The Adventures of Blake & Mortimer: The Mystery of the Great Pyramid parts 1 & 2 – The Papyrus of Manethon & The Chamber of Horus


By Edgar P. Jacobs, translated by Clarence E. Holland & Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-37-3 (Manethon TPB) 978-1-905460-38-0 (Horus TPB)

Master storyteller Edgar P. Jacobs pitted his distinguished duo of Scientific Adventurers Captain Francis Blake and Professor Philip Mortimer against a wide variety of perils and menaces in stunning action thrillers which merged science fiction, detective mysteries and supernatural thrillers in the same timeless Ligne Claire style which had done so much to make intrepid boy reporter Tintin a global sensation.

The strip debuted in Le Journal de Tintin #1 (26th September 1946): an anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland. The new weekly was edited by Hergé, with his eponymous star ably supplemented by a host of new heroes and features…

Brussels-born Edgar P. Jacobs was a prodigy who drew from an early age and was besotted by music and the performing arts – especially opera. Upon graduation from commercial school in 1919, he promptly rejected safe, steady office work and instead avidly pursued his artistic passions…

His dream of operatic glory was crushed by the Great Depression, and when arts funding dried up following the global stock-market crash he was forced to pick up whatever dramatic work was going, although this did include more singing and performing. He moved into illustration in 1940, with regular work for Bravo magazine and some jobs for short stories and novels and, when the occupying Nazi authorities in Belgium banned Alex Raymond’s quintessentially All-American Hero Flash Gordon, Jacobs famously took over the syndicated strip to complete the saga.

His Stormer Gordon lasted less than a month before being similarly embargoed by the Occupation dictators, after which the man of many talents simply created his own epic science-fantasy feature in the legendary Le Rayon U, a milestone in both Belgian comics and science fiction adventure.

At this time, Jacobs and Tintin creator Hergé got together, and whilst creating the weekly U Ray strip the younger man began assisting on Tintin, colouring original monochrome strips from The Shooting Star (originally run in newspaper Le Soir) for an upcoming album collection.

By 1944 Jacobs was performing similar duties on Tintin in the Congo, Tintin in America, King Ottokar’s Sceptre and The Blue Lotus. He was contributing to the drawing too, working on extended epic The Seven Crystal Balls/Prisoners of the Sun.

Following the Liberation, publisher Raymond Leblanc convinced Hergé, Jacobs and a few other comics masters to work for his bold new venture: publishing house Le Lombard, and Le Journal de Tintin. Beside Hergé, Jacobs and writer Jacques van Melkebeke, the weekly featured Paul Cuvelier’s Corentin and Jacques Laudy’s The Legend of the Four Aymon Brothers.

Laudy had been a friend of Jacobs’ since their time together on Bravo, and ‘Le secret de l’Espadon’ starred English Military Intelligence officer Blake, closely modelled on him. The debonair spy was to be partnered with a bluff, gruff, excitable British boffin…

The serial ran from issue #1 for three years, cementing Jacobs’ status as a star in his own right. In 1950, with the first 18 pages slightly redrawn, The Secret of the Swordfish became Le Lombard’s first album release with the concluding part published in 1953. The volumes were reprinted nine more times between 1955 and 1982, supplemented in 1964 by a single omnibus edition.

Chronologically, the next epic was this eerily exotic thriller which originally ran in Le Journal de Tintin as Le Mystère de la Grande Pyramide from March 23rd 1950 to February 21st 1951.

The ongoing adventures resume in the months following the defeat of Tibetan warlord Basam-Damdu and liberation of the planet from his monomaniacal tyranny…

Available in paperback album form and in digital editions and subtitled ‘The Papyrus of Manethon’The Mystery of the Great Pyramid Part 1 opens with the author’s fascinating and pertinent illustrated Foreword on everything Anciently Egyptian – complete with extremely handy maps and plans – before the story proper begins with fretful Professor Mortimer taking some time off to pursue his occasional hobby.

A keen amateur archaeologist, the war-weary big brain has flown to Cairo with devoted assistant Ahmed Nasir for a holiday …and to help Egyptologist Ahmed Rassim Bey translate an astounding new find.

However, as they debark at the airport, the vigilant Indian thinks he spots an old enemy…

When no sign can be found the travellers move on, and the following morning Mortimer is examining some fragile scraps of papyrus attributed to legendary contemporary archivist Manethon. The ancient priest’s writings indicate that a secret treasure is hidden beneath a certain pyramid in a “Chamber of Horus”…

Cautious of the effect of such a sensationalistic discovery, the historians decide to proceed carefully, blithely unaware that trusted assistant Abdul Ben Zaim is in the employ of a cruel and dangerous enemy…

Even after an evening of socialising, the learned men are keen to get to work. Returning late to the laboratory of the Egyptian Museum, they discover Abdul furtively loitering and Mortimer’s suspicions are aroused. When nobody is watching, the physicist craftily secures a portion of the papyrus and talks Ahmed into conducting a clandestine test…

Abdul is indeed playing a double game and his mysterious master is a man both subtle and exceedingly dangerous. That night the hidden leader tries to steal the documents, but is surprised by Mortimer who has anticipated such a move. The canny scientist is just as surprised when the villain is exposed as treacherous Colonel Olrik.

The wily war criminal has been missing since the fall of Basam-Damdu, but has lost none of his lethal skills. Overpowering Mortimer, the rogue escapes, taking with him the last shred of papyrus the Professor had been holding…

Safe in his lair, Olrik presses Abdul, who hastily translates the assembled fragments and declares the Chamber of Horus must be in the Great Sphinx on the Giza Plateau…

Under constant surveillance by Olrik’s gang, Mortimer and Nasir warily go about their business, hoping to lure the mastermind out of hiding. Meanwhile Abdul, believing himself undiscovered, returns to work at the museum, where flashy German Egyptologist Herr Doktor Grossgrabenstein is loudly informing all and sundry of his latest search for the tomb of Tanitkara.

The bombastic treasure-hunter invites Mortimer to visit him and view his unique collection but the boffin is too absorbed with shadowing Abdul – a task made far harder by the inept assistance of the local police.

When a lucky clue leads the resolute researcher to an antique store, Olrik’s scurrilous henchman Basendjas ambushes and imprisons Mortimer in the basement, but after a tremendous, extended battle the doughty doctor breaks free and calls in the cops.

Sadly, even on the defensive, Olrik is formidable and fights free of the encroaching authorities before vanishing into the warrens of the city. After Abdul is killed in a hit-and-run incident, effusive Grossgrabenstein is present when Mortimer admits defeat and calls in a seasoned professional…

In London, Captain Francis Blake receives a cablegram and takes a leave from desk duty at I.S. Scotland Yard’s international security division is already investigating a surge of criminal activity in Northeast Africa and is happy to have their top man take a personal interest.

Blake heads out to Egypt by devious and complex means but, despite his circuitous route and customary caution, does not make it. Mortimer becomes increasingly impatient as he awaits the espionage expert’s arrival and to kill time finally accedes to his German colleague’s repeated requests to visit his dig at Giza.

When he arrives, Mortimer finds bullying foreman Sharkey whipping native workers and is just in time to thrash the brute as he tries to attack an old Holy Man who has objected…

The enraged thug pulls a gun, but is admonished by Grossgrabenstein, who then reluctantly allows the Professor to inspect the recently-cleared chambers below the pyramid.

As Mortimer climbs back to the surface, a hasty, anonymous cry alerts him and he narrowly dodges a huge rock which crashes into the space where he stood. The area it fell from is empty and nobody recognises the voice which called out…

Making his way back to his hotel, the weary scientist is then metaphorically crushed to receive news that his best friend has been shot to death in a phone booth at Athens airport…

Bitter and enraged, Mortimer swears to make Olrik pay…

To Be Concluded…

The Chamber of Horus’ concludes Le Mystère de la Grande Pyramide after a brief summary of past events.

With his great friend murdered, Mortimer is resolved to finish the case himself and begins by visiting decidedly odd and off-kilter Doktor Grossgrabenstein in his mansion. He hasn’t made up his mind about the German, but the archaeologist’s staff – especially thuggish foreman Sharkey – are definitely playing some deeper game…

The visit almost ends in disaster, but once again a mysterious warning – in Egyptian – tips Mortimer off and he leaves before the gang can grab him. Later that night, he meets again the aged holy man Sheik Abdel Razek which results in the enigmatic cleric giving him a strange talisman and a warning of the arcane forces he faces. Rationalist sceptic though he is, the physicist keeps the artefact near and that night, when another vicious attempt is made on his life, the charm proves its worth…

Instructing Nasir to make discreet inquiries, Mortimer returns to the Giza excavation, unaware that he has picked up a silent shadow. A commotion then brings him to Razek’s dwelling where Sharkey is threatening the old man. Before the Professor can intervene, the bully is sent scurrying by a shocking display of spooky pyrotechnics…

The house is incredibly ancient, built from reclaimed materials, and as he chats with the sheik, Mortimer sees glyphs and symbols etched into the walls which can only have come from the original pyramids. Razek is charmingly evasive however, and Mortimer eventually leaves, but on his way back sees figures lurking around Grossgrabenstein’s work site.

Although he loses them, the subsequent chase gives him an opportunity to inspect the tunnels under the tomb. Further investigation is cut short when he clashes with native worker Abbas whom he suspects has been following him…

Things take a dangerous turn the next night when he returns to the German’s grand home. A sudden slip by Grossgrabenstein tips off Mortimer that the boisterous historian has at some stage been replaced by gifted mimic Olrik. After a mighty struggle, the Professor is captured and before long Nasir too is bundled into the opulent cell the Prof has been dumped in…

Their bacon is saved by the unexpected arrival of the police, who storm the mansion with guns blazing. In the confusion a beloved old comrade resurfaces as Francis Blake sheds his own disguise to rescue his beleaguered friends.

When the gunfire subsides, the triumphant police attempt to arrest the real Grossgrabenstein. As they blunder around, slippery Olrik again escapes…

With all nefarious opposition seemingly routed, Blake and Mortimer are free to concentrate on solving the mystery of the Chamber of Horus and why ultra-modern super-criminal Olrik was so obsessed by it. Soon they are carefully exploring the claustrophobic tunnels beneath the Great Pyramid and eventually discover not only the incredible treasures of the pharaohs but their old arch-foe plundering the sacrosanct horde.

Olrik is as hard-headed and no-nonsense as his British adversaries and puts no faith in curses, talismans or magic, but the sudden arrival of Razek teaches all of the western sceptics and heretics a lesson they will never forget… before carefully erasing their memories to protect the secrets his line has spent millennia protecting…

Suspenseful and fantastic in the grandest tradition of epic intrigue, Blake & Mortimer are the very epitome of dogged heroic determination and graphic personifications of the Bulldog Spirit: worthy successors to Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain, Professor Challenger, Richard Hannay and all the other valiant stalwarts of lost Albion …and decent chaps proudly participating in the grand international alliance against insular ignorance and wickedness.

This saga delivers splendid Blood-&-Thunder thrills and spills in timeless fashion and with breathtaking visual punch. Every kid of any age able to suspend modern mores and cultural disbelief can’t help but revel in the adventure of their lives… and so will you.
Original editions © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud – Lombard s.a.). © 1986, 1987 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2007, 2008 Cinebook

Hellboy Omnibus volume 3: The Wild Hunt


By Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo with Dave Stewart & Clem Robins (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-668-9 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-50670-689-4

Hellboy was first seen 25 years ago in the 1993 San Diego Comic Con programme. Many Happy Returns, 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 hulking 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. Once the fans saw what was on offer there was no going back…

This new trade paperback – and digital – series re-presents the succession of long-form tales and miniseries which followed as omnibus volumes, accompanied by a companion series of tomes featuring all the short stories. I’ll get around to them too before much longer…

This third titanic terror tome collects Hellboy: Darkness Calls, Hellboy: The Wild Hunt and Hellboy: The Storm and the Fury as well as short story ‘The Mole’ from Hellboy: Free Comic Book Day 2008.

What You Need to Know: on December 23rd 1944 American Patriotic Superhero the Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers intercepted and almost foiled a satanic ceremony predicted by Allied parapsychologist Professors Trevor Bruttenholm and Malcolm Frost.

They were working in conjunction with influential medium Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones. Those stalwarts were 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 had grown into a mighty warrior engaging in a never-ending secret war: the world’s most successful paranormal investigator. Bruttenholm spent 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” quickly became its lead agent.

Moreover, as the decades of his career unfolded, Hellboy gleaned tantalising snatches of his origins, hints that he was an infernal creature of dark portent: born a demonic messiah, somehow destined to destroy the world and bring back ancient powers of evil. It is a fate he despises and utterly rejects, even though the universe keeps inexorably and relentlessly moving him towards it…

The comics cavalcade of chills and thrills commences with a whimsical dreamy vignette by Mignola & Duncan Fegredo from Free Comic Book Day 2008: Hellboy. As the B.P.R.D. top gun spends a little downtime in England with some old – and largely deceased – pals, he has a bit of an extended fright after one of them points out ‘The Mole’ growing on the arcane agent’s left hand…

Re-presenting 2007’s 6-issue miniseries Hellboy: Darkness Calls and including a brace of epilogues created especially for the first collected edition, this tale is especially noteworthy as creator Mignola surrendered visual autonomy over his legendary character to illustrator Duncan Fegredo – with evocative support as always from colourist Dave Stewart and letterer Clem Robins – whilst moving the years-in-the-making saga towards its long-awaited cataclysmic conclusion…

The drama opens beneath rural Italy as accursed wizard Igor Weldon Bromhead hastens the destruction of humanity by summoning and binding the malign witch-goddess Hecate. Bromhead wants revenge and doesn’t care if the world burns in his getting of it. In faraway England, the ripples of his acts alert the fey folk and other supernatural entities that the End Times are finally upon them…

Hellboy is still in Britain; visiting old friends and desperately seeking to sidestep the fate he seems incapable of escaping or thwarting. Restless, he wanders into the woods, seemingly oblivious to the strange signs and portents dogging his heels until he encounters a strange trio of sinister characters and is sucked into a living history lesson…

After also meeting the ghost of witchfinder Henry Hood, Hellboy is made painfully aware of a deadly rising of the covens, as congregated creatures of the night attack him in an abandoned church. After a climactic battle – and more painful revelations of his past and ordained future – the paranormal paragon is suddenly yanked away into the infernal arctic domain of terrifying nemesis Baba Yaga: the Russian witch-queen sworn to destroy him…

In England, witches continue to gather, urged on by minor demon Gruagach; another unclean creature with a grudge against Hellboy. He advocates waking a long-buried queen of the dark to lead their final assault on the world and will not be dissuaded…

Meanwhile in Baba Yaga’s land of eternal chill, Hellboy is holding his own against the sorceress’ legions but is about to meet his match against her greatest thrall: an indomitable, unstoppable warrior dubbed Koshchei the Deathless.

The captive is not without allies. Fallen god Perun, giant wolves and a rebellious Domovoi (house spirit) all offer what aid they can but it’s the ministrations of little dead girl Vasilisa that provide Hellboy with an opportunity to escape the endless war and return to the physical world.

While he has been gone, however, events have moved on. The hags and weird folk have succeeded in freeing the one who will lead them in the final clash with humanity, and the benign spirits who have sheltered Man for so long see that their own long, long lives are finally done…

Offering astounding supernatural spectacle, amazing arcane action, mounting mystical tension and the imminent end of decades of slowly unfolding wonderment, this is merely the beginning of the End…

Climactic 8-issue miniseries Hellboy: The Wild Hunt from 2008-2009 draws together many subtly scattered clues disseminated throughout his innumerable tempestuous exploits and at last provides a conclusion to more than 15 years of slowly boiling magical suspense… as well as the incredible answers to the enigma of the horrific hero’s doom-drenched double destiny…

Mignola & Fegredo resume the fateful tale as the fey folk and other creatures of ancient mythology and legend are fading into non-existence in the face of a bloody rising of witches. The malevolent hags have a new queen who promises blood and slaughter and domination of the world by her kind whilst the only being who might stop her inexorable ascendance is missing…

In rural Italy, Hellboy receives a letter from a most ancient and august society. The paranormal paragon has been hiding; avoiding having to deal with the hard-wired cosmic fate which will not let him go…

Nevertheless, on reading the missive, Hellboy returns to England and meets the oldest members of the aristocratic secret society known as the Wild Hunt. They have been clandestinely defending the Sceptr’d Isles from mystic assault for centuries and – more aware of Hellboy’s destiny-drenched antecedents than the hero himself – urge him to join them in exterminating a band of primordial giants set to ravage the Realm…

The entire affair is a trap, but the mortal warriors are no match for Hellboy who defeats his duplicitous opponents before also despatching the giants in an uncontrollable burst of berserker madness…

In a faraway place, ensorcelled goblin Gruagach of Lough Leane reflects on a long-ago slight inflicted upon him by Hellboy. This has been the cause and trigger of all the carnage and world-shattering destruction about to unfold as soon as the new Queen of Witches is ready. Perhaps he repents it all, just a shade…

The subject of his hate is currently in Ireland, renewing the acquaintance of Alice whom he saved from being abducted as a baby by the Little People. The decades have been uncannily kind, as if some elfin magic rubbed off on her…

As the Red Queen cruelly consolidates her power in England, Hellboy and Alice are visited by former pixie potentate Queen Mab who reveals another missing part of a decades-long puzzle and hints that there might be way to thwart this oppressive, inescapable destiny.

However, when another supposed ally betrays them and Alice is wounded unto death, Hellboy is approached by re-embodied myth Morgan Le Fay who offers to trade for the mortal girl’s life.

Le Fay reveals that although the hell-born hero is certainly the son of the devil. his human mother could trace her own line back to Arthur Pendragon. Hellboy is the doom of mankind but also the True King of England, and she is his many-times removed grandmother…

If he wants to save humanity from an army of darkness, he has his own to call upon – one comprising millennia of Britain’s noble dead. All Morgan’s heir has to do is take up the Sword in the Stone.

It should be easy. His new occult opponent – now calling herself the Mor-Rioghain – also wants to awaken the dragons from the beginning of time and wipe out humanity: the fore-ordained role Hellboy has sworn never to enact…

With horror Hellboy realises he has not been running from one unwanted Destiny, but two…

With fate closing in all around him, Hellboy is uncharacteristically nonplussed, but an ethereal visitation prompts him to ferocious action and as he confronts his own inherently evil nature to finally throw off all the sly influences attempting to sway him and once again choose his own path…

The opportunity came via twinned 3-issue miniseries, entitled Hellboy: The Storm and Hellboy: the Fury and opens in England as the police investigate bizarre grave desecrations: ancient church crypts and stone sarcophagi all lacking the knights and nobles who once lay in them…

The constabulary are grateful for the assistance of noted parapsychologist Hellboy, but he’s not saying much…

As Hellboy and Alice review the situation they are again attacked by elements of Britain’s mythical past sworn to the new Witch Queen even as, elsewhere, Gruagach is confronted by the land’s greatest mage who reveals the shocking truth of the red-handed harridan. The petty-minded cause of humanity’s last war is given one last chance to repent and redeem himself, but with carnage and malevolence mounting in every realm, it might be too late…

As Hellboy and Alice catch their breath in the strangest tavern in the benighted kingdoms, the duties of his office and the risen army of nobles assemble and await his decision to accept or reject his twin destinies: King of Britain and all Mankind or Lord of Hell…

And as he struggles with his decision, Hellboy’s oldest enemies gather to confront him one last time and as he reels with the force of the choices the primal forces of Ragna Rok are finally awakened to Fight the Last Battle: the Champion of Man against the Great Dragon…

All that is left now is the killing and the final judgement… or is there still a chance to save the world and evade damnation?

Offering astounding supernatural spectacle, amazing arcane action, and unfolding with the pace of a mythic saga, the majestic mystery of Hellboy is a true landmark of comics storytelling and one every comics fan and fantasy aficionado should read.

Rounding out this occult endeavour is a stunning Hellboy Sketchbook Section which includes behind-the-scenes insights, author commentary, character designs, breathtaking drawings and roughs detailing the development and visual evolution of the beasties and bad guys populating the stories to sweeten the pot for every lover of great comics art.

Baroque, grandiose, alternating suspenseful slow-boiling tension with explosive catharsis, Hellboy mixes apocalyptic revelation with astounding adventure to enthral horror addicts and action junkies alike. This is another cataclysmic compendium of dark delights you simply must have.
Hellboy™ The Wild Hunt © 1993, 2018 Mike Mignola. Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and all other prominently featured characters are trademarks of Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.

Buck Danny volume 2: The Secrets of the Black Sea


By Francis Bergése & Jacques de Douhet; colours byFrédéric Bergése and translated byJerome Saincantin (Cinebooks)
ISBN: 987-1-84918-018-4 (TPB)

Premiere pilot Buck Danny premiered in Le journal de Spirou in January 1947 and continues soaring across the Wild Blue Yonder to this day. The strip details the improbably long but historically significant career of the eponymous Navy pilot and his wing-men Sonny Tuckson and JerryTumbler. It is one of the world’s last aviation strips and a series which has always closely wedded itself to current affairs such as The Korean War, Bosnia and latterly Gulf and Afghanistan.

The Naval Aviator was created by Georges Troisfontaines whilst he was director of the Belgian publisher World Press Agency, and initially depicted by Victor Hubinon before being handed to the multi-talented Jean-Michel Charlier, who was then working as a junior artist.

When Charlier, with fellow creative legends Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny, formed the Édifrance Agency to promote the specialised communication benefits of comics strips, he continued to script Buck Danny and did so until his death. From then on, his artistic collaborator Francis Bergése (who had replaced Hubinon in 1978) took complete charge of the adventures of the All-American Air Ace, occasionally working with other creators such as in this captivating political thriller scripted by Jacques de Douhet.

Like so many artists involved in stories about flight, Francis Bergése (born in 1941) started young with both drawing and flying. He qualified as a pilot whilst still a teenager, enlisted in the French Army and was a reconnaissance flyer by his twenties. At age 23 he began selling strips to L’Étoile and JT Jeunes (1963-1966), after which he produced his first aviation strip Jacques Renne for Zorro. This was soon followed byAmigo, Ajax, Cap 7, Les 3 Cascadeurs, Les 3 A, Michel dans la Course and many others.

Bergése worked as a jobbing artist on comedies, pastiches and WWII strips until 1983 when he was offered the plum job of illustrating the venerable and globally syndicated Buck Danny. A man with his head very much in the clouds, Bergése even found time in the 1990s to produce some tales for the European interpretation of Great British icon Biggles. He finally retired in 2008, passing on the reins to illustrator Fabrice Lamy & scripter Fred Zumbiehl.

Like all Danny tales this second Cinebook volume is astonishingly authentic in feel and fact: a suspenseful and compelling, politically-charged adventure yarn originally published in 1994 as Buck Danny #45: Les secrets de la mer Noire: blending mind-boggling detail and technical veracity with good old-fashioned blockbuster derring-do.

It’s 1991 and in the dying days of the Soviet Empire a submarine incident leads the American Chief of Naval Operations to dispatch Buck into the newly open Russia of “Glasnost and Perestroika” to ascertain the true state and character of the old Cold War foe. All but ordered to be a spy, Buck is further perturbed by his meeting with ambitious Senator Smight, the US dignitary who is supposed to be his contact and cover-story on the trip to heart of Communism.

Buck is an old target of the KGB and knows that no matter what the official Party Line might be, a lot of Soviet Cold Warriors have long and unforgiving memories…

No sooner does he make landfall than his greatest fears are realised. Shanghaied to a top secret Russian Naval super-vessel, Buck knows he’s living on borrowed time: but his death is apparently only a pleasant diversion for the KGB renegade in charge, whose ultimate plans involve turning back the clock and undoing every reform of the Gorbachev administration… and the key component to the scheme will be a conveniently dead American spy in the wrong place at the right time…

Of course, the ever-efficient US Navy swings into action, determined to rescue their pilot, clean up the mess and deny the Reds a political victory, but there’s only so much Tumbler and Tuckson can do from the wrong side of the re-drawn Iron Curtain. Luckily, Buck has some unsuspected friends amongst the renegades too…

Fast-paced, brimming with tension, packed with spectacular air and sea action and delivered like a top-class James Bond thriller, The Secrets of the Black Sea effortlessly plunges the reader into a delightfully dizzying riot of intrigue, mystery and suspense. This is a superb slice of old-fashioned razzle-dazzle that enthrals from the first page to the last panel and shows just why this brilliant strip has lasted for so long.

Suitable for older kids and boys of all ages and gender, the Adventures of Buck Danny is one long and enchanting tour of duty no comics fan or armchair adrenaline-junkie can afford to miss. Chocks Away…
© Dupuis, 1994 by Bergése& de Douhet. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Airboy: The Return of Valkyrie


By Chuck Dixon, Timothy Truman, Tom Yeates, Stan Woch & Will Blyberg (Eclipse)
ISBN: 0-913035-59-9 (limited edition) ISBN: 978-0-91303-560-3 (TPB)

The wonderful prospect of It’s Alive’s efforts to revive the magnificent Airboy have prompted me to rerun this review from days past.

There are some nifty omnibus editions available too, and they’re on my To Do Soon list…

Created for Hillman Periodicals by the brilliant Charles Biro (Steel Sterling, the original Daredevil, the Little Wiseguys and Crime Does Not Pay among many other triumphs), Airboy featured a plucky teen and his fabulous super-airplane, affectionately dubbed ‘Birdie’.

He debuted in the second issue of Air Fighters Comics in November 1942 and once the war concluded the comic was renamed Airboy Comics in December 1945. For more than twelve years of publication the boy-hero tackled the Axis powers, crooks, aliens, monsters, demons and every possible permutation of sinister threat – even giant rats and ants!

The gripping scripts took the avenging aviator all over the world and pitted him against some of the most striking adversaries in comics. He was the inspiration for Jetboy in the many Wild Cards braided mega-novels by George R.R. Martin and friends.

Then the world moved on and he vanished with many other comicbook heroes whose time had run out. In 1982 comics devotee Ken Pierce collected all the Airboy adventures that featured the pneumatic Nazi-turned-freedom-fighter Valkyrie, which apparently inspired budding independent comics company Eclipse to revive the character and all his Hillman comrades.

Always innovative, Eclipse were experimenting at that time with fortnightly (that’s twice a month, non-Brits) comics with a lower page count than the industry standard, at a markedly reduced price. Airboy premiered at 50 cents a copy in 1986 and quickly found a vocal, dedicated following. And looking at this compilation once more, it’s easy to see why.

Deep in the Florida Everglades the monstrous bog-creature known as The Heap stirs after decades of inactivity. Something momentous is beginning to unfold. It remembers a previous life, brave heroes and a diabolical evil. It begins to walk towards a distant villa…

In Napa Valley, David Nelson is a bitter, broken old man. Not even his teenaged son can bring joy to his life. Trained since birth by the Japanese Ace and martial artist Hirota, the boy is a brave, confident fighter but still doesn’t know why his life has been one of constant training.

Then suddenly a horde of assassins attacks the compound and the old man dies in a hail of machine gun bullets. Only then does young Davy discover the truth about his father. Once he was the hero known as Airboy, with valiant comrades and a unique super-aircraft. Once he loved a beautiful German woman-warrior named Valkyrie. But for 30 years she has been trapped in suspended animation by Misery, a supernatural being who feeds on evil and steals the souls of lost fliers…

Forced to do the monster’s bidding for three decades (such as providing weapons for South American despots to slaughter and enslave innocents) the old hero had gradually died inside. But now his son is ready to avenge him and free the beautiful sleeper, aided by such combat veterans as Hirota and the legendary Air Ace Skywolf

Fast-paced, beautifully illustrated and written with all the gung-ho bravado of a Rambo movie, this tale of liberation and revolution rattles along, a stirring blend of action and supernatural horror that sweeps readers along with it. The book collects issues #1-5 of the comic plus an 8-page promotional preview with a cover gallery that includes art from Stan Woch. Tim Truman, and the late, great Dave Stevens.

The title was briefly one of the best indie titles available and spawned a mini-franchise of equally unmissable spin-offs, and I’m extremely hopeful that the potential revival makes Airboy a three-time success.

I’m reviewing my signed and numbered hardcover limited edition which has a beautiful colour plate included plus a superb Steranko painted cover, but the standard trade paperback is almost as good, if that’s all you can find.
Story © 1989 Timothy Truman and Chuck Dixon. Art © 1989 Timothy Truman, Tom Yeates, Stan Woch and Will Blyberg. Cover art © 1989 Jim Steranko. Airboy, Valkyrie, Skywolf, Misery, The Heap ™ Eclipse Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Story of Lee volume 3


By Seán Michael Wilson & Piarelle (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-195-6

Just in time to make my St. Valentines’ day perfect comes the concluding volume of an engaging romance that’s kept fans on charmed tenterhooks for almost a decade now.

After far too long, the final instalment of the endearing confection which began delighting readers in 2011 brings some painful tension to a bittersweet transatlantic/transpacific shojo manga, which like its subject matter and stars was the happy product of more than one country…

As written by Scottish author Seán Michael Wilson (Breaking the Ten, Sweeney Todd, Portraits of Violence – An Illustrated History of Radical Thinking), The Story of Lee details the growth and relationships of a restless Hong Kong girl who falls for a young Scots poet and teacher.

Lee endured frustrated dreams dutifully working in her father’s shop. The situation was uncomfortable: although he meant well, the traditionally-minded parent disapproved of almost everything Lee did and never stinted in telling her so. His disparagement and constant pushing for her to achieve something (becoming a dentist) whilst staying true to his old-fashioned ideas was tearing her apart, and Wang, the nice, proper Chinese boy he perpetually forced upon her, was a really creepy turn-off…

What they never realised was that Lee was a closet poet and pop music junkie besotted with western culture, particularly myth-laden London. In those unwelcome fascinations she was clandestinely supported by her frail, aging grandmother and unconventional Uncle Jun, a globe-trotting playboy who long ago abandoned convention and tradition to follow his own dreams to America…

At 24 Lee was being gradually eroded away until she met gorgeous teaching temp Matt MacDonald. Exotically Scottish, polite and charming, he was also a sensitive, talented poet…

Lee quietly defied her father and her relationship with Matt deepened, but when tragedy struck and grandmother was no longer a factor, further upheaval occurred after Matt announced that he was returning to his home thousands of miles away.

He dropped his bombshell and asked her to go with him…

Against all odds and family sentiment and via a memorable stopover in London, the lovers make it to Edinburgh – Matt’s home town – and Lee enrols in college on a one-year student visa. Matt too goes back into full-time study…

The city is a revelation: so many old and beautiful buildings, unlike HK where everything is always being torn down and rebuilt, and perhaps it’s just that dizzying cultural adjustment which makes her feel Matt is acting a little differently now that he’s in his on his own turf again…

Or maybe it’s the oddly intimate relationship he has with the old college chum they’re crashing with? Richard is warm, welcoming and coolly into all the right music, but she can’t shake the feeling that his relationship with her man might go beyond the normal bonds of friendship…

Over following days Lee’s apprehensions increase as Matt gleefully shows her around the nostalgic landmarks of his past and apparent proofs of Richard’s feelings begin to emerge. Moreover, her charming man seems to be changing too: his gentle patience evaporates; he’s snappish and even reacts jealously when other students – and even the local musicians she slavishly seeks out – pay attention to her. One thing she cannot adjust to is the undercurrent of hostility and casual aggression expressed by the young men in Scotland…

Lee has never felt more vulnerable. She is a world away from home and security and increasingly wonders if she’s made the biggest mistake of her life. As tensions rise and the nurturing warmth the lovers shared deteriorates further, unexpected aid appears in the form of Uncle Jun who pops up for a visit and offers some startling advice…

The tale resumes here as Lee thrives academically and makes friends among the students – particularly Chinese classmate Bo – but Matt is changing more rapidly as he falls further under the sway of Richard and begins neglecting his studies to hang with his band…

Meeting his parents is an uncomfortable moment for the sensitive Lee and the mounting tensions come to an ironic head when news comes from Hong Kong.

Increased political unrest has led to an assault on her father. He cannot work and Lee feels compelled to cut her studies short and return to run the shop. No one has asked her to, but she understands duty and responsibilities even if Matt has seemingly forgotten them…

With excellent art from much-lauded London-based debutante Piarelle (AKA Pamela Lokhun) taking over from previous illustrators Chie Kutsuwada (volume 1) and Nami Tamura (volume 2), the age-old story unfolds with understated power as the lovers make decisions that will that will affect everybody and satisfy no one…

Supplemented by a copious Glossary and Notes section defining the specific vagaries of accent and slang whilst offering geographical and historical perspective on the many actual locations depicted, this is a deliciously compelling drama playing with well-established conventions and idioms of romantic fiction and teen soap opera.

With beguiling subtlety, The Story of Lee explores themes of cultural difference, mixed-race-relationships, family and friendship pressures and the often-insurmountable barrier of different childhood experiences and expectations to weave an enchanting tale of independence, interdependence and isolation.

Moving and memorable, this is a timeless tale for modern lovers that you really should enjoy. And now that’s it’s all over, surely a bumper compendium can’t be far away…
© 2019 Seán Michael Wilson & Piarelle.

Trish Trash Rollergirl of Mars: The Collected Edition


By Jessica Abel, with Lydia Roberts & Walter various (Super Genius/Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-5458-0167-3 (TPB)               978-1-5458-0166-6 (HB)

Our fascination with Mars has never faltered and now that we seem within touching distance, the Red Planet’s allure and presence in our fiction has never been more broad-based and healthily imaginative. Amidst all the recent TV, movie and literary product, one of the most engaging treatments has been a comics serial detailing the life of an extraordinary young woman in exceedingly trying times.

After Earth collapsed in an ecological and economic meltdown, the recently arrived first settlers on Mars became trapped under an increasingly burdensome fixed economic structure and oppressive corporate plutocracy. Two hundred years later, an entire class of indentured servants eke out a fraught existence, harvesting water and food with machines rented from Arex (“we’re the air that you breathe”). The air they don’t breathe is meagre, toxic, dust-filled and slightly radioactive…

On Mars, everything belongs to the company, and people usually go from cradle to grave in crippling debt. There is, ostensibly, a chance to escape: mandatory offworld mining missions to the asteroid belt. These Temporary Labor Assignments, however, are looked on as a quick ticket to certain death…

All tyrannies need bread and circuses though. On Mars that’s Hoverderby.

Based on the ancient Earth entertainment, teams of women race around a hover track in flying boots, scoring points by beating each other up. It’s the planet’s most popular spectator sport and Arex own that too…

Trish Nupindu is seven-and-a-half (on Mars: in Earth terms that’s 15), a smart, recently-orphaned kid who’s really good with engines and mechanical systems. Stuck on her aunt’s water farm, she dreams of becoming a Hoverderby star and is utterly discontented with the state of her existence…

All “Martys” reel from the force of crushing, inescapable poverty and Trish believes her only chance of getting out from under a system stacked from the get-go against ordinary people is to become a media star of the great sport.

Bold and impatient, she sneaks off to join the local team and is suckered into a binding intern’s contract, even though she’s under-age…

Trish doesn’t even get to play: the team manager wants her because she’s good at repairing the hoverboots continually malfunctioning due to the all-pervasive dust…

The world turns upside down after she and her avowed-revolutionary pal Marq discover a native Martian. Recalled from near-death, the mythical creature opens their eyes to a whole new world and “her” secrets will change forever not just the way Hoverderby is played but the very economic balance of power on the Red Planet… if the ruthless upper echelons of Arex don’t stop them first…

The inspirational drama is backed up by extensive supplemental features delivered in the manner of wiki pages such as the rules of Hoverderby; Derby Gear: Then and Now; illustrated specifications for Radsuits; fact-features on The Homestead Debate, Native Martians, Ares Collective Statement of Debt (ACSOD), TLAs, Asteroid Mining and legendary water miner Ismail Khan, faux kids’ comics “True Tales of the Early Colonists” and a complete Timeline of Mars Colonization.

Jessica Abel has been wowing readers and winning prizes since 1997 when she took both the Harvey and Lulu awards for Best New Talent. Her previous graphic delights include the fabulous Artbabe, Growing Gills, Life Sucks, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, collections Soundtrack and Mirror, Window plus the Harvey-winning La Perdida.

Trish Trash has been gradually unfolding since 2016: a sublime blend of subversive human drama and hard science fiction thriller with a supremely human and believable lead taking charge and changing the world. After three previous album releases, the entire saga is now available in oversized (218 x 284 mm) hardback, paperback and eBook editions, at least one of which you really must see ASAP.
© Jessica Abel and Dargaud. All rights reserved. All other editorial material © 2018 by Super Genius.

Trish Trash Rollergirl of Mars: The Collected Edition will be released January 22nd 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

Batman: Noël


By Lee Bermejo, with Barbara Ciardo & Todd Klein (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3213-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Fresh, Twisted Spin on a Seasonal Favourite… 9/10

Beginning with 1941’s Batman #9, the Dark Knight and festively-hued sidekick celebrated Christmas with specially crafted, tinsel-tinted topical tales (part warm spirituality, part Dickens homage, part O. Henry bittersweet irony, part redemption story), all perfectly encapsulating everything the festival ought to mean.

Although many his contemporaries – especially Superman – did likewise, the Batman Yule yarns somehow always got the balance between sentiment and drama just right. It led to the common comics fan assumption that Batman Owned Christmas. Given the evidence, it’s hard to dispute…

In 2011 writer-artist Lee Bermejo (Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, Joker, Before Watchmen: Rorschach) took his avowed love of Charles Dickens’ novels and the gritty, painterly heroic style he’d perfected and crafted a Times Best-Selling stand-alone Batman Original Graphic Novel. His creative partners in crime were colour-artist Barbara Ciardo award-winning letterer Todd Klein.

Available in deluxe hardback, Trade Paperback and eBook editions, Batman: Noël is a smart and imaginative reworking of Dicken’s redemptive masterpiece told from the point of view of Bob, a cheap hood with a guilty conscience and a sick kid. Bob’s got himself in a spot of bother with both his boss – The Joker – and the meanest bastard in Gotham, who’s selfishly using him to get to the killer clown…

Someone needs to have his views challenged and his path reset. Surely the Season will provide a miracle…

Featuring a big cast of star guests, this dark festive fable adds a bleak spin to the immortal events that will amaze and delight jaded readers, and also offers an Introduction by Jim Lee and many pages of production art and Author Commentary from Bermejo.

Batman Noël is a decidedly different take on one of the most fundamental cornerstones of the modern Christmas experience, and, while we’re recommending seasonal stuff, Dickens wrote four follow-ups to A Christmas Carol plus 22 other Christmas-themed or situated stories. They’re all in print – physically and digitally – so you should treat yourself to those too…
© 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Run Wild


By K. I. Zachopoulos & Vincenzo Balzamo (Archaia)
ISBN: 978-1-68415-024-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Spooky Family for a Cold Winter World… 9/10

Writer Kostas Zachopoulos’ heartfelt love affair with classic themes and genres continues in his latest collaboration with Vincenzo Balzamo (Immortal, Revenge: The Secret Origin of Emily Thorne).

Zachopoulos’ previous comics releases – Mon Alix, The Fang, Mr. Universe, Misery City – and his previous tale with Balzamo The Cloud have cumulatively and memorably tweaked and refreshed horror, crime and fantasy standards and this fresh offering should bring them the well-deserved glittering prizes found in the reading mainstream…

Run Wild is a bleak, dark, challenging and frequently frightening modern fairy tale with echoes of Alan Garner, Maurice Sendak and Ralph Steadman which subverts while combining a key core plot – the search for home and safety – with a chilling examination of what exactly constitutes humanity. A reminder to be careful what you wish for…

It’s night in the woods and scary. Flynn and Ava have just woken up and can’t find their mother. In fact, they can’t find anybody…

Sensible older sister Ava insists they leave the shack they’ve found themselves in, and search outside. She knows something is wrong with the world. Something has changed…

Flynn is close to panic. He needs to know why Mother has abandoned them. He needs to know what’s happened. He needs to know there’s no danger. But there is…

As they wander the sparkling, cold environs, they meet a giant talking fox named Beatrice who acts as their guide and guardian. She is taking them to Papa, who has all the answers – and is in fact the cause of all their woes – but the journey will be long and hard and pose many questions.

Moreover, they are all being hunted by a pack of relentless, savage beasts. Not ordinary animals: there are no more of those. These relentless pursuers used to be human. Now only Ava and Flynn remain of the old world, able to understand the reasons for how mankind changed and how to proceed from this new start.

Flynn realises his mother is out there somewhere, and hungers for reunion, but as they make their perilous way to the enigmatic Papa, Ava is increasingly despondent. She’s started to change into a beast too…

A tale of intellectual and spiritual hubris, man’s incessant meddling, overconfidence in technology and the perils of warring with our environment, Run Wild is gripping and beguiling mystery play examining our role in the world and offering stern rebukes and a hint of warning. Piling on devious sub-plots and shocking twists, Zachopoulos steers us into a maze of wonder and duplicity and never lets the tension slacken.

Available as an enticing hardback tome and in comfortably accessible digital editions, this byzantine, Cimmerian-toned, chimeric yarn is rendered in a gloriously evocative and expressionistic progression of painted pages by ever-more adept and imaginative Vincenzo Balzamo, providing a wealth of material for your next excess-fuelled nightmare…

This is unmissable stuff: so don’t.
™ and © 2018 Kostas Zachopoulos & Vincenzo Balzamo. All rights reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz 1939-1940: “A Brick Stuffed with Moom-bims”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-789-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: En Ebsoloot Epitome of Graphic Wundah… 10/10

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, the cartoon strip Krazy Kat is – for most cognoscenti – the pinnacle of pictorial narrative innovation; a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and elevated itself to the level of a 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 – simultaneously visual and verbal – whilst exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody. Baffled millions, but offended… no.

It did go over the heads and around the hearts of far more than a few, but Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people: those who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex, multi-layered verbal and cartoon 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 and inexorably spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (such as Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and 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 enticing colour, the Kat & Ko. 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, hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse; a venal everyman, rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a truly, proudly 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. And by the time of these tales it’s not even a response, except perhaps a conditioned one: the mouse spends all his time, energy and ingenuity in bouncing a brickbat off the mild moggy’s bonce. He can’t help himself, and Krazy’s day is bleak and unfulfilled if the hoped-for assault doesn’t happen…

The smitten kitten always misidentifies (or does he?) these missiles as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

The final crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp: 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 dolorous 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 huckster Don Kiyoti, social climbing busybody Pauline Parrot, portal-packing Door Mouse, 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 (“you sim to be cuttin’ a mellin”, “or “it would be much mo’ betta if it was a pot of momma lade or eppil butta”).

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 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a madly mystical digital edition.

Preceded by candid photos and examples of some of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions (hand-coloured artworks featuring the cast and settings), the splendid madness is bolstered by Jeet Heer’s superb analysis of production techniques in ‘Kat of a Different Color’ before the jocularity resumes with January 1st 1939 – with the hues provided by professional separators rather than Herriman.

Within this jubilant journal of passions thwarted, the torrid triangular drama plays out as winningly as ever, but with a subtle shifting of emphasis as an old face gains far greater presence and impact whilst the one significant new face seems to be a scene-stealing rival for our fuzzy feline ingenue…

The usual parade of hucksters and conmen continue to feature, but the eternally triangular confusions and contusions – although still a constant – are not the satisfying punchlines they used to be, but rather provide a comforting continuity as the world subtly changes around the cast…

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… which is expanding in personnel, if not wisdom…

Never long daunted, Bull Pupp indulges in a raft of home-away-from home improvements, and introduces mechanised, radiophonic and robotic policing, and sundry innovations in incarceration architecture…

As always, the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based gags but now the mouse is often the receiver of painful retribution. His brief preoccupation with hornet’s nests ultimately proves to be a painful dead end though…

Of course, the mouse is a man who enjoys revenge served hot, cold or late…

A flurry of telescope buying adds an of nosy edge of conspiracy to proceedings, with spying as big a hobby for all citizens as stargazing and gossip used to be. At least, the traditional fishing, water sports, driving and the parlous and participatory state of the burgeoning local theatre scene remain hot topics in town…

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.

A big shift in status comes to old busybody Mrs Kwakk Wakk as she assumes a role akin to wise old crone and sarcastic Greek Chorus; upping her status from bit-player to full-on supporting cast. She has a mean and spiteful beak on her too…

The big change comes on July 7th 1940. Pupp is startled to see Ignatz going back to school and thinks it’s so he can ambush the Kat. That’s until he too meets the new teacher. Miss Mimi is French…

Soon class attendance is at record levels and the males are all making komplete fools of themselves…

This antepenultimate collection is again supplied with an 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 strips which have inspired comics creators and auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst fulfilling its basic function: engendering 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.
© 2007, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Day of Wrath


By Wayne Vansant (Caliber)
ISBN: 978-0-98363-077-7

Comics creators have a strong history of treating war stories right, and none more so that those who’ve actually served in combat. Wayne Vansant was born in Atlanta, Georgia on July 13th 1949, making him an ideal age to fight in the Vietnam War. After leaving the US Navy he attended Atlanta College of Art, graduating in 1975.

He followed Michael Golden as illustrator on Marvel’s landmark 8-year miniseries The ‘Nam (notching up over 50 issues), and – with a few notable exceptions – has spent his career writing and drawing war comics and historical books about combat for companies as varied as Eclipse, Byron Preiss, Caliber, Dark Horse and Penguin. His canon includes New Two-Fisted Tales, Real War Stories, Shiloh, The Vietnam War: A Graphic History, Semper Fi (Tales of the Marine Corps) and Witches’ Caldron, as well as Foreign Legion epic Battron and Knights of the Skull.

His Heritage Collection: Civil War and World War II are superb and incisive commemorations of those conflicts and he’s also adapted Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage.

In the early 1990s he worked with Apple Comics, on a black and white miniseries detailing the early days of America’s Pacific war, immediately following Japan’s shameful attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of Sunday December 7th 1941. It was collected as a trade paperback by Caliber in 2012 (still readily available) and is also out there in a number of eBook formats.

Seen through the eyes of a multi-generational and far-flung Texas family, the saga follows events and concerns affecting the Cahill clan and, by extension, every American from that horrific sneak attack to the critical turning point when they finally started winning battles against a seemingly inhuman and apparently unbeatable foe.

With a tremendous amount of detail easily delivered by a range of characters of every stripe and persuasion, the tale begins with a birthday party in Texas and an appalling war crime in Hawaii on the ‘Day of Infamy’, rapidly fleshed out by the immediate aftermath in ‘At Dawn We Slept, At Dusk We Wept’. Here the view is widened to encompass the multiple and simultaneous unannounced assaults on military and civilians in the Philippines…

The onslaught expands in ‘After Pearl Harbor – Japanese Juggernaut’ as British, French and Dutch colonies from Malaysia to Bangkok, Luzon to Burma, Borneo to Wake Island to Hong Kong fall to the Empire and Allied shipping and planes prove helpless against Japanese ordnance and tactics.

When General Douglas MacArthur abandons his responsibilities – and the population of Manilla – he leaves a token American force and many Philippine troops to a ‘Last Stand on Bataan!’ packed with revolting and amazing vignettes of personal courage before the all-conquering Nippon forces compel the survivors to endure the infamous atrocity of the ‘Bataan Death March!’

The unfolding saga and the trials of Assorted Cahills eventually bring us to May 30th 1942 and the narrow victory that changed everything as Admiral Chester Nimitz and the US Pacific Fleet and Japanese forces all converge on a fortified and still fighting island to see fate and destiny play out in final chapter ‘The Battle of Midway!’

Of course, what we regard as victory and turning point is still open to wide interpretation…

Supplementing the pictorial drama are numerous prose-&-pic extra features, including ‘Learning the Legacy of World War II’, ‘A date which will live in infamy…’ – the text of President Roosevelt’s request to Congress for a Declaration of War – plus ‘It will not only be a long war, it will be a hard war’ and ‘We are going to win the war, and… the peace that follows’ (his radio “Fireside Chat” to the nation on December 9th).

Adding context is The Cahill Family Tree, a map and history of ‘The Philippines’ plus ‘Angels of Mercy’ – a feature on the American nurses who attended the defenders and what happened to them.

Not only solidly authentic but overwhelming in its sense of veracity and initial hopelessness, this dramatized history lesson is potent and powerful, easily blending military data with human interest and interactions, giving a time of true terror and dry statistics a shockingly human face. Despite never pulling any punches, Days of Darkness is not gratuitous in its treatment of the characters, white, black or Asian, male or female, and remains one of the most accessible treatments of the events in any medium. If you crave knowledge and understanding or just love great comics, this is a book you must see.
© 1992 Wayne Vansant. All Rights Reserved.