Taproot: A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost


By Keezy Young (The Lion Forge/Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-941302-46-0 (Lion Forge PB/Digital edition) ‎978-1-63715-073-3 (Oni Press PB/Digital edition)

I’m ending our meagre contributions to this year’s Pride Month with a heads up/timely reminder for a superb, upbeat love story in the sincere hope that one day we won’t need a specially appointed time and space for queer people, or women, or black and asian ones or in fact any person not white and “naturally” hetero-male.

It’s all just stories, folks. Why can’t we just share them out fairly?

Back in 2017, queer, non-binary artist, author and storyteller Keezy Young (Never Heroes, Hello Sunshine) created a supernatural romance that garnered lots of critical attention, accolades and awards. Young resides in Seattle and has used art to tell tales since able to hold a crayon in a fist, so it’s no surprise how good they are at it now. They specialise in creating YA comics and stories about being young, adventurous and LGBTQIA.

Rendered in bright pastel colours and big, welcoming images, Taproot is the story of Hamal; a gentle young man who loves plants and growing things. He always has time to chat and offer advice on plant care, even though his boss at the flower store is a bit of a tartar about unnecessary customer service.

Mr Takashi would be even more surly if he realised that many of the people Hamal talks to are dead. Unable to understand or explain his gift, Hamal is not afraid: gathering a small band of ghostly regulars who spend much of their time with him. There’s moody teen April, effervescent grade schooler Joey and Blue. a good looking older teen who spends too much time trying to fix up Hamal’s love-life. If Blue knows who Hamal really pines for, he’s good at covering it up…

They’ve been close for a year now. The aimless revenant just followed Hamal one day and was astounded when the living doll stared into his invisible face and asked him why. No longer isolated and cut off from existence, Blue stuck around and other wandering spirits gradually tagged along.

It’s not all sunshine and roses though. Recently, something dark and strange has begun slowly unfolding. The plants aren’t thriving, and increasingly the spooks are being sucked into a ghastly spectral forest realm of doom and decay. It would be really frightening if they weren’t already dead…

It all comes to a head after Blue is drawn to the forest and confronts a monster who knows what’s really going on in creation. Terrifying and predatory, it recognises what Hamal really is and has plans for both the living and the dead. Worst of all, it has a way to fulfil Blue’s most heartfelt desire… if the ghost boy will play along…

Thankfully, that’s just the beginning of a whole new life for the would-be lovers and a novel existence for Hamal, as the story takes on fresh life via some captivating plot twists that every romantic who loves happy endings can see just by tapping this…
© 2017 Keezy Young. All Rights Reserved. English text © 2007 NetComics.

Heathen volume 1


By Natasha Alterici with Rachel Deering (Vault Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-939424-18-1 (TPB) ISBN: eISBN: 978-1-939424-19-8

The creation myths and heroic sagas of Scandinavia are part of a global grand storytelling heritage: classic epics of paragons that have been constantly retold and reinvented for more than a thousand years, subtly reshaded to suit every generation. Here’s one that’s boldly innovative and very much in tune and in demand at this moment in time.

In 2017 Natasha Alterici (Gotham Academy, Women of Marvel) began retelling those myths through a lens of female empowerment in an age still too much mired in gender subjugation. There are still talking beasts, fantastic beings and big brawny warriors aplenty and some of them are women, but here we get a look at what the consequences of a maiden bearing arms meant and what any act of female independence actually cost…

Modern iterations of historical/fantasy scenarios are rife with glamorous women warriors, but whether the goal is prurient pandering (and what idiot believes skimpy chainmail bikinis and saucer-encased boobs count as armour?) or a well-meant attempt to balance scales of omission with the Sword & Sorcery equivalent of “colourblind casting”, the truth is that that very few women fought beside male combatants in any combat. Against, most definitely, but that’s a wholly different scenario with their struggles being more in the nature of a violently resisting prize or momentary diversion from the macho business of butchery…

Okay, maybe some pirates and legendary queens have been recorded as having joined in physical fighting, but traditionally, most women in combat were reduced to side roles or forced to disguise themselves AS MEN to even have a chance of surviving the attentions of their own allies and comrades…

A far more reasonable and rational scenario underpins this vivid reworking of the Valkyries’ legend, with fugitive Norsewoman Aydis riding out on a most private mission. Capable and doughty as any male, she shares with her horse Saga how Godking Odin created the fierce and beautiful Choosers of the Slain to escort men’s souls to Valhalla …if they fell in battle. She also relates how their leader Brynhild once disobeyed micromanaging, conniving, petty Odin and was punished by exile and compelled to marry a mortal.

Crafty Brynhild thought she had the last word, convincing her creator to allow her to test her suitors’ mettle. This was done by confining her atop a mountain behind a wall of magic fire, where only the bravest, strongest and most worthy would dare to go…

Aydis is inspired by this tale as she hunts a deer and meets again Liv, reexperiencing the moment they kissed and how it changed both lives. Their act of deviancy could only be expunged by death or marriage, but while Liv’s father married her off immediately, Aydis’ sire had apparently opted to execute the degenerate fruit of his loins…

Now, the almost-lovers meet over a slaughtered stag and ruefully ponder what might have been and how it might feel to not be man’s property. They are interrupted by a rampaging bull…

Aydis easily defeats the maddened beast only to find it is shapeshifting trickster god Ruadan who lets slip that he is watching her on behalf of an intrigued god and that immortals live cyclic lives, reliving the same stories over and again…

Aydis is resolved her existence will break the eternal mould. Bidding farewell to Liv, she fashions a warrior helmet from the stag and sets out to free Brynhild and chart the course of her own life…

This initial collection gathers the first four issues of Heathen, and chapter 2 opens with wolf gods Skull and Hati idly debating food, entertainment and ending the world until one sibling steps into a metal trap he cannot break. Happily, Saga – whom they were disinterestedly stalking – is a most unique special steed and frees the godling’s paw, even as high above them all, Aydis clears the flame wall and rouses Brynhild.

She does not seek to marry the Valkyrie, but rather prove her own bravery and liberate a fellow captive of fate from male-ordained doom, but it’s not that simple. Nothing ever is…

When they reach solid ground again, Brynhild reveals a shocking secret about Saga just as other Valkyries arrive, led by their new chieftain – love divinity Freyja. The scheming immortal takes one look and kidnaps Aydis to her heavenly citadel…

The saga diverges here as Aydis becomes a guest of hedonistic Freyja, leaving the defrocked Chooser of the Slain and Saga to roam the Nordic lands, seeking allies to help them challenge the gods in their own kingdom. More secrets are shared and Aydis learns hard truths in heaven, winning an ally in mute mortal Shannon, even as on Earth, Brynhild experiences the unjust status and roles women must endure. Eventually, she reunites with a tragic hero. Centuries previously, Sigurd was the last man to free her from the flames and in these new times, he still lives, thanks to wily Odin’s divinely pedantic curse…

The final chapter sees an end to Aydis’ time in heaven, while on Earth, her would-be rescuers wander into another savage situation caused by humanity’s hidebound rules on who and how to love. This situation is further exacerbated by a new sect called Christians, who not only frown on “unnatural” love, but will not tolerate wise women and witches dispensing potions and advice. Typically, Brynhild has a most forceful and fast-acting resolution to a growing hostage situation and building riot…

And for Aydis and Shannon, a Rubicon is crossed as the outcast warrior declares war on the father of the gods…

Thrilling, compelling and beautifully illustrated, Heathen ran to 3 volumes (now available as a Complete Omnibus edition since a movie adaptation imminently looms), but here the epic concludes with a gallery of the original wraparound covers rendered by Tess Fowler & Tamra Bonvillain, with variants from Alterici, Jen Bartel and Nathan Gooden sweetening the deal.

A delicious and wry alternate take on primal heroic myths, this book offers fresh ideals and a fair shake at last while proving the Good Fight can be fought by anybody for everybody.
© 2017 Natasha Alterici. All rights reserved.

[Low Moon]


By Jason, translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-155-8 (HB/Digital edition)

In 1965, John Arne Saeterrøy, who creates under the pen-name Jason, was born in Molde, Norway. At age 30, he burst onto the international cartoonists scene with his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) which won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

Jason followed up with the series Mjau Mjau and won another Sproing in 2001. The following year he turned almost exclusively to produce graphic novels. He is now internationally renowned and (probably quite self-consciously) basks in the glow of critical acclaim for his 24 books to date and for winning so many major awards as far afield as France, Slovakia, the USA and all areas in-between.

His stories utilise a small cast of anthropomorphic animal characters (and occasional movie and pop culture monsters): a repertory company of cartoon colleagues, acting out on a stage of stiffly formal page layouts recounting dark, wry and sardonically bleak tales – often pastiches, if not outright parodies – in a visually welcoming yet coldly austere and Spartan narrative manner. This seemingly oppressive format somehow allows a vast range of emotionally telling tales – on a wide spectrum of themes and genres – to hit home like rockets whether the author’s intention was to make the reader smile or cry like a baby.

Drawing in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style, Jason’s work bores right into the reader’s core, and this movie-themed collection of short tales is arguably his best work.

Redolent of quintessential Film Noir and especially the hard-boiled writing of Jim Thompson, poignant tale of vengeance ‘Emily Says Hello’ precedes what is billed as the World’s “first and only Chess Western”.

The eponymous ‘Low Moon’ was originally serialized in The New York Times Sunday Magazine in 2008: a splendidly surreal spoof of Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 classic High Noon wherein an old menace returns to terrorise the town… until at last the Sheriff capitulates to the incessant demands for one final return match…

‘&’ is a tragic anecdote of love, loss and marital persistence related in terms and stylings of Hal Roach’s silent comedies. ‘Proto Film Noir’ owes an inspirational tip of the thermally insulated hat to Tay Garnett’s The Postman Always Rings Twice (the 1946 version with John Garfield and Lana Turner) – by way of The Flintstones and Groundhog Day, whilst a concluding tale of love, family and abandonment assumes science-fictional trappings to relate the soap-opera, generational tale of a mother kidnapped by aliens and the effects it inflicts on the husband and son she left behind. ‘You Are Here’ is bemusing, evocative and moving, yet manages to never fall off the narrative tightrope into mawkishness or buffoonery.

Jason’s comic tales are strictly for adults but allow us all to look at the world through wide-open childish eyes. He is a taste instantly acquired and a creator any true fan of the medium should move to the top of the “Must-Have” list. This superb compendium could be your entry into a brave, old world, so get it while you can because stuff this good never lasts long…
© 2009 Jason. All right reserved.

Artifice


By Alex Wolfson & Winona Nelson (AMW Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-9857604-0-3 (TPB/Digital edition)

Deacon sits in a featureless cell. He doesn’t look like much but has caused a lot of trouble and his two guards are each reacting in their own way: one with mounting aggression and bluster and the other with fear for his job and his life. When the taunting bigotry and disgust-fuelled bravado reach a tipping point, the immobile captive finally shows them both why they have every right to be scared…

Later, Deacon is debriefed by an interrogator. Dr. Maven is a highly qualified therapist highly ranked at NoNeCo: tasked with and determined to find out what went wrong on the mission to Da Vinci Four. It is crucial that she learns the truth. The Corporation has spent unimaginable sums building and programming Deacon and his four siblings, and can’t afford to casually scrap them. They were a highpoint in synthetic servants: stronger, smarter, faster than humanity and therefore the greatest potential threat to Man’s dominance ever encountered. Thus, he cannot be permitted further existence if what is reported to have happened there is even partially true…

When the puritanical colony needed pacifying, Deacon and his super-soldier kin eliminated all but one human being. The last battle left the other artificials destroyed in a trap. Now, Deacon explains how he allowed one organic – “Jeff” – to live because the colony systems were inoperable by synthetics and he needed to remain functional until relief arrived. Only organics could operate the rechargers supplying the artificial man with energy and life.

Deacon claims it was simply strategy. The young man was already an outcast, shunned and despised because of his genetic abnormality, and easy to psychologically manipulate. Deacon simply played on his uncorrected homosexual flaw to sustain his own existence until a scheduled follow-up mission landed four months later.

Deacon claims everything he subsequently did with Jeff and to the rescuers was simply to complete the mission, but the doctor isn’t fooled. She realises this android is even smarter and more devious than anyone imagined, but allows one final meeting with Jeff to test her theory… and discovers to her cost just how human and well-constructed the synthetic is, and how powerful is the outdated concept of love…

Alex Wolfson (The Young Protectors) writes a smartly compelling drama about intolerance and forbidden love overcoming all odds, whilst Winona Nelson (If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving) provides bleak, regimented and powerfully understated realism to the art that makes it so very believable.

A dystopian fable that ends on a note of hope and promise of a sequel, Artifice began life as a webcomic serial dealing in forthright manner with violence and sexual situations in service to a superbly engaging and enthralling drama that would already be a major motion picture if close-minded, parochial movie producers could get past the fact that it depicts guys snogging.

Thankfully, you aren’t so emotionally stunted and can enjoy the tale which closes here with ‘Reader Questions’ answered by the creative team, ‘Writer’s Notes’ by Wolfson describing the project’s genesis and ‘Artist’s Notes’ from Nelson, plus a fully illustrated run-down on their collaborative ‘Process’ and even faux press releases and reader response from evil mega-corp in ‘NoNeCo Responds’.

Proving yet again that there’s absolutely no appreciable difference in sexual orientation when telling wonderful stories of heroes, villains and lovers, Artifice is a lost treat you will definitely delight in, whoever you are and want to be.
© 2011, 2012, 2013 Alex Wolfson. All rights reserved. All characters, distinctive names and likenesses and all related elements are trademarks of Alex Wolfson and AMW Comics.

Lifelike


By Dara Naraghi & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-122-9 (HB) 978-1-60010-286 8 (TPB)

We do it for fame, we do it for fortune (or at least to pay bills), we do it for fun and the very best of us make comics because we absolutely have to. Every story we hear, every event we see provokes the reaction “how would I break that down into panels? How many on a page?” All data – from shopping lists to bad TV – is taken in, panned like gold nuggets through an internal grid and then we worry about how we’ll draw that damn thing one day…

All creative people are a little bit chained to their art-form, and Dara Naraghi apparently more so than most. As well as his own celebrated BigCityBlues and Persia Blues comics, he keeps busy adapting licensed properties such as Robert Patterson’s Witch & Wizard novels, Terminator: Salvation, It! The Terror From Beyond Space and Ghostbusters into graphics narrative form, writing for DC, Image and IDW whilst running his own publishing house Ferret Press. He also scripts (and occasionally draws) utterly sublime tales covering every aspect of the human experience from wild fantasy to chilling slice-of-life in a splendid series of webcomic features.

Wonderfully expansive in narrative scope and illustrated by an astounding gathering of talented artisans, an exemplary bunch of these brief delights was compiled into a fabulous compilation. Every yarn in this anthology comes from the webcomic and are written (and lettered) by Naraghi, complete with commentary and context on the illustrators interpreting each piece.

The wonderment begins with ‘The Long Journey’ illustrated by Irapuan Luiz, following the dramatic escape of a disillusioned Iranian soldier determined to leave the Iran-Iraq War behind him forever. Naraghi is Iranian (born in Tehran in 1971) and his own journey to the west would make pretty interesting reading, although probably without the telling sting in the tale embedded here…

‘Imaginarians’ – winningly crafted by award winning Tom Williams – takes a barbed look at how the media deals with artists on the promo circuit, whilst equally lauded Marvin Mann’s atmospheric ‘Double Cross at the Double Down’ proves that even if crime doesn’t pay, stories about it certainly do.

Rendered by Neil Errar, ‘Art/Life’ is a feel-good fable about a comics creator we all concur with, and Jerry Lange’s moody, misty paint-and-Paintbox (showing my digital age there) treatment examines the exquisite pain of unconditional love lost with ‘Remembrance’, after which Stephen Spenser Ledford opts for monochrome ink washes to recount a particularly trenchant tale of crime and ‘Punishment.’

Sex and booze and rock ‘n’ roll form the basis of cheeky dating vignette ‘Intermission’, illustrated by Andy Bennett, whilst Jerry Lange’s watercolour expertise displays a different arena for the relationship dance in ‘Crush’ and Tim McClurg’s ‘Comeback’ describes a meteoric fall from stardom for one has-been actor.

Marvin Mann displays his artistic versatility in ‘Smoke Break’: a heart-warming peek at modern life and ‘The Routine’ by Steve Black touchingly reminds us that even small victories count in our work-a-day world, whereas the stunning drawing of Adrian Barbu’s gritty thriller ‘Rooftop Philosophy’ adds acres of edge to a dark tale of criminal Darwinism. Tom Williams then astounds again with ‘Skin Deep’, a charming semi-autobiographical shaggy-dog story before our pictorial programme ends on a heartwarming high note in‘Repair’ as Shom Bhuiya treats us to a view of the common man at his very best…

The 14 tales assembled in Lifelike demonstrate the sheer breadth and depth that comics can and should cover: a book that opens up all of human experience and imagination to the cartoonist’s particular skills and insights. Now it’s up to the rest of us to respond and react…
Created and © 2007 Dara Naraghi. All artwork © 2007 by its respective artist. © 2007 Idea and Design Workshop. All Rights Reserved.

Trent volume 4: The Valley of Fear


By Rodolphe & Léo, coloured by Marie-Paule Alluard, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-394-9 (Album PB/Digital edition)

Continental audiences have an abiding fascination with the mythologised American experience, whether it be the Big Sky Wild West or later eras of crime-riddled, gangster-fuelled dramas. They also have a vested historical interest in the northernmost parts of the New World which has resulted in some pretty cool graphic extravaganzas if comics are your entertainment drug of choice…

Born in Rio de Janeiro on December 13th 1944, Léo is actually Brazilian artist and storyteller Luiz Eduardo de Oliveira Filho. After attaining a degree in mechanical engineering from Puerto Alegre in 1968, he was a government employee for three years, until forced to flee the country because of his political views. While a military dictatorship ran Brazil, he lived in Chile and Argentina before illegally returning to his homeland in 1974.

To survive, he worked as a designer and graphic artist in Sao Paulo whilst creating his first comics art for O Bicho magazine. In 1981 he migrated to Paris, pursuing a career in Bande Dessinée, and found work with Pilote and L’Echo des Savanes as well as more advertising and graphics fare. His big break came when Jean-Claude Forest invited him to draw stories for Okapi, leading to regular illustration work for Bayard Presse.

In 1988 Léo began his long association with scripter and scenarist Rodolphe D. Jacquette – AKA Rodolphe. The prolific, celebrated writing partner had been a giant of comics since the 1970s: a Literature graduate who transitioned from teaching and running libraries to creating poetry and writing criticism, novels, biographies, children’s stories and music journalism.

After meeting Jacques Lob in 1975, Jacquette expanded his portfolio: writing for a vast number of strip artists in magazines ranging from Pilote and Circus to À Suivre and Métal Hurlant. Amongst his most successful endeavours are Raffini (with Ferrandez) and L’Autre Monde (Florence Magnin), but his triumphs in all genres and age ranges are too numerous to list here.

In 1991 “Rodolphe” began working with Léo on a period adventure of the “far north”. Taciturn, introspective, bleakly philosophical and driven Royal Canadian Mounted Police sergeant Philip Trent premiered in L’Homme Mort, forging a lonely path through the 19th century Dominion generating eight tempestuous, hard-bitten, love-benighted albums between then and 2000. Their creative collaboration prompted later fantasy classic Kenya and its spin-offs Centaurus and Porte de Brazenac.

Cast very much in the classic mould perfected by Jack London and John Buchan, Trent is a man of few words, deep thoughts and unyielding principles who gets the job done whilst stifling emotional turmoil boiling deep within him: the very embodiment of the phrase “still waters run deep”…

As La Vallée de la peur, this fourth saga comes from 1995, with the solitary sentinel of justice and his faithful hound “Dog” initially absent from the scene. Instead, we see rail engineer George Petterson arriving at desolate shanty town White Pass and Rail Camp Seven. Here, navvies are laboriously hacking their way through a mountain, advancing the iron line inch by frozen inch.

It’s a strangely unsettling set-up, as Petterson finds when he moves into the cabin of the man he’s replacing as site manager. There’s an atmosphere of surly secrecy and every window of his new home has been nailed shut…

The first inclination of real trouble brewing comes as George tries to stop native labourers quitting. After two whites were injured and one of their own killed in tunnel accidents, they refuse to stay and be killed by “Hoppo”. The locals know it’s the work of a “demon-bear”, but the engineers will only admit to ordinary, natural problems and mock the silly superstitions. Nevertheless, when night falls they all bolt their doors. Every cabin has its windows nailed shut…

The account closes with reports of more accidents and problems as Mrs. Petterson completes her request to the RCMP to send someone to White Pass, which has been silent and out of touch for many days now…

Trent is assigned the mission and it’s a painful shock to meet again the woman he knows as Agnes. Years ago he had saved her – but not her beloved brother – and was given a clear invitation from her that he never acted upon. Eventually, he made his decision, travelling all the way to Providence with marriage in mind, only to learn that his Miss St. Yves had reached her own conclusion years previously…

Now she stubbornly accompanies him into unknown danger at White Pass. She is resolved to find her missing husband and Trent is wracked with indecision and other darker emotions he refuses to acknowledge…

Travelling to Fraser by train, the rescue party switches to horseback and picks up Trent’s occasional partner Mokashi. The First Nations scout also knows Agnes of old, and has his own reasons for leaving the comforts of family and civilisation, despite having already learned that Hoppo haunts Camp Seven…

After crossing the snowy beautiful wilderness – rendered as always by Leo with staggering craft and force – the riders arrive in a desolate Camp Seven with no sign of life. Seemingly abandoned, the cabins which once held more than fifty men are cold and empty, but it’s not long before Mokashi uncovers some of the former inhabitants…

As they batten down for the night in a reasonably defensible shack, the rescuers are keenly aware of eerie silence punctuated by erratic bursts of animal noise. Eventually sleep comes… until the implacable Mountie and Mokashi are roused by the sounds of an intruder furtively seeking entry…

When Trent investigates, he is ambushed by a beast out of his maddest nightmares. Barely escaping with his life, his frantic flight brings him to an even greater horror – George Petterson, more dead than alive and apparently the only survivor of a supernatural atrocity…

As dawn comes, Agnes is reunited with her husband and the lawmen begin the task of tracking what can only be an exceptionally clever and cunning beast. Trent, however, cannot shake the notion that he heard it speak as it shrugged off his rifle shots…

Tension mounts as both romantic triangle and murderous rampage bloodily converge, but even after the Mountie solves one mystery and the evacuation of George Petterson begins, there is more heartbreak and loss to come before civilisation reclaims them. And as ever, Trent is left to struggle with his solitary thoughts, loss and loneliness…

Another beguilingly introspective voyage of internal discovery, where environment and locales are as much lead characters as hero and villain, The Valley of Fear delivers mystery, epic scope, sinister suspense, action and poignant drama in a compelling concoction to satisfy any fan of widescreen cinematic crime fiction or grandiose western.
Original edition © Dargaud Editeur Paris 1993 by Rodolphe & Léo. All rights reserved. English translation © 2017 Cinebook Ltd.

Black Knight volume 1


By Kai Tsurugi (TokyoPop)
ISBN: 978-1-59816-522-7 (TPB)

So, it’s Pride Month and not all comics are about genocide or racial slaughter. Here’s a lost gem long overdue for another run in the sun – or at least a new English language revival on paper or in digital form…

Japan’s vast comics industry is formally sub-divided into discrete categories to avoid dithering and confusion. This is a fine historical example of a Yaoi story – a romanticised fantasy relationship drama starring beautiful young men in love. The genre was devised for female audiences: like Shounen-Ai (stories of two young men, but with more erotic content) although very mild – to the point of chaste gentility – by that standard.

As Kuro no Kishi, the serial first appeared from August 2003-October 2005 in Magazine Be x Boy, before filling 4 subsequent tankōbon tomes. These were translated via TokyoPop’s Blu Manga imprint and released between July 2006 and February 2009. There’s no English language digital editions that I know of, but the physical copies are still readily available.

This lyrical, sexually explicit fantasy opens by introducing wayward hero Zeke O’Brien: a trainee mercenary of lower class origins who rises to the rank of Black Knight by saving the life of a lovely young Prince targeted for assassination by the hidden enemies of the King of Aran.

When the royal neophyte is assigned to train as a Black Knight, Zeke thwarts every attempt to murder the elfin Prince Chris, but falls hopelessly in love with his charge. He is delighted to discover the feeling is mutual and furtively, frequently, passionately reciprocated. However, the King’s enemies are many and the trials for the young lovers are only just beginning in this splendidly Ruritanian Romance of intrigue and melodrama.

Lavish, ostentatious, beautifully illustrated and inoffensively charming, this initial volume carries an additional, modern tale of boy-on-boy romance that might upset some readers, but not for obvious reasons.

‘Deadly Sin’ tells of the intimate (and naturally, graphically explicit) affair between a young priest (a son of IRA terrorists who subsequently murdered the SAS killers of his parents) and an athlete/poet he meets on holiday. Despite being well written and drawn, this type of material is bound to offend devoutly Christian, sectarian and/or conservative sorts (note the small ‘c’) so if you are the type hanging around waiting to be outraged, please save us all some grief and don’t read it.
© 2003 Kai Tsurugi. English text © 2006 BLU Inc. All rights reserved.

The Archies & Josie and the Pussycats (Archie & Friends All-Stars Series volume 8)


By Dan Parent, Bill Galvan, Rick Koslowski & Jim Amash (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-61-0 (TPB/digital editions)

MLJ were a publisher who jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon following Superman’s 1938 debut. They unleashed their own small but inspirational pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders, beginning with Blue Ribbon Comics (November 1939), promptly followed by Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was a standard blend of costumed heroes, two-fisted adventure strips, prose pieces and gags.

After a few years Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in their blossoming market. In December 1941 the costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips were nudged aside by a far less imposing hero, an “average teen” who would have ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from Mickey Rooney’s popular Andy Hardy matinee movies, Goldwater developed a youthful everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work. The 6-page tale entitled ‘Archie’ introduced goofy Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted there, as did small-town utopia Riverdale.

The feature was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had won its own title. Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began the gradual transformation of the company. With the introduction of filthy-rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the comic book industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon.

By 1946 the kids had taken over, so MLJ renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring its heroic characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming to all intents and purposes a publisher of family comedies. Its success, like the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies, a chain of restaurants and in the swinging sixties a pop hit as “Sugar, Sugar” (a tune from their animated show) became a global smash. Their wholesome garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since.

With such a successful format, naturally the company tried to add supplemental stars to their four-colour firmament, Wilbur Wilkins (1994), Suzie (1945), Ginger (1951) and Seymour, My Son (1963) – with varying degrees of success. However, another 1963 premiere did catch and hold readers’ attention. Her name was Josie and she was created by Dan DeCarlo as a female Archie.

With issue #45 (1967) the titian-haired ingénue and her best friend Melody formed a band and the title was changed to Josie and the Pussycats. Fame, stardom, a TV cartoon series, a major motion picture and two soundtrack albums later the band were only occasional visitors in the Archie universe until someone had a cunning idea…

Most of her supporting cast was introduced in the first issue, including best friend Pepper, boyfriend Albert… and Melody. Spoiled rich kids Alex and Alexandra Cabot joined the cast and the book changed its name with #45, and that way it remained until the final issue in 1982.

One other fact about Archie’s publisher’s is that they certainly know how to create different publishing events that capture the attention of the general public – as anybody who saw the 1994 Archie Meets the Punisher inter-company crossover or 2015’s Archie vs. Sharknado can attest…

The Archies & Josie and the Pussycats collects a storyline from 2009-2010 wherein ‘It Starts with a Kiss!’ as the two clean-living bands are signed to tour together, and our red-headed star and the Pussycats’ African-American bassist Valerie are drawn irresistibly together.

After a stolen kiss during a late-night song-writing session, the attraction grows stronger in ‘More Than Words’ as hapless Archie tries to concentrate on his daily life – and Betty & Veronica – but can’t get Val off his mind. Moreover, the normally “sensible one” in Josie’s band is similarly distracted…

Luckily for all, the tour soon ends and the girls are bound for Europe and a series of solo gigs, but the tearful farewell proves the attraction has grown into something far more serious. All the while, Pussycat’s rat-bag manager Alex Cabot has been trying to scotch the situation and now goes into overdrive in his scheming.

The 2-part ‘Love Smackdown!’ follows the separated and lovelorn Archie and Valerie as distance, daily drudgery, temptation and Alex all work to keep them apart. After a misunderstanding leaves the couple acrimoniously separated forever, events – and a new combined tour – seem destined to rekindle the fire, but do Betty and Veronica want Archie for themselves or do they want him to be happy…?

Moreover, what’s the deal with Valerie’s old flame Declan McCord? He says he’s just a fill-in musician, but does the charismatic Celtic pop-star have plans to win Valerie back for himself…?

Star-crossed love and nigh-torrid melodrama combine with classic Riverdale slapstick in this delightful young romance that shows a burgeoning slice of maturity in the world’s favourite teenager (and don’t quibble: BTS and this week’s pop idol have limited shelf-lives, but Archie has been a teen heartthrob for seven decades) and the tale ends on a fascinating and intriguing open note…

This snazzy tome also has some impressive extra features including writer Dan Parent’s ‘Liner Notes’, full background and histories for The Archies and Josie and the Pussycats, and ‘Once More With Feeling’: 8 pages of penciller Bill Galvan’s art and unused covers reproduced before inkers Rick Koslowski & Jim Amash worked their own particular magic upon them.

All the world loves a lover and a pair is even better, and this satisfyingly enticing down-to-earth comedy-drama is a solid example of the kind of comics there just aren’t enough of. Remember, “Superheroes aren’t the only fruit” – despite all the tights and stuff…
© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Lois Lane: A Celebration of 75 Years.


By Jerry Seigel & Joe Shuster, Don Cameron, William Woolfolk, Whitney Ellsworth, Jerry Coleman, Robert Kanigher, Cary Bates, John Byrne, Jeph Loeb, Phil Jimenez, Katheryn Immonen, Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison, Ed Dobrotka, Sam Citron, Al Plastino, Wayne Boring, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Ed McGuiness, Matthew Clark, Renato Guedes, Frank Quitely & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4703-4 (HB/digital)

The greatest romance in comics is undoubtedly the first one. Whether as humble Clark Kent or the magnificent Man of Steel, the eternal relationship between a feisty female reporter and Superman is the first and longest-lasting couple dynamic in comic books

When the Man of Steel debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) he was instantly the centre of attention, but even then, the need for a solid supporting cast was understood and cleverly catered for. Glamorous daredevil journalist Lois Lane premiered right beside Kent – rival, companion and foil from the outset.

This stunning compilation – part of a dedicated series introducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of venerable DC icons – is still available in hardback and digital formats, even if DC have decided not to give her an 80-year update like so many of her near contemporaries, offering a sequence of snapshots detailing how the original “plucky news-hen” has evolved right beside the Man of Tomorow in that “never-ending battle”…

The groundbreaking appearances selected are preceded here by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in Lois’ development, beginning with Part I 1938-1956: Girl Reporter…

Most early tales were untitled, but for everyone’s convenience have been given descriptive appellations by the editors. Thus, after describing the foundling’s escape from exploding Planet Krypton and explaining his astonishing powers in nine panels, with absolutely no preamble, the wonderment begins in ‘Superman, Champion of the Oppressed’ and ‘War in San Monte’ from Action Comics #1 & 2 (June and July 1938 by Jerry Seigel & Joe Shuster) as the costumed crusader – masquerading by day as a reporter – began averting numerous tragedies.

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

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

The next breathtaking instalment sees the mercurial mystery-man travelling to the actual war-zone and spectacularly dampen down the hostilities already in progress, after which (in #6) canny chiseller Nick Williams attempts to monetise the hero – without asking first. ‘The Man Who Sold Superman’ (Action Comics #6 1938, by Seigel & Shuster) had Superman’s phony Manager even attempting to replace the real thing with a cheap, musclebound knock-off before learning a very painful lesson in business ethics…

In those turbulent times, the interpretation of our dogged data-fiend was far less derogatory than the post-war sneaky minx of the 1950s and 1960s. Lois might have been ambitious and life-threateningly precipitate, but it was always to advance her own career, help underdogs and put bad guys away, not trap a man into marriage. At his time, she was much more Nellie Bly than Zsa Zsa Gabor.

After proving a worthy rival and foil to Kent and his alter ego, Lois won her own solo feature beginning in Superman #28 (May/June 1944). Examples included here begin with ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Bakery Counterfeiters’(Superman #29, July/August 1944, by Don Cameron, Ed Dobrotka & George Roussos), which finds her turning her demotion to the women’s cookery pages into another blockbusting scoop after uncovering a crafty money scam at a local patisserie…

In Superman #33 (March 1945), Whitney Ellsworth & Ed Dobrotka detailed how a typically cruel prank by male colleagues and cops turns into another front-page scoop as ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Purloined Piggy Bank’ has her help a little kid and unmask big time jewel thieves before ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Foiled Frame Up’ (Superman#34 May 1945 by Ellsworth, Sam Citron & Roussos) sees her ferret out political corruption by exposing grafters seeking to discredit Daily Planet Editor Perry White…

Originally seen in Superman #58 (May-June 1949), ‘Lois Lane Loves Clark Kent’ is by William Woolfolk, Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye: a beguiling teaser finding our “Girl Friday” (that’s a movie reference: look it up) consulting a psychiatrist because of her romantic obsession with the Man of Steel. The quack tells her to switch her affections to her bewildered, harassed workmate!

Part II 1957-1985: Superman’s Girl Friend takes us into the world of consumerist domesticity and when Lois Lane – the oldest supporting character/star in the Superman mythology if not the DC universe – finally received her own shot at a solo title, it was very much on the terms of the times.

When the Adventures of Superman television show launched in the autumn of 1952, it was an overnight sensation and National Periodicals began cautiously expanding their revitalised franchise with new characters and titles. First to win promotion to solo-star status was the Daily Planet’s impetuously capable if naïve “cub reporter”. His gloriously charming, light-hearted, escapades began in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 (September-October 1954): the first tie-in titan in the Caped Kryptonian’s ever-expanding entourage.

It took three years for cautious Editors to tentatively push the boat out again. In 1957, just as the Silver Age of Comics was getting going, try-out title Showcase followed up the launches of The Flash in #4 and Challengers of the Unknownin #6, delivered a brace of issues entitled Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane.

Soon after, the she had a series of her own. Technically it was her second, following her brief mid-1940s solo back-ups in Superman, but this time that caped guy was always hanging around…

In previous reviews I’ve banged on at length about the strange, patronising, parochial – and to some of us, potentially offensive – portrayals of kids and most especially women during this period, and although at least fairer and more affirmative instances were beginning to appear, the warnings still bear repeating. Don’t even dream of any characters of colour at this time, unless they look like contemporary cinematic sultans and sheiks…

At that time, Lois Lane was one of precious few titles with a female lead, and, in the context of today, one that gives many 21st century fans a few uncontrollable qualms of conscience. Within the confines of her series, the valiant, capable working woman careened crazily from man-hungry, unscrupulous bitch, through ditzy simpleton to indomitable and brilliant heroine – often all in the same issue.

The comic was clearly intended to appeal to the family demographic that made I Love Lucy a national phenomenon and Doris Day a saccharine saint, with many stories played for laughs in that same “father knows best” or  “gosh, aren’t women funny?” tone that appals me today – but not as much as the fact that I still love them to bits.

It honestly helps that they’re mostly sublimely illustrated by the wonderfully whimsical Kurt Schaffenberger.

During the 1950s and early 1960s in America, being different was a bad thing. Conformity was sacrosanct, even in comic books, and everybody and thing was meant to keep to its assigned and intended role. For the Superman family and cast, the tone of the times dictated a highly-strictured code of conduct and ironclad parameters: Daily Planet Editor Perry White was a stern, shouty elder statesman with a heart of gold, Cub Reporter Jimmy Olsen was a bravely impulsive unseasoned fool – with a heart of gold – and Plucky News-Hen (what does that even mean?) Lois was brash, nosy, impetuous, unscrupulous and relentless in her obsession to marry Superman, although she too was – deep down – also in possession of an Auric aorta.

Yet somehow, even with these mandates in place the talented writers and artists assigned to detail their wholesomely uncanny exploits managed to craft tales both beguiling and breathtakingly memorable: frequently as funny as they were exciting.

I must shamefacedly admit to a deep, nostalgic affection for her bright, breezy, fantastically fun adventures, but as a free-thinking, (notionally) adult liberal of the 21st century I’m simultaneously shocked nowadays at the jolly, condescending misogynistic attitudes underpinning too many of the stories.

Yes, I’m fully aware that the series was intended for young readers at a time when “dizzy dames” and matronly icons played to the popular American gestalt stereotype of Woman as jealous minx, silly goose, diffident wife and brood-hungry nester, but to ask kids to seriously accept that intelligent, courageous, ambitious, ethical and highly capable females would drop everything they’d worked hard for to lie, cheat, inveigle, manipulate and entrap a man just so that they could cook pot-roast and change super-diapers is just plain crazy and tantamount to child abuse.

I’m just saying…

Showcase #9 (cover-dated July/August 1957) featured Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane and opened with the seminal yarn ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past’ (by Jerry Coleman & Al Plastino) wherein Lois first meets red-headed hussy Lana Lang: childhood sweetheart of Superboy and a pushy conniving go-getter out to win Lois’ intended at any and all costs. Naturally Miss Lane invited Miss Lang to stay at her apartment and the grand rivalry was off and running…

Then ‘The New Lois Lane’ (Otto Binder, Ruben Moreira & Plastino) aggravatingly sees Lois turn over a new leaf and stop attempting to uncover his secret identity just when Superman actually needs her to do so…

Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #1 (March/April #1958) then confirms all stereotypes in Binder & Schaffenberger’s ’The Fattest Girl in Metropolis’: wherein a plant growth ray accidentally super-sizes our vain yet valiant reporter. Imagine her reaction when she finds out that Superman had deliberately expanded her dimensions… for good and solid reasons, of course…

In ‘The Kryptonite Girl’ (Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #16, April 1960), Siegel & Schaffenberger were responsible for another cruel lesson as Superman tries to cure Lois’ nosy impulses by tricking his own girlfriend into believing she has a radioactive death-stare. Of course, as all married couples know, this power develops naturally not long after the honeymoon… I love these stories, but sometime words just fail me…

As contrived by Leo Dorfman & Schaffenberger, a personality-altering head blow then causes Lois to try tricking her Man of Steel into matrimony in ‘The Romance of Superbaby and Baby Lois’ (#42, July 1963). Sadly, whilst conniving, she employs a stolen rejuvenation chemical which cause them to de-age below the age of legal consent…

Happily, the late 1960s, Feminism and the general raising of female consciousness rescued Lois from demented domesticity, and by the time of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106 (November 1970) she was a competent, combative, totally capable go-getting journalist every inch the better of her male rivals. It’s a shame more of those stories aren’t included in this collection.

However, ‘I Am Curious (Black)!’ by Robert Kanigher, Werner Roth & Vince Colletta showed the lengths she would go to get her story. Unable to truly grasp the nature of being African American, she borrows Kryptonian tech to become black for 24 hours, and realises how friends, acquaintances and even fellow liberals respond to different skins. She even asks Superman if he would marry her in her altered state…

Big changes and modifications were set in place for Part III 1986-1999: Lois and Clark.

When DC Comics decided to rationalise and reconstruct their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths, they used the event to regenerate their key properties. The biggest shake-up was Superman, and it’s hard to argue that the change was unnecessary. The old soldier was in a bit of a slump, but he’d weathered those before. So how could a root and branch overhaul be anything but a marketing ploy that would alienate real fans for a few fly-by-night chancers who would jump ship as soon as the next fad surfaced?

Superman’s titles were cancelled/suspended for three months, and boy, did that make the media sit-up and take notice – for the first time since the debut Christopher Reeve movie. But there was method in this corporate madness…

Man of Steel – written and drawn by John Byrne and inked by Dick Giordano – stripped away vast amounts of accumulated baggage and returned the hero to the far from omnipotent, edgy but good-hearted reformer Siegel & Shuster had originally envisioned. It was a huge and instant success, becoming the industry’s premiere ‘break-out’ hit, and from that overwhelming start Superman re-inhabited his suspended comic book homes with the addition of a third monthly title premiering the same month.

The miniseries presented six complete stories from key points in Superman’s career, reconstructed in the wake of the aforementioned Crisis. Man of Steel #1 revealed a startling new Krypton in its final moments before following the Last Son in his escape, through his Smallville years to his first recorded exploit and initial encounter with Lois.

Byrne was a controversial choice at the time, but he magnificently rekindled the exciting, visually compelling, contemporary and even socially aware slices of sheer exuberant, four-colour fantasy that was the original Superman, making it possible and fashionable to be a fan again, no matter your age or prejudice. Superman had always been great, but Byrne had once again made him thrilling and unmissable.

Included here is ‘The Story of the Century’ from Man of Steel #2 (October 1986) wherein fiery lead reporter Lois Lane puts all her efforts into getting the landmark exclusive first interview with Metropolis’ mystery superhero, only to be ultimately scooped by a nerdy, hick new hire named Kent…

We then skip to anniversary issue Action Comics #600 (May 1988) for an untitled segment courtesy of Byrne, Roger Stern, Schaffenberger, Jerry Ordway of a mammoth ensemble piece. Codified for easy access as “Lois Lane”, the tale depicts the jaded journalist – fresh from beating up and arresting a gang of thugs – rendezvous with rival Kent to discuss Superman’s possible romance with Wonder Woman…

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

Having finally married her man (in 1996) Lois and Clark settled down into a life of hectic wedded bliss, but trouble was never far from the happy couple.

Created as part of the Girlfrenzy publishing event, ‘Lois Lane’ from one-shot Superman: Lois Lane #1 (June 1998 by Barbara Kesel, Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti) sees the relentless reporter heading to Canada to singlehandedly bust a child-snatch ring and illicit genetics-mutation lab…

In Part IV 2000-Present: Twenty-First Century Lois, the era of domesticity was marred by many external problems, such as Lex Luthor finagling himself into America’s presidency. ‘With This Ring’ (Superman #168, May 2001 from Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuiness & Cam Smith) details how Lois and Batman infiltrate the White House to steal the gimmick Bad PotUS has been using to keep the Man of Steel at bay, after which ‘She’s a Wonder’ (Wonder Woman #170 (July 2001, by Phil Jimenez, Joe Kelly & Andy Lanning) offers a pretty but relatively slow day-in-the-life tale.

Here Lois interviews the impossibly perfect Amazon cultural ambassador to Mans’s World – and potential romantic rival – providing readers with valuable insights into both.

Greg Rucka, Mathew Clark, & Renato Guedes & Nelson then craft ‘Battery: Part Five’ (Adventures of Superman #631, October 2004) as Lois’s devil-may-care luck finally runs out and the Caped Kryptonian arrives seconds too late after she becomes a sniper’s target.

Slipping back into comedy, ‘Patience-Centred Care’ comes from Superman 80-Page Giant 2010, where Katheryn Immonen & Tonci Zonjic show how even the Action Ace can’t cope with a bed-ridden wife who won’t let flu stop her nailing a story…

Part V 1957-1985: Imaginary Tales then takes a step sideways to highlight the many memorable out-of-continuity stories the Superman-Lois relationship has generated. ‘The Wife of Superman’ was part of an occasional series running in early issues of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane. Probably scripted by Seigel and definitely drawn by Schaffenberger, this third outing (from #23, February 1961), revisits a possible future wherein Lois is worn to a frazzle by two unmanageable super-toddlers and yearns for her old job at the Daily Planet…

From a period where Golden Age stories were assumed to have occurred on parallel world Earth-Two, ‘Superman Takes a Wife’ comes from 40th Anniversary issue Action Comics #484 (June 1978). Here Cary Bates, Curt Swan & Joe Giella detail how the original Man of Tomorrow became editor of the Metropolis Daily Star in the 1950s and married Lois. Thanks to villainous rogues Colonel Future and the Wizard who had discovered a way to make Superman forget his own existence, only she knew that her husband was once Earth’s greatest hero…

When I was a nipper, Superman had outlandish adventures and was a decent regular guy. His head could be replaced by a lion’s or an ant’s and he loved playing jokes on his friends. His exploits were routinely mind-boggling and he kept a quiet dignity about him. He only shouted to shatter concrete, and not to bully villains. He was quietly cool.

And in All Star Superman he was again. Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely produced a delightful evocation of those simpler, gentler times with a guided tour of the past redolent with classic mile-markers. Superman was the world’s boy scout, Lois was spending her days trying to prove Clark is the Man of Steel, Jimmy Olsen was a competent young reporter dating Lucy Lane and all of time and space knew they could always rely on the Man of Tomorrow.

As seen in All-Star Superman #2 and 3 (February and May 2006), ‘Superman’s Forbidden Room’ and ‘Sweet Dreams, Superwoman’ sees Lois takes centre stage as a plot to kill Superman forces the hero to acknowledge his feelings for her. The result is an astonishing trip to his Fortress of Solitude and a hyper-empowering birthday gift she will never forget… Wrapping up the recollections is an astounding Cover Gallery to accompany the works already seen in conjunction with the stories cited above, with covers by Shuster, Swan & Stan Kaye, Schaffenberger, Murphy Anderson, Byrne, Kerry Gammill & Brett Breeding, Leonard Kirk & Karl Story, Ed McGuiness & Cam Smith, Adam Hughes, Gene Ha, José Luis García-López, Quitely & Jamie Grant.

These extras comprise Superman #51 (March/April 1948) and Action Comics #137 (October 1949), both by Boring & Kaye; Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #1 (April 1958) by Swan & Kaye; issue #25 (May 1961) by Schaffenberger; #80 (January 1967) by Swan & Neal Adams and #111 (July 1971) by Giordano.

Later classics covers include Superman volume 2 #59 (September 1991) by Dan Jurgens & Brett Breeding; Superman: The Wedding Album and Beyond (1995) by Jurgens & Ordway; Superman volume 2 #157 (June 2000) by McGuiness & Smith; Superman Returns Prequel #4 (August 2006) by Hughes; Superman Confidential #2 (February 2007) by Tim Sale and Superman Unchained #1 (2013 variant cover) by José Luis García-López.

This monolithic testament to the most enduring love affair in comics is a guaranteed delight for fans of all ages and a perfect introductory time capsule for all readers of fantastic fiction.
© 1940, 1942, 1952, 1954, 1957, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1972, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2014, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Gothic Tales of Haunted Futures


By Trina Robbins, Anne Timmons & Scott A. Ford; Letty Wilson; Luz Bianca & Kaylee Rowena; Mikaela Lucido & Jade Zhang; Leizl Buenaventura & Saida Temofonte; Cameron Lucente; Jamie Isfeld; Cait Zellers; Sztehlo; Leonie O’Moore & Skylar Partridge; Arlo Everett, B. Sparks & Paul Coy; Allison Pang & Irma ‘Aimo’ Ahmed; Matt McGrath & V. Gagnon; Joyce Chau; Skylar Kardon; Merissa Mayhew & Lyndon Radchenka: edited by S.M. Beiko (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-989754-03-0 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-989754-04-7 (digital)

Sometimes, it’s all about enthusiasm and the urge to create and collaborate. Here, I suspect someone said “there’s not enough romance comics” and someone else said “I like scary stories” and another person chipped in “what about science fiction?” and the next thing you know, there’s an entire anthology of spooky, futuristic love stories all mashed-up for discerning comics tastes, just waiting to be kick-starter-ed…

The result is utterly wonderful…

Following an inspirational Foreword by editor S.M. Beiko, we take off for the future with veteran cartoonist Trina Robbins in collaboration with Anne Timmons, Scott A. Ford & Lyndon Radchenka, who reveal a patient devotion that outlasts the grave on the ‘Ghost Planet’, after which a moody illustration from Mika segues into Letty Wilson’s ‘Glasshouse’, which finds an unexpected bountiful blessing from a passing stranger delivered to a strange community in dire need of renewal…

Luz Bianca & Kaylee Rowena recount a fateful chance encounter ‘In the Shadow of the Moon’, before Mikaela Lucido & Jade Zhang update the old chestnut of party kids and dangerous dares in ‘Bloody Mary and the Smart Mirror’, after which Leizl Buenaventura & Saida Temofonte detail how a doomed astronaut finds a spectral reason to live after a visitor helps him go ‘Home’..

‘Under the Bed’ depicts a grim battle between life and death by Cameron Lucente, and following a moody spot illo from Katie Fleming, an unexpected down side to social media relationships is highlighted by Jamie Isfeld’s ‘@LissaTruLuv’…

Alaire Racocot’s monochromatic night illustration leads to Cait Zeller’s colourful tale of ‘The Lichtenberg Lady’ lighting up the lonely nights of a solitary lightning strike survivor, after which a lonely soul rediscovers past passion through musical recordings in ‘Ghosting’ (by Sztehlo) whilst – following a chaotic clinch courtesy of Kielamel Sibal – Leonie O’Moore, Skylar Partridge & Lyndon Radchenka find love for an ancient creature at the bottom of the sea in ‘Sunken Scream’…

A hard science veneer burnishes quasi-spiritual romp ‘Slow Orbit’ by Arlo Everett, B. Sparks & Paul Coy, as an aging computer exorcist looks for an exit strategy that will keep her breathing in deep space and finds love is the answer, before more potent pictorial moments of madness – by Caeles and Seren Krakens – convey us to ‘A Certain Tea House’ where Allison Pang & Irma ‘Aimo’ Ahmed reveal the regrets, ruminations and revenge of an aged spaceport courtesan who repays an old debt with her last breaths…

Matt McGrath, V. Gagnon & Lyndon Radchenka then detail the First Contact repercussions of ancient civilisation ‘The Crowned Ones’ as they impinge on the life of a lost human explorer, after which Joyce Chau reveals how a certain ‘Gap’is closed when a space scavenger awakens a long-depowered and rather clingy automaton, and Skylar Kardon & Lyndon Radchenka’s ‘New Blood’ details how even in Tomorrow’s City of Lights, the erotic allure of a vampire is more than some mortals can withstand…

Merissa Mayhew ends the emotional narratives with a story of hope sustained and finally fulfilled in ‘Until One Day’ as frustrated Josephine endures constant death and rebirth to finally be with the woman of her dreams…

Topped off with a brace of (possibly cover?) illustrations from Nicholai Avigdor Melamed and Cameron Lucente; full ‘Creators’ biographies, and list of ‘Backers’ who contributed to this book’s publication, Gothic Tales of Haunted Futures is a delicious compote of dark passions, sinister fancies and sardonic experiences, perfect for stirring passions and pleasing the eyes.

Gothic Tales of Haunted Futures © 2020 S.M. Beiko. Individual © belongs to each creator in this book. All rights reserved.