Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection volume 1


By Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird, Steve Lavigne & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-007-8 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-298-3

FORTY(!!!) years ago this month an indie comic by a pair of cannily adroit wannabe creators began making waves and soon sparked a revolution. The guys were Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird and their work did remarkably well, interesting companies outside our traditionally cautious insular industry and garnering a few merchandising deals. Thanks to TTE (the Telescoping Time Effect that renders the passage of many years between adulthood and the grave to the blink of an eye), my comics generation still regard these upstart critters as parvenu newcomers.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first appeared in May 1984, bombastically occupying an oversized, self-published black-&-white parody mag. Eastman & Laird were huge fans of Ditko and Kirby, and so set up Mirage Studios so they could control their efforts, having great fun telling pastiche adventures notionally derived and inspired by contemporary superhero fare.

They especially honed in on the US marketplace’s obsession with Frank Miller’s reinterpretations of manga stars Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima: particularly Lone Wolf & Cub. There were also smart pokes at and conceptual themes poached from other top trends as inspired by The X-Men, New Teen Titans and outsider icon Howard the Duck. This was at a time when the US industry was experiencing an explosive boom in do-it-yourself comics: one that changed forever the very nature of the industry and destroyed the virtual monopoly od DC and Marvel.

Eastman & Laird’s quirky concept became the paradigm of Getting Rich Quick: a template for many others and – in their case at least – an ideal example of beneficial exploitation. Their creation expanded to encompass toys, movies, games, food, apparel, general merchandising and especially television cartoons. In 1987 it became – and remains – a globally potent franchise. There’s probably another movie on the go even as I type this…

None of that matters here as I want to look at the actual comics that started everything and there’s no better way than with this carefully curated edition chronologically covering the primal tales and offering commentaries and reminiscences from the guys who were there…

Just as Los Bros Hernadez had done with Love and Rockets in 1981, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted as a self-published (print run of 3000 copies), self-financed one-shot that was swiftly picked up by a legion of independent comics shops run by fans for fans. Word of mouth and frantic demand generated a wave of reprintings and much speculative imitation. The rest is history…

This book – re-presenting issues #1-7 and one-shot Raphael Micro-Series – was the first of a sequence of collections published a dozen years ago by licensing specialists IDW. By that time the original creators had long sold the rights and moved well on, to the extent of even occasionally revisiting their baby through nostalgia, but here their fevered passion in their creation and the sheer joy of having fun by learning was at its intoxicating height.

Drafted with verve, gusto and no respect for “the rules”, the saga of ‘Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens with four outlandish humanoids fighting for their lives in a dingy alley. The enemy are thugs and street scum and – once they’re emphatically taken care of – with victory assured, the bizarre heroes retreat into the sewers…

Here they greet a giant rat dressed as a sensei and discuss their origins and goals. You all already know the tale – or just don’t care – but briefly: the pet rat of martial artist Yoshi absorbed kung fu skills and concepts of honour and duty by observation. He also witnessed romantic rivals become arch foes. The losing suitor’s brother subsequently destroys the lovers (even after they fled to New York) and is now leader of ninja clan The Foot.

The youngster – Oroku Saki but known as The Shredder – pursued his warped obsession in the New World and murdered the lovers, even as nearby a boy saved an old one from being hit by a truck carry toxic material. The kid was blinded when the cannister hit his eyes, but as he was carted off to his own comics destiny, the canister that hit him broke, leaking mutagens into sewers where an uncaring owner had dumped somebaby turtles and where Yoshi’s escaped pet was hiding…

Over years exposure changed them all. The rat called Splinter became a sagacious humanoid rodent who diligently trained four brilliant, rapidly growing reptiles in the skills he had observed with his master. Splinter named them Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael and at last deemed them sufficiently advanced to obtain vengeance for his murdered master.

Called to battle, the villain employs all his minions but nevertheless falls to turtle justice…

Fast-paced and action-packed, the tale delivers a sure no-frills punch and – as revealed in the commentary ‘Annotations’ section that follows – left the creators with a rare dilemma: overnight success, demands for reprints and readers demanding more of the same…

Each issue’s bonus section also provides background, insights and developmental drawings but the meat is contained in the stories as the debutantes quickly gained confidence and ran wild. The second issue introduced insufferable mad scientist Baxter Stockman who unleashes robot rat-hunters (“Mousers”) in a scheme to get rich by cleaning up the sewers. In fact, he is also using them to rob from below and when his assistant April O’Neil finds out he frames and tries to kill her. Thankfully the turtles step in to save her and New York…

The third episode reveals heroism comes at a cost: when they return to their underground lair, the Turtles discover it devastated, with Mouser fragments and rat blood everywhere… but no Master Splinter…

When April offers them shelter, relocation turns into a major headache as the strange, heavily shrouded quartet are mistaken for burglars, triggering a massive police car chase through the streets. The spectacular road riot is appended by an ‘Epilogue’ revealing exactly what happened to Splinter, leading to major plot developments in #4, as mystery company TCRI are revealed as the creators of the mutagen and far more than they seem.

Before that though, the Raphael Micro-Series offers all-action romp ‘Me, Myself and I’ as the moody, anger-management-challenged young warrior loses control whilst sparring and flees the team in shame. Sadly, Raphael seeks to calm down by prowling the streets and encounters well-meaning street vigilante Casey Jones thrashing a gang of molesters. Of course, a violent misunderstanding ensues…

In TMNT #4, the search for Splinter is interrupted by an army of Foot ninjas, but the ambush drops our heroes right into TCRI HQ. With the corporate logo from that fateful cannister blazoned across a skyscraper, priorities shift and the turtles retrench. When they infiltrate the building, the shock of finding Splinter is instantly erased by finding out just what they’re facing, but it is as nothing to the trauma of being teleported to another universe…

The fifth issue came out in November 1985, the first to sport a full colour cover and used to expand a phenomenon into a merchandisable continuity universe by guest-starring another, subsequent Eastman & Laird creation – Fugitoid. The little droid was a (non-Terran) human teleportation scientist whose discoveries made him a target of the local military dictatorships on a world packed with hundreds of different sentient species. When Honeycutt was killed, his mind was trapped in a small mechanoid and his plight intersected that of the shanghaied shellbacks. They join forces to thwart evil tyrant General Blanque and an army of secretly invading “Triceratons”, all whilst Honeycutt finds a way to send them home…

Sadly, that route leads directly to an orbiting Triceraton war base in #6 and magnifies the manic mayhem and martial arts magic as the Turtles battle every creature imaginable and still end up as interstellar gladiators before another transmat glitch sends them, Fugitoid and some Triceratons back to Earth and the heart of TCRI.

Of course, in the interim, the building has been surrounded by America’s military and the robotic-augmented Kraangs who run the place are in full battle mode. Cue much more ray gun shenanigans and sword-filled fists of fury as TMNT #7 offers conflict, contusions, confusions, conclusion, explanations and a long-awaited reunion…

To Be Continued…

Fast, furious, fun-filled and funny, but with all sharp edges prominently featured (so nervous parents might want to pre-assess the material before giving this book to true youngsters) this debut saga of the shell-backed sentinels of the sewers offers a superb slice of excitement and enjoyment that will keep kids and adults alike bouncing off the walls with eager appreciation.
© 2011 Viacom International Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Deadpool Epic Comics volume 1: The Circle Chase 1991-1994


By Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza, Glenn Herdling, Gregory Wright, Tom Brevoort, Mike Kanterovich, Mark Waid, Dan Slott, Pat Olliffe, Mark Pacella, Greg Capullo, Mike Gustovich, Joe Madureira, Isaac Cordova, Jerry DeCaire, Bill Wylie, Ian Churchill, Sandu Florea, Terry Shoemaker, Al Milgrom, Scot Eaton, Ariane Lenshoek, Tony DeZuñiga, Lee Weeks, Don Hudson, Ken Lashley & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-302-3205-3 (TPB/Digital edition)

With a long, LONG awaited cinematic combo clash finally headed our way this summer and in the year of a certain Canadian Canucklehead’s 50th Anniversary, expect a few cashing-in style commendations and reviews in our immediate future. Here’s a handy starter package to set the ball rolling…

Bloodthirsty killers and stylish mercenaries have long made for popular protagonists and this guy is probably one of the most popular. Deadpool is Wade Wilson: a survivor of sundry experiments that left him a scarred, grotesque bundle of scabs and physical unpleasantries – albeit functionally immortal, invulnerable and capable of regenerating from literally any wound.

Moreover, after his initial outings on the fringes of the X-Universe, his modern incarnation makes him either one of the few beings able to perceive the true nature of reality… or a total gibbering loon.

Chronologically collecting and curating cameos, guest shots and his early outrages from New Mutants #98, X-Force #2, 11 & 15, Deadpool: The Circle Chase #1-4, and Secret Defenders #15-17, as well as pertinent excerpted material from X-Force #4, 5 10, 14, 19-24; X-Force Annual #1, Nomad #4; Avengers #366 & Silver Sable & the Wild Pack #23 & 30, (spanning February 1991 to November 1994), this tome is merely the first in a series cataloguing his ever more outlandish escapades.

After Gail Simone’s joyous Foreword ‘He was always Deadpool’ justifies and confirms his fame, escalating antics and off-kilter appeal, his actual debut in New Mutants #98’s ‘The Beginning of the End, part one’ opens proceedings. The “merc with a mouth” was created as a villain du jour by Rob Liefeld & Fabian Nicieza, as that title wound down in advance of a major reboot/rebrand. He seemed a one-trick throwaway in a convoluted saga of mutant mayhem with little else to recommend it. An employee of enigmatic evildoer Mr. Tolliver, Deadpool was despatched to kill to kill future-warrior Cable and his teen acolytes… but spectacularly failed. The kids were soon after rebranded and relaunched as X-Force though, so he had a few encores and more tries…

With appropriate covers and text to precis events between excerpt moments, we learn Deadpool first popped back in September 1991’s X-Force #2’s ‘The Blood Hunters’ where he clashed with another product of Canada’s clandestine super-agent project (which had turned a mutant spy into feral, adamantium-augmented warrior Wolverine as well as unleashing so many other second-string cyborg super-doers). Gritty do-gooder Garrison Kane was dubbed Weapon X (first of many!) and the tale also included aging spymaster GW Bridge

Still just a derivative costumed killer for hire popping up in bit part roles, the merc continued pushing Tolliver’s agenda and met Spider-Man until as seen here via snippets from X-Force Annual #1 (1991) before stumbling through Nicieza-scripted crossover Dead Man’s Hand. Illustrated by Pat Olliffe & Mark McKenna, ‘Neon Knights’ (Nomad #4, August 1992) finds Deadpool just one of a bunch of super-killers-for-hire convened by a group of lesser crime bosses seeking to fill a void created by the fall of The Kingpin. His mission is to remove troublemaking fellow hitman Bushwacker, but former super sidekick Jack “Bucky” Monroe has some objections…

Excerpts from X-Force #10 (May 1992) presage #11’s extended fight between Deadpool, the teen team, Cable and mutant luck-shaper Domino in ‘Friendly Reminders’ (Nicieza, Liefeld, Mark Pacella & Dan Panosian) before a clip from X-Force #14 (September 1992 limned by Terry Shoemaker & Al Milgrom) reveals a shocking truth about Domino and Deadpool’s relationship with her, prior to X-Force #15’s ‘To the Pain’ (October 1992 with art by Greg Capullo) wrapping up a long-running war between Cable’s kids, Tolliver and The Externals

Excerpts from X-Force #19-23 – as first seen in 1993 – find the manic merc hunting Domino and/or Vanessa and sparking a mutant mega clash before Wade Wilson guests in Avengers #366 (September 1993 by Glenn Herdling, Mike Gustovich & Ariane Lenshoek). A tie-in to Deadpool’s first solo miniseries, ‘Swordplay³’ sees the merc and a group of meta-scavengers embroiled in battle with each other and new hero Blood Wraith with The Black Knight helpless to control the chaos…

That first taste of solo stardom came with 4-issue miniseries The Circle Chase: cover-dated August-November 1993 by Nicieza, Joe Madureira & Mark Farmer. A fast-paced but cluttered thriller, it sees Wilson doggedly pursuing an ultimate weapon: one of a large crowd of mutants and variously-enhanced ne’er-do-wells seeking the fabled legacy of arms dealer/fugitive from the future Mr. Tolliver. Among other (un)worthies bound for the boodle in ‘Ducks in a Row’, ‘Rabbit Season, Duck Season’, ‘…And Quacks Like a Duck…’ and ‘Duck Soup’ are mutant misfits Black Tom and The Juggernaut; the then-latest iteration of Weapon X; shape-shifter Copycat and a host of fashionably disposable cyborg loons with quirky media-buzzy names like Commcast and Slayback. If you can swallow any understandable nausea associated with the dreadful trappings of this low point in Marvel’s tempestuous history, there is a sharp and entertaining little thriller underneath…

A follow-up tale in Silver Sable & the Wild Pack #23 (April 1994, Gregory Wright, Isaac Cordova & Hon Hudson) pits Wilson against Daredevil and notional heroes-for-hire Paladin and Silver Sable before uniting to thwart fascist usurpers The Genesis Coalition, prior to a relatively heroic stance in Doctor Strange team-up title Secret Defenders.

Beginning in #15’s ‘Strange Changes Part the First: Strangers and Other Lovers’ (May 1994 by Tom Brevoort, Mike Kanterovich, Jerry Decaire & Tony DeZuñiga) the Sorcerer Supreme sends Doctor Druid, Shadowoman, Luke Cage and Deadpool to stop ancient life-sucking sorceress Malachi – a task fraught with peril that takes #16’s ‘Strange Changes Part the Second: Resurrection Tango’ (pencilled by Bill Wylie and debuting zombie hero Cadaver), and #17’s ‘Strange Changes Part the Third: On Borrowed Time’

A moment from Silver Sable & the Wild Pack #30 (November 1994, by Wright, Scot Eaton & Jim Amash) depicting Wade’s reaction to his rival’s fall from grace segues into the second 4-part Deadpool miniseries (August – November 1994) which revolves around auld acquaintances Black Tom and Juggernaut. Collaboratively contrived by writer Mark Waid, pencillers Ian Churchill, Lee Weeks and Ken Lashley with inkers Jason Minor, Bob McLeod, Bub LaRosa, Tom Wegryzn, Philip Moy & W.C. Carani, ‘If Looks Could Kill!’, ‘Luck of the Irish’, ‘Deadpool, Sandwich’ and ‘Mano a Mano’ delivers a hyperkinetic race against time heavy on explosive action.

The previous miniseries revealed Irish archvillain Black Tom Cassidy was slowly turning into a tree (as you do). Desperate to save his meat-based life, the bad guy and best bud Cain “The Juggernaut” Marko manipulate Wade Wilson: exploiting the merc’s unconventional relationship with Siryn (a sonic mutant, Tom’s niece and X-Force member). Believing Deadpool’s regenerating factor holds a cure, the villains stir up a bucket-load of carnage at a time when Wade is at his lowest ebb. Packed with mutant guest stars, this is a shallow but immensely readable piece of eye-candy that reset Deadpool’s path and paved the way for a tonal change that would make the Merc with a Mouth a global superstar…

All Epic Collections offer bonus material bonanzas and here that comprises images from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Master Edition, many cover reproductions (Deadpool Classic volume 1 by Liefeld & John Kalisz, Deadpool Classic Companion by Michael Bair & Matt Milla, Deadpool: Sins of the Past and The Circle Chase TPBs by Madureira, Farmer & Harry Canelario), pin-ups by Rob Haynes & John Lowe from X-Force Annual #2 and Annual #3 by Lashley & Matt “Batt” Banning, plus Sam Kieth’s Marvel Year-in-Review ’93 cover. That magazine’s parody ad by Dan Slott, Manny Galen, Scott Koblish & Wright, follows with Joe Quesada, Jimmy Palmiotti & Mark McNabb’s foldout cover to Wizard #22 and Liefeld’s “Marvel ‘92” variant cover for Deadpool #3 (2015).

Featuring a far darker villain evolving into an antihero in a frenetic blend of light-hearted, surreal, full-on fighting frolics these stories only hint at what is to come but remain truly compulsive reading for dyed-in-the-wool superhero fans who might be feeling just a little jaded with four-colour overload…
© 2021 MARVEL.

Planetes Omnibus volume 1


By Makoto Yukimura, adapted by Anna Wenger & Brendan Wright, translated by Yuki Johnson (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-921-2 (Omnibus TPB)

The hard, gritty mystery and imagination of space travel, so much a component of immediate post-WWII industrial society, briefly re-captivated legions of level-headed imagineers at the end of the 20th century when relative newcomer and manga debutante Makoto Yukimura  rekindled interest in near-space exploration in all its harsh and grimy glory with this inspirational “nuts-&-bolts” manga series exploring the probable rather than the possible…

Yukimura (born in Yokohama in 1976, just as the once-ambitious US space program was languishing in cash-strapped doldrums and five long years before the first space shuttle launch) began his professional life as an assistant to veteran Mankaka (“comics creator”) Shin Morimura before launching his independent career with the Planetes. Working exclusively for Kodansha, his award-winning premier Seinen series ran in Weekly Morning magazine (from January 1999 – January 2004) before being collected in four tankōbon editions. The serial easily made the jump to an anime series and the books became a multi-award-winning global sensation. Yukimura – after producing evocative one-shot Sayōnara ga Chikai node (For Our Farewell is Near) for Evening magazine – in 2005 abandoned the future for the past, to concentrate his creative energies on monolithic historical epic Vinland Saga. Serialized in Weekly Shōnen Magazine and Afternoon, it has thus far filled 27 rousing volumes to date…

The premise of Planetes is diabolically simply and powerfully engaging. Humanity is a questing species but cannot escape its base origins. In 2074, space travel and exploitation is commonplace but as we’ve conquered the void between Earth and the asteroid belt and prepare to explore – and ruinously exploit – the outer planets, the once-pristine void around us has become clotted and clustered with our obsolete tech and all manner of casually discarded rubbish. Even the most minute speck of junk or debris falling through hard vacuum is a high-velocity, potentially deadly missile, so to keep risk to a minimum hardy teams of rugged individualists must literally sweep the heavens free of our discarded crap.

Prelude ‘Phase 1: A Stardust Sky’ begins with the death of a passenger on a commercial low-orbit spaceliner before jumping six years forward and introducing a trio of these celestial dustbin-men scooping up Mankind’s negligent castoffs and unconsidered detritus. Hachirota Hoshino is the newest, youngest member of the team, a kid who craves becoming a real astronaut and famed explorer like his dad. Dreaming of one day owing his own prestige spaceship, excitable “Hachimaki” is soon disenchanted with the dreary, dull and disgusting daily life of drudgery aboard DS-12: a sanitation/cargo ship fondly dubbed “Toybox” but little better than the discards he and his two comrades daily scoop up or destroy…

These days there’s something wrong with the sombre, stoic Russian, Yuri Mihairokov. The big man is increasingly distracted, blanking out, staring vacantly into the Wild Black Yonder as the cleaners orbit Earth at 8 kilometres per second. Events come to head when a shard of micro-debris holes their ramshackle vessel and an old timer reveals the Russian’s tragic secret.

Long ago Yuri and his wife were passengers on that shuttle and when it was holed she died. Heartbroken, her husband – one of the few survivors – returned to space to clear the deadly trash that took his wife. He never forgot her.

Years later, whilst drifting in the void the solitary heartsick astronaut sees a glitter, and her keepsake compass just floats into his hand, brought back to him by the winds of space and cruel fate. Beguiled, he falls into Earth’s gravity well and only Hachimaki’s most frantic efforts save his comrade from fiery death.

Safely back in free orbit, the Russian opens his gauntleted fist. On the compass are scratched his wife’s final thoughts as death took her – “please save Yuri”…

The poignant, bittersweet and deeply spiritual tale properly begins with ‘Phase 2: A Girl From Beyond the Earth’ wherein Hoshino slowly and impatiently recovers from a broken leg in the hospital of the moon colony Archimedes Crater City. These tales are laced with the most up-to-date space science available to author Yukimura, and the recent revelations that extended time spent in low/zero-gravity radically weakens bones and muscles was the lynchpin of this moving brush with another youngster bound irrevocably to the void.

When a doctor suggests returning to full-gravity Earth to recuperate the easy way, Hachi is in two minds and sorely tempted. His commander and fellow debris-destroyer Fee Carmichael and a grizzled 20-year both veteran pour scorn on the quitter’s option. All real astronauts know that once back on the home world few ever come back to space.

The kid is still tempted though… until he strikes up a friendship with a thin, wasted young woman. Nono has been on Luna for 12 years and dreams of blue skies and open seas, even though she will never see them. After aged Mr. Roland chooses to spend the rest of his life among the stars, Hachimaki discovers Nono’s sad, incredible secret and at last abandons all notion of forsaking the stars…

Focus stays on nicotine-fiend Fee Carmichael as she struggles to enjoy a well-deserved vice in ‘Phase 3: A Cigarette Under Starlight’ in Orientale Basin Underground City some months later. With breathing-oxygen at a premium, smokers must juggle their addiction with the dedication to life in space. Poor Fee has been Jonesing for a drag for far too long. Now though, whilst on shore-leave at a station big enough (and sufficiently civilised) to house a designated smoking area, the Toybox’s chief is still unable to indulge her vice…

Ideological terrorist group the Space Defense Fighters want to keep the void pristine and free of Mankind’s polluting influence and have been detonating bombs in outposts all over the moon. Their latest outrage targets the base’s vending machines and smoking rooms, so the authorities have sealed them all in the name of public safety. Driven near to madness, Fee snaps and lights up in public toilets, forgetting fire countermeasures and smoke detection devices are automatic, incredibly sensitive and painfully effective…

Humiliated, sodden but undeterred, she takes off for another city and a solitary snout (for any non-Brits, that’s a particularly demeaning and derogatory term for a smoke) and finds the only guy more in need of a drag than her. Of course, setting bombs is nervous work and a quick ciggy always calms his nerves…

The frustration is too much and Fee returns to her job, but the SDF’s explosive campaign has barely begun. Their next scheme is the creation of a deadly Kessler Syndrome wave (a blast or impact which changes the trajectories of free-floating orbital scrap and debris, creating even more debris/shrapnel and aiming it like a hard rain of lethal micro-missiles)…

With a commandeered satellite directed at a space station, the terrorists intend to detonate their captured vehicle and shred the habitat – which coincidentally carries the last cigarettes in space – shooting it out of the sky to create a lethal chain reaction to make high-orbit space forever unnavigable.

Unsure of her own motives, Fee uses the DS-12 to suicidally shove the stolen projectile away from the station and into Earth’s atmosphere…

Whilst she recuperates in Florida, ‘Phase 4: Scenery for a Rocket’, depicts Hachimaki bringing Yuri to visit the family home in Japan. However, the volatile lad immediately slips back into a violent sibling rivalry with younger brother Kyutaro: a rocketry prodigy even more resolved to conquer space than his surly and increasingly fanatical brother… or their absentee astronaut father Goro. Happily the steadfast Russian’s calming influence begins repairing fences between the warring Hoshino boys, although not before a series of explosive confrontations lead to Yuri finally passing on his beloved wife’s compass…

‘Phase 5: Ignition’ finds Fee, Yuri and Hachimaki reunited just in time for the junior junkman to suffer an (almost) career-ending psychological injury. Although physically uninjured by a rogue solar flare, the lad is completely isolated in the void for so long that he develops post-traumatic “Deep-Space Disorder”. If he can’t shake off the debilitating hallucinatory condition his life in space is over. Nothing experts at the supervising Astronaut Training Center do has any lasting effect, but fortunately Yuri knows just what prodding might awaken the wide-eyed, Wild Black Wonderment in his feisty little comrade…

‘Phase 6: Running Man’ has the Toybox’s weary crew visit Moon Orbital Space Port where the obsessively training Hachimaki is approached by an unctuous business type looking for his infamous dad. Werner Locksmith is head and chief designer of the Earth Development Community-sponsored manned mission to Jupiter and, unknown to the starry-eyed kid, had pegged Hachi’s father as the only man capable of piloting the innovative new vessel on the 5-year mission: one the lad would give anything to be on. Frustratingly, the elder explorer doesn’t want to go and has actually absconded from the Private/Public sector project and is currently a fugitive on the run through the vents and ducts of various moon bases…

The old rogue has had enough of space-faring: a fact he finds impossible to relate to his furious, outraged son when they accidentally meet. The old spacer intends to retire to Earth and make things right with the wife he’s abandoned so many times…

Meanwhile Locksmith has been called away. Something has gone disastrously wrong with the Jupiter ship “Von Braun”…

Above Luna as Hachi argues with his dad, another crisis crescendos as a devastating explosion rips through the station. As everybody evacuates, in the safe chill of the void, Hachi and the crew watch a phenomenal debris field emanate from the moon’s surface. The Von Braun’s experimental engines have failed and an entire lunar base has been evaporated…

Following the tragedy, ruthlessly cool Locksmith unswervingly starts to rebuild and the senior Hoshino breathes a huge sigh of relief. Hachi however is undeterred. He fanatically resumes his physical training, knowing that when the Von Braun is ready to fly, he will be ready to join it…

In ‘Phase 7: Tanabe’ stoic Yuri and harassed commander Fee acknowledge and address their comrade’s impossible dream, inducting a raw recruit to the Toybox crew and task Hachi with training her to be his (eventual) replacement. According to the ambitious spacer, however, mere girl Ai is a hopeless case, fruitlessly wasting valuable time he could be using to train and study for his application to the Jupiter Mission. Suffering mightily from having to babysit the useless girl, he only discovers her suppressed inner fire after a 50-year old space coffin is recovered from the dark expanse and provokes a bitter dispute about love, passion and man’s place in the cold, lonely universe…

Hachi’s dream comes a giant leap closer to reality in ‘Phase 8: A Black Flower Named Sakinohaka (Part 1)’ as he begins his official audition regimen for the Von Braun. He has become an emotional void with nothing but cold ambition driving him. He can’t even process the deadly constant threat posed by increased sabotage activity from the terrorist SDL: more determined than ever to keep space free of Man’s toxic presence.

Despite competing with more than 20,000 applicants, Hoshino is beginning to distinguish himself when a series of bomb blasts rock the project. Narrowly escaping death, Hachi is visited by his old friends who are horrified his obsessive and blasé attitude and apparent disregard for the pain and suffering of his rival candidates caught in the detonations. Is he truly so determined to get on the mission that all he sees are fewer competitors?

Only fellow applicant and new buddy Hakimu seems to understand that any sacrifice and personal misery are worth the prize…

Soon testing reaches its final stages and Locksmith lectures the remaining candidates from the bridge of the almost completed Von Braun. Only a handful of desperate spacers will make this final cut but the big day is again delayed after Hachi confronts the insidious saboteur… and fails to stop him.

The tale resumes six months later, and the last 23 candidates await final call as ‘Phase 9: A Black Flower named Sakinohaka (Part 2)’ sees Hachi’s still-fugitive father targeted by SDL assassins and heading back to the son who disowned him. His arrival coincides with Ai Tanabe’s visit as she delivers Hachi’s belongings from Toybox, and leads to an embarrassing confusion as to her amatory status, but before things can be clarified the terrorists attack again, seeking to kill the “only man who could pilot the Von Braun”…

Fleeing via the lowest levels of Oriental Basin Underground Tunnel City, the spacer trio are more dangerous to each other than their murderous pursuers. After another devastating blast Hachi again confronts the traitor who sabotaged his last attempt to join the Jupiter mission and almost commits an unpardonable act… until gentle Tanabe talks him off the emotionally-charged metaphorical ledge. ‘Phase 10: Lost Souls’ sees Hachi successful in final training for the mission that has become his life when a lunar accident strands him and new comrade Leonov on the unforgiving surface with only hours of oxygen and a 40-kilometre walk to the nearest relief station. It would have been impossible even if the copilot wasn’t wounded with a slowly-leaking suit. By the time rescue arrives Hachi has reached the stage where he fights his saviours, frantic to prove he needs no one’s help to achieve his goals.

‘Phase 11: – what on the page translates as “Spasibo”’ (either “thank you” or “God save you”) sees recuperating Hachi return to the family home in Japan, accompanied by his penitent father, and visited by Leonov’s grateful mother. Although he doesn’t understand a word she says, the old lady still makes far more sense than his constantly warring family and, after another drunken fight with dad, events come to tragic, galvanising crisis which at last crushes the walls enclosing his traumatised head and heart…

This first passionately philosophical, sentimentally suspenseful chronicle concludes here with a moment of eerie portent when ‘Phase 12: ‘A Cat in the Evening’ sees a simulation test with crewmate Sally turn into a creepy moment of premonition after Hachimaki finds himself stalked to the point of distraction by a dead and decaying alley cat that talks philosophy and tries to kill him…

To Be Concluded…

Each chapter opens with a full colour painted section before reverting to comfortingly appropriate monochrome line art, with superb developmental sketches, pin-ups, a selection of 4-panel sidebar humour strips (‘A Four Panel Comic’, ‘Namao-san (Presumably Male)’, ‘Eat? That Thing?’, ‘Drinking Hot Coffee through a Straw’) included throughout as breaks between story phases. Should you be lucky enough, the original turn-of-the-century English-language TokyoPop editions (which have bonus features not included in the omnibus edition) are still obtainable in many comics shops.

Suspenseful, funny, thrilling and utterly absorbing, these tales perfectly capture the allure of the Wild Black Yonder for newer generations, making this authentic, hard-edged, wittily evocative epic a treat no hard-headed dreamer with eyes set firmly above the clouds should miss…
© 2015 Makoto Yukimura. All rights reserved. Publication rights for this edition secured by Kodansha, Ltd, Tokyo.

Iron Man Epic Collection volume 6: The War of the Super Villains 1974 – 1976


By Mike Friedrich, Barry Alfonso, Tom Orzechowski, Bill Mantlo, Len Wein, Archie Goodwin, Roger Slifer, Jim Shooter, Steve Gerber, Gerry Conway, George Tuska, Herb Trimpe, Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard, Chic Stone, Tuska, Sal Buscema, Marie Severin & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1302948801 (TPB/Digital edition)

Arch-technocrat and supreme survivor Tony Stark has changed his profile many times since his debut in Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963) when, whilst a VIP visitor in Vietnam observing the efficacy of the munitions he had designed, the inventor was critically wounded and captured by sinister, savage Communists.

Put to work building weapons with the dubious promise of medical assistance on completion, Stark instead created the first of many technologically augmented suits to keep himself alive and deliver him from his oppressors. From there it was a simple – transistor-powered – jump to full time superheroics as a modern Knight in Shining Armour…

First conceived in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis at a time when Western economies were booming and “Commie-bashing” was an American national obsession, the emergence of a new and shining young Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity, wealth and invention to safeguard the Land of the Free and better the World, seemed an obvious development. Combining the then-sacrosanct faith that technology and business in unison could solve any problem, with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil, Stark –The Invincible Iron Man – seemed an infallibly successful proposition.

Of course, whilst he was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism – a glamorous millionaire industrialist/scientist and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his alter-ego – the turbulent tone of the 1970s soon relegated his suave, “can-do” image to the dustbin of history. With ecological disaster and social catastrophe from the myriad abuses of big business the new zeitgeists of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting a few tricky questions from the increasingly politically savvy readership.

As glamour, money and fancy gadgetry lost its chic and grew evermore tarnished, questing voices of a new generation of writers began posing uncomfortable questions in the pages of a series that was once the bastion of militarised America

This chronological compendium concludes that transitional period: reprinting Iron Man #68-91 and Annual #3 (June 1974 – October 1976) and opens without fanfare on an ambitious action epic. IM #68-71 comprised the opening sortie in a multi-part epic which saw mystic menace The Black Lama foment a covert clash amongst the world’s greatest villains, with ultimate power, inner peace and a magical Golden Globe as the promised prizes.

Written by Mike Friedrich and illustrated by George Tuska & Mike Esposito, it begins in Vietnam on the ‘Night of the Rising Sun!’ where The Mandarin struggles to free his consciousness – currently locked within the dying body of Russian super-villain The Unicorn. This is probably the ideal moment to remind potential new readers that these stories were crafted in far less accepting times with racial and gender stereotypes used as narrative shorthand and occasionally so on the nose that they could make a caveman chuck up. If you can’t look past that historically accurate accounting it might be best to seek your fun elsewhere…

Stark’s ardently pacifist love interest Roxie Gilbert had dragged the inventor to the recently “liberated” People’s Republic in search of (part-time Iron Man) Eddie March’s lost brother. Marty March was a POW missing since the last days of the war. Before long, however, the Americans are separated after Japanese ultra-nationalist, ambulatory atomic inferno and occasional X-Man Sunfire is tricked into attacking the intrusive Yankee Imperialists…

The assault abruptly ends once Mandarin shanghaies the Solar Samurai and uses his mutant energies to power a mind-transfer back into his own body. Reinstated to his original form, the Chinese Conqueror-in-waiting commences his own campaign of combat in earnest, eager to regain his castle from rival oriental overlord The Yellow Claw.

First though, he must crush Iron Man – who has tracked him down and freed Sunfire in ‘Confrontation!’ That bombastic battle ends when the Golden Avenger is rendered unconscious and thrown into space…

‘Who Shall Stop… Ultimo?’ finds the revived giant robot-monster targeting Mandarin’s castle (claimed by the Claw in a previous battle) as the sinister Celestial duels the ancient enemy to the death, with both Iron Man and Sunfire arriving too late and forced to mop up the sole survivor of the contest in ‘Battle: Tooth and Yellow Claw! (Confrontation Part 3)’. After all that Eastern Armageddon, a change of pace is called for, so Stark takes in the San Diego Comicon in #72’s ‘Convention of Fear!’ (by Friedrich, Tuska & Vince Colletta, from a plot by Barry Alfonso), only to find himself ambushed by fellow incognito attendees Whiplash, Man-Bull and The Melter – who are made an offer they should have refused by the ubiquitous and iniquitous Black Lama…

Next issue the Super-Villain War kicks into high gear with ‘Turnabout: A Most Foul Play!’ (illustrated by Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard & Jim Mooney and derived from a premise by letterer Tom Orzechowski). After secret-sharing confidantes Pepper Potts-Hogan and her husband Happy settle a long-festering squabble with Tony at Stark International’s Manila plant, Iron Man returns to Vietnam and dives into a deadly clash with Crimson Dynamo in a hidden, high-tech jungle city subsequently razed to the ground by their explosive combat.

Inked by Dick Ayers, Iron Man #74’s ‘The M.O.D.O.K. Machine!’ brings Black Lama’s contest to the fore as The Mad Thinker electronically overrides the Avenger’s armour, setting helpless passenger Stark upon the malevolent, mutated master of Advanced Idea Mechanics…

Without autonomy, the Golden Gladiator is easily overwhelmed and ‘Slave to the Power Imperious!’ (Chic Stone inks) sees the hero dragged back to The Thinker’s lair and laid low by a strange psychic hallucination, even as M.O.D.O.K. finishes his cognitive co-combatant and apparently turns the still-enslaved steel-shod hero on his next opponent: Yellow Claw.

As this is happening, elsewhere radical terrorist Firebrand is somehow sharing Stark’s Black Lama-inspired “psycho-feedback” episodes…

The tale wraps on a twisty cliffhanger as the Claw destroys M.O.D.O.K.  and his clockwork puppet Avenger, only to discover that the Thinker is not only still alive but still holds the real Iron Man captive. That’s quite unfortunate as issue #76 blew its deadline and instead reprinted Iron Man #9 (represented here by its cover) before Friedrich, Jones & Stone’s ‘I Cry: Revenge!’ finds the fighting-mad hero breaking free of the Thinker’s control, just as Black Lama teleports the Claw in to finish his final felonious opponent…

Still extremely ticked off, the Armoured Avenger takes on all comers before being ambushed by late-arriving Firebrand who has been psionically drawn into the melee. As Shellhead goes down, the Lama declares non-contestant Firebrand ultimate victor, gratuitously explaining how he has voyaged from an alternate universe before duping the unstable and uncaring flaming rabble-rouser into re-crossing the dimensional void with him. Although a certifiable loon and cold-blooded killer, Firebrand is Roxie Gilbert’s brother and groggily reviving Iron Man feels honour-bound to follow him through the rapidly closing portal to elsewhere…

Deadline problems persisted however, and the next two issues are both fill-in tales, beginning with #78’s ‘Long Time Gone’ Crafted by Bill Mantlo, Tuska & Vince Colletta it harks back to the Avenger’s early days and a mission during the Vietnam war which first brought home the cost in blood and misery Stark’s munitions building had caused. IM #79 then shares a ‘Midnite on Murder Mountain!’ (Friedrich, Tuska & Colletta) wherein our hero emphatically ends scientific abominations wrought by deranged geneticist/mind-swapper Professor Kurakill…

At last, Iron Man #80 sees Friedrich, Stone & Colletta return to the ongoing inter-dimensional operations as Mission into Madness!’ follows the multiversal voyagers to a very different America where warring kingdoms and principalities jostle for prestige, position and power. Here the Lama is revealed as King Jerald of Grand Rapid: a ruler under threat from outside invaders and insidious usurpers within. He’d come to Earth looking for powerful allies but had not realised travel to other realms drives non-indigenous residents completely crazy…

With the mind-warp effect already destabilising Iron Man and Firebrand, it’s fortunate treacherous Baroness Rockler makes her move to kill the returned Jerald immediately, and the Earthlings are quickly embroiled in a cataclysmic ‘War of the Mind-Dragons!’ before turning on each other and fleeing the devastated kingdom for the less psychologically hazardous environs of their homeworld…

With an extended epic spanning the world and alternate dimensions completed, long-term writer Mike Friedrich moved on, and Iron Man #82 began a new era and tone as Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, Marie Severin & Jack Abel revamped the armour just in time for the Red Ghost and his super simians to kidnap super genius Stark in ‘Plunder of the Apes!’ Debuting in that tale was NYPD detective Michael O’Brien, who holds Stark responsible and accountable for the tragic death of his brother Kevin. The deceased researcher had been Stark’s confidante until his mind snapped. He had died running amok wearing a prototype suit of Guardsman armour. Here and now, Mike smells a corporate cover-up…

Inked by Marie Severin, IM #83 exhibits ‘The Rage of the Red Ghost!’ as the rogue Russian forces Stark to cure his gradual dispersal into unconnected atoms, only to realise, following a bombastic battle, that the inventor has outwitted him once again, after which Wein, Roger Slifer, Trimpe & John Tartaglione detail how the infamous never fully tested Enervator ray again turns grievously injured Happy Hogan into a mindless monster. This time, the medical miracle machine saturates him with so much Cobalt radiation that he becomes a ticking inhuman nuke on the ‘Night of the Walking Bomb!’

The tense tick-tock to doom is narrowly and spectacularly halted in ‘…And the Freak Shall Inherit the Earth!’ (Slifer, Wein, Trimpe & Severin) after which Mantlo, Tuska & Vince Colletta revive and revamp one of the Golden Avenger’s oldest and least-remembered rogues when disgraced thermal technologist Gregor Shapanka sheds his loser status as Jack Frost to attack Stark International in a deadly new guise.

In # 86 we learn ‘The Gentleman’s Name is Blizzard!’ but despite his improved image, the sub-zero zealot can’t quite close ‘The Icy Hand of Death!’ in the next instalment, leading to mid-year spectacular Iron Man Annual #3 (June 1976) which unveils ‘More or Less… the Return of the Molecule Man!’ courtesy of Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema & Abel.

When Tony Stark looks into redeveloping some soggy Florida real estate, a little girl finds a strange wand and is possessed and transformed by the consciousness of one of the most powerful creatures in existence. Although Iron Man is helpless to combat the reality-warping attacks of the combination petulant girl/narcissistic maniac, luckily for the universe, the shambling elemental shocker dubbed Man-Thing had no mind to mess with or conscience to trouble…

Iron Man #88 signalled the too-brief reunion of veteran scribe Archie Goodwin with Tuska as ‘Fear Wears Two Faces!’ finds the Armoured Avenger battling escaped aliens The Blood Brothers after the vicious space thugs are psychically summoned to a mystery rendezvous by another old enemy of Iron Man. Inked by Colletta, the tale concludes in ‘Brute Fury!’ as Daredevil deals himself in to the cataclysmic clash and just barely tips the scales before the hidden manipulator is exposed in #90 ‘When Calls the Controller!’ (Jim Shooter, Tuska & Abel). The life-force thief seeks to escape months of entombment by enslaving and feeding off hapless down-&-outs, but his rapid defeat is only a prelude to greater catastrophe as Gerry Conway scripts and Bob Layton inks #91’s ‘Breakout!’ as the fiend tries too hard, too fast and again fades into helpless captivity…

Closing the covers on this stellar compilation are Gil Kane’s stellar front to all-reprint Giant-Size Iron Man #1 (1975 and including the original artwork prior to edits), House ads and an 8-page gallery of original art covers and pages by Kane, Jones, Esposito, Ed Hannigan, Frank Giacoia, Jim Starlin, Sal Buscema & Pollard.

From our distant vantage point the polemical energy and impact might be dissipated, but the sheer quality of the comics and cool thrill of the eternal aspiration of man in partnership with magic metal remains. These Fights ‘n’ Tights classics are amongst the most underrated tales of the period and are well worth your time, consideration and cold cash…
© 2023 MARVEL.

Showcase Presents Batman volume 3


By Gardner F. Fox, John Broome, Mike Friedrich, Carmine Infantino, Sheldon Moldoff, Gil Kane, Frank Springer, Chic Stone, Sid Greene, Joe Giella & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1719-8 (TPB)

After 3 seasons (perhaps 2½ would be closer) the Batman TV show ended in March, 1968. It had clocked up 120 episodes since its US premiere on January 12th 1966. The era ended but the series had left undeniable effect on the world, the comics industry and most importantly on the characters and history of its four-colour inspiration. Most notable was a whole new superstar who became an integral part of the DC universe.

This astoundingly economical black & white compendium (another collection long in need of modern revival …and some colour too, please) gathers all the Batman and Robin yarns from #189-201 of the eponymous title as well as the Gotham stuff from Detective Comics #359-375 (the back-up slot therein being delightfully filled at this time by the globetrotting, whimsically wonderful Elongated Man feature). The 33 stories here – written and illustrated by the cream of editor Julie Schwartz’s elite stable of creators – gradually evolved over the 17 months covered from an even mix of crime, science fiction, mystery, human interest and supervillain vehicles to a much narrower concentration of plot engines. As with TV’s version, costumes became king, and then became unwelcome….

It all begins with the comic book premiere of that aforementioned new character. In ‘The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl’ (Detective Comics #359, cover-dated January 1967) writer Gardner Fox and art team supreme Carmine Infantino & Sid Greene introduced Barbara Gordon: “mousy librarian” and daughter of the Police Commissioner into the superhero limelight. So by the time TV’s third season began on September 14th 1967, she was fully established.

A different Batgirl, Betty Kane, niece of the 1950s Batwoman, was already a comics fixture but for reasons far too complex and irrelevant to mention here was conveniently forgotten to make room for a new, empowered woman in the fresh tradition of Emma Peel, Honey West and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. She was marketed as being pretty hot too, which was always a big consideration for television…

Whereas Babs fought The Penguin on the small screen, her paper origin features no less ludicrous but at least visually forbidding Killer Moth in a clever yarn that still stands up today. An old foe unseen since the 1940s was revived for Batman #189 (February 1967). Demented psychology lecturer Jonathan Crane was obsessed by the emotion of fear and turned his expertise to criminal endeavours (initially in World’s Finest Comics #3 and Detective #73) before fading into obscurity. With ‘Fright of the Scarecrow’ he was back for (no) good, courtesy of Fox, Sheldon Moldoff & Joe Giella, as this tense psychodrama elevated him to the top rank of Bat-rogues. ‘The Case of the Abbreviated Batman’ (Detective #360) by the same team follows: an old-fashioned crime-caper with mobster Gunshy Barton pitting wits against Gotham’s Guardians whilst the March Batman’s full-length ‘The Penguin Takes a Flyer… Into the Future!’ – scripted by John Broome – mixed super-villainy and faux science fiction motifs for an enjoyable if predictable fist-fest.

Editor Schwartz preferred to stick with mysteries and conundrums in Detective Comics and #361’s ‘The Dynamic Duo’s Double-Deathtrap!’ was one of Fox’s best examples, especially as drawn by the incredibly over-stretched Infantino & Greene. The plot involves Cold War spies and a maker of theatrical paraphernalia. I shall reveal no more to keep you guessing when you read it. The next issue, by Fox, Moldoff & Giella, featured another eccentric scheme by The Riddler on ‘The Night Batman Destroyed Gotham City!’ Batman #191 featured two tales by Broome, Moldoff & Giella starting on ‘The Day Batman Sold Out!’: a “Hero Quits” teaser with a Babs Gordon cameo, whilst the faithful retainer took centre stage in charming parable ‘Alfred’s Mystery Menu’.

‘The True-False Face of Batman’ (Detective #363, by Fox Infantino &Greene) was a full co-starring vehicle as the new girl is challenged to deduce Batman’s secret identity whilst tracking down the enigmatic Mr. Brains. Fox scripted both ‘The Crystal Ball that Betrayed Batman!’ – which featured an old enemy in a new guise – and Robin solo-story ‘Dick Grayson’s Secret Guardian!’ in Batman #192, for Moldoff & Giella. They also handled his mystery-yarn ‘The Curious Case of the Crime-less Clues!’ in Detective #364, wherein Riddler and a host of Bat-baddies again test the brains and patience of the Dynamic Duo – or do they?

Issue #365 featured Broome, Moldoff & Giella’s ‘The House The Joker Built!’ which was nobody’s finest hour, whereas Fox-scripted ‘The Blockbuster goes Bat-Mad!’ in Batman #196 is compensatory sheer delight, especially since it’s accompanied by a “fair-play” whodunnit starring The Mystery Analysts of Gotham City. ‘The Problem of the Proxy Paintings!’ is the kind of Batman tale I miss most these days: witty and urbane, a genuinely engaging puzzle without benefit of angst or histrionics.

There’s plenty of the latter in ‘The Round Robin Death Threats’ (Fox, Infantino & Greene): a tense thriller spanning two issues of Detective (#366 – 367 and an almost unheard of event in those reader-friendly days). The diabolical murder-plot threatens to systematically eradicate Gotham’s worthiest citizens with the drama ending in high style in ‘Where There’s a Will… There’s a Slay!’: a chilling conclusion almost ruined by that awful title.

Batman #195 introduced radioactive villain Bag o’Bones in ‘The Spark-Spangled See-Through Man!’ – a desperate attempt to return to story-driven tales, though the ‘7 Wonder Crimes of Gotham City!’ (Detective #368 by Fox, Moldoff & Giella) was a far more enjoyable taste of bygone times. The next issue led with clever puzzler ‘The Psychic Super-Sleuth!’ and finished well with another challenging mystery in ‘The Purloined Parchment Puzzle!’ (both by Fox, Moldoff & Giella) before Detective #369, illustrated by Infantino & Greene, rather reinforced boyhood prejudices about icky girls in classy thriller ‘Batgirl Breaks Up the Dynamic Duo’ before segueing into a classic confrontation as Batman #197 reveals how ‘Catwoman Sets Her Claws for Batman!’ (Fox, Frank Springer & Greene). This frankly daft tale is most fondly remembered for the classic cover of Batgirl and Catwoman (with her Whip!!!) squaring off over Batman’s prone body – comic fans have a unique psychopathology absolutely all their very own…

Detective Comics #370 was by Broome, Moldoff & Giella, relating a superb thriller with roots in Bruce Wayne’s troubled youth. ‘The Nemesis from Batman’s Boyhood!’ is in many ways a precursor of later tales with an excellent psychologically potent premise and a soundly satisfying conclusion proving the demands of the TV shows were not exclusive or paramount. Gil Kane made his debut on the “Dominoed Daredoll” (did they really call her that? Yes. Yes they did, from page 2 onwards) in #371’s ‘Batgirl’s Costumed Cut-ups’, a masterpiece of comic dynamism that Sid Greene could be proud of but which Gardner Fox probably preferred to forget.

Batman #199’s ‘Peril of the Poison Rings’ and ‘Seven Steps to Save Face’ are far better examples of the clever plotting, memorable maguffins and rapid pace Fox was capable of, ably interpreted here by Moldoff & Giella, whilst Broome’s ‘The Fearsome Foot-Fighters!’ weak title masks a classy burglary-yarn and the regular art team’s beginning to amplify mood via heavy shadow in all their endeavours. This issue (Detective #370) was the first Bat-cover legend-in-waiting Neal Adams pencilled and inked – an awesome taste of things to come…

Batman #200 (cover-dated March 1968 and on ale mid-January) was written by wunderkind Mike Friedrich for Moldoff & Giella. ‘The Man Who Radiated Fear!’ featured a revitalised Scarecrow, and with the TV influence fading, a pre-emptive rehabilitation of the Caped Crusader began right here in a solid thriller with few laughs and plenty of guest-stars. Fox returned to top form in Detective #373, with Chic Stone & Greene illustrating Mr. Freeze’s Chilling Deathtrap!’, a tale favouring drama over showbiz shtick, after which Gil Kane returned to ramp up tension in brutal vengeance fable ‘Hunt for a Robin-Killer!’ (Detective #374) whilst Stone & Giella coped well with the extended cast of villains in Batman #201’s ‘Batman’s Gangland Guardians!’: a cunning action-packed enigma wherein his greatest foes become bodyguards to a hero…

This volume ends with Detective #374 and Fox, Stone & Greene’s ‘The Frigid Finger of Fate’ and a chilling race to catch a precognitive sniper, which – more than any other story – signalled the end of the Camp-Craze Caped Crimebuster and heralded the imminent return of a Darker Knight. With this third collection from “the TV years” of Batman – all done with by Spring of 1968 – the global Bat-craze and larger popular fascination with super-heroes – and indeed the whole “Camp” trend – was dying. In comics, that resulted in a resurgence of other genres, particularly Westerns and supernatural tales. For Batman it signalled a renaissance of passion, terror and a life of shadows. Stay tuned: the best is yet to come…
© 1967, 1968, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Marvel Masterworks Daredevil volume 15


By Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Michael Fleischer, David Micheline, Ralph Macchio, Josef Rubinstein, Steve Ditko, Paul Gulacy & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2927-5 (HB/Digital edition)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. A second-string hero for much of his early career, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due mostly to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. DD fought gangsters, super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion, quipping and wisecracking his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody, quasi-religious metaphor he became.

After a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page, Murdock took up with Russian emigre Natasha Romanoff, infamous and notorious ex-spy Black Widow but their similarities and incompatibilities led to her leaving as Matt took up with flighty trouble-magnet heiress Heather Glenn

Spanning July 1979 to July 1981 this monumental Masterworks tome compiles Daredevil #159-172 and material from Bizarre Adventures #25 (March 1981), consolidating and completing a Hero’s Transformation begun by Jim Shooter with a bold, apparently carefree Scarlet Swashbuckler devolving into a driven, terrifying figure. Daredevil became here an urban defender and compulsive avenger: a tortured demon dipped in blood. The character makeover was carried on initially by Roger McKenzie in the previous volume and continues with Frank Miller collaborating until he fully takes control: crafting audaciously shocking, groundbreakingly compelling dark delights, and making Daredevil one of comics’ most momentous, unmissable, “must-read” series.

Preceded by an appreciative commentary and Introduction from latterday scripter Charles Soule, the revitalisation resumes with ‘Marked for Murder!’ (McKenzie, Miller & Klaus Janson) wherein infallible assassin-master Eric Slaughter comes out of retirement for a very special hit on the hero of Hell’s Kitchen. Meanwhile elsewhere, veteran Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich works a nagging hunch: slowly piecing together dusty news snippets that indicate a certain sight-impaired attorney might be far more than he seems…

The spectacular showdown between the Crimson Crimebuster and Slaughter’s hit-man army inevitably compels his covert client to eventually do his own dirty work: brutally ambushing and abducts DD’s former flame Natasha Romanoff, The Black Widow

After a single-page info-feature on ‘Daredevil’s Billy Club!’ the saga continues in DD #160 with our hero having no choice but to place himself ‘In the Hands of Bullseye!’ – a stratagem culminating in a devastating duel and shocking defeat for the villain in #161’s ‘To Dare the Devil!’

The next issue offered a fill-in tale from Michael Fleisher & Steve Ditko wherein another radiation accident impairs the hero’s abilities and induces amnesia just as a figure from his father’s pugilistic past resurfaces. Becoming a boxer for crooked promoter Mr. Hyle, Murdock unknowingly relives his murdered dad’s last days in ‘Requiem for a Pug!’ … until his memories return and justice is served…

Stunning David v Goliath action belatedly comes in #163 as the merely mortal Man Without Fear battles The Incredible Hulk in ‘Blind Alley’ (McKenzie & Miller, inked by Josef Rubenstein & Janson) wherein Murdock’s innate compassion for hounded Bruce Banner accidentally endangers Manhattan and triggers a desperate, bone breaking, ultimately doomed attempt to save his beloved city…

In #164 McKenzie, Miller & Janson deliver an evocative ‘Exposé’, retelling the origin saga as meticulous, dogged Urich confronts the hospitalised hero with inescapable conclusions from his diligent research and a turning point is reached…

The landmark tale is followed by accompanied by Miller’s unused cover for Ditko’s fill-in, preceding a mean-&-moody modern makeover for a moribund and over-exposed Spider-Man villain. DD #165 finds the Scarlet Swashbuckler in the ‘Arms of the Octopus’ after Murdock’s millionaire girlfriend Heather is kidnapped by Dr. Otto Octavius. Her company can – and do – rebuild his mechanical tentacles with Adamantium, but “Doc Ock” stupidly underestimates both his hostage and the Man Without Fear…

The long-running plot thread of Foggy Nelson’s oft-delayed wedding finally culminates with some much-needed comedy in #166’s ‘Till Death Do Us Part!’, with true tragedy coming as old enemy The Gladiator has a breakdown and kidnaps his parole officer. With visions of Roman arenas driving him, tormented killer Melvin Potter only needs to see Daredevil to go completely over the top…

David Michelinie wrote #167 for Miller & Janson, as a cruelly wronged employee of tech company the Cord Conglomerate steals super-armour to become ‘…The Mauler!’ and exact personal justice. Constantly drawn into the conflict, DD finds his sense of justice and respect for the law at odds when another unavoidable tragedy results…

The tale is backed up by an info feature revealing the ‘Dark Secrets’ of DD’s everyday life and segues neatly into the story that changed everything.

In Daredevil #168 Miller took over the writing and with Janson’s art contributions increasing in each issue rewired the history of Matt Murdock to open an era of noir-tinged, pulp-fuelled Eisner-inspired innovation. It begins when Daredevil encounters a new bounty hunter in town and reveals a lost college-days first love. Back then diplomat’s daughter Elektra Natchios shared his secret until her father was kidnapped and murdered before her eyes, partly due to Matt’s hasty actions. She left him and vanished, apparently becoming a ninja assassin, but is now tearing up the town hunting for Eric Slaughter. Matt cannot help but get involved…

When Daredevil last defeated Bullseye, the killer was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and in #169, escapes from hospital to enact another murder spree. He is deep in a delusional state where everyone he sees are horn-headed scarlet-clad ‘Devils’. A frenetic chase and brutal battle results in countless civilian casualties and great anxiety as Daredevil has a chance to let the manic die… but doesn’t.

Yet another landmark resurrection of a tired villain begins in DD #170 as Miller & Janson decree ‘The Kingpin Must Die’. The former crimelord of New York faded into serene retirement in Japan by impassioned request of his wife Vanessa, until this triptych of terror sees him return more powerful than ever. It begins when the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen hears rumours the syndicate that replaced Wilson Fisk are trying to kill him. Apparently he has offered all his old records to the Feds…

When Vanessa hires Nelson & Murdock to broker the deal, all hell breaks loose, assassins attack and Mrs Fisk goes missing. Further complicating matters, having survived brain surgery Bullseye offers his services to the syndicate, mercenary killer Elektra senses a business opportunity and a murderously resolute Kingpin sneaks back into the country resolved to save Vanessa at any cost…

The title at last returned to monthly schedule with #171 as the city erupted into sporadic violence with civilians caught in the crossfire. DD dons a disguise and goes undercover but is soon ‘In the Kingpin’s Clutches’ and sent to a watery grave prior to Fisk gambling and losing everything…

The sags ends in all-out ‘Gangwar!’ as, with Vanessa lost and presumed dead, Wilson Fisk destroys the Syndicate and takes back control of New York’s underworld with Daredevil scoring a small toxic victory by apprehending the Kingpin’s assassin, all the while aware that every death since Bullseye’s operation has been because Murdock was not strong enough to let the monster die…

And deep in the bowels of the city, an amnesiac woman wanders, a future trigger for much death and destruction to come…

To Be Continued…

With the Marvel Universe about to change in incomprehensible ways, this tome pauses here but still finds room to focus on a solo outing for a cast regular. In Bizarre Adventures #25 (with cover and ‘Lethal Ladies’ frontispiece included), Ralph Macchio scripted an espionage tale for an older reader-base. The devious spy yarn of double and triple cross saw agents betraying each other while trying to ascertain who might be working for “the other side”.

‘I Got the Yo-Yo… You Got the String’ sets Black Widow in her proper milieu, despatched by S.H.I.E.L.D. to assassinate her former tutor Irma Klausvichnova as she hides in an African political hot spot. Of course, as the mission proceeds, Natasha learns she can’t trust anybody and everything she knows is either a lie or a test with fatal consequences…

The chilling, twist-ridden tale is elevated to excellence by the powerful monochrome tonal art of Paul Gulacy who packs the piece with sly tributes to numerous movie spies and the actors – such as Michael Caine and Humphry Bogart – who first made the genre so compelling.

The bonus gallery section opens with pertinent pages from Marvel Comics 20th Anniversary Calendar (1981) – June’s entry by Miller & Janson and their Spider-Man vs DD plate from Marvel Team-Up Portfolio One. Next come original art pages and covers, a House ad for Elektra’s debut plus the original art, cover artwork  and finished product for Marvel Super-Heroes Megazine #2 plus covers of #3, 4 & 6 (by Michael Golden, Lee Weeks, Scott McDaniel and others), and Miller’s cover and frontispiece for Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller volume 1 as well as his introduction from that collection.

As the decade closed, these gritty tales set the scene for truly mature forthcoming dramas, promising the true potential of Daredevil was finally in reach. Their narrative energy and exuberant excitement are dashing delights no action fan will care to miss.

…And the next volume heads full on into darker shadows, the grimmest of territory and the breaking of many more boundaries…
© 2021 MARVEL.

Showcase Presents the Trial of The Flash


By Cary Bates, Joey Cavalieri, Carmine Infantino, Frank McLaughlin, Dennis Jensen, Rodin Rodriguez, Gary Martin, with John Broome & Joe Giella & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3182-8 (TPB)

Barry Allen was the second costumed champion called The Flash, and his debut was the Big Bang which (finally) triggered the return of superheroes in the Silver Age of American comic books. He followed a series of abortive remnant revivals (Stuntman in 1954 and Marvel’s “Big Three”, Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Captain America from 1953 to 1955) and a few all-original attempts such as Captain Flash, The Avenger and Strongman during 1954-1955. Although none of those – or other less high-profile efforts – had restored or renewed the popularity of masked mystery-men, they presumably piqued some readers’ consciousness, even at conservative National/DC. The revived human rocket wasn’t quite the innovation he seemed: after all, alien crimebuster Martian Manhunter had already cracked open company floodgates with a low-key launch in Detective Comics #225, November 1955.

In terms of creative quality, originality and sheer style however, The Flash was an irresistible spark. After his landmark debut in Showcase #4 (cover-dated October 1956) the series – eventually – became a benchmark by which every successive launch or reboot across the industry was measured. Police Scientist – we’d call him a CSI today – Allen was transformed by a simultaneous lightning strike and chemical bath into a human comet of unparalleled velocity and ingenuity. Yet with characteristic indolence the new “Fastest Man Alive” took three further try-out issues and almost as many years to secure his own title. When he finally stood on his own wing-tipped feet in The Flash #105 (February-March 1959) though, he never looked back.

Comics back then were a faddy and slavishly trend-dominated business, and following a manic boom for superhero tales prompted by the Batman TV show, fickle global consciousness fixated on supernatural themes and merely mortal tales, triggering a huge revival of spooky films, shows, books and periodicals. With horror ascendent again, many superhero titles faced cancellation and even the most revered and popular were threatened. It was time to adapt or die: a process repeated every few years until the mid-1980s when DC’s powers-that-be decided to rationalise and downsize the sprawling multi-dimensional multiverse the Flash had innocently sparked into existence decades previously.

Barry had been through the wringer before: in 1979’s Flash #275 his beloved wife Iris was brutally murdered and thereafter the Scarlet Speedster became a darker, grittier, truly careworn hero. Slowly over four years the lonely bachelor recovered and even found love again but a harshly evolving comics industry, changing fashions and jaded fan tastes were about to end his long run at the top. The Vizier of Velocity was still a favoured, undisputed icon of the apparently unstoppable Superhero meme and a mighty pillar of the costumed establishment, but in times of precarious sales and with very little in the way of presence in other media like films, TV or merchandise, that just made him a bright red target for a company desperate to attract attention a larger readership.

It soon became an open secret that he was to be one of the major casualties of the reality-rending Crisis on Infinite Earths. The epic maxi-series was conceived as an attention-grabbing spectacle on every level and to truly succeed it needed a few sacrifices which would make the public really sit up and take notice. With such knowledge commonplace, long-time scripter Cary Bates went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the Crimson Comet and the comic title which inspired a super-heroic revolution went out in a totally absorbing blaze of glory. This momentously massive stand-alone monochrome collection gathers all pertinent chapters of an astonishingly extended, supremely gripping serial which charted the triumphs and tragedies of the Monarch of Motion’s last months (and I think they really meant it at the time) and savoured the final moments of the paramount hero and symbol of the Silver Age.

Contained herein and spanning July 1983 to October 1985 are Flash #323-327, 329-336 and 340-350, written by Bates and pencilled by originating artist Carmine Infantino. It opens sans preamble on the day Barry is supposed to marry his new sweetheart Fiona Webb. As the nervous groom dresses for the ceremony, however, an Oan Guardian of the Universe appears with appalling news. Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash has escaped from the timeless hell the vengeful Vizier of Velocity banished him to for murdering Iris…

Inked by Rodin Rodriguez, ‘Run Flash – Run for your Wife!’ sees a distraught hero pursuing and battling his ultimate enemy all over the world as the clock ticks down, culminating in #324’s ‘The Slayer and the Slain’ (Dennis Jensen inks) with the police issuing a missing persons alert for Barry Allen. Crushed and seemingly jilted, Fiona finally gives up on her man and is leaving the church just as Zoom dashes in with Flash hard on his winged heels. The maniac boasted he would repeat himself by slaughtering his archenemy’s second love, but with femto-seconds to spare Barry goes into overdrive and grabs his foe. When the dust settles the wedding guests see Flash trying to comfort the bride-to-be, but Police Captain Darryl Frye and Detective Frank Curtis are distracted by something the speedster has not noticed: Zoom’s lifeless corpse…

The media circus begins in #325 as ‘Dead Reckoning’ sees the guilt-racked speedster go into heroic overdrive all around the world, yet somehow never quite outrunning the Press or his own remorse. As friends and allies wonder where they stand, The Flash Rogues’ Gallery come together to steal Zoom’s cadaver. Captains Cold and Boomerang, Pied Piper, Weather Wizard and Trickster actually despised the Reverse-Flash and need to desecrate his corpse for the utter embarrassment he has brought upon their association: letting himself get killed by the scarlet Boy Scout. Their heartbroken foe meanwhile has stopped running, as Barry visits Fiona in hospital. The shock of Barry’s abandonment has traumatised and perhaps even deranged her, but worse is in store. After leaving her room in his Flash persona, the hero is reluctantly arrested by Captain Frye on a charge of manslaughter…

Inked by Gary Martin, ‘Shame in Scarlet’ opens on the arrest and arraignment. The madhouse of raving pressmen and downhearted cops is just what the recently captured Weather Wizard needs to mask a bold getaway scheme and – ever dutiful – Flash eludes custody long enough to stop the rogue before surrendering himself again. Meanwhile, Fiona’s doctors refuse to believe the still-missing Barry Allen came to see her and diagnose a delusional breakdown, whilst out on the streets Frank Curtis is further distracted by teenaged Angelo Torres; a kid barely surviving in a tough gang-controlled area of Central City.

Released on his own recognizance, Flash sneaks into his own apartment where realisation of his destroyed life finally sinks in. Losing control, he trashes the place in an explosive outburst but by the time his terrified neighbours break in he has gone and the suspicion that someone has targeted the missing Police Scientist seems confirmed. Roaming the streets, the fallen hero reacts typically to Angelo fleeing from a mugging, but is soon appalled to realise he has tackled the wrong guy. Torres was chasing the real thief…

Still reeling at how far he has fallen (racial profiling!), the shellshocked speedster is barely aware he is bleeding badly (from self-inflicted wounds incurred when destroying his home), and allows a cop to take him to hospital. The good deed does not go unpunished. When he arrives, Fiona is there and suddenly flares into a state of total hysteria…

Horror piles on in ‘Burnout’ (#327, inked by Jensen) as Flash reconciles with Angelo, unaware the kid has been targeted by the malign super-gorilla Grodd as part of a convoluted vengeance scheme. Flash is also too preoccupied by his next personal crisis as the Justice League of America holds a special session to judge his actions and conduct. A nail-bitingly close vote by his crestfallen best friends will determine whether or not he can remain a member of the august group…

Flash #328 was a partial reprint exploring the Flash/Professor Zoom vendetta and is not included here, so the saga resumes with ‘What is the Sinister Secret of Simian and Son?’ (#329, with new regular inker Frank McLaughlin climbing aboard). As Grodd uses Angelo and other kids to perpetrate bold raids, in front of the maddened media’s cameras unscrupulous, publicity-hungry celebrity criminal defense attorney Nicholas D. Redik attempts to insert himself into the “Case of the Century”, claiming to be Flash’s lawyer and only chance of acquittal…

The oblivious, deeply troubled human thunderbolt has other ideas. He has already contacted “Barry’s” old friend Peter Farley to act on his behalf, blithely unaware that back home Grodd has taken over Angelo, and Fiona has succumbed to total mental breakdown…

The final confrontation with the ultra-ape begins in ‘Beware the Land of Grodd!’ (scripted by Joey Cavalieri over Bates’ plot) as Redik manipulates the media to force Flash to switch lawyers whilst Captain Frye pushes the ongoing search for still “missing” Barry to even greater heights. With all these distractions the Vizier of Velocity is easily ambushed by Grodd before Angelo, at the moment of truth in #331’s ‘Dead Heat!’, has a change of heart and mind. By a supreme effort of will the remorseful lad breaks the super-ape’s conditioning, allowing the speedster to triumph.

Returning the renegade to futuristic Gorilla City, Flash leaves the mental monster in the custody of his old comrade Solovar, returning to America just in time to hear Farley being murdered during a phone conference. Bates rejoins Infantino & McLaughlin as ‘Defend the Flash… and Die?‘ sees the Scarlet Speedster hurtle across the country to save his lawyer from a colossal explosion, although even he is not fast enough to prevent the victim incurring massive injuries. As speculation runs riot in the media that someone is targeting Flash’s defenders, old enemy Rainbow Raider takes advantage of the chaos to instigate a string of robberies, but even at his lowest ebb our hero is too much for the multicoloured malefactor…

Redik is now publicly offering to take the case for free, but Farley’s absentee business partner has already taken up her ailing associate’s celebrity caseload…

In #333, as inexplicably hostile attorney Cecile Horton confers with her inherited client, ‘Down with the Flash!’ reveals how sections of Central City have seemingly turned on their formerly adored champion. Fiona too is still drawing trouble, as a petty thug and his crazy brother break into the asylum treating her, looking for a little one-stop emergency therapy. Sadly for them, the Monarch of Motion is still keeping an eye on his tragic fiancée…

Redik then attempts to bribe and/or bully Horton off the case, but despite clearly despising her crimson client, Cecile is determined to honour Peter’s wishes and save the speedster, even as the mastermind stirring up anti-Flash sentiment is revealed in ‘Flash-Freak-Out!’ Just as the pre-trial manoeuvrings begin, the formerly supportive Mayor suddenly becomes the disgraced hero’s biggest detractor and Pied Piper’s mind-altering influence makes the hero apparently go berserk on live TV in ‘How to Trash a Flash!’, leaving even his most devoted fans wondering if their beloved champion has in fact gone crazy…

…And whilst Flash is saving the Mayor, at her secluded retreat Horton is caught in an explosive blast like the one that took out her partner…

‘Murder on the Rocks’ (#336) finds Flash arriving too late for once, but the ecstatic speedster is astounded to discover his lawyer has saved herself through quick thinking – although another woman has been killed. A tabloid reporter had been bugging the supposed “safe house” and inadvertently fallen foul of killers-for-hire. The trail of death leads forensically-trained Flash inexorably to a man whose arrogant determination to be a star in the tragedy costs him everything…

Annoyingly, the next three chapters are absent here. They would have shown how Flash finished the Piper and incurred the wrath of the Rogues who subsequently turned a hulking simpleton into programmed super killer Big Sir and unleashing him on the Scarlet Speedster. We rejoin the saga with Flash #340 as ‘Reach Out and Waste Someone!’ has the hurtling hero turn the tables on Cold, Boomerang, Weather Wizard, Trickster and Mirror Master by befriending Big Sir. Imminent danger averted, Flash surrenders himself to the courts…

After months, #341 sees proceedings finally open in ‘Trial and Tribulation!’, only for the weary defendant to discover that go-getting District Attorney Anton Slater has dropped the charges. The wily attention-seeker has abandoned his manslaughter case in favour of a charge of Second Degree Murder. With the still at-large Rogues rampaging through Central City, the opening arguments quickly and convincingly paint the stunned Flash as a cunning killer. Whilst he reels in open court, Captain Cold and Co again take control of now-docile Big Sir. When the shattered speedster leaves after his first bruising day, the Brobdingnagian brute ambushes him, wrecking his face with a massive mace…

Dazed, reeling and severely maimed, Flash flees in pure panic, leaving Sir to assault the gathered media in ‘Smash-Up!’ Barely thinking, the wounded warrior heads for Gorilla City where the super simians’ miraculous medical technology saves his life. Recovered and ready to return, Flash is certain he has made the right decision by asking Solovar to use that science to enact a certain alteration for him. On his return the Vizier of Velocity again deprograms Big Sir and the odd couple make sure the Rogues can’t hurt anyone else…

Flash #343 kicks the drama into even higher gear in ‘Revenge and Revelations!’ as the secret of why Cecile hates her crimson-clad client is exposed whilst merciless mobster monster Goldface attacks, even as – in the far future – another Flash foe escapes an unbeatable prison and heads for our present, intent on adding to the doomed hero’s historic woes. ‘Betrayal!’ in #344 was a partial reprint (Bates & John Broome, Infantino, McLaughlin & Joe Giella) which combines the first appearance and an early exploit of Kid Flash with that devoted protégé’s reluctant but devastating expert testimony under oath on the witness stand. The heartbroken lad’s damaging evidence is then compounded when Cecile makes an explosive mistake which exposes ‘The Secret Face of the Flash!’ to the courtroom and the world…

Confusion reigns in #346 as the shocking revelations are upstaged in ‘Dead Man’s Bluff!’ by reports the “victim” might not be dead. A merciless yellow-&-red blur has been seen all over Central City, attacking civilians and destroying police records. Reverse-Flash has escaped certain death many times before but as he mercilessly attacks the other Rogues – with even the Jurors narrowly escaping certain doom – it is clear that something is not right.

The trial concludes in #347’s ‘Back from the Dead!’ but even with the thoroughly thrashed Rogues and Police Captain Fry attesting the victim is still alive, more than one malign presence in the courtroom is affecting the jurors’ minds and ‘The Final Verdict!’ comes back “guilty”. However the story is not over and #349 unleashes a cascade of staggering revelations revealing clandestine agents acting both for and against the harried Human Hurricane in ‘…And the Truth Shall Set him Free!’ before the extended extravaganza of #350 declares ‘Flash Flees’ and thereafter shows the Scarlet Speedster defeating his ultimate nemesis, clearing his name and even living happily ever after… until that predestined final moment in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Staggering in scope, gripping in execution and astoundingly suspenseful, these last days of a legend make for stunning reading: a perfect example of the kind of plot-driven Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction we just don’t see enough of these days. If you feel a need for a traditionally thrilling kind of speed reading, this is a chronicle you must not miss and one DC should release in full colour and digital editions ASAP.
© 1983, 1984, 1985, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Avengers Epic Collection volume 10: The Yesterday Quest 1978-1979


By Jim Shooter, David Michelinie, Roger Stern, Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, Bill Mantlo, Roger Slifer, Steve Gerber, Tom DeFalco, Mark Gruenwald, Steven Grant, Scott Edelman, Dave Wenzel, John Byrne, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino, Jim Mooney, Don Newton, Michael Netzer & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8790-5 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Avengers have always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time: even when all Marvel’s classic all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy, which means that every issue includes somebody’s fave-rave – and the boldly grand-scale impressive stories and artwork are no hindrance either. With the team now global icons, let’s look again at the stories which form the foundation of that pre-eminence.

Re-presenting Avengers #167, Avengers Annual #8 & 9 and material from Marvel Tales #100 (cumulatively spanning January 1978 to October 1979), these stories still see the team in turbulent transition. That was as much a result of creative upheaval at the House of Ideas as narrative exigency. Times were changing for the company which would soon become a plaything of relentless corporate forces.

The storytelling begins in #167 as an epic opens. Jim Shooter’s connection to the series, although episodic, was long-lived and produced some of that period’s greatest tales, none more so than the stellar – if deadline-doomed – saga that unfolded over succeeding months: a sprawling tale of time-travel and cosmic conquest which began in Avengers #167-168 before an enforced brief pause saw a diversion before resuming for #170 through #177.

In previous issues Captain America and Iron Man’s difference of opinion over leadership styles had begun to polarise the team. Cracks appeared and tensions showed in #167’s ‘Tomorrow Dies Today!’ (by Shooter, George Pérez & Pablos Marcos).

In the Gods-&-Monsters filled Marvel Universe there are entrenched and jealous Hierarchies of Power, so when a new player mysteriously materialises in the 20th century the very Fabric of Reality is threatened. It all kicks off when star-spanning 31st century freedom Fighters Guardians of the Galaxy blip into Earth orbit, in hot pursuit of cyborg despot Korvac. Their arrival inadvertently sets off planetary incursion alarms, so their moon-sized ship is swiftly boarded by an Avengers squad, where – after the obligatory introductory squabble – the future men (Charlie-27, Yondu, Martinex, Nikki, Vance Astro and enigmatic Space God Starhawk) explain the purpose of their mission…

Captain America had once fought beside them to liberate their home era from Badoon rule and Thor recently battled the fugitive Korvac, so peace soon breaks out, but even with the resources of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the time travellers are unable to find their quarry…

Meanwhile on Earth, a mysterious being named Michael lurks in the background. At a fashion show staged by The Wasp, he achieves a psychic communion with model Carina Walters before they both vanish…

‘First Blood’ (Avengers #168) stirs up more trouble as Federal liaison/doctrinaire martinet Henry Peter Gyrich makes life bureaucratically hot for the government-funded superhero team. Meanwhile in Colorado, Hawkeye gets a shock as his travelling partner Two-Gun Kid vanishes before his eyes.

In suburban Forest Hills, Starhawk – in his female iteration Aleta – approaches a quiet residence. Michael/Korvac’s scheme consists of subtly altering events as he gathers strength in secret preparation for a sneak attack on those aforementioned Cosmic Hierarchies. His entire plan revolves around not being noticed. Thus, when Starhawk confronts him, the villain kills the stellar intruder but instantly resurrects him – minus the ability to perceive Michael or any of his works…

The drama screeches to a halt in #169, which instead declares ‘If We Should Fail… The World Dies Tonight!’ The out of context potboiler – by Marv Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Dave Hunt – sees Cap, Iron Man and The Black Panther scouring Earth in search of doomsday bombs wired to the failing heart of a dying man, after which the major mayhem resumes in #170 with ‘…Though Hell Should Bar the Way!’ by Shooter, Pérez & Marcos. As Sentinel of Liberty and Golden Avenger finally settle their differences, in Inhuman city Attilan, ex-Avenger Quicksilver suddenly disappears, even as dormant mechanoid Jocasta (designed by maniac AI Ultron to be his bride) goes on a rampage before vanishing into the wilds of New York City.

In stealthy pursuit and hoping her trail will lead to Ultron himself, the team stride into a trap ‘…Where Angels Fear to Tread’, but nevertheless triumph thanks to the hex powers of The Scarlet Witch, the assistance of pushy, no-nonsense new hero Ms. Marvel and Jocasta’s own rebellion against the metal monster who made her. However, at their moment of triumph the Avengers are stunned to witness Cap and Jocasta winking out of existence…

Problems pile up in #172 (Shooter, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson) as Watchdog-come-Gadfly Gyrich is roughly manhandled and captured by out-of-the-loop returnee Hawkeye. He responds by rescinding the team’s Federal clearances. Badly handicapped, the heroes are unable to warn other inactive members of the ongoing disappearances even as a squad of heavy hitters rush off to tackle marauding Atlantean maverick Tyrak the Treacherous who is bloodily enacting a ‘Holocaust in New York Harbor!’

Plotted by Shooter, with David Michelinie scripting for Sal Buscema & D(iverse) Hands to illustrate, answers to the growing mystery are finally forthcoming in Threshold of Oblivion!’ As the vanishings escalate, the remaining Avengers (Thor, Wasp, Hawkeye and Iron Man – with the assistance of Vance Astro) track down their hidden foe and beam into a cloaked starship to liberate the ‘Captives of the Collector!’ (Shooter, Bill Mantlo, Dave Wenzel & Marcos)…

After a staggering struggle, the heroes triumph and their old foe reveals a shocking truth: he is an Elder of the Universe who foresaw cosmic doom millennia previously and sought to preserve special artefacts and creatures – such as The Avengers – from the approaching apocalypse. As he reveals that predicted end-time is here and that he has sent his own daughter Carina to infiltrate the Enemy’s stronghold, the cosmic curator is obliterated by a devastating blast of energy. The damage, however, is done and the entrenched hierarchies of creation may well be alerted…

Issue #175 started the final countdown as ‘The End… and Beginning!’ (Shooter, Michelinie, Wenzel & Marcos) sees the amassed and liberated ranks of Avengers and Guardians follow clues to Michael, just as the new god shares the incredible secret of his apotheosis with Carina, before ‘The Destiny Hunt!’ and ‘The Hope… and the Slaughter!’ (Shooter, Wenzel, Marcos & Ricardo Villamonte) depict the army of champions eradicated and resurrected when Michael easily overpowers all opposition but falters for lack of one fundamental failing…

Spread through a series of lesser adventures, the overarching epic ponderously and ominously unfolds before finally exploding into a devastating and tragic Battle Royale that is the epitome of superhero comics. This is pure escapist fantasy at its finest.

Despite being somewhat diminished by the artwork when the magnificent Pérez gave way to less enthused hands and afflicted by the inability to keep a regular inker (Pablo Marcos, Klaus Janson, Ricardo Villamonte and Tom Morgan all pitched in), sheer epic scope nevertheless carries this story through to its cataclysmic and fulfilling conclusion. Even Shooter’s reluctant replacement by scripters Dave Michelinie and Bill Mantlo (as his editorial career advanced) couldn’t derail this juggernaut of adventure. If you want to see what makes Superhero fiction work, and can keep track of nearly two dozen flamboyant characters, this is a fine example of how to make such an unwieldy proposition easily accessible to the new and returning reader…

Jim Shooter, having galvanised and steadied the company’s notional flagship, moved on, leaving David Michelinie to impress his own ideas and personality upon the team, but such transitions are always tricky and some water-treading fill-ins were necessary before progress resumed.

After the death and resurrection of the heroes, focus slipped seamlessly into Avengers Annual #8, getting back to business with monolithic Fights ‘n’ Tights melee ‘Spectrums of Deceit!’, courtesy of Roger Slifer, Pérez, Marcos & Villamonte as the sentient power-prism of archvillain Doctor Spectrum systematically possesses Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The upshot is another blockbusting battle against The Squadron Sinister and ethically ambivalent extra-dimensional “Femizon” Thundra and offers another guest shot for mighty Ms. Marvel

A subtle change of pace and tone came in Avengers #178. ‘The Martyr Perplex!’ – by Steve Gerber, Carmine Infantino & Rudy Nebres – sees mutant Hank McCoy/The Beast targeted by master brainwasher The Manipulator in a tense psycho-thriller teeming with shady crooks and government spooks. Then Tom DeFalco, Jim Mooney, Al Gordon & Mike Esposito deliver a 2-part yarn introducing tragic mutant Bloodhawk and an ambitious human hitman in ‘Slowly Slays the Stinger!’

Whilst Stinger cautiously executes his commission, another cohort of champions accompany Bloodhawk to his desolate island home of Maura for a ‘Berserkers’ Holiday’, just in time to battle an animated and agitated stone idol. When they return victorious, Stinger is waiting and the assemblage loses its newest ally forever…

Finally back on track, Avengers #181 introduces new regular creative team Michelinie & John Byrne (augmented by inker Gene Day) as ‘On the Matter of Heroes!’ sees intrusive, obsessive Gyrich lay down the law and winnow the legion of heroes down to a federally acceptable seven. As the Guardians of the Galaxy head back to their future, Iron Man, The Vision, Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Beast and Wasp must placate Hawkeye after he is rejected in favour of new recruit The Falcon – reluctantly parachuted in to conform to government affirmative action quotas…

Almost immediately, Gyrich’s methodically calculated plans are in tatters as an elderly Romani sorcerer attacks. Claiming mutants Wanda and Pietro Frank as his long-lost children, the mage traps their souls inside little wooden dolls, with the resultant clash in #182’s ‘Honor Thy Father’ (inked by Janson) creating even more questions as overwhelming evidence seems to confirm Django Maximoff’s story. The upshot sees Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver leave with him on a quest for answers…

Michelinie, Byrne, Janson & D Hands provide a breathtaking all-action extravaganza in #183-184 as ‘The Redoubtable Return of Crusher Creel!’ finds Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel cleared by Gyrich to replace Wanda. Elsewhere in the Big Apple, the formidable Absorbing Man has opted to leave the country and quit being thrashed by heroes. Unfortunately, his departure plans include kidnapping a young woman “for company”, leading to a cataclysmic showdown with the heroes and Hawkeye (still determined to win back his place on the team) and resulting in carnage, chaos and ‘Death on the Hudson!’

Historical continuity addicts Mark Gruenwald & Steven Grant plotted #185’s ‘The Yesterday Quest!’ for Michelinie, Byrne & Dan Green to execute as, in America, robotic ally Jocasta strives to entice The Vision even as his wife and brother-in-law arrive in Balkan state Transia. In the shadow of mystic Mount Wundagore, Wanda is beguiled by Modred the Mystic, leaving Quicksilver to perish if not for the ministrations of talking humanoid cow Bova. The wetnurse once employed by the High Evolutionary doesn’t mind. After all she was midwife to Pietro’s mother years ago…

‘Nights of Wundagore!’ unpicks years of mystery with secrets of the mutants’ origins: how Bova passed them off as the stillborn children of American WWII superhero Bob Frank and offers big hints as to their true father’s identity. Wanda, meanwhile, has lost a magic duel with Modred and is now possessed by ancient demon Chthon. Pietro barely survives his clash with her/it, and calls for help, but thanks to more pointless bureaucracy from Gyrich, it is hours before the Avengers – missing Iron Man but including Wonder Man – arrive to face the world rending ‘Call of the Mountain Thing!’

Although they ultimately triumph, not every participant makes it out alive…

The way home is just as momentous, as #188’s ‘Elementary, Dear Avengers’ (Bill Mantlo, Byrne, Green & Frank Springer) begins with a side trip to Attilan and news that Quicksilver is about to become a dad, and ends with the team causing an international incident by diverting over Russian airspace. Thankfully, the incident overlaps with a secret Soviet science experiment going badly wrong, compelling the heroes to tackle sentient elements with a taste for death and destruction…

Avengers Annual #9 then introduces a lethal secret from the past as Mantlo, Don Newton, Jack Abel & Joe Rubinstein introduce a deadly robotic sleeper locked for decades beneath Avengers Mansion. ‘…Today the Avengers Die!’ reprises Iron Man’s recent battle against deadly vintage mechanoid Arsenal and reveals how the Howard Stark-built weapon was cached in his old townhouse. Now ‘Something Deadly Lurks Below!’ proves that they should have let sleeping bots lie…

Rounding out the chronologically completist action is a snippet from Marvel Tales #100 (February 1979) as time-displaced Two-Gun Kid and Hawkeye battle Killgrave the Controller in ‘Killers of a Purple Rage!’ by Scott Edelman, Michael Netzer & Terry Austin.

Supplemented by previous compilation covers courtesy of Pérez & Joe Rosas and Steve Epting & Tom Palmer, contemporary House Ads, editorial material debating the new origins for Pietro and Wanda, an epilogue strip by Mark Gruenwald & Tom Morgan from Avengers: The Korvac Saga, and a wealth of original covers/page art by Pérez, Byrne, Dave Cockrum and more, this archival tome and type of heroic adventure might not be to every reader’s taste but these – and the truly epic yarns that followed – set the tone for fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights dramas for decades to come and informed all those movies everybody loves. This science fiction double feature can still boggle the mind and take the breath away, even here in the quietly isolated and no less dangerous 21st century…
© 2023 MARVEL.

Batman: Black and White volume 1


By Ted McKeever, Bruce Timm, Klaus Janson, Archie Goodwin & Gary Gianni, Katsuhiro Otomo, Joe Kubert, Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson, José Muñoz, Jan Strnad & Richard Corben, Kent Williams, Chuck Dixon & Jorge Zaffino, Neil Gaiman & Simon Bisley, Andrew Helfer & Liberatore, Bill Sienkiewicz, Matt Wagner, Dennis O’Neil & Teddy Kristiansen, Brian Bolland, Kevin Nowlan, Brian Stelfreeze, Michael Allred, Moebius, Michael Kaluta, Tony Salmons, P. Craig Russell, Marc Silvestri, Alex Ross, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1589-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

Batman is a creature of the night. Batman is the world’s greatest detective, escapologist and master of disguise. Batman fights criminals, mad men and bad women, aliens and monsters. Batman is all this and more. In a world of fabulous eerily distorted hues and constantly shifting blinding colour (mostly red) he sees in black and white… and now so will you…

As recapped in a sagacious Introduction, in the early 1990s Batman: Black and White was originally envisioned as an experimental limited series, with editors Marl Chiarello & Scott Peterson inviting the world’s greatest comics creators – whether new to the character or long-time veterans – to tell “their” story of the Gotham Gangbuster. They would be free of all continuity constraints but operating under the sole proviso that the result should be designed to work in stark monochrome.

Results were astounding, challenging and inevitably, multi-award winning. If you are any sort of Bat-fan or aficionado of the art form there will be something in this wonderful tome to blow your socks off. Just don’t read it in front of your Nan – she spent hours knitting them.

Here is a spectacular showing from some of our world’s greatest talents, producing short complete tales without benefit or hindrance of colour. Moreover, the experiment was such a success that despite some company resistance to its very concept, the miniseries won much acclaim and many awards. Its success led to a regular black-&-white “out-continuity” slot in monthly anthology comic Gotham Knights. Those stories were collected in two subsequent B:BAW volumes. The experiment even evolved a subgenre of monochrome books starring many four-colour superstars from different companies: most of them exploiting the cultural label of “Noir”…

The groundbreaking enigmatic variations open with Ted McKeever’s ‘Perpetual Mourning’ wherein a quiet visit to the morgue opens a small dark window into the hero’s mind after which a panoply of assorted treats unfold, ranging from Archie Goodwin & Gary Gianni’s period piece ‘Heroes’ to poignant Good Evening, Midnight’ written & illustrated by Klaus Janson with the hero scrutinised by the one who knows him best.

Steeped in the animated show’s trappings, Bruce Timm’s tragic ‘Two of a Kind’ interrogates Harvey Dent and Two Face’s life whereas just plain wild and weird declamatory epics The Third Mask’ (by Katsuhiro Otomo) and Joe Kubert’s deeply symbolic ‘The Hunt’ are highly personal takes from major league creators showing why The Batman continues to grip public consciousness in almost any permutation or milieu.

As much thematic metaphor as artistic exercise, stories were not restricted to current DC continuity, but encouraged exploration of the character via impressionistic, personal forays such as ‘Petty Crimes’ by Howard Chaykin, with Archie Goodwin returning to script eerily memorable Jazz thriller ‘The Devil’s Trumpet’ for the astounding stylist José Muñoz.

Walter Simonson crafts future science myth ‘Legend’ whilst Jan Strnad & Richard Corben collaborate on bleak urban fable ‘Monster Maker’, even as Kent Williams revisits the night the Waynes died in ‘Dead Boys Eyes’, whilst Chuck Dixon & Jorge Zaffino’s ‘The Devil’s Children’ examines GCPD’s unique attitude to the Gotham Guardian…

Neil Gaiman & Simon Bisley’s ‘A Black and White World’ is arguably the weakest entry in the book, relying on “Fourth Wall cleverness” rather than actual plot, whereas Andrew Helfer & Liberatore’s insightful kidnap tale ‘In Dreams’ delivers a powerful punch, as does Matt Wagner’s fabulously stylish action romp ‘Heist’, before ‘Bent Twig’ delivers intense whimsy and deep, challenging philosophical questioning from Bill Sienkiewicz – and all shrouded under an ostensibly seasonal theme.

The same setting plays ‘A Slaying Song Tonight’ by Dennis O’Neil & Teddy Kristiansen, whilst Brian Bolland produces the beautifully disturbing ‘An Innocent Guy’. Strnad encores by scripting ‘Monsters in the Closet’ for forensically brilliant Kevin Nowlan, as does O’Neil for Brian Stelfreeze in chilling y introspective ‘Leavetaking’.

Chiarello’s Introduction explains how the project began and acknowledges its conceptual debt to Archie Goodwin’s tenure as writer/editor of Eerie and Warren Publication’s other groundbreaking monochrome magazines, but the collection is also superbly supplemented with background and developmental material, pin-ups and sketch pages from the likes of Michael Allred, Moebius, Michael Kaluta, Tony Salmons, P. Craig Russell, Marc Silvestri, Alex Ross and Neal Adams.

These are uncompromising visions of The Dark Knight that reshaped the medium, returning noir style and themes by offering mayhem in moody monochrome. They are Batman at his most primal and should be on every fan’s radar…
© 2000 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Flash Gordon on the Planet Mongo volume 1: Sundays 1934-1937 (The Complete Flash Gordon Library


By Alex Raymond & Don Moore, with restorations by Peter Maresca (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-154-6 (HB)

By any metric, Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb but cruelly dated Jungle Jim running as its supplementary “topper” strip) as response to revolutionary, inspirational, but clunky Buck Rogers (by Philip Nolan & Dick Calkins and which had also began on January 7th but in 1929), a new element was added to the realm of fantasy wonderment: Classical Lyricism.

Where Rogers offered traditional adventures laced with blue sky science concepts, its new competitor reinterpreted Fairy Tales, Heroic Epics and Mythology. It did so by spectacularly draping them in trappings of a contemporary future, varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for trusty swords and lances (although there were also plenty of those) and exotic flying craft and contraptions standing in for Galleons, Chariots and Magic Carpets.

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for concise, elegant detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip all young artists swiped from. When all-original comic books began some few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean lined Romanticism of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Most of the others went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (which also began in 1934 – and who will get his go another day).

Thankfully in this 90th anniversary year there are still many collections knocking about, and I’m plumping here for 2012’s hardcover archive from British publisher and keeper of traditions Titan Books, who boldly began a Complete Library of the stellar crusader’s exploits that year. We’re still waiting for its conclusion…

Augmenting the epic entertainment is a brace of photo and illustration-packed introductory essays, beginning with uber-artist/fan Alex Ross’ exploration of ‘The Flash Gordon Legacy’ and continuing with ‘Birth of a Legend’ by comics writer and historical publisher Doug Murray, detailing the fantasy milieu into which the dauntless hero was born…

The immortal saga begins with a rogue planet about to smash into Earth. As panic grips the planet, polo player Flash and fellow airline passenger Dale Arden narrowly escape disaster when a meteor fragment downs the plane they’re traveling on. Parachuting out, they land on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov – who imprisons them on a rocket-ship he has built. His plan? To fly directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it!

…And that’s just the first 13-panel episode. ‘On the Planet Mongo’ ran every Sunday until April 15th 1934 when, according to this wonderful full-colour book, second adventure ‘Monsters of Mongo’ (22nd April – 18th November 1934) began, promptly followed by ‘Tournaments of Mongo’ (25th November 1934 to 24th February 1935).

To readers back then, of course, there were no such artificial divisions. There was just one continuous, unmissable Sunday appointment with utter wonderment. The machinations of the impossibly evil but magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet, Flash’s battles and alliances with myriad exotic races subject to the Emperor’s will and the Earthman’s gradual victory over oppression captivated America and the World in tales that seemed a direct and welcome contrast to an increasingly darker reality in the days before World War II.

In short order the Earthlings become firm friends – and in the case of Flash & Dale, much more – as they encounter, battle and frequently ally with beautiful, cruel Princess Aura, the Red Monkey Men, Lion Men, Shark Men, Dwarf Men, and crucially King Vultan and the winged Hawkmen. The epic rebellion against seemingly unbeatable Ming really started with the awesome ‘Tournaments…’ sequence wherein Raymond seemed to simply explode with confidence. It was here that true magic blossomed, with every episode more spectacular than the last. Without breaking step, Raymond moved on to his next mini-epic, as our hero entered ‘The Caverns of Mongo’ on March 3rd until 14th April 1935.

Veteran editor Don Moore was only 30 when he was convinced to “assist” Raymond with the writing, starting soon after the strip first gained momentum and popularity. Moore remained until 1953, long after Raymond had gone. The artist had joined the Marines in February 1944, with the last page he worked on published on April 30th of that year. On demobilisation, Raymond moved to fresh strip fields with detective strip Rip Kirby. Mercifully, that still leaves a decade’s worth of spectacular, majestic adventure for us to enjoy…

Without pausing for breath, the collaborators introduced a host of new races and places for their perfect hero to win over in the war against Ming’s timeless evil. On increasingly epic Sunday comics pages, Flash and his entourage confronted the ‘Witch Queen of Mongo’ (April 21st – 13th October 1935), found themselves ‘At War with Ming’ (20th October 1935 – April 5th 1936) and discovered ‘The Undersea Kingdom of Mongo’ (12th April – 11th October 1936). The sheer glorious beauty and drama of the globally-syndicated serial captivated readers all over the world, resulting in not only some of the medium’s most glorious comic art, but also novels, 3 movie serials, radio and TV shows, a monochrome daily strip (by Raymond’s former assistant Austin Briggs), comic books, merchandise and so much more.

The Ruritanian flavour of the series was enhanced continuously, as Raymond’s slick, sleek futurism endlessly accessed and refined a picture-perfect Romanticism of idyllic Kingdoms, populated by idealised heroes, stylised villains and women of staggering beauty. In these episodes Azura, Witch Queen of Mongo wages brutal, bloody war against Flash and his friends for control of the underworld, eventually leading to all-out conflict with Ming the Merciless – a sequence of such memorable power that artists and movie-men would be swiping from it for decades to come.

When the war ends our heroes are forced to flee, only to become refugees and captives of the seductive Queen Undina in her undersea Coral City. The never-ending parade of hairsbreadth escapes, fights and/or chases continues as Flash, Dale & Zarkov crash into the huge jungle of Mongo. As this initial tome ends the refugees enter ‘The Forest Kingdom of Mongo’ (October 18th 1936 to January 31st 1937): barely surviving its wild creatures before weathering horrific tunnels of ‘The Tusk-Men of Mongo’ (February 7th to June 5th 1938). Here, struggling through desperate hardship and overcoming both monsters and the esoteric semi-humans they finally reach Arboria, the Tree kingdom of Prince Barin, Ming’s son-in-law. He is not what he seems…

And so the book ends, but not the adventure. Even stripped down to bare plot-facts, the drama is captivating. Once you factor in the by-play, jealousies and intrigues – all rendered with spectacular and lush visualisation by the master of classical realism – you can begin to grasp why this strip captured the world’s imagination and holds it still. To garnish all this enchantment, there’s even ‘The Alex Raymond Flash Gordon Checklist’ and biographies of both creators and this astounding tome’s key contributors

Along with Hal Foster (Prince Valiant) and Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon), Raymond’s work on Flash Gordon is considered pivotal to the development of American – if not world – comic art. These works overwhelmingly influenced everyone who followed until the emergence of manga and the advancement of computer technology. If you’ve only heard how good this strip is, you owe it to yourself to experience the magic up close and personal.

I never fail to be impressed by the quality of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon. Yes, plots are formulaic and some gender and social attitudes need to be embraced on their own historical terms but what commercial narrative medium of any vintage is free of that? What is never dull or repetitive is the sheer artistry and bravura staging of the tales. Every episode is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, but the next episode still tops it. You are a fool to yourself if you don’t try this wonderful strip out.

Flash Gordon © 2012 King Features Syndicate Inc., ™ & © Hearst Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.