’ – a grievous over-exaggeration on behalf of transmutational foe Mr. 103 – who was actually compelled to save Caulder from radiation poisoning – and a Bob Brown-drawn solo-thriller ‘60 Sinister Seconds’ in which Negative Man has to find and make safe four atomic bombs in different countries within one minute…

Brown also handled both tales in Doom Patrol #99, starting with an old-fashioned battle against a deranged entomologist whose mechanical insects deliver ‘The Deadly Sting of the Bug Man’ before proceeding to the groundbreaking first appearance of shape-shifting juvenile delinquent ‘The Beast-Boy’. He burgles then saves the team with his incredible ability to become any animal he could imagine…

An extended storyline began with #100 and ‘The Fantastic Origin of Beast-Boy’ (illustrated by Premiani) wherein the obnoxious kid is revealed as orphan Gar Logan: a child being slowly swindled out of his inheritance by his ruthless guardian Nicholas Galtry.

The conniving accountant even leases his emerald-hued charge to scientist Dr. Weir for assorted experiments, but when the Patrol later tackle rampaging dinosaurs, the trail leads unerringly to Gar who at last explains his uncanny powers…

Whilst in Africa as a toddler, Logan contracted a rare disease. His scientist father then tried an experimental cure which left him the colour of cabbage but with the ability to change shape at will. Now it appears that Weir has used the lad’s altered biology to unlock the secrets of evolution… or has he?

Despite foiling the scheme, the team have no choice but to return the boy to his guardian. However, Rita is not prepared to leave the matter unresolved…

The anniversary issue also saw the start of an extended multi-part thriller exploring Cliff’s early days after his accident and subsequent resurrection, beginning with ‘Robotman… Wanted Dead or Alive’.

Following Caulder’s implantation of Cliff’s brain into the mechanical body, the shock drove the patient crazy and Steele went on a city-wide rampage…

Doom Patrol #101 is riotous romp ‘I, Kranus, Robot Emperor!’, wherein an apparently alien mechanoid has a far more terrestrial and terrifying origin, but the real meat of the issue comes from the events of the subtle war between Galtry and the Chief for possession of Beast Boy.

The tale ends on a pensive cliffhanger as the Patrol then dashed off to rescue fellow adventurers The Challengers of the Unknown – but before that the second instalment of the Robotman saga sees the occasionally rational, if paranoid, Cliff Steele hunted by the authorities and befriended by crippled, homeless derelicts in ‘The Lonely Giant’

Firmly established in the heroic pantheon, the Doom Patrol surprisingly teamed with fellow outsiders The Challengers of the Unknown at the end of 1965. The crossover began in the Challs’ title (specifically #48, cover-dated February/March 1966). Scripted by Drake and limned by Brown, ‘Twilight of the Challengers’ opened with the death-cheaters’ apparent corpses, and the DP desperately seeking who killed them…

Thanks to the Chief, our heroes recover and a furious coalition takes off after a cabal of bizarre super-villains. The drama explosively concluded in Doom Patrol #102, with ‘8 Against Eternity’ battling murderous shape-shifting maniac Multi-Man and his robotic allies to stop a horde of zombies from a lost world attacking humanity.

Another team-up follows as Haney, Dick Giordano & Sal Trapani craft ‘Alias Negative Man!’ for The Brave and the Bold #65 (May 1966), wherein Larry’s radio energy avatar is trapped by The Brotherhood of Evil and the Chief recruits The Flash to impersonate and replace him…

Doom Patrol #102 offered two tales, beginning with a tragedy that ensues when Professor Randolph Ormsby asks for the team’s aid in a space shot. When the doddery savant is transformed into a rampaging flaming monster dubbed ‘The Meteor Man’, it takes the entire team – as well as Beast Boy and Mento – to secure a happy outcome.

‘No Home for a Robot’, however, continues to reveal the Mechanical Marvel’s early days following Caulder’s implantation of Cliff’s brain into an artificial body. The shock had seemingly driven the patient crazy and Steele subsequently went on a city-wide rampage, continuously hunted and hounded by the police. Here the ferrous fugitive finds temporary respite with his brother Randy, but Cliff quickly realises trouble will trail him anywhere…

Issue #104 astounded everybody as Rita abruptly stops refusing the loathed Steve and becomes ‘The Bride of the Doom Patrol’. However, the guest star-stuffed wedding is almost spoiled when Garguax and the Brotherhood of Evil crash the party to murder the groom. So unhappy are Cliff and Larry with Rita’s “betrayal”, that they almost let them…

Even whilst indulging in her new bride status in issue #105, Rita can’t abandon the team, joining them to tackle old elemental enemy Mr. 103 during a ‘Honeymoon of Terror’, before back-up yarn ‘The Robot-Maker Must Die’ concludes the origin of Cliff Steele as the renegade attempts to kill the surgeon who had imprisoned him in a metal hell – which finally give Caulder a chance to fix the malfunction in Steele’s systems…

‘Blood Brothers’ in #106 introduces domestic disharmony as Rita steadfastly refuses to be a good trophy wife and resumes the hunt for Mr. 103 with the rest of the DP. Her separate lives continue to intersect, however, when Galtry hires the elemental assassin to wipe Gar and his freakish allies off the books.

The back-up section shifts focus onto ‘The Private World of Negative Man’: recapitulating Trainor’s doomed flight and the radioactive close encounter which turned him into a walking mummy. Tragically, even after being allowed to walk amongst men again, the gregarious pilot find himself utterly isolated and alone…

The Silver Age celebrations pause here with Doom Patrol #107 which begins an epic story-arc concerning ‘The War over Beast Boy’. Here Rita and Steve start legal proceedings to get Gar and his money away from Galtry, and the embezzler responds by opening a criminal campaign to beggar Dayton, inadvertently aligning himself with the Patrol’s greatest foes. Already distracted by the depredations of marauding automaton Ultimax, the hard-pressed heroes swiftly fall to the murderous mechanoid and Rita is dispatched to a barbaric sub-atomic universe…

The secret history of Negative Man continues and also ends on a cliffhanger with ‘The Race Against Dr. Death’. When fellow self-imposed outcast Dr. Drew tries to draw the pilot into a scheme to destroy the human species which had cruelly excluded them both, the ebony energy being demonstrates the incredible power it possesses to save the world from fiery doom.

To Be Continued…

Although as kids we all happily suspended disbelief and bought into the fanciful antics of the myriad masked heroes available, somehow the exploits of Doom Patrol – and their strangely synchronistic Marvel counterparts The X-Men (freaks and outcasts, wheelchair geniuses, both debuting in the summer of 1963) – always seemed just a bit more “real” than the usual cape-&-costume crowd.

With the edge of time and experience on my side it’s obvious just how incredibly mature and hardcore Drake, Haney & Premiani’s take on superheroes actually was. These superbly engaging, frantically fun and breathtakingly beautiful tales should rightfully rank amongst the finest Fights ‘n’ Tights tales ever told.
© 1965, 1966, 2020 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Golden Age volume 6


By Bill Finger, Don Cameron, Jack Schiff, Mort Weisinger, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Samachson, Joseph Greene, Edmond Hamilton, Bob Kane, Dick Sprang, Jack Burnley, Jerry Robinson & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9416-8 (TPB)

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 #82-92, Batman #21-25 as well as contemporary companion tales from World’s Finest Comics #12-14, this book covers groundbreaking escapades from April/May 1943 to December 1943 to October 1944: with the Dynamic Duo continually developing and storming ahead of all competition even as the war and its themes began to fade away from the collective comics consciousness.

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. These Golden Age greats are some of the finest tales in Batman’s decades-long canon, as lead writers Bill Finger and Don Cameron, supplemented by Joe Samachson, Jack Schiff, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Greene and Mort Weisinger, pushed the boundaries of the adventure medium whilst graphic genius Dick Sprang slowly superseded and surpassed Bob Kane and Jack Burnley, making the feature uniquely his own and keeping the Peerless Pair at the forefront of a vast army of superhero successes. Moreover, with the end of WWII in sight, the escapades became upbeat and more wide-ranging…

These tales were crafted just as triumph was turning in the air 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, Charles Paris and Stan Kaye…

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.

We start here with Detective Comics #82 as Cameron, Kane & George Roussos explore the dark side of American Football through the rise and explosive downfall of the ‘Quarterback of Crime!’ after which premiere anthology World’s Finest Comics #12 reveals how ‘Alfred Gets His Man!’ (Finger & Sprang), as Batman’s faithful new retainer revives his own boyhood dreams of being a successful detective with hilarious and action-packed results…

Portly butler Alfred’s diet regime thereafter led the Gotham Guardians to a murderous mesmerising medic and criminal insurance scam in ‘Accidentally on Purpose!’, courtesy of Cameron, Kane & Roussos (Detective #83), after which Batman #21 caters an all-Sprang art extravaganza.

The drama opened with slick Schiff-scripted tale ‘The Streamlined Rustlers’, following the Gotham Gangbusters way out west to solve a devilish mystery and crush a gang of beef-stealing black market black hats, after which Cameron describes the antics of murderous big city mobster Chopper Gant who cons a military historian into planning his capers and briefly stymies Batman and Robin with his warlike ‘Blitzkrieg Bandits!’

Alvin Schwartz penned delightfully convoluted romp ‘His Lordship’s Double’ which sees newly dapper, slimline manservant Alfred asked to impersonate a purportedly crowd-shy aristocratic inventor… only to become the victim in a nasty scheme to secure the true toff’s latest invention…

It all culminates with ‘The Three Eccentrics’ by Joe Greene, which detailing the wily Penguin’s schemes to empty the coffers of a trio of Gotham’s wealthiest misfits…

Over in Detective Comics #84, Mort Weisinger & Sprang (with layouts by Ed Kressy)

pit the Partners in Peril against an incredible Underworld University churning out ‘Artists in Villainy’ before #85 – written by Bill Finger – glories in Sprang’s first brush with the Clown Prince of Crime. In one of the most madcap moments in the entire annals of adventure, Batman and his arch-foe almost unite to hunt for the daring desperado who stole the Harlequin of Hate’s shtick and glory as ‘The Joker’s Double’

World’s Finest Comics #13 featured ‘The Curse of Isis!’ (Finger & Jack Burnley, inked by brother Ray & Roussos): a maritime mystery of superstition, smugglers and sabotage after which Batman #22 offers another quicksilver quartet of classics beginning with ‘The Duped Domestics!’ by Schwartz, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson, wherein a select number of Gotham’s butlers are targeted by a sultry seductress looking for easy inroads to swanky houses. Despite being an old enemy of Batman’s, “Belinda” more than meets her match when Alfred becomes her next patsy…

When the little rich boy secretly takes a menial job, his generous guardian is rightly baffled but after ‘Dick Grayson, Telegraph Boy!’ (Finger, Burney & Robinson) exposes a criminal enterprise centred around Gotham Observatory, the method of his madness soon becomes clear.

A new solo series debuted as Mort Weisinger & Robinson launched ‘The Adventures of Alfred’ with ‘Conversational Clue!’, wherein Batman’s batman misapprehends an overheard word at the library and stumbles into a safecracking gang. The issue concludes with ‘The Cavalier Rides Again!’ (Finger, Burnley & Charles Paris) as the Dashing Desperado mystifyingly begins bagging cheap imitations rather than authentic booty in his ongoing campaign to best the Batman…

In Detective #86, Cameron & Sprang recount how a sleuthing contest between Bruce, Dick and Alfred leads to a spectacular battle against sinister smugglers in ‘Danger Strikes Three!’ and further dramas unfold in #87’s ‘The Man of a Thousand Umbrellas’ written by Joseph Greene.

The Penguin had a bizarre appeal and the Wicked Old Bird has his own cover banner whenever he resurfaced, as in this beguiling crime-spree highlighting his uncanny arsenal of weaponised parasols, brollies and bumbershoots…

The Harlequin of Hate led in Batman #23, with Finger, Sprang & Gene McDonald’s eccentric thriller ‘The Upside Down Crimes!’, wherein the Joker turns the town topsy-turvy in his latest series of looting larcenies after which smitten Dick’s bold endeavours save classmate and ‘Damsel in Distress!’ (Cameron & Sprang) Marjory Davenport and her dad from gangster kidnappers. Unfortunately for him, she soon has her head turned by flamboyant Robin and the Boy Wonder becomes his own rival…

Anonymously scripted but again rendered by Jerry Robinson, ‘The Adventures of Alfred: Borrowed Butler!’ finds the domestic detective loaned out by Bruce Wayne to a snooty neighbour and accidentally uncovering an insider’s scheme to burgle the place.

Wrapping up this issue is another fact-packed “Police Division Story” with Batman and Robin joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to stop a vicious ring of fur bandits who have decided to forego robbing big city stores. Instead, the ‘Pelt Plunderers!’ (by Joe Samachson & Sprang) head due north to steal directly from the trappers…

As World War II staggered to a close and Home Front tensions subsided, spies gradually gave way to more domestic threats and menaces. Detective #88 offered a nasty glimpse at true villainy when ‘The Merchants of Misery’ – by Greene – pits the Dynamic Duo against merciless and murderous loan sharks preying on poverty-stricken families, whilst ‘Laboratory Loot!’, by Don Cameron in #89, sees the return of flamboyant crime enthusiast The Cavalier, who is ignominiously forced to join temporarily forces with Batman to thwart petty gangsters stealing loot he’d earmarked as his own…

World’s Finest Comics #14 again highlighted maritime menace as ‘Salvage Scavengers!’ (Finger Robinson & Roussos) plundered Gotham Harbor before Batman #24 adds a smidgen of science fiction flair and a dash of sheer whimsy to the regular mix. ‘It Happened in Rome’ (Samachson & Sprang) introduces Professor Carter Nichols who devises a method of time-travel dependant on deep hypnosis. His first subjects are old friend Bruce Wayne and his ward, who both wing back metaphysically back centuries for a sightseeing trip and end up saving a charioteer from race-fixers as Batmanus and Robin

Bruce also plays a pivotal role in ‘Convict Cargo!’ (Cameron & Sprang), masquerading as an embezzler to expose a ring of thugs offering perfect getaways to Gotham’s white-collar criminals. Happily, when the villain vacations turn out to be one-way trips, Gotham’s Guardians are on hand to mop up the pirates responsible.

Cameron & Robinson then describe how ‘The Adventures of Alfred: Police Line-Up!’ leads the bewildered butler into trailing the wrong crook but still nabbing a mob of bad eggs before portly purveyors of peril Tweedledum and Tweedledee(soon to be major motion picture stars!) connive their way into the position of ‘The Mayors of Yonville!’

Their flagrant abuse of civic power dumps the Dynamic Duo into jail but still isn’t enough to keep their goldmine scam from coming to light once the heroes bust out…

Detective Comics #90 exposes ‘Crime Between the Acts!’ (Greene & Kane) as the Caped Crusaders followed a Mississippi Riverboat full of crooked carnival performers from one plundered town to another, before Edmond Hamilton scripts a terrifically twisty tale in ‘The Case of the Practical Joker’, wherein some crazy and wisely anonymous prankster starts pulling stunts and having fun at the Crime Clown’s expense.

Batman #25 opens with lauded classic ‘Knights of Knavery’ (Cameron, Burnley& Robinson) which sees arch rivals Penguin and Joker join forces to steal the world’s biggest emerald and outwit all opposition, before falling foul of their own mistrust and arrogance once the Dark Knight puts his own thinking cap on.

Schwartz then leads the artists on an exotic journey as ‘The Sheik of Gotham City!’ sees an Arabian refugee working as a cab driver in Gotham abruptly restored to sovereignty over his usurped desert kingdom after our heroes foil an assassination attempt, before ‘The Adventures of Alfred: The Mesmerised Manhunter!’ (Cameron & Robinson) finds the off-duty domestic a plaything of a stage magician whilst simultaneously foiling a box office heist…

The action and suspense wrap up in spectacular style as Finger, Burnley & Robinson detail a saga of sabotage and redemption when the Dynamic Duo join the rough-and-ready electrical engineers known as ‘The Kilowatt Cowboys!’

As if the job of bringing the nation’s newest hydroelectric dam on line is not dangerous enough and a plague of thefts by murderous copper thieves isn’t cutting into productivity, most of Batman’s time is spent stopping rival wire men Jack and Alec from killing each other…

Greene and Sprang bring this marvel of nostalgic adventure to a close with ‘Crime’s Manhunt’ in Detective #92, with a particularly nasty band of bandits resorting to bounty hunting and turning in all their friends and associates for hefty rewards. Once they run out of pals to betray, they simply organise jailbreaks to provide more crooks to catch: a measure the Dark Knight takes extreme umbrage with…

The history of the American comicbook industry in almost every major aspect stem 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, bringing welcome surcease to millions during a time of tremendous hardship and crisis. Even if these days aren’t nearly as perilous or desperate – and there ain’t many who thinks otherwise! – the power of such work to rouse and charm is still potent and just as necessary. You owe it to yourself and your family and even your hamster to Buy This Book…
© 1943, 1944, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Definitive Betty Boop: The Classic Comic Strip Collection


By Max Fleischer, Bud Counihan, with Hal Seeger, & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-707-8 (HB)

Betty Boop is one of the most famous and long-lived fictional media icons on the planet and probably the one who has generated the least amount of narrative creative material – as opposed to simply merchandise – per year since her debut.

She was created at the Fleischer Cartoon Studios, most likely by either by Max Fleischer himself or top cartoonist and animator Grim Natwick – depending on whomever you’ve just read – and had a bit part in the monochrome animated short feature Dizzy Dishes: the seventh “Talkartoon” release from the studio. It screened for the first time on August 9th 1930. Happy Anniversary, Ms Boop!

A calculatedly racy sex-symbol from the start, albeit anthropomorphised into a sexy French Poodle, Betty was primarily based on silent movie star and infamous “It-Girl” Clara Bow. Or, according to some historians, it was far more than just her distinctive sound Betty took from popular contemporary star Helen Kane. In those pioneering days of “the talkies” Betty was voiced by a succession of actresses including Margie Hines, Kate Wright, Ann Rothschild and ultimately Mae Questel who all mimicked Bow’s soft and seductive (no, really!) Brooklyn accent. Or possibly Kane’s. There’s a court case involved in this history so opinions are hard held and very divided…

Although frequently appearing beside early Fleischer Studios stars Bimbo (a homely puppy dog also called Fitz) and Koko the Clown – who had both debuted in Fleischer’s earliest screen offerings Out of the Inkwell – Betty had become a fully, if wickedly shaped, human girl by 1932’s Any Rags and she quickly  co-opted and monopolised all the remaining Talkartoons, before graduating to the Screen Songs featurettes. She ultimately won her own animated cartoon series to become “The Queen of the Animated Screen”, reigning until the end of the decade.

A Jazz Age flapper in the Depression Era, the delectable Boop was probably the first sex-charged teen-rebel of the 20thCentury, yet remained winningly innocent and knowledgably chaste throughout her career. Maybe that’s why she became so astoundingly, incredibly popular – although her appeal diminished appreciably once the censorious Hayes Production Code cleaned up all that smut and fun and sophistication oozing out of Hollywood in 1934 – even though the Fleisher Studio was proudly New York born and bred…

Saucy singer Helen Kane – who had performed in a sexy “Bow-esque” Brooklyn accent throughout the 1920s and was billed as “The Boop-Oop-A-Doop Girl” – famously sued for “deliberate caricature” in 1932. As well as a renowned actor, she was sharp enough to briefly steal the show and become the star of the first Betty newspaper strips…

When Kane’s lawsuit failed, Betty took over the paper outlets in her own name, but couldn’t withstand a prolonged assault by the National Legion of Decency and the Hayes Code myrmidons. With all innuendo removed, salacious movements restricted and wearing much longer skirts, Betty gained a boyfriend and family whilst the newspaper strip scripts consciously targeted a younger audience. The tabloid feature folded in 1937 and her last animated cartoon stories were released in 1939. The only advantage to Betty’s screen neutering and new wholesome image was that she suddenly became eligible for inclusion on the Funnies pages of family newspapers, alongside the likes of Popeye, Little Orphan Annie and Mickey Mouse.

This superb hardback edition (also available in digital formats) gathers every pre-war iteration associated with Betty Boop – including ones she isn’t in – and is augmented by fond remembrances from Mark Fleischer and Virginia Mahoney in their Foreword ‘About our grandad, Max Fleischer…’ and comes with an informative Introduction tracing Betty’s wild ride of a career.

Supplementing his text with candid behind-the-scenes photos and contemporary art as well as advertising and memorabilia of the time, cartoonist Brian Walker (son of Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois creator Mort Walker) traces the celluloid and tabloid star’s creation, rise, fall and latter day resurgence in ‘Made of Pen and Ink, she can win you with a Wink’.

There was a brief flurry of renewed activity during the 1980s, which led to a couple of TV specials, a comic book from First Comics – Betty Boop’s Big Break (1990) and a second newspaper strip. Betty Boop and Felix was crafted by Walker and his brothers Neal, Greg, and Morgan, wherein the glamour queen shared adventures with fellow King Features nostalgia icon Felix the Cat. It ran from July 23rd 1984 – January 31st 1988, but even counting those – and we aren’t here – that’s still a pretty meagre complete comics canon for a lady of Betty’s longevity, pedigree and stature…

Confusion and contention abound in Betty’s print career and that’s mirrored in this book. Her first regular strip was as a Daily feature in black-&-white, but you’ll see that last, because the comics experience begins in full colour with an experimental Out of the Inkwell Koko the Klown Sunday strip starring the manic mime in silent surreal romps that have the cachet of being Fleischer’s first work for King Features Syndicate.

They ran from November 25th – December 15th 1934 and are followed by The Original Boop Boop-A-Doop Girl: a Sunday feature spanning August 5th to October 12th 1934. As negotiations between Fleischer and King Features stalled in 1933, Helen Kane approached the Syndicate and offered herself as a straight knock-off for the cartoon star. The resultant domestic comedy strip ran for just 11 weeks, and only in the tabloid New York Sunday Mirror. It was dropped as soon as Fleischer signed with King Features…

Attributed to Kane and drawn by Ving Fuller, the succession of manic gag pages are basic, innocently racy vaudeville one-liners, but do still evoke a certain nostalgic charm…

Whilst we’re on a possibly touchy subject: a lot of attitudes to women and visualisations of minorities won’t really pass an earnest examination here, and readers should be aware that these were all created in a different time for far less enlightened audiences. A little patience and forbearance will be your best guides on some pages…

Running from November 25th 1934 to November 27th 1937, the full colour Sunday strips starring the original and genuine Betty Boop were drawn by Bud Counihan: a veteran ink-slinger who had created the Little Napoleon strip in the 1920s before becoming Chic Young’s assistant on Blondie. They commenced a few months after the Daily feature and might be a little confusing as they encompass a large supporting cast for aspiring starlet Betty as she navigates a tiresome and treacherous career in Hollywood. I’d advise reading the dailies first and ending your reading enjoyment here, but it’s your choice…

These gag episodes feature the freshly-sanitised, family-oriented heroine of the post-Hayes Code era, but for devotees of the period and comics fans in general, the strip still retains a unique and abiding charm. Counihan’s Betty is still oddly, innocently coquettish yet confidant: a saucy thing with too-short skirts and skimpy apparel. Some of the outfits – especially bathing costumes – would raise eyebrows even now, and although the bald innuendo that made her a star is absent, these tales of a street-wise young thing trying to “make it” in Tinseltown are plenty sophisticated when viewed through the knowing and sexually adroit eyes of 21st century readers…

Produced as full-page strips, the Sundays are broadly slapstick, with moments of cunning wordplay: single joke stories regarding the weirdness of acting and the travails of fandom.

There’s a succession of blandly arrogant romantic leading men (usually called “Van” something-or-other) but none stick around for long as Betty builds her career, and eventually the scenario changes to a western setting as cast and crew begin making Cowboy Pictures, leading to many weeks’ worth of “Injun Jokes”, but ones working delightfully and hilariously counter to the expected unpleasant stereotypes of the times. However, the introduction of fearsome lower-class virago Aunt Tillie – chaperone, bouncer and sometime comedy movie extra – moves the strip into an unexpected direction and begins Betty’s life as an extra in her own show…

Soon, a clear and unflinching formula sets in with Bubby (see below), Aunt Tillie and her diminutive new beau Hunky Dory increasingly edging Betty out of the spotlight and even occasionally off the page entirely.

By 1937 the show was over…

The Betty Boop daily strip began on July 23rd 1934: a raw and raucous comedy gig that ran until March 18th 1935 in an extended sequence of gag-a-day encounters blending into an epic comedy-of-errors as Betty’s lawyers do litigious battle with movie directors and producers to arrive at the perfect contract for all parties. That’s clearly a war that still rages to this day and once again it’s happening under the cost restrictions of what is, after all, another Great Depression like the one Betty was a constant momentary antidote to…

The jokes come thick and fast in the same vein, with lawyers, entourage and all extras providing the bulk of the humour whilst Betty stands in for the Straight Man in her own strip…

…Except for a recurring riff about losing weight to honour her contract, which stipulates she cannot be filmed weighing more than 100 pounds! Geez! Her head alone has got to weigh at least… sorry, I know… just a comic…

Like most modern stars, Betty had a dual career and there’s a lot of recording industry and song jokes as well as fan affrontery and boyfriend woes, as well as the introduction of the first of an extended cast: Betty’s streetwise baby brother Bubby (originally Billy). He’s a riotous rapscallion intended to act as a chaotic foil to the star’s affably sweet, knowingly dim complacency, and he’s another celluloid wannabe in waiting…

By no means a major effort of the Golden Age of Comics Strips, Counihan’s Betty Boop (like most licensed syndicated features the strip was “signed” by the copyright holder, in this case Max Fleischer) remains a hugely effective, engaging and entertaining work, splendidly executed and well worthy of the attentions of fans with a penchant for history or feeling for fashion.

With the huge merchandising empire built around the effervescent cartoon Gamin/Houri, (everything from apparel to wallpaper, clocks to drinking paraphernalia) surely there’s room today to address her small brief but potent contributions to the comics arts. If you think so, this book is for you…
Betty Boop © 2015 King Features Syndicate, Inc./Fleischer Studios, Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc./ Fleischer Studios, Inc. All rights reserved. Foreword © 2015 Mark Fleischer & Ginny Mahoney. Introduction © 2015 Brian Walker.

Golden Age Flash Archives volume 1


By Gardner F. Fox, Harry Lampert, E.E. Hibbard, Hal Sharp & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0784-7 (HB)

The innovative fledgling company that became DC published the first ever comic book super-speedster and over the decades has constantly added more to its pantheon of stars. Devised, created and written by Gardner Fox and initially visually realised by Harry Lampert, Jay Garrick debuted as the very first Monarch of Motion in Flash Comics #1. He quickly – of course – became a veritable sensation.

“The Fastest Man Alive” wowed readers of anthologies like Flash Comics, All Star Comics, Comics Cavalcade and other titles – as well as solo vehicle All-Flash Quarterly – for just over a decade before changing tastes benched him and most other first-generation costumed crimebusters in the early1950s.

His invention as a strictly single-power superhero created a new trend in the burgeoning action-adventure Funnybook marketplace, and his particular riff was specifically replicated many times at various companies where myriad Fast Furies sprang up such as Johnny Quick , Hurricane, Silver Streak, the Whizzer, Quicksilver and Snurtle McTurtlethe Terrific Whatzit amongst so many others…

After half a decade of mostly interchangeable cops, cowboys and cosmic invaders, the concept of human speedsters and the superhero genre in general was spectacularly revived by Julie Schwartz in 1956. Showcase #4 revealed how police scientist Barry Allen became the second hero to run with the concept. We’ve not looked back since – and if we did it would all be a great big blur…

This charmingly beguiling deluxe Archive (sadly not available in not-quite-faster-than-light digital) edition collects the first year and a half – spanning January 1940 to May 1941 – of the irrepressible Garrick’s whimsically eccentric exploits in 17 (regrettably untitled) adventures from the anthology Flash Comics, revealing an appealing rawness, light-hearted whimsy and scads of narrative experimentation in tales of a brilliant nerd and (ostensibly) physical sad-sack who became a social reformer and justice-dispensing human meteor.

Following a fulsome Foreword from sometime Flash scribe Mark Waid, the fast fictions commence with the debut of ‘The Fastest Man Alive’ speedily delivering in 15 pages an origin and returning cast, and staging a classic confrontation with a sinister cabal of gangsters.

It all started years previously when student Garrick passed out in the lab at Midwestern University, only to awaken hyper-charged and the fastest creature on Earth thanks to the “hard water fumes” he had inhaled whilst unconscious. After weeks recovering in hospital, the formerly-frail chemist realised the exposure had given him super-speed and endurance. He promptly sought to impress his sort-of girlfriend Joan Williams by becoming an unstoppable football player…

Time passed, the kids graduated and Garrick moved to New York where, appalled by rampant crime, he decided to do something about it. The Flash operates mostly in secret until one day, whilst idly playing tennis with himself, Jay meets Joan again, just as mobsters try to kill her in a drive-by shooting.

Catching the storm of bullets, Jay gets reacquainted with his former paramour and discovers she is a target of criminal combine the Faultless Four: master criminals set on obtaining her father’s invention the Atomic Bombarder. In the blink of an eye Flash smashes the sinister schemes of the gang and diabolical leader Sieur Satan, saving Joan’s life whilst revelling in the sheer liberating fun and freedom of being gloriously unstoppable…

In his second appearance The Flash stumbles upon a showgirl’s murder and discovers that Yankee mobster Boss Goll and British aristocrat Lord Donelin plan to take over the entire entertainment industry with ruthless strong-arm tactics. The speedster is as much hindered as helped by wilful, “headstrong” Joan who begins her own lifetime obsession of pesky do-gooding here…

Everett E. Hibbard began a decade-long association with Flash in #3, when Major Williams’ Atomic Bombarder is targeted by foreign spies. The elderly boffin framed for treason prompts Garrick to come to his future father-in-law’s aid, before Jay and Joan smash an off-shore gambling ring graduating to kidnapping and blackmail in #4.

During these early adventures, Flash seldom donned his red, blue and yellow outfit; usually operating invisibly or undercover to play super-speed pranks with merciless, puckish glee. That started changing in #5, when the speedster saves an elderly artist from hit-men to foil mad collector Vandal who uses murder to increase the market value of his purchases.

Flash Comics #6 found Jay and Joan at old Alma Mater Midwestern, foiling a scheme to dope athletes trying to qualify for the Olympics, before #7 saw a stopover in Duluth lead to the foiling of gambler Black Mike who was industriously fixing motorcar races with a metal melting ray. For #8, the Vizier of Velocity tracks down seemingly corrupt contractors building shoddy, dangerous buildings only to find the graft and skulduggery go much further up the financial and civic food chain…

In issue #9, gangsters get hold of a scientist’s invention and the Flash finds himself battling a brigade of giant Gila Monsters, after which #10 depicts the downfall of a political cabal in the pocket of gangster Killer Kelly and stealing from the schools they administered. For #11, Garrick meets his first serious opponent in kidnap racketeer The Chief, whose sinister brilliance enables him to devise stroboscopic glasses to track and target the invisibly fast crime-crusher…

With the threat of involvement in the “European War” a constant subject of American headlines, Flash Comics #12 (December 1940) had the heroic human hurricane intervene to save tiny Ruritanian nation Kurtavia from ruthless invasion. His spectacular lightning war sees Garrick sinking submarines, repelling land armies and crushing airborne blitzkriegs for a fairy tale happy ending here, but within a year the process would become a patriotic morale booster repeated ad infinitum in every American comic book as the real world brutally intruded on the industry and nation…

Back in the USA for #13, Garrick assists old friend Jim Carter in cowboy country where the young inheritor of a silver mine is gunned down by murdering owlhoots. Jay then heads back east to crush a criminal combine sabotaging city subway construction in #14 and saves a circus from robbery, sabotage and poor attendances in #15.

Throughout all these yarns Jay paid scant attention to preserving any kind of secret identity – a fact that would soon change – but as Hal Sharp took over illustrating with #16 (Hibbard presumably devoting his energies to the contents of the forthcoming 64-page All-Flash Quarterly #1 – to be seen in a succeeding Archive collection), Joan is kidnapped by Mexican mobsters aware of her connection to The Flash. Rushing to her rescue, Garrick battles a small army, not only saving his girlfriend but even reforming bandit chief José Salvez.

This initial high-energy compilation ends with another light-hearted sporting escapade as the speedster intervenes in a gambling plot, saving a moribund baseball team from sabotage even as Jay Garrick – officially “almost as fast as the Flash” – becomes the Redskins’ (a nickname now thankfully consigned to history’s dustbin of insensitivity) star player to save them from lousy performances…

With covers by Sheldon Moldoff, Dennis Neville, George Storm, Jon L. Blummer, Hibbard and Sharp, this book is a sheer delight for lovers of the early Fights ‘n’ Tights genre: exuberant, exciting and funny, although certainly not to every modern fan’s taste. Of course, with such straightforward thrills on show any reader with an open mind could find his opinion changed in a flash.
© 1940, 1941, 1999 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Golden Age Green Lantern Archives volume 1


By Bill Finger, Martin Nodell, E.E. Hibbard, Irwin Hasen & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-507-4

Thanks to comics genius and editorial wunderkind Sheldon Mayer, the innovative fledgling company All-American Comics – who co-published in association with and would eventually be absorbed by DC – published the first comic book super-speedster in Flash Comics. They followed up a few months later with another evergreen and immortal all-star.

The Green Lantern debuted in issue #16 of the company’s flagship title just as superheroes began to truly dominate the market, supplanting newspaper strip reprints and stock genre characters in the still primarily anthologised comic books. The Emerald Gladiator would be swiftly joined in All-American Comics by The Atom, Red Tornado, Sargon the Sorcerer and Doctor Mid-Nite until eventually only gag strips such Mutt and Jeff and exceptional topical tough-guy military strips Hop Harrigan (Ace of the Airwaves) and Red, White and Blue remained to represent mere mortal heroes.

At least, until tastes shifted again after the war and costumed crusaders faded away, to be replaced by cowboys, cops and private eyes…

Devised by up-and-coming cartoonist Martin Nodell (and fleshed out by Bill Finger in the same generally unsung way he had contributed to the success of Batman), Green Lantern soon became AA’s second smash sensation.

The arcane avenger gained his own solo-starring title little more than a year after his premiere and appeared in other anthologies such as Comics Cavalcade and All Star Comics for just over a decade before, like most first-generation superheroes, he faded away in the early1950s. However, he first suffered the uniquely humiliating fate of being edged out of his own strip and comic book by his pet, Streak the Wonder Dog

However, that’s the stuff of other reviews. This spectacular quirkily beguiling deluxe Archive edition (collecting the Sentinel of Justice’s appearances from All-American Comics #16-30 – covering July 1940 to September 1941 as well as Green Lantern #1 (Fall 1941)) opens with a rousing reminiscence from Nodell in a Foreword which discusses the origins of the character before the parade of raw, graphic enchantment starts with the incredible history of The Green Flame of Life

Ambitious young engineer Alan Scott only survives the sabotage and destruction of a passenger-packed train due to the intervention of a battered old railway lantern. Bathed in its eerie emerald light he is regaled by a mysterious green voice with the legend of how a meteor once fell in ancient China and spoke to the people, predicting Death, Life and Power.

The star-stone’s viridian glow brought doom to the savant who reshaped it into a lamp, sanity to a madman centuries later and now promised incredible might to bring justice to the innocent…

Instructing Scott to fashion a ring from its metal and draw a charge of power from the lantern every 24 hours, the ancient artefact urges the engineer to use his formidable willpower to end all evil: a mission Scott eagerly takes up by promptly crushing corrupt industrialist Dekker – who had callously caused wholesale death just to secure a lucrative rail contract.

The ring made Scott immune to all minerals and metals, enabled him to fly and pass through walls, but as he battled Dekker’s thugs the grim avenger painfully discovers that living – perhaps organic – materials such as wood or rubber can penetrate his jade defences and cause him mortal harm…

The saboteurs duly punished, Scott resolves to carry on the fight and devises a “bizarre costume” to disguise his identity and strike fear and awe into wrongdoers…

Most of the stories at this time were untitled, and All-American Comics #17 (August 1940) found Scott in Metropolis (long before it became the fictional home of Superman) where his new employer is squeezed out of a building contract by a crooked City Commissioner in bed with racketeers. With lives at risk from shoddy construction, the Green Lantern moves to stop the gangsters. He nearly loses his life to overconfidence before finally triumphing, after which #18 finds Scott visiting the 1940 New York World’s Fair.

This yarn (which I suspect was devised for DC’s legendary comicbook premium New York World’s Fair Comics, but shelved at the last moment) introduces feisty romantic interest Irene Miller as she attempts to shoot the gangster who framed her brother. Naturally, gallant he-man Scott had to get involved, promptly discovering untouchable gang-boss Murdock owns his own Judge, by the simple expedient of holding the lawman’s daughter captive…

However, once Alan applies his keen wits and ruthless mystic might to the problem Murdock’s power – and life – are forfeit, after which, in All-American Comics #19, Scott saves a man from an attempted hit-and-run and finds himself ferreting out a deadly ring of insurance scammers collecting big pay-outs through inflicting “accidents” upon unsuspecting citizens.

Issue #20 opened with a quick recap of GL’s origin before instituting a major change in the young engineer’s life. Following the gunning down of a roving radio announcer and assassination of the reporter’s wife, our hero investigates APEX Broadcasting System in Capitol City… and again meets Irene Miller.

She works at APEX, and with Alan’s help uncovers a scheme whereby broadcasts are used to transmit coded instructions to merciless smugglers. Once the Ring-wielder mops up the cunning gang and their inside man, engineer Scott takes a job at the company and begins a hapless romantic pursuit of capable, valiant Irene.

Thanks to scripter Finger, Green Lantern was initially a grim, mysterious and spookily implacable figure of vengeance weeding out criminals and gangsters but, just as with early Batman sagas, there was always a strong undercurrent of social issues, ballsy sentimentality and human drama.

All-American #21 has the hero expose a cruel con wherein a crooked lawyer presses young criminal Cub Brenner into posing as the long-lost son of a wealthy couple to steal their fortune. Of course, the kid has a change of heart and everything ends happily, but not before stupendous skulduggery and atrocious violence ensue…

In #22, when prize-fighter Kid McKay refuses to throw a bout, mobsters abduct his wife and even temporarily overcome the fighting-mad Emerald Guardian. Moreover, when one brutal thug puts on the magic ring, he swiftly suffers a ghastly punishment which allows GL to emerge victorious…

Slick veteran Everett E. Hibbard provided the art for #23, and his famed light touch frames GL’s development into a less fearsome and more public hero. As Irene continues to rebuff Alan’s advances – in vain hopes of landing his magnificent mystery man alter ego – the engineer accompanies her to interview movie star Delia Day and stumbles into a cruel blackmail racket.

Despite their best efforts the net result is heartbreak, tragedy and many deaths. Issue #24 then sees the Man of Light going undercover to expose philanthropist tycoon R.J. Karns, who maintains his vast fortune by selling unemployed Americans into slavery on a tropical Devil’s Island, whilst #25 finds Irene uncovering sabotage at a steel mill.

With GL’s unsuspected help she then exposes purported enemy mastermind The Leader as no more than an unscrupulous American insider trader trying to force prices down for a simple Capitalist coup…

Celebrated strip cartoonist Irwin Hasen began his long association with Green Lantern in #26 when the hero aids swindled citizens whose lending agreements with a loan shark were being imperceptibly altered by a forger to keep them paying in perpetuity, after which the artist illustrated the debut appearance of overnight sensation Doiby Dickles in All-American #27 (June 1941).

The rotund, middle-aged Brooklyn-born cab driver was simply intended as light foil and occasional sidekick for the poker-faced Emerald Avenger but rapidly grew to be one of the most popular and beloved comedy stooges of the era; soon sharing covers and even by-lines with the star.

In this initial dramatic outing, he bravely defends fare Irene (sorry: irresistible – awful, but irresistible) from assailants as she carries plans for a new radio receiver device. For his noble efforts, Doiby is sought out and thanked by Green Lantern. After the verdant crusader investigates further, he discovers enemy agents at the root of the problem, but when Irene is again targeted, the Emerald Avenger was seemingly killed…

This time, to save Miss Miller, Doiby disguises himself as “de Lantrin” and confronts the killers alone before the real deal turns up to end things. As a reward, the Brooklyn bravo is offered an unofficial partnership…

In #28 the convenient death of millionaire Cyrus Brand and a suspicious bequest to a wastrel nephew lead Irene, Doiby and Alan to a sinister gangster dubbed The Spider who manufactures deaths by natural causes, after which #29 finds GL and the corpulent cabbie hunting mobster Mitch Hogan, who forces pharmacies to buy his counterfeit drugs and products. The brute utilises strong-arm tactics to ensure even the courts carry out his wishes – at least until the Lantern and his wrench-wielding buddy give him a dose of his own medicine…

The last All-American yarn here is from issue #30 (cover-dated September 1941) and again sees Irene sticking her nose into other peoples’ business. This time she exposes a brace of crooked bail bondsmen exploiting former criminals trying to go straight, before being again kidnapped…

This raw and vital high-energy compilation ends with the stirring contents of Green Lantern #1 from Fall 1941, scripted by Finger and exclusively illustrated by Nodell, who had by this time dropped his potentially face-saving pseudonym Mart “Dellon”.

The magic began with a 2-page origin recap in ‘Green Lantern – His Personal History’, after which ‘The Masquerading Mare!’ sees GL and Doiby smash the schemes of racketeer Scar Jorgis who goes to quite extraordinary lengths to obtain a racehorse inherited by Irene.

Following an article by Dr. William Moulton Marston (an eminent psychologist familiar to us today as the creator of Wonder Woman) in which he discusses the topic of ‘Will Power’, the comic thrills resume when a city official is accused of mishandling funds allocated to buy pneumonia serum in ‘Disease!!’

Although Green Lantern and Doiby spearhead a campaign to raise money to prevent an epidemic, events take a dark turn when the untouchable, unimpeachable Boss Filch experiences personal tragedy and exposes his grafting silent partners high in the city’s governing hierarchy…

Blistering spectacle is the star of ‘Arson in the Slums’, as Alan and Irene are entangled in a crusading publisher’s strident campaign to renovate a ghetto. Of course, the philanthropic Barton and his real estate pal Murker have only altruistic reasons for their drive to re-house the city’s poorest citizens. Sure, they do…

Doiby is absent from that high octane thriller but guest-stars with the Emerald Ace in prose tale ‘Hop Harrigan in “Trailers of Treachery”’ – by an unknown scripter and probably illustrated by Sheldon Mayer – a ripping yarn starring AA’s aviation ace (and star of his own radio show) after which ‘Green Lantern’ and Doiby travel South of the Border to scenic Landavo to investigate tampering with APEX’s short-wave station and end up in a civil war.

They soon discover the entire affair has been fomented by foreign agents intent on destroying democracy on the continent…

With the threat of involvement in the “European War” a constant subject of American headlines, this sort of spy story was gradually superseding general gangster yarns, and as Green Lantern displayed his full bombastic might against tanks, fighter planes and invading armies, nobody realised that within mere months America and the entire comic book industry were to be refitted and reconfigured beyond all recognition. Soon mystery men would become patriotic morale boosters parading and sermonising ad infinitum in every corner of the industry’s output as the real world brutally intruded on the hearts and minds of the nation…

Including a breathtaking selection of stunning and powerfully evocative covers by Sheldon Moldoff, Hasen & Howard Purcell, this magnificent book is a sheer delight for lovers of the early Fights ‘n’ Tights genre: gripping, imaginative and exuberantly exciting – but yet again remains unavailable in digital formats. One day, though…
© 1940, 1941, 1999 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.