Hulk: Return of the Monster


By Bruce Jones, Brian Azzarello, John Romita Jr. & Tom Palmer, Richard Corben & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5346-7 (HB)

Bruce Banner was a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result. he would unexpectedly transform into a gigantic green juggernaut of unstoppable strength and fury when distressed or surprised.

As both occasional hero and near-mindless marauding monster he rampaged across the Marvel Universe for years, finally finding his size 700 feet and a format that worked to become one of young Marvel’s most resilient and enduring features.

An incredibly popular character both in comics and myriad global media beyond, he has often undergone radical changes in scope and direction to keep his stories fresh and his exploits explosively compelling…

One of the most impressive runs of the entire canon came from noted thriller and horror writer Bruce Jones (see especially his impressive Hitchcock pastiche Somerset Holmes) who injected a stunning dose of long-neglected suspense and pure menace back into the saga, as well as tipping his hat to the peripatetic wanderings of the tormented star of the 1970s and 1980s TV series.

This hardcover and eBook re-presents issues #34-39 of The Incredible Hulk comicbook, spanning January to June 2002, and also includes precursor sidebar series Startling Stories: Banner #1-4 (from July to October of the same year) to set the scene for a terrifying new take on the relationship between Banner and his Inner Demon…

The main tale of guilt, paranoia and pursuit combines Jones’ moody, humanistic writing with the ponderously powerful pencilling of John Romita Jr. and the slickly realistic inking of Tom Palmer to stunning effect.

After decades of building up a huge supporting cast this Hulk also strips away all but the most basic remnants of the series’ lynchpins, leaving Banner and the Beast in new territory and to all intents and purposes going it alone…

Always running from the authorities and himself, Banner has finally lost all hope in the aftermath of one of the Hulk’s most appalling bouts of mindless destruction: a rampage which devastated Chicago and resulted in the death of a little boy, Ricky Myers…

We open with ‘The Morning After’ as a cold and emotionally dead Banner hides in a sleazy hotel. Here he encounters Jerome, a kid so smart that he knows joining a gang is the only thing that can keep someone with his level of intellect alive.

The desperate lad gets a glimpse at another option after he tries to rob the skinny, repressed white guy down the hall and, when Jerome gets in over his head, it is Banner not the Hulk who is the solution…

Incognito, restlessly wandering but with a mysterious online ally keeping him one step ahead of his myriad pursuers, Banner is slowly reconnecting with the humanity he has avoided ever since the monster was first created.

In the wordless, deeply moving ‘Silent Running’ (part of Marvel’s ‘Nuff Said publishing event) the fugitive narrowly escapes capture by enigmatic Men in Black at a roadside diner due to the inadvertent assistance of an autistic child, after ‘The Gang’s All Here!’ introduces a mismatched pair of over-competitive assassins hired by the secret organisation actually behind the current manhunt for Banner and the Hulk.

Both the lethal killer Slater and his rival/partner Sandra Verdugo have been co-opted by the cabal of MiBs with an unspecified interest in ramping up anti-Hulk hysteria. They definitely want Banner, but only in one piece. They also appear to have the literal power of life and death over their unwilling agents…

With Banner’s old friend and erstwhile therapist Doc Samson lured into the pursuit, the cabal makes its move in ‘You Must Remember This…’ but after the gamma-fuelled psychologist is distracted by a small child’s experience of school bullying the murderous Hulk-hunters converge and generate a colossal amount of collateral damage at the ‘Last Chance Café’, before events get totally out of hand and terrifyingly weird in concluding episode ‘Tag… You’re Dead!’

Using the theme of troubled childhoods and imagery based on the classic Frankenstein films that were such an integral part of the Jade Giant’s conceptual genesis, these tales focus on Banner and judiciously limit the use of his emerald alter ego to the point where the monster almost becomes a ghost. Ever-present but never seen (the monster is only on 21 of the 144 pages of this storyline and that includes covers, dream-sequences, flashbacks and spot illustrations) like a catastrophic Rebecca haunting a Midwestern Manderley, the Hulk is an oppressive force of calculated salvation and last resort rather than mere reader-friendly graphic destruction and gratuitous gratification.

Like all great monsters he lurks in the shadows, waiting for his moment…

Moreover, the guys pulling all those tangled strings are still waiting for their next opportunity…

One of the most beguiling and impressive Hulk yarns of all, this book offers merely one third of the complete saga but does sweeten the wait for a conclusion by delivering a stunning storm of relentless action and conspiracy from Brian Azzarello & Richard Corben in Banner.

Notionally set on alternate Earth-20017, here the monster’s rampages – in which massive loss of life are a given – are being tracked by Doc Samson, General Ross and the US Army who are actively covering up all knowledge of the Hulk.

Wracked by guilt, Banner tries to help as volunteer medic and grave digger because he’s tried to kill himself and the green devil inside won’t let him die…

Eventually after a horrific casualty count Samson’s brains trump the Hulk’s brawn and the fugitive is brought in and prepped for a lobotomy. Samson is appalled that Bruce welcomes the procedure and while trying to talk his captive out is mad privy to a most unsettling secret: one Ross and his superiors are utterly complicit in. A man of great intellect and high-minded principles, Samson makes a decision that will cause nothing but trouble…

Also included here are sketches, designs and a rundown of the cover process for Hulk #34-39, the text essay from Startling Stories: Banner #1, two promotional interviews with Bruce Jones, promo art by Romita Jr., Palmer and colourist Studio F, the script for ‘Silent Running’ and a series of covers, pages and designs from Corben’s Sketchbook.

A burst of fresh-thinking which utterly reinvigorated the character and completely refocused the series for the 21st century, these staggeringly engrossing tales are a masterpiece of the form. If you’re new to the series or looking for an excuse to jump back on, this is the book for you…
© 2001, 2002, 2018 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

The Survivors Book 2: The Eyes That Burned


By Hermann, translated by Dwight R. Decker (Fantagraphics Books)
No ISBN: ASIN: B005KE6S2K

Hermann Huppen was born in 1938 in Bévercé, in what is now the Malmedy region of Liège Province, Belgium. He studied to become a furniture maker and worked as an interiors architect before finally settling on a career in comics.

His true vocation commenced in 1963 when he joined with writer Greg (Michel Régnier) to create cop series Bernard Prince for Tintin. The artist then added to his weekly chores with Roman adventure serial Jugurtha (scripted by Jean-Luc Vernal) and in 1969 expanded his portfolio further by adding the Greg-penned western Comanche to his seamlessly stunning output…

Bernard Prince and Comanche made Hermann a superstar of the industry – a status he has built upon with further classics such as The Towers of Bois-Maury, oneiric fantasy Bonnes Nuits, Nic!, Sarajevo-Tango, Station 16, Afrika and many more.

However, Hermann bravely dropped guaranteed money-spinner Prince (but stayed with Comanche because of his abiding love for western- themed material) when a rival publisher offered him the opportunity to write and draw his own strip. That was legendary European comics impresario (and Hermann’s agent) Ervin Rustemagic, who slotted his new dystopian thriller into German magazine Zack. Soon the strip was appearing in translation all over the world.

By my count there are 34 volumes and one Special Edition (most of which can be read as stand-alone tales) in circulation globally and has been serialised in Journal de Spirou, Metal Hurlant, Stripoteka and Politikin Zabavnik amongst others.

Jeremiah is a saga of survival and friendship in a post-apocalyptic world – with all the trappings of later hits like Mad Max – but inexplicably, despite its American settings and the sheer quality of the stories and art, has never really caught on in the US.

Fantagraphics were the first to introduce the unlikely hero and his world – retitled The Survivors! – in the opening years of the specialised Comicbook Direct Sales marketplace.

That heady air of enterprise and openness to new and different kinds of illustrated experiences somehow didn’t spread to Jeremiah, however, and the series vanished after just two translated volumes.

Catalan took up the challenge next with a single album in 1990, after which Malibu released a triptych of 2-issue comicbook miniseries between January and September 1991.

At the end of 2002, Dark Horse Comics partnered with Europe’s Strip Art Features syndicate to bring the series to the public attention again; releasing later albums with no appreciable response or reward, despite tying in to the broadcasting of J. Michael Straczynski and Sam Egan’s woefully disappointing TV series based on the strip.

In 2012 the publishers had another shot: releasing the first nine European albums in three of their always-appealing Omnibus editions. These are harder to find than hen’s teeth (even after a civilisation ending nuclear exchange) so now I’m having another go.

I’m not publishing anything, just categorically stating that Jeremiah – in whatever printed iteration you can find it – is one of the finest bodies of sequential graphic storytelling and illustrative excellence ever put to paper, so if you love science fiction, gritty westerns, rugged adventure or simply bloody good comics, somehow track down Hermann’s masterpiece and give it a go.

In case you need a bit of plot and context, here’s what happens in the first tale as delivered by Fantagraphics. La Nuit des rapaces was released as a French-language Album in April 1979 and picked up by the US Indy publisher in 1982.

It describes how America died, not due to political intrigue or military error but as the result of a grotesque and appalling race war.

When the dust settled and the blood dried, the republic was reduced to pockets of survivors scavenging in ruins or grubbing out a life from leftover machines and centuries-old farming practises. It was a new age of settlers, pioneers and bandits. There was no law but brute force and every walled community lived in terror of strangers…

In that pitiless world, Jeremiah was an unhappy, rebellious teen who craved excitement and despised his little dirt-grubbing, formidably-stockaded village of Bend’s Hatch.

He got his wish the night he was late home. Locked out and stuck in the desert wastelands, the callow boy encountered youthful nomadic scavenger Kurdy Malloy and wound up beaten and unconscious. The assault saved his life…

Finally reaching home next morning, Jeremiah found the village razed and burning, with everything of value taken – including all able-bodied men. women and children…

Assuming Kurdy at least partly responsible, Jeremiah tracked the wanderer and saved him from being tortured by other outlaws in the desert wastes. A cack-handed rescue resulted in them establishing an uneasy truce whilst Kurdy taught the kid the necessities of life on the run.

Determined to find his people, Jeremiah and Kurdy followed their trail to the thriving outlaw town of Langton. The makeshift metropolis was divided in two: ordinary folk and an army of thugs led by a debauched madman Mr. W. E. Birmingham

From a central citadel his thugs run roughshod over everybody else, but before long the newcomers stoked resentment and anger into full rebellion…

When the shooting stopped the settlers were in control and Jeremiah convinced Kurdy to invade the Red Nation in search of the missing slaves…

Due to the exigencies of Fantagraphics’ licensing deal, the second translated volume was actually fourth Euro-Album Les Yeux de fer rouge (first released in 1980), but the jump is barely noticeable.

In Du sable plein les dent and Les Héritiers sauvages the lads successfully infiltrate and escape from tyrannical insular Indian country, but without freeing any captives. Now they are wandering the vast, malformed wastelands in search of a prisoner who has escaped the Red Dictatorship…

The Eyes That Burned opens in those eerie expanses with the brutalised boys uneasily catching glimpses of something strange dogging them. As night falls they meet a pioneer family whose wagon has become bogged down, but, even after tense, untrusting introductions slowly resolve into uneasy alliance, the combined stragglers are unable to free the conveyance.

The situation changes when macabre showman Pinkus L. C. Khobb pops up out of nowhere and has his heavily-cloaked performer and companion Idiamh lift the vehicle free. The weird strangers are gone before the party can thank them, but doughty matron Faye has had some kind of seizure and now sits comatose and unresponsive…

Unable to help, Jeremiah and Kurdy press on, tracking their target to a grim hell-hole town dubbed Lerbin’s Gate. Although they ride horses, they are amazed to find Pinkus has got there ahead of them. As they unsuccessfully enquire about the Indian escapee, the showman and his act perform spectacularly. The crowds are suitably enthralled but some of the visitors are taken strangely ill immediately afterwards…

When the boys decide to return to the wastes and scout around the Indian borderland, Pinkus is watching…

The altered terrain is a terrifying hellscape of sand, dust and petrified flora and before long, the lads are pretty sure their increasingly close calls with death are no accidents…

Eventually, they cross the barrier back into Indian territory and encounter motorised war parties rounding up escaped slaves. After a brutal skirmish they also face an utterly unexpected outcome: survivors from Bend’s Hatch being helped by a traitor in the Indian military and covertly running an underground railroad for fleeing slaves…

The reunion and exultancy only last until Pinkus pops up again, revealing his cruel conniving connection to the slaver state before turning his deadly mutant monster on the fugitives…

Sadly for the vile vaudevillian, Jeremiah is fast, observant, deeply intuitive and just as ruthless…

Fast-paced, explosively engaging, with wry and positively spartan writing and fantastic twists on classic cinema tropes, The Eyes That Burned uses beautiful pictures to tell a compelling story that is one the best homages to the wild west ever crafted. Try it and see…
The Survivors! volume Two: The Eyes That Burned © 1982 Koralle, Hamburg.

Showcase Presents Dial H for Hero


By Dave Wood, Jim Mooney, George Roussos, Frank Springer, Sal Trapani Jack Sparling & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2648-0

In the mid-Sixties the entire world went crazy for costumed crusaders and every comicbook publisher was frantically seeking new ways to repackage an extremely exciting yet intrinsically limited concept. Perhaps its ultimate expression came with the creation of a teen-aged everyman champion who battled crime and disaster in his little town with the aid on a fantastic wonder-tool…

This slim monochrome paperback compendium collects the entire run from House of Mystery (#156, January 1966 to #173, March-April 1968) when the title vanished for a few months to re-emerge later as DC’s first new anthological supernatural mystery titles: the next big sensation…

Created by Dave Wood & Jim Mooney, Dial H For Hero detailed the incredible adventures of boy genius Robby Reed who lived with his grandfather in idyllic Littleville: a genial everytown where nothing ever happened…

Sadly, very little is known about writer Dave Wood, whose prolific output began in the early days of the American comics industry and whose work includes such seminal classics (often with artistic legends Jack Kirby and Wally no-relation Wood) as Challengers of the Unknown and seminal “Space Race” newspaper strip Sky Masters.

A skilled jobbing writer, Wood frequently collaborated with his brother Dick. They bounced around the industry, scripting mystery, war, science fiction and adventure tales and among his/their vast credits are stints on most Superman family titles, Batman, Detective Comics, World’s Finest, Green Arrow, Rex the Wonder Dog, Tomahawk, Blackhawk, Martian Manhunter and many others.

As well as Dial H For Hero Wood created the bizarre sleeper hit Animal Man and the esoteric but fondly regarded Ultra, the Multi-Alien.

James Noel Mooney started his comics career in 1940, aged 21, working for the Eisner & Eiger production shop and at Fiction House on The Moth, Camilla, Suicide Smith and other B-features. By the end of the year he was a mainstay of Timely Comic’s vast funny animal/animated cartoon tie-in department.

In 1946 Jim moved to DC to ghost Batman for Bob Kane and Dick Sprang. He stayed until 1968, working on a host of features including Superman, Superboy, Legion of Super-Heroes, World’s Finest Comics and Tommy Tomorrow, as well as various genre short stories for the company’s assorted anthology titles like Tales of the Unexpected and House of Mystery.

He famously drew Supergirl from her series debut in Action Comics #253 to #373, after which he returned to Marvel and stellar runs on Spider-Man, Marvel Team-up, Omega the Unknown, Man-Thing, Ghost Rider and a host of other features as both penciller and inker. Prior to that move he was illustrating Dial H For Hero; the only original DC feature he co-created.

Big things were clearly expected of the new feature, which was parachuted in as lead and cover feature, demoting the venerable Martian Manhunter to a back-up role at the rear of each issue.

The first – untitled – story opens with an attack on the local chemical works by super-scientific criminal organisation Thunderbolt just as young Robby and his pals are playing in the hills above the site. As they flee, the plucky lad is caught in a landslide and falls into an ancient cave where lies hidden an obviously alien artefact that looks like an outlandish telephone dial.

After finding his way out of the cavern Robby becomes obsessed with the device and spends all his time attempting to translate the arcane hieroglyphs on it. Eventually he determines that they are instructions to dial the symbols which translate to “H”, “E”, “R” and “O”…

Ever curious, Robby complies and ia suddenly transformed into a colossal super-powered Giantboy, just in time to save a crashing airliner and quash another Thunderbolt raid. Returning home, he reverses the dialling process and goes to bed…

These were and still are perfect wish-fulfilment stories: uncluttered and uncomplicated yarns concealing no grand messages or themes: just straight entertainment expertly undertaken by experienced and gifted craftsmen who knew just how to reach their young-at-heart audiences. Thus, no-one is surprised at the ease with which Robby adapts to his new situation…

When Thunderbolt strikes again next morning Robby grabs his dial but is startled to become a different hero – high-energy being The Cometeer.

Streaking to the rescue he is overcome by the raider’s super weapon and forced dial back into Robby again. Undeterred, he later tries again and as The Mole finally tracks the villains to their base and defeats them. The leader escapes, however, to become the series’ only returning villain…

Mr. Thunder was back in the very next issue as Robby became The Human, Bullet, bestial energy-being Super-Charge and eerie alien Radar-Sonar Man to crush ‘The Marauders from Thunderbolt Island’ after which criminal scientist Daffy Dagan steals the H-Dial after defeating the boy’s next temporary alter ego Quake-Master.

Dagan becomes a horrifying multi-powered monster when he learns to ‘Dial “V” For Villain’ but after the defeated hero takes back the artefact Robby redials into techno-warrior The Squid and belatedly saves the day.

Clearly the Mystery in House of… was related to where the Dial came from, what its unknown parameters were and who Robby would transform into next…

Issue #159 pitted The Human Starfish, Hypno-Man and super-powered toddler Mighty Moppet (who wielded weaponised baby bottles) in single combats with a shape-changing gang of bandits dubbed ‘The Clay-Creep Clan’ whilst ‘The Wizard of Light’ played with the format a little by introducing a potential love-interest for Robby in his best friend’s cousin Suzy

It also saw the return of Giant-Boy, the introduction of sugar-based sentinel of justice King Candy and the lad’s only transformation into an already established hero – the Golden Age legend Plastic Man.

Cynical me now suspects the move was a tester to see if the Pliable Paladin – who had been an inert resource since the company had bought out original publisher Quality Comics in 1956 – was ripe for a relaunch in the new, superhero-hungry environment.

DC’s Plastic Man #1 was released five months later…

House of Mystery #161 featured awesome ancient Egyptian menace ‘The Mummy with Six Heads’ who proves too much for Robby as Magneto (same powers but so very not a certain Marvel villain) and Hornet-Man, but not intangible avenger Shadow-Man, whilst in the next issue ‘The Monster-Maker of Littleville’ is proved by Mr. Echo and Future-Man to be less mad scientist than greedy entrepreneur…

‘Baron Bug and his Insect Army’ almost ends Robby’s clandestine career when the boy turns into two heroes at once; but even though celestial twins Castor and Pollux are overmatched, animated slinky-toy King Coil proves sufficient to stamp out the Baron’s giant mini-beasts. Human wave Zip Tide, living star Super Nova and Robby the Super-Robot are then hard-pressed to stop the rampages of ‘Dr. Cyclops – the Villain with the Doomsday Stare’ but eventually overcome the outrageous odds – and oddness…

Things got decidedly peculiar in #165 when a clearly malfunctioning H-Dial called up ‘The Freak Super-Heroes’Whoozis, Whatsis and Howzis – to battle Dr. Rigoro Mortis and his artificial thug Super-Hood in a bizarrely captivating romp with what looks like some unacknowledged inking assistance from veteran brush-meister George Roussos (who popped in a couple more times until Mooney’s departure).

Suzy became a fixture by moving into the house next door with ‘The King of the Curses’ who found his schemes to plunder the city thwarted by The Yankee-Doodle Kid and Chief Mighty Arrow, a war-bonneted Indian brave on a winged horse…

In HoM #167 ‘The Fantastic Rainbow Raider’ easily defeated Balloon Boy and Muscle Man but had no defence against the returning Radar-Sonar Man, whilst ‘The Marauding Moon Man’ easily overmatched Robby as The Hoopster but had no defence when another glitch turned old incarnations The Mole and Cometeer into a single heroic composite imaginatively christened Mole-Cometeer, but the biggest shock of all comes when ‘The Terrible Toymaster’ defeats Robby – AKA Velocity Kid – and Suzy cajoles the fallen hero into dialling her into the scintillating Gem Girl to finish the mission.

As it was the 1960s, Suzy didn’t quite manage on her own, but after Robby transforms into the psionically-potent Astro, Man of Space they soon closed the case – and toybox – for good. This one was all Mooney and so was the next.

‘Thunderbolt’s Secret Weapon’ was also the artist’s last hurrah with the Kid of a Thousand Capes as the incorrigible cartel tries to steal a supercomputer, only to be stopped dead by Baron Buzz-Saw, Don Juan (and his magic sword) and the imposing Sphinx-Man.

With House of Mystery #171 a radical new look emerged, as well as slightly darker tone. The writing was clearly on the wall for the exuberant, angst-free adventurer…

‘The Micro-Monsters!’ was illustrated by Frank Springer and sees Robby dial up King Viking – Super Norseman, Go-Go (a fab hipster who utilised the incredible powers of popular disco dances …and how long have I waited to type that line!!!?) and multi-powered Whirl-I-Gig to defeat bio-terrorist Doc Morhar and belligerent invaders from a sub-atomic dimension.

Springer also drew ‘The Monsters from the H-Dial’ wherein the again on-the-fritz gear turns Reed’s friend Jim into various ravening horrors every time Robby dials up.

Luckily the unnamed animated pendulum, Chief Mighty Arrow and the Human Solar Mirror our hero successively turns into prove just enough to stop the beasts until the canny boy can apply his trusty screwdriver to the incredible artefact once again.

In those distant days series ended abruptly, without fanfare and often in the middle of something… and such was the fate of Robby Reed. HoM #173, by Wood & Sal Trapani, saw the lad solve a mystery in ‘The Revolt of the H-Dial’ wherein the process reshapes him into water-breathing Gill-Man and a literal Icicle Man: beings not only unsuitable for life on Earth but also compelled to commit crimes.

Luckily by the time Robby dials into Strata Man he’s deduced what outside force is affecting his dangerously double-edged device…

And that was that. The series was gone, the market was again abandoning the Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd and on the immediate horizon lay a host of war, western, barbarian and horror comics…

Exciting, fun, engaging and silly in equal amounts (heck, even I couldn’t resist a jibe or too and I genuinely revere these daft, nostalgia-soaked gems), Dial H For Hero has been re-imagined a number of time since these innocent odysseys first ran, but never with the clear-cut, unsophisticated, welcoming charm displayed here.

This is Ben-10 for your dad’s generation and your kid’s delectation: and only if they’re at just that certain age. Certainly you’re too grown up to enjoy these glorious classics. Surely you couldn’t be that lucky; could you…?
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2010 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

The Provocative Colette


By Annie Goetzinger, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-170-3

Publisher NBM have struck a seam of pure gold with their growing line of European-created contemporary arts histories and dramatized graphic biographies. This latest luxury hardcover release (also available in digital formats) is one of the most enticing yet; diligently tracing the astoundingly unconventional early life of one of the most remarkable women of modern times.

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (28th January 1873 – 3rd August 1954) escaped from rural isolation via an ill-considered marriage and, by sheer force of will and an astonishing gift for self-expression, rose to the first rank of French-language (and global) literature through her many novels and stories. The one you probably know best is Gigi, but you should really read a few more such as La Vagabonde or perhaps The Ripening Seed

For her efforts she was elected to the Belgian Royal Academy in 1935 and the French Académie Goncourt ten years later. She became its President in 1949, the year after she was nominated for a Nobel Prize. Her grateful country also celebrated her as Chevalier (1920) and Grand Officer (1953) of the Légion d’honneur.

Her unceasing search for truths in the arena of human relationships – particularly in regard to women’s independence in a hostile and patronising patriarchal society – also led her to pursue freedom of expression through dance, acting and mime, film and drama and as a journalist.

The fact that for most of her early life men controlled her money also prompted her far-reaching career path until she finally managed to win control of her own destiny and coffers…

Our drama unfolds in 1893 as 20-year old Sidonie-Gabrielle readies herself for her wedding to the prestigious and much older music journalist Henry Gauthier-Villars. The great man is celebrated nationally under his nom de plume “Willy”.

That’s also the name under which he will publish his wife’s first four hugely successful Claudine novels whilst pocketing all the profits and attendant copyrights…

Eventually breaking free to live a life both sexually adventurous and on her own terms, Colette never abandons her trust in love or reliance on a fiercely independent spirit. And she shares what she believes about the cause of female liberty with the world through her books and her actions…

This bold and life-affirming chronicle was meticulously crafted by the superb and much-missed Annie Goetzinger (18th August1951 – 20th December 2017) and was tragically her last.

The award-winning cartoonist, designer and graphic novelist (see for example The Girl in Dior) supplies sumptuous illustration that perfectly captures the complexities and paradoxes of the Belle Epoque and the wars and social turmoil that followed, whilst her breezy, seductively alluring script brings to vivid life a wide variety of characters who could so easily be reduced to mere villains and martinets but instead resonate as simply people with their own lives, desires and agendas…

The scandalous escapades are preceded by an adroit and incisive Preface from journalist and author Nathalie Crom and are bookended with informative extras such as ‘Literary References’, a full ‘Chronology’ of the author’s life and potted biographies of ‘Colette’s Entourage’ offering context and background on friends, family and the many notables she gathered around her.

Additional material includes a suggested Further Reading and a Select Bibliography.

Another minor masterpiece honouring a major force in the history and culture of our complex world, and guaranteed to be on the reading list for any girl who’s thought “that’s not fair” and “why do I have to…”, The Provocative Colette is a forthright and beguiling exploration of humanity and one you should secure at your earliest convenience.
© DARGAUD 2017 by Goetzinger. All rights reserved. © 2018 NBM for the English translation.

For more information and other great reads see NBM Publishing.

Krazy & Ignatz 1937-1938: “Shifting Sands Dusts its Cheeks in Powdered Beauty”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard & Derya Ataker (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-734-6

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, the cartoon strip starring Krazy Kat is arguably the pinnacle of graphic narrative innovation; a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and became an undisputed treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these gloriously addictive commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics, is a creation which must be appreciated on its own terms. Over the decades the strip developed a unique language – at once both visual and verbal – whilst exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding and without ever offending anybody.

Sadly, however, it did go over the heads and around the hearts of far more than a few…

Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex multi-layered verbal and pictorial whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been noodling about at the edges of his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Mildly intoxicating and gently scene-stealing, Krazy Kat subsequently debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s enrapt adoration and overpowering direct influence and interference – gradually spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (notably – but not exclusively – Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and latterly Jack Kerouac) all adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the populace-beguiling comics section.

Eventually the feature found a true home and safe haven in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s doctrinaire patronage and enhanced with the cachet of fulsome colour, the Kat flourished unharmed by editorial interference or fleeting fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The saga’s basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline of indeterminate gender, hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse; a venal everyman, rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a true unreconstructed male; drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and innumerable children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick. These he obtains singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly.

Smitten kitten Krazy always misidentifies these missiles as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him/her in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

The final crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, who is completely besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to the perennially “Friend-Zoned” Pupp’s dilemma…

Secondarily populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as terrifying deliverer of unplanned babies Joe Stork; hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury conman and trickster Don Kiyoti, social climbing busybody Pauline Parrot, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious animal crackers all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (patterned on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, cunningly designed, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“why dollin is you in pritzin?”, “l’il dahlink” or “I are illone”).

Yet for all that, the adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick.

Sometimes Herriman even eschewed his mystical mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a supremely entertaining silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops

There’s been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was first rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This delirious tome covers all the strips from 1937-1938 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a madly mystical digital edition.

Preceded by candid photos, examples of contemporary merchandise, memorabilia and some of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions featuring the cast and settings, the splendid madness resumes with January 3rd 1937 – with the hues provided by professional separators rather than Herriman – we can now set off on another odyssey into the heartlands of imagination.

Within this compelling compendium of incessant passions thwarted, the torrid triangular drama plays out as winningly as ever, with even more new faces popping up to contribute to the insular insanity and well-cloaked social satire.

Newcomers include a family of kangaroos who provide a unique form of locomotion for the traditional cops and boppers chases, a pale equatorial bear of mixed origins (Mama from the south Pole and Papa from the North), a tightrope walker of surly demeanour and unlikely antecedents, a gang of morally ambiguous pelicans and the much-travelled odd cove calling himself D.B. Platypus…

Of especial note can be observed a marked increase in the (temporary) triumphs of Offissa Pupp who now regularly locks up the brick-bunging little brigand. Oddly, that in turn leads to a spike in jail breaks…

As well as frequent incarceration, Ignatz endures numerous forms of exile and social confinement, but with Krazy aiding and abetting, these sanctions seldom result in a reduction of cerebral contusions… a minor plague of travelling conjurors and unemployed magician also make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary…

Never long daunted, Bull Pupp indulges in a raft of home-away-from home improvements, including a formidable moat around the county jail as well as art installations and an early example of conjugal visitations

As always, the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based gags and his occasional fleecing by Coconino’s (occasionally “Kokonino”) copious coterie of confidence tricksters – a scurrilous sub-population which seems to grow by the week. Of course, the mouse is a man who enjoys revenge served hot, cold or late…

Amongst the notable innovations this time is an increase in road traffic as America’s love affair with the internal combustion engine takes hold of the cast (after a bevy of wandering car salesmen arrive in town). Alternatively the entire cast spend a lot of time in one spot stargazing and attempting various form of flight – usually before coming back to earth with a bump.

Topics of civic conversation and favoured pastimes include a serious lack of good gossip, the proposed smashing of the atom by audacious “sign tisks”, insomnia, radio talk shows and movie-making, a seasonal but wholly unexpected cold snap, astronomy and misunderstood planetary phenomena, fishing and water sports and the parlous and participatory state of the burgeoning local theatre scene…

One tireless constant is the growing instability and trustworthiness of supreme comedy maguffin Joe Stork, whose increasingly hooch-affected delivery of (generally unwanted) babies still brings dread responsibility and smug schadenfreude in equal amounts to denizens of the county.

And, welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora for humorous inspiration and all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity.

Following another personalised birthday card, the cartoon gold is topped off by another erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a stupendous and gleeful monument to whimsy: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these comic strips which have shaped our industry and creators, inspired auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, and engendered delight and delectation in generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a most accessible way to do so.
© 2006, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

The Only Living Boy Omnibus


By David Gallaher & Steve Ellis (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-126-0

Here’s a rather short but exceedingly heartfelt and enthusiastic review for a mighty big book that’s been a long time coming. Scripter Dave Gallaher (Green Lantern, Box 13) and illustrator Steve Ellis (High Moon) first began their stupendous science fiction saga in 2012.

The series started life as a webcomic before being picked up by Papercutz. The hugely popular comics yarn (multiple reprintings and numerous award nominations) was collected as a quintet of graphic albums – Prisoner of the Patchwork Planet; Beyond Sea and Sky; Once Upon a Time; Through the Murky Deep and To Save a Shattered World – and now the tale is done has been regathered in a bulky paperback (or eBook edition) recounting the complete saga and including fresh material from a Free Comic Book Day tie-in and other sources.

So, what’s it about?

Erik Farrell is 12 years old and scared. That’s why he runs into Central Park at the dead of night in a thunderstorm. In the morning he wakes up in the roots of a tree clutching a little kid’s teddy-bear backpack that, for some inexplicable reason, he must not lose. He’s also lost most of his memory. Even so, he’s pretty sure home never had wild jungles, marauding monsters, talking beasts and bugs or a shattered moon hanging low in the sky…

Chased by howling horrors and dimly aware that the decimated city ruins are somehow familiar, Erik is saved by a green warrior calling herself Morgan Dwar of the Mermidonians, but the respite is short lived.

All too soon they are captured by slaves of diabolical experimenter Doctor Once and taken to his revolting laboratory. It doubles as gladiatorial arena where the scientist’s involuntary body modifications can prove their worth in combat.

Erik’s fellow captives soon apprise him of the state of his new existence. The world is a bizarre of patchwork regions and races, all of them at war with each other and all threatened by monstrous shapeshifting dragon Baalikar. The Doctor seeks the secrets of trans-species evolution and is ruthless and cruel in the pursuit of his goal.

In the arena, however, Erik shows them all the value of cooperation and promptly escapes with Morgan and insectoid Sectaurian Princess Thelandria AKA Thea

Constantly running to survive, the boy slowly uncovers an incredible conspiracy affecting this entire world and even long-gone Earth. The big surprise is an unsuspected secret connection between his own excised past, Doctor Once and the hidden manipulators known as the Consortium. On the way, just like Flash Gordon, Erik somehow inspires and unites strangely disparate and downtrodden races and species into a unified force to save the planet they must all share…

After a heroic journey and insurmountable perils faced Erik’s story culminates in the answers he’s been looking for and a classic spectacular battle where the many races ultimately extinguish the evil of Baalikar.

Sadly though, that just makes room for another menace to emerge…

Adding bonus thrills to the alien odyssey are a complete cover gallery plus two lengthy sidebar tales. ‘Under the Light of the Broken Moon’ and ‘In the Clutches of the Consortium’ focus on the developing relationship between Morgan and Sectaurian Warlord Phaedrus and on the repercussions of failure for failed-tool Doctor Once at the hands of his backers…

Rocket-paced, bold and constantly inventive, The Only Living Boy is a marvellous and unforgettable romp to enthral every kid with a sense of wonder and thirst for adventure.
© 2012-2018 Bottled Lightning LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The Only Living Boy Omnibus is scheduled for publication on 25th August 2018 and is available for pre-order now.

Trailers


By Mark Kneece & Julie Collins-Rousseau (NBM/Comics Lit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-445-X (HC)                   978-1-56163-445-3 (PB)

Josh Clayton is a good kid, pretty much. Sure, he lives in a typical American trailer park, and yes, his mother’s a bit of a tramp, but Josh has never been in any kind of real trouble…

Back from school, Josh is stuck tending to his baby brother again when Ma gets into another screaming match with her drug-dealer boyfriend. This time it doesn’t play out as usual though, and she kills him. When she comes out of the bedroom and tells Josh that he’s got to get rid of the body before his other brother and sister return, his life changes forever.

It’s hard enough being a sensitive teenager in America these days, especially if you’re dirt-poor and got no car. High School is hell and life generally sucks.

If you add to that the fact that the body just won’t stay buried, it all adds up to a pretty miserable time for Josh.

So, when pretty Michele inexplicably makes a play for him, the pressure and confusion soon reach fever pitch. And still Josh’s inevitable slide into a life just like his crappy mother’s seems to haunt him, sucking him further and further down.

Can Josh keep his family together, get the girl, survive school and ever sleep without screaming? Can he break out of this grim, dark spiral, or is he fore-doomed and fore-damned?

The answer makes for a superb slice of modern noir fiction that should tickle the palate of all those “mature” comic fans in need of more than just a flash of nipple and sprinkle of salty language in their reading matter. Neece and Collins-Rousseau (employed at the faculty of Sequential Art, Savannah College of Art & Design), have created an authentic story of realistic young people in extraordinary need. This is the kind of book (available in hardback soft cover and digital formats) that fans need to show civilians who still don’t “get” comics. Sit them down, put “Born to Run” on the headphones and let them see what it can be all about.
© 2005 Mark Kneece & Julie Collins-Rousseau. All Rights Reserved.

Girls Bravo volumes 1-3


By Mario Kaneda, translated & adapted by Asuka Yoshizu & Steve Bunche (TokyoPop)
ISBNs: 978-1-59816-040-6, 978-1-59816-041-3 & 978-1-59816-042-0

Here’s another large, strange slice of manga magic that took the world by storm when it inevitably transferred to the anime screen, and another of those uncomfortably inappropriate teen-sex comedies that so delight the Japanese and generally bewilder we less socially ossified westerners.

Aimed at older teens, this type of tale fully acknowledges and draws seemingly endless amusement from the fact that boys and girls of a certain age are hormone-crazed muskrats desperate to catch furtive snatches of each other’s proscribed bits, and only conscience and social pressure keeps them from being even more intolerable than they are.

If only it got any easier with advanced age…

These stories first appeared in Japanese magazine Shōnen Ace from 2000 to 2005 and were eventually collected in ten volumes of frantic, frenetic slapstick, excruciating comedy-of-manners gaffes, replete with gusset glimpses, shower-scenes, fantasy fun and burgeoning young love.

‘Gārusu Burabō’ is the story of a hapless high school student named Yukinari Sasaki, a short, dim nebbish who is so put upon, teased and bullied by girls – and even his female teachers – that he has developed a condition which brings him out in hives every time anything with no Y chromosomes touches him.

His unfortunate condition is further compounded by the fact that the neighbours’ daughter Kirie, a girl he has known since childhood, and one he can at least talk to, has recently changed.

Her shy and awkward nature has developed into a crush he is utterly oblivious to, but unfortunately said crush has devolved into a series of violent assaults every time she gets flustered, and with Sasaki, she gets flustered a lot…

At some time when nobody was paying attention, she blossomed into an astonishingly well-endowed young woman – something else that embarrasses her greatly and often leads to red-faced punches and breath-curtailing kicks…

After a particularly trying day Yukinari returns home and stumbles into Kirie using his shower. He’s flustered, she’s naked and while he’s being pummelled by the blushing, panicked girl he falls into the bath… and emerges into another world and another naked girl’s bath…

But this is a completely different kind of girl. She is genuinely concerned, solicitous, even shorter than him and – most importantly – not screaming or hitting. Moreover, Miharu can touch him without setting off his allergic reaction. All she cares about is his welfare and what earth food is like.

The world of Siren is a revelation; a magical place where women outnumber men 9-1. When Miharu’s older sister Maharu spots the unattached male she makes a violent play for Yukinari, chasing him into the streets where every female in range also competes to capture the fleeing boy-toy.

Miharu rescues him and they double back to her bathroom, but the pursuers are too close and the fugitives fall into the bath – and arrive back in Yukinari’s shower. It is still occupied by the perplexed, naked and fuming Kirie.

Miharu is apparently stuck on Earth: the perfect companion for the gynophobic lad. She never attacks him, doesn’t cause hives, has magic powers and only cares about food. Unfortunately, she’s bewitchingly beautiful and as naive as a newborn hamster, so the hoi-polloi at school trail after her like dogs after biscuits, especially wealthy school stud Fukuyama.

He’s a real catch: a glorious young god of legendary manliness, but conceals a tragic secret of his own. Unknown to all, he is so male-phobic that he has an attack of hives every time a male touches him. Fukuyama is driven crazy by Miharu’s indifference to him…

Meanwhile, hopeless Yukinari is still being teased and bullied by girls of every type and regularly stumbling into situations where Kirie is undressed, volatile and trigger-primed to explode…

The first volume covers the set-up of the formulae, with lots of stories about simplistic Miharu’s desire to eat anything not nailed down, platonically care for Yukinari and her tendency to be duped into wearing revealing or fetishistic clothing by the lecherous Fukuyama.

Despite being always hungry and able to consume practically anything Miharu is a brilliant cook, unlike Kirie whose recipes are only really appreciated by terrorists looking for new bio-weapons. Yukinari increasingly has to spend his time protecting the gullible alien’s non-existent modesty…

Gradually the series takes a more supernatural turn as the unhappy ménage-a-trouble encounter an undressed ghost girl (and Fukuyama’s sister) Risa: a young sorceress convinced that beleaguered Yukinari is her predestined husband and thus willing to use all her wiles and witchcraft to make him hers. Even if it means destroying or even befriending Miharu and Kirie…

The first volume ends with a light-hearted and hottie-filled adaptation of traditional Japanese folk-tale Momotaro (the Peach Boy).

Volume 2 continues Risa’s campaign. She casts spells on Yukinari, and tries to convince Miharu that her attentions are preventing the diminutive lad from forming normal relationships or shaking his allergic phobia. Things get completely crazy when the Siren girl drinks alcohol and begins to replicate herself uncontrollably…

Yukinari still keeps getting accidental, unwelcome and concomitantly painful glimpses of undraped girls whilst growing increasingly fond of Miharu, even battling the hulking alpha male Fukuyama to protect her, but when amnesiac Koyomi appears thing get very strange indeed.

For one thing she is the only other girl able to resist the school stud’s dubious charms; she doesn’t give Yukinari contact-hives and, when she is flustered or scared, giant pits open in the floor under her…

She is in fact an agent from Siren sent to recover the missing Miharu, and when her memory returns Koyomi transports her quarry home before Yukinari’s tear-filled eyes…

Of course, the adored catalyst does return, and volume 2 concludes with another side story; a day in the life of sexy super-stud Fukuyama – or at least in his fevered, fetid mind…

Volume 3 opens with the cast being coerced by the loathsome Lothario into a game of strip Mah-Jong with the returned Konomi (on a secret mission for Miharu’s sister): Fukuyama’s latest lewd target. Sadly for him, she suffers from the same condition as he does – she too is androphobic and repelled by the touch of men…

Konomi’s mission is at last exposed and she begins searching for a perfect husband for Miharu’s strident, overbearing sister. This inevitably leads to some very uncomfortable situations, as do the girls’ communal attempts to earn some extra money, before everything goes really crazy after Kirie falls through Risa’s mirror into a world where all her friends have reversed personalities…

Sweet-natured Miharu’s attempts to buy all her friends New Year’s Gifts go painfully awry before all ends well, and her celebration of the Setsubun festival (where bad luck is symbolically removed by throwing Soya beans out of the house) also falls flat – but only because Risa summoned real evil spirits to the party…

The volume ends on a heartbreakingly beguiling tale of a little girl abandoned in the snow – a story so moving it’s worth buying all three volumes just to read this sparkling gem in perfect context…

Irrepressibly juvenile and hormone-fuelled but great fun and beautifully drawn, this is a series as likely to titillate as offend, but it’s all good clean smut really, harmless and charming and bound to delight girl watchers and anyone enduring puberty or recalling it with any degree of honesty…
© 2001, 2002 Mario Kaneda. English text © 2005, 2006 Tokyopop Inc. All rights reserved.

Hellboy Omnibus volume 1: Seed of Destruction


By Mike Mignola, with John Byrne, Mark Chiarello, Matt Hollingsworth, James Sinclair, Dave Stewart, Pat Brosseau & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-666-5                  eISBN: 978-1-50670-687-0

Hellboy was first seen 25 years ago in the 1993 San Diego Comic Con programme. Happy Birthday, Big Red.

After the establishment of the comicbook direct market system, there was a huge outburst of independent publishers in America and, as with all booms, a lot of them went bust. Some few however were more than flash-in-the-pans and grew to become major players in the new world order.

Arguably, the most successful was Dark Horse Comics who fully embraced the shocking new concept of creator ownership (amongst other radical ideas). This concept – and their professional outlook and attitude – drew a number of big name creators to the new company and in 1994 Frank Miller & John Byrne formally instituted the sub-imprint Legend for those projects major creators wanted to produce their own way and at their own pace.

Over the next four years the brand counted Mike Mignola, Art Adams, Mike Allred, Paul Chadwick, Dave Gibbons and Geof Darrow amongst its ranks; generating a wealth of superbly entertaining and groundbreaking series and concepts. Unquestionably the most impressive, popular and long-lived was Mignola’s supernatural thriller Hellboy.

As previously cited, the monstrous monster-hunter debuted in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 (August 1993) before formally launching in 4-issue miniseries Seed of Destruction (with Byrne scripting over Mignola’s plot and art). Colourist Mark Chiarello added layers of mood with his understated hues.

That story and the string of sequels that followed are re- presented here in a new trade paperback offering earliest longform triumphs of the Scourge of Sheol – The Wolves of Saint August; The Chained Coffin; Wake the Devil and Almost Colossus – in the first of an omnibus sequence to be accompanied by a companion series of tomes featuring all the short stories.

Crafted by Mignola, scripter John Byrne and colourist Mark Chiarello, the incredible story begins with a review of secret files. On December 23rd 1944 American Patriotic Superhero The Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers interrupted a satanic ritual predicted by Allied parapsychologist Professors Trevor Bruttenholm and Malcolm Frost.

They were working in conjunction with influential medium Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones. They were all waiting at a ruined church in East Bromwich, England when a demon baby with a huge stone right hand appeared in a fireball. The startled soldiers took the infernal yet seemingly innocent waif into custody.

Far, far further north, off the Scottish Coast on Tarmagant Island, a cabal of Nazi Sorcerers roundly berated ancient wizard Grigori Rasputin whose Project Ragna Rok ritual seemed to have failed. The Russian was unfazed. Events were unfolding as he wished…

Five decades later, the baby has grown into a mighty warrior engaging in a never-ending secret war: the world’s most successful paranormal investigator. Bruttenholm has spent the years lovingly raising the weird foundling whilst forming an organisation to destroy unnatural threats and supernatural monsters – The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. “Hellboy” is now its lead agent…

Today, the recently-returned, painfully aged professor summons his surrogate son and warns him of impending peril wrapped in obscured reminiscences of his own last mission. The Cavendish Expedition uncovered an ancient temple submerged in arctic ice, but what occurred next has been somehow stricken from Bruttenholm’s memory. Before he can say more the mentor is killed by a rampaging plague of frogs and enraged Hellboy is battling for his life against a demonic giant amphibian…

Following fact-files about Project Ragna Rok and ‘An African Myth about a Frog’ Chapter Two opens at eerie Cavendish Hall, set on a foetid lake in America’s Heartland. Matriarch Emma Cavendish welcomes Hellboy and fellow BPRD investigators Elizabeth Sherman and Dr. Abraham Sapien but is not particularly forthcoming about her family’s obsession.

Nine generations of Cavendish have sought for and sponsored the search for the Temple at the Top of the World. Three of her own sons were lost on the latest foray, from which only Bruttenholm returned, but her story of how founding patriarch Elihu Cavendish’s obsession infected every male heir for hundreds of years imparts no fresh insights.

She also says she knows nothing about frogs, but she’s lying and the agents know it…

As they retire for the night, Hellboy’s companions prepare for battle. Liz is a psychic firestarter but is still taken unawares when the frogs attack and the Dauntless Demon fares little better against another titanic toad-monster.

Of Abe there is no sign: the BPRD’s own amphibian has taken to the dank waters of the lake in search of long-buried answers…

And then a bald Russian guy claiming to know the truth of Hellboy’s origins appears and monstrous tentacles drag the hero through the floor…

Chapter Three opens in a vast hidden cellar where Rasputin explains he is the agent for undying and infinite antediluvian evil: seven-sided serpent Ogdru-Jahad who sleeps and waits to be reawakened. Hellboy was summoned from the pit to be the control interface between the great beast and the wizard as he oversaw the fall of mankind, but when the BPRD agent refuses his destiny – in his own obtuse, obnoxious manner – Rasputin goes crazy…

Overwhelmed by the Russian’s frog servants, Hellboy is forced to listen to the story of Rasputin’s alliance with Himmler and Hitler and how they sponsored a mystic Nazi think-tank to conquer the Earth. Of how the mage manipulated the fanatics, found the Temple at the Top of the World and communed with The Serpent and of how the last Cavendish Expedition awoke him. Of how he used them to trace the crucial tool he had summoned from Hell half a century ago…

And then the raving Russian reveals how his infernal sponsor Sadu-Hem – intermediary of The Serpent – has grown strong on human victims but will become unstoppable after feasting on Liz’s pyrokinetic energies…

With all hell literally breaking loose, the final chapter finds Rasputin exultantly calling upon each of the seven aspects as Hellboy attempts a desperate, doomed diversion and the long-missing Abe Sapien finally makes his move, aided by a hidden faction Rasputin had not anticipated…

The breathtaking conclusion sees the supernal forces spectacularly laid to rest, but the defeat of Sadu-Hem and his Russian puppet only opens the door for other arcane adversaries to emerge…

Bombastic, moody, laconically paced, suspenseful and explosively action-packed, Seed of Destruction manages the masterful magic trick of introducing a whole new world and making it seem like we’ve always lived there.

‘The Wolves of Saint August’ originally ran in Dark Horse Presents #88-91 during 1994, before being reworked a year later for the Hellboy one-shot of the same name. Mignola handles art and script with James Sinclair on colours and Pat Brosseau making it all legible and intelligible.

Set contemporarily, the moody piece sees the red redeemer working with BPRD colleague Kate Corrigan to investigate the death of Hellboy’s old friend Father Kelly in the Balkan village of Griart. It’s not long before they realise the sleepy hamlet is a covert den of great antiquity where a pack of mankind’s most infamous and iniquitous predators still thrive…

Mignola has a sublime gift for setting tone and building tension with great economy. It always means that the inevitable confrontation between Good and Evil has plenty of room to unfold with capacious visceral intensity. This clash between unfrocked demon and alpha lycanthrope is one of the most unforgettable battle blockbusters ever seen…

In 1995 Dark Horse Presents 100 #2 debuted ‘The Chained Coffin’. Here Hellboy returns to the English church where he first arrived on Earth in 1943. Fifty years of mystery and adventure have passed, but as the demon-hunter observes ghostly events replay before his eyes he learns the truth of his origins. All too soon, Hellboy devoutly wishes he had never come back…

Wake the Devil offered a decidedly different take on the undying attraction of vampires when a past case suddenly became active again. Hellboy and fellow outré BPRD agents Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien were still reeling from losing their aged mentor whilst uncovering mad monk Rasputin’s hellish scheme to rouse sleeping Elder Gods he served.

Moreover, the apparently undying wizard – agent for antediluvian infinitely evil seven-sided serpent Ogdru-Jahad who-sleeps-and-waits-to-be-reawakened – was responsible for initially summoning Hellboy to Earth as part of the Nazi’s Ragna Rok Project …

Now the Russian’s clandestine alliance with Himmler, Hitler and their mystic Nazi think-tank is further explored, as somewhere deep inside Norway’s Arctic Circle region, a driven millionaire visits a hidden castle.

He is seeking the arcane Aryans long-closeted within, eager to deliver a message from “The Master”. In return the oligarch wants sanctuary from the imminent end of civilisation…

In New York City a bloody robbery occurs in a tawdry mystic museum and the BPRD are soon being briefed on legendary Napoleonic soldier Vladimir Giurescu. It now appears that the enigmatic warrior wasn’t particularly wedded to any side in that conflict and was probably much older than reports indicated…

More important is the re-examined folklore which suggests Giurescu was mortally wounded many times but, after retreating to a certain castle in his homeland, would always reappear: renewed, refreshed and deadlier than ever.

In 1882 he was in England and clashed with Queen Victoria’s personal ghost-breaker Sir Edward Grey, who was the first to officially identify him as a “Vampire”. In 1944 Hitler met with Vladimir to convince the creature to join him, but something went wrong and Himmler’s envoy Ilsa Haupstein was ordered to arrest Giurescu and his “family”.

The creatures were despatched in the traditional manner and sealed in boxes… one of which has now been stolen from that museum. Moreover, the murdered owner was once part of the Nazi group responsible for Ragna Rok…

The BPRD always consider worst-case scenarios, and if that box actually contained vampire remains…

The location of the bloodsucker’s fabled castle is unknown, but with three prospects in Romania and only six agents available, three compact strike-teams are deployed with Hellboy in solo mode headed for the most likely prospect…

Although not an active agent, Dr. Kate Corrigan wants Hellboy to take especial care. All the indications are that this vampire might be the Big One, even though nobody wants to use the “D” word…

In Romania, somehow still youthful Ilsa Haupstein is talking to a wooden box, whilst in Norway her slyly observing colleagues Kurtz and Kroenen are concerned. Once the most ardent of believers, Ilsa may have been turned from the path of Nazi resurgence and bloody vengeance…

Her former companions are no longer so enamoured of the Fuehrer’s old dream of a vampire army either. Leopold especially places more faith in the creatures he has been building and growing…

Over Romania, Hellboy leaps out of the plane and engages his experimental jet-pack, wishing he was going with one of the other teams… and even more so after it flames out and dies…

At least he has the limited satisfaction of crashing into the very fortress Ilsa is occupying…

The battle with the witch-woman’s grotesque servants is short and savage and as the ancient edifice crumbles, Chapter Two reveals how on the night Hellboy was born, Rasputin suborned Ilsa and her companions…

He made them his devout disciples for the forthcoming awakening of Ogdru-Jahad, saving them from Germany’s ignominious collapse. Now the Russian’s ghost appears to her and offers another prophecy and a great transformation…

Deep in the vaults, Hellboy comes to and meets a most garrulous dead man, unaware that in the village below the Keep the natives are recognising old signs and making all the traditional preparations again…

Hellboy’s conversation provides lots of useful background information but lulls him into a false sense of security, allowing the revenant to brutally attack and set him up for a confrontation with the ferocious forces actually responsible for the vampire’s power…

Battling for his life, Hellboy is a stunned witness to Giurescu’s resurrection and ultimate cause of his latest demise, whilst far above, Rasputin shares his own origins with acolyte Ilsa, revealing the night he met the infamous witch Baba Yaga

Nearly three hundred miles away, Liz and her team are scouring the ruins of Castle Czege. There’s no sign of vampires but they do uncover a hidden alchemy lab with an incredible artefact in it…a stony homunculus.

Idly touching the artificial man Liz is horrified when her pyrokinetic energies surge uncontrollably into the creature and it goes on a destructive rampage…

With the situation escalating at Castle Giurescu, Hellboy decides to detonate a vast cache of explosives with the faint hope that he will be airlifted out before they go off but is distracted by a most fetching monster who calls him by a name he doesn’t recognise before trying to kill him.

If she doesn’t, the catastrophic detonation might…

As the dust settles and civil war breaks out amongst the Norway Nazis, in Romania Ilsa makes a horrific transition and Hellboy awakes to face Rasputin, even as the BPRD rush to the rescue.

Tragically Abe Sapien and his squad won’t make it before the revived and resplendent Giurescu takes his shot and the world’s most successful paranormal investigator is confronted and seduced by uncanny aspects of his long-hidden infernal ancestry…

With all hell breaking loose, the displaced devil must make a decision which will not only affect his life but dictate the course of humanity’s existence…

The breathtakingly explosive ending also resets the game for Rasputin’s next scheme, but the weird wonderment rolls on in a potent epilogue wherein the mad monk visits his macabre patron Baba Yaga for advice…

 

The story-portion of this magnificent terror-tome concludes with 1997’s 2-part miniseries ‘Almost Colossus’ wherein traumatised pyrokinetic Liz awaits test results.

During her mission to Castle Czege the artificial man she discovered inadvertently drained Liz’s infernal energies, bringing it to life and causing hers to gradually slip away. Now, Hellboy and Corrigan are back in that legend-drenched region, watching a graveyard from which 68 bodies have been stolen…

Elsewhere, the fiery homunculus is undergoing a strange experience: he has been abducted by his older “brother” who seeks, through purloined flesh, blackest magic and forbidden crafts to perfect their centuries-dead creator’s animation techniques.

Before the curtain falls, Hellboy, aided by the ghosts of repentant monks and the younger homunculus, is forced to battle a metal giant determined to crown itself the God of Science, saving the world if he can and Liz because he must…

Wrapping up the show are a wealth of arty extras, beginning with the 1991 convention illustration he created because he wanted to draw a monster. From tiny acorns…

Following on – with author’s commentary – is a horror hero group shot that is Hellboy’s second ever appearance and a brace of early promo posters, and the full colour Convention book premiere appearance as ‘Hellboy – World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator’ battles a giant demon dog, courtesy of Mignola & Byrne.

Hellboy Sketchbook then shares a treasure trove of drawings, designs and roughs from the early stories again, fully annotated to round out the eerie celebratory experience.

Available in paperback and digital formats, this bombastic, moody, suspenseful and explosively action-packed tome is a superb scary romp to delight one and all, celebrating the verve, imagination and, now, longevity of the greatest Outsider Hero of All: a supernatural thriller no comics fan should be without.
Hellboy™ Seed of Destruction © 1993, 2018 Mike Mignola. Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and all other prominently featured characters are trademarks of Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.

The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea – a Graphic Memoir of Modern Slavery


By Vannak Anan Prum, as told to Ben & Jocelyn Pederick and translated by Lim Sophorn (Seven Stories Press)
ISBN: 978-1-6098-0602-6

This book made me furiously angry, but that’s good because it was supposed to.

Despite years of shocking scoops and in-depth news reports, far too many first world citizens seem blissfully unaware that human slavery still thrives.

In fact, the practise of enforced, unpaid labour props up a vast number of businesses and industries; from migrants and homeless people used as beasts of burden by British gangs masquerading as builders (like the Rooney family recently sentenced to decades in prison) to young hopefuls trafficked into a global sex market or entire populations captured or conned and compelled to till fields or man fishing boats for companies and “entrepreneurs” little better than racketeers and petty tyrants.

At the root of all this appalling exploitation and upheaval is one unchanging factor: a desperate need to escape overwhelming poverty.

This breathtakingly low key and matter-of-fact tale is the testimony in cartoon form of Cambodian Vannak Anan Prum who went looking for work to pay for his pregnant wife’s medical care and was gone for years…

Bracketed by a fact-filled and frankly nightmare-inducing Foreword from activist and cartoon journalist Anne Elizabeth Moore (Unmarketable, Truthout), an equally sobering Introduction by Minky Worden – Director of Global Initiatives for Human Rights Watch – and a laudatory appreciation and call to arms by Kevin Bales (Professor of Contemporary Slavery and Research Director at the Rights Lab: University of Nottingham) in his Afterword, a compelling human-scaled odyssey unfolds here.

Rendered with the gently seductive warmth and deceptively comfortable lushness of a Ladybird early reader book, the saga of endurance and survival against the cruellest of fates begins with a ‘Prologue’ as a stranger enters a Cambodian village…

Vannak Anan Prum started life ‘Drawing in the Dirt’. He was born the year the Khmer Rouge were beaten by the Vietnamese, but his early life was still one of hardship, privation and family abuse. Barely more than a boy, he fled his home seeking ‘Adventure’, becoming first a soldier, then a monk and finally an artisan sculptor toiling in a workshop making tourist trinkets and statues.

His constant hunt for work led him to farming and he met the girl who became ‘My Wife’. When she fell pregnant, he had to make more money to pay for her hospital care. With village friend Rus Vannak followed a lead to Thailand and contacted ‘Moto & the Middleman’. After helping them in ‘Crossing the Border’ they soon changed from chummy helpers to sinister guards…

Apparently, the great secret to successful slave-taking is convincing the victims that the police, army and authorities are ruthless and will punish undocumented illegals and economic migrants: constantly dangling hope of good pay and promises of eventual freedom to keep their captives quiescent.

For Vannak and Rus ‘The Writing on the Wall’ is a clear but anticlimactic moment and after relatively painless incarceration they are shipped onto facilities ship ‘The Took Tho’. This vessel services a vast fleet of illegal fishing boats, pirating catches in other nations’ waters and manned by hundreds of men who only wanted to better themselves. Most never see land again once they are taken…

One such is ‘The Old Man’, whose fate led to Vannak being transferred to primitive fishing factory ship ‘The Took Oh’. Eventually, crushing routine takes hold, only barely broken by what happens to ‘Rus’

‘Life on the Boat’ ruled Vannak’s world and any number of candidates for ‘The Deadliest Job’ were gratefully handled before the new man’s status was slightly elevated. After he started tattooing himself with makeshift tools, his ‘Writing on the Skin’ led to others wanting such decoration… and paying for it.

His artistic gifts were useless when the ship was chased by the Indonesian navy resulting in ‘Fire at Sea’ and Vannak’s trading to ‘The New Boat’

Fresh horrors awaited here: murder, beatings and the shocking fate of the ‘Two Guys’ from Thailand, but there were also more serene moments with ‘My Friend K’Nack’.

Adding to the alternating dire tedium and frantic hardship, ‘Storms at Sea’ and consequent becalmed periods made ‘Days Stretch Out’

At last, after the craft surprisingly neared land, a chance came for ‘Escape’. With Thai compatriot Chaya, Vannak chanced everything on ‘The Swim’ to an unknown jungle beach and kept going…

Once again hope quickly gave way to despair. In ‘The Monkeys and the Man Waiting for Us’ an idyllic pause and the aid of some helpful citizens took the escapees to ‘Police and the Chinese Man’, who promptly sold them both to a plantation owner known as ‘Crazy Boss’

More months of slavery in what eventually turned out to be Malaysia followed, but again Vannak’s artistic skills proved invaluable and he made enough to obtain ‘The Phone’.

Contact established with the outside world, he prepared to be rescued, but when a drunken party dissolved into ‘The Fight’ Vannak and “co-worker” Theara were wounded by machetes and dumped into the custody of the local police who grudgingly took them to ‘Hospital’

And here’s where the real injustices start piling up as the victims suffer ‘Yo-Yo Justice’. Although Theara is soon claimed by his family, illegal worker Vannak is arrested. However, in ‘Prison’ he is interviewed by German NGO worker Manfred Hornung who begins the convoluted process of freeing the abducted and enslaved Cambodian.

Sadly, that process takes months, and is perpetually hampered by police interference and the revelation of just who – and how influential – Crazy Boss is…

It’s still a long and torturous ordeal before the LICADHO (Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights) can ferry the relieved and apprehensive Vannak ‘Home’

This crushingly sedate, oppressively action-deprived story is an astounding testament to the will to survive, but that doesn’t mean it lacks power, merit or moment. Life simply isn’t a three-act summer blockbuster with exploding helicopters, sexy vamps and Mikado-esque just deserts doled out to the endless chain of truly evil, corrupt bastards entrenched at every stage of the modern slavery system, with hands out and blind eyes turned to the plight of those they’re supposed to protect and serve.

In actual fact, the only thing they really fear is exposure and that began when Vannak – still desperately seeking to earn a living – started drawing his five awful years of experiences as strips. These were seen by film makers Ben & Jocelyn Pederick and one of the results and repercussions is this book…

As seen in ‘Epilogue’, there will be more to come…

A truly remarkable story of a quietly indomitable man who turned survival into a waiting game and patience into his weapon, The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea is a book everyone should read and every exploiter should dread.
Text and images © 2018 Vannak Anan Prum. Foreword © 2018 Anne Elizabeth Moore. Introduction © 2018 Minky Worden. Afterword © 2018 Kevin Bales. All rights reserved.