Showcase Presents Warlord


By Mike Grell, with Vince Colletta & various (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-4012-2473-8 (TPB)

Geez! Once you start thinking about what books you’d like to see on sale again, your brain just won’t let go…

During the troubled 1970s the American comics industry suffered one of the worst of its periodic downturns and publishers desperately cast about for anything to bolster the flagging sales of superhero comics.

By revising their self-imposed industry code of practice (administered by the Comics Code Authority) to allow supernatural and horror comics, publishers tapped into a global revival of interest in spiritualism and the supernatural, and – as a by-product – opened their doors to Sword-&-Sorcery as a viable genre, thanks primarily to Roy Thomas & Barry Windsor-Smith’s adaptation of R. E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian.

DC launched a host of such titles into that budding market but, although individually interesting, nothing seemed to catch the public’s eye until issue #8 of the company’s latest try-out title First Issue Special.

In that issue popular new Legion of Super-Heroes, Aquaman and Green Lantern artist Mike Grell launched his pastiche, homage and tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s works (particularly Pellucidar – At the Earth’s Core) which, after a rather shaky start (like Conan, the series was cancelled early in the run but rapidly reinstated) went on to become for a time DC’s most popular book.

Blending swords, sorcery and super-science with spectacular, visceral derring-do, the lost land of Skartaris was a venue expertly designed for adventure: stuffed with warriors, mythical creatures, dinosaurs and scantily-clad hotties. How could it possibly fail?

This stupendous monochrome compendium, gathers 1st Issue Special #8 (from November 1975) and Warlord #1-28 (January-February 1976 – December 1979), delivering wild wonder and breathtaking thrills from the outset.

The magic commences with ‘Land of Fear!’ as in 1969, U2 spy-pilot Colonel Travis Morgan is shot down whilst filming a secret Soviet base. The embattled aviator manages to fly his plane over the North Pole before ditching, expecting to land on frozen Tundra or pack-ice on the right side of the Iron Curtain.

Instead he finds himself inside the Earth, marooned in a vast, tropical jungle where the sun never sets. The incredible land is populated by creatures from every era of history and many that never made it into the science books. There are also cavemen, savages, lost races, mythical beasts, barbaric kingdoms and fabulous warrior-women.

Plunging head-on into the madness, the baffled airman saves an embattled princess from a hungry saurian before both are captured by soldiers. Taken to the city of Thera, Morgan is taught the language by his fellow captive Tara and makes an implacable enemy of the court wizard Deimos. After surviving an assassination  attempt the pair escape into the eternal noon of the land beneath the Earth.

Within months Morgan won his own-bimonthly title written, pencilled and inked by Grell. ‘This Savage World’ saw the lost airman and the Princess of Shamballah fall deeply in love, only to be separated by slavers who leave Morgan to die in #2’s ‘Arena of Death.’ Surviving a timeless period as a galley slave, Morgan, with Nubian warrior Machiste, lead an insurrection of Gladiators that escalates into full-scale revolution, earning him the title of The Warlord in the process.

However, after this issue the series vanished for months until the end of the year. Cover-dated October-November 1976, Warlord #3 debuted ‘War Gods of Skartaris’, as Morgan returned in all his gory glory, leading his army of liberation and hunting for Tara until he stumbles across his downed aircraft – now worshipped as a god by lizard-men but still packed with lots of 20th century ordnance…

Moreover, it had crashed into a temple that gave the first clues to the incredible secret of the lost land…

‘Duel of the Titans’ sees the Warlord’s army lay siege to Thera, where Deimos has seized power and holds Tara hostage. The mage’s sorcery is no match for high explosives and inevitably he loses his life to Morgan’s flashing blade.

Warlord #5 finds the reunited lovers heading for Tara’s home city Shamballah, discovering en route ‘The Secret of Skartaris!’ in a lost temple that hides millennia-old computer records revealing the entire land to be a lost colony of Atlantis, with much of the magic of the timeless region nothing more than advanced technology. When one such dormant device rockets Morgan away, Tara thinks her man is gone forever…

‘Home is a Four-Letter Word!’ sees the displaced aviator returned to the surface-world with eight years gone by since his crash: emerging from a lost outpost in the Andes where a multi-national excavation is being conducted in the ruins of Machu Pichu.

However, the dig scientists use Morgan’s dog-tags to contact his CIA superiors and rapidly-arriving, extremely suspicious spooks assume he defected all these years ago: especially since one of the archaeologists is soviet researcher Mariah Romanova. When the intransigent spies rouse a demonic watchdog Morgan’s only chance is to head back to Skartaris – with Mariah in tow…

Back in the temple, the day spent on Earth has somehow translated into an interminable time within it. Tara is long gone and Morgan elects to follow her trail to Shamballah. Stopping in the city of Kiro, Morgan and Mariah save his old comrade Machiste from the insidious horror of ‘The Iron Devil’, after which the trio voyage together: attacked by cyborg vampires from ‘The City in the Sky’ and braving ‘The Lair of the Snowbeast’ – wherein Morgan discovers a unique benefactor and a tragically brief love…

Warlord #10 offers the opening sally in a long-running saga as the ‘Tower of Fear’ has the trio aiding a maiden in distress and inadvertently restoring the underland’s greatest monster to life. ‘Trilogy’ in #11 features a triptych of vignettes to display conflicting aspects of the Warlord’s complex character, after which ‘The Hunter’ pits the wandering warriors against a manic, vengeful CIA agent who followed Morgan to Skartaris before ‘All Men Are Mine’ depicts the gravely wounded Warlord’s battle against the very personification of Death.

Issue #15,‘Holocaust’ (inked by Joe Rubinstein) marks the series’  advancement to a monthly schedule whilst finally reuniting Morgan and Tara in Shamballah. The obtuse warrior is stunned to see Mariah heartbroken by the couple’s joy, resulting in hers and Machiste’s incensed departure. The biggest shock, though, is Morgan’s  introduction to his son, Joshua… He doesn’t have much time to dwell, though, as the city starts to explosively self-destruct. …And while Morgan and Tara combat the crisis, undead Deimos strikes, abducting the baby…

Vince Colletta came aboard as regular inker with the beginning of ‘The Quest’ as Morgan and Tara hunt the revenant sorcerer, starting with ‘Visions in a Crimson Eye’; battling Deimos’ minions and rival magicians; encountering and surviving the desert-locked ‘Citadel of Death’ (which reveals some intriguing Skartaran history from the Age of the Wizard Kings) before being briefly distracted by alien invaders in ‘Bloodmoon’.

Scouring Skartaris, Tara and Morgan reunite with Mariah and Machiste in ‘Wolves of the Steppes’ after which the quartet brave Deimos’ fortress in ‘Battlecry’, just as the unliving savant begins experimenting on little Joshua, marrying recovered Atlantean science with his sinister sorceries…

The epic quest concluded in Warlord #21 with Morgan compelled to battle an enslaved adult Joshua in ‘Terminator’. When he kills his own son, the Warlord’s heart breaks and his love abandons him… but as ever, nothing is quite as it seems…

Shell-shocked, Morgan loses himself in drink and bloodletting, battling werewolves and worse in ‘The Beast in the Tower’; subterraneans and cannibals in ‘The Children of Ba’al’ and tragically trysting with a love that cannot last in ‘Song of Ligia’ before becoming a mercenary in ‘This Sword For Hire’ and making a new friend in unscrupulous but flamboyant thief Ashir.

Together they accept ‘The Challenge’ of winning ultimate knowledge and, as Deimos begins his next deadly assault, Morgan relives all his past lives (which include Lancelot, Jim Bowie and Crazy Horse) whilst experiencing first-hand the true story of ‘Atlantis Dying’

The last inclusion in this compilation comprises two linked tales. In the first, Morgan crushes alien horrors in ‘The Curse of the Cobra Queen’ whilst long absent Tara, Mariah and Machiste are drawn into a time-warping encounter with the lost masters of ‘Wizard World’ – the opening salvo in another extended epic that you’ll have to wait for a second volume to enjoy…

The tricky concept of relativistic time and how it does or doesn’t seem to function in this Savage Paradise increasingly grated with many readers, but as Grell’s stated goal was to produce a perfect environment for yarn-spinning, not a science project, the picky pedant would be best advised to suck it up or stay away.

For we simple, thrill-seeking fantasy lovers, however, these are pure escapist tales of action and adventure, light on plot and angst but aggressively and enthusiastically jam-packed with action and wonder. These are timeless tales that will enthral, beguile and enchant. As the man himself constantly says “in Skartaris, always expect the unexpected”… even a long overdue revival of these reprint compendia…
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Space Clusters – DC Graphic Novel 7


By Arthur Byron Cover & Alex Niño (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0930289140 (Album PB)

Ever had a greebley, itchily irritating, unsuitable day when everything – even physical laws and common sense – seem to have taken spiteful umbrage at you? Well, those get more frequent the older you get.

If you actually reach a vintage and vantage where it’s commonplace, the only remedy – albeit short-lived – is to have a moan and whine about something else. As displacement strategies go, it’s generally non-addictive and satisfying in the short-term, and maybe somebody, somewhere will listen…

My go-to subject whenever that happens is superb graphic works that have been left to fade away without even digital versions made for posterity. Like this one…

During the 1980s DC, like many publishers galvanised by new print-formats and price-tags, attempted to liberate comics narratives from previous constraints of size, format and content.

Graphic novels were still an unproven quantity in America and Big Guns DC and Marvel – as well as angelic upstarts First and Comico – adopted a kind of scattershot “suck it and see” attitude for content and embraced the European Album size and page format.

Whereas the House of Ideas had a solid publishing plan that didn’t stray too far from their usual periodical product, DC looked to expand or overlap markets by creating “boutique” imprints such as the Science Fiction Graphic Novel line which adapted classic short stories and novellas into highly experimental graphic narratives and a general catch-all… the DC Graphic Novel Series.

Often – at least in sequential narrative terms – there’s not much discernible difference between the two, but since this a safe space to review and promote graphic novels, please be assured that this is one that works excessively well: evocative, bold and beautifully realised.

To accompany in-house landmarks like Jack Kirby’s Hunger Dogs and licensed material like Star Raiders and Warlords, DC commissioned all-new tales such as the spectacular, unique and eons-spanning cosmic fantasy of the Space Clusters.

Scripted by author Arthur Byron Cover (Autumn Angels, An East Wind Coming) the true lure here is lavish full-colour illustration of the most stylish, uncompromisingly impressive artists of the 1970s Filipino invasion – Alex Niño.

He was born in 1940, son of and later assistant to a professional photographer. Alex studied medicine at University of Manila but dropped out in 1959 to pursue his dream of being a comics artist.

He apprenticed with Jess Jodloman and worked on a number of successful features before following Tony DeZuñiga in the first wave of Islands artists to work for DC, Marvel, Gold Key and Warren. A stand-alone stylist even amongst his talented confederates, Niño started on DC’s supernatural anthologies such as House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion, Secrets of Sinister House, Weird War Tales, Weird Mystery Tales and The Witching Hour before moving onto character driven series such as Korak, Son of Tarzan, Space Voyagers and period Caribbean pirate Captain Fear – which he co-created with Robert Kanigher.

His Marvel work included adaptations for their own “illustrated Classics” line and landmark interpretations of Ellison’s ‘“Repent Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman’ and Moorcock’s ‘Behold the Man’ for Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction(and where’s that longed for collection, while we’re whining?) as well as the stunning Savage Sword of Conan classic ‘People of the Dark’ and assorted inking jobs on superhero titles.

He found his fullest expression in Warren Publishing’s mature-oriented magazines Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella and the outrageously over-the-top sci-fi erotica title 1984/1994 before largely leaving the industry for Hollywood design work.

True afficionados might also seek out his stint on Archie’s The Comet and Shield/Steel Sterling whilst DC’s Thrillerand Omega Men were fairly impressive swan-songs. He also worked for a variety of smaller companies during the 1980s Independents boom and the curious should track down his one-man band Alex Niño’s Nightmare #1, featuring translated Filipino material, published in 1989 by Innovation.

He occasionally returned to comics in such titles as Dark Horse Presents, Shaman, John Jakes’ Mullkon Empire, Savage Sword of Conan and God the Dyslexic Dog, Dead Ahead and Batman: Black and White.

Offering overtones of Les Miserables and The Forever War, Space Clusters opens as beloved rogue and man of the people Ethan Dayak is finally cornered by dedicated Earth cop Lieutenant Kara Basuto of the Terran Interplanetary Corps on a far-flung alien world.

She has pursued the smuggler of decadent art across the universe at sub-light speeds for eighty years, aging only when she hits a new planet and emerges from suspended animation.

Kara is cold, fanatical and dedicated whilst Dayak is an affable, personable and loving man instantly adored by every race and sentient species he encounters …

During their latest confrontation, Ethan again escapes, thanks to the intervention of his latest paramour, causing the increasingly remorseless Basuto to finally cross the line and kill civilians…

Crushed, defeated and despondent, Dayak sets course for the edge of the galaxy, intending to sleep his way to infinity but even this does not deter Basuto who implacably follows. Time becomes nothing and eventually both fall into the event horizon of a Black Hole where something incredible happens: both are transformed into supernal, sentient energy phenomena, still trapped in their course of flight and relentless pursuit…

However, here at the end of space and time, a mighty new race populates the universe and how these ancient new gods deal with the last life of the cosmos makes for a powerful and beguiling drama no fan of the fantastic will want to miss, especially as the expanded page size and enhanced colour palette gave Niño ample opportunity to let his fantastic imagination run wild.

It’s an inexpressible pity that its out of print (but at least copies are still readily available from online vendors) and this is an experiment DC should seriously consider reviving and resuming. So why don’t we do that then?…
© 1986 DC Comics Inc. All rights reserved.

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom Dark Horse Archives volume Two


By Paul S. Newman, Frank Bolle, George Wilson & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1593073275 (HB) 978-1616553241 (TPB)

The comics colossus identified by fans as Dell/Gold Key/Whitman had one of the most complicated publishing set-ups in history, but that didn’t matter one iota to the kids of all ages who consumed their vastly varied product.

Based in Racine, Wisconsin, Whitman had been a crucial part of the monolithic Western Publishing and Lithography Company since 1915, drawing upon commercial resources and industry connections that came with editorial offices on both coasts (and even a subsidiary printing plant in Poughkeepsie, New York).

Another connection was with fellow Western subsidiary K.K. Publications (named for licensing legend Kay Kamen who facilitated extremely lucrative “license to print money” merchandising deals for Walt Disney Studios between 1933 and 1949).

From 1938, Western’s comicbook output was released under a partnership deal with a “pulps” periodical publisher under the umbrella imprint Dell Comics – and again those creative staff and commercial contacts fed into the line-up of the Big Little, Little Golden and Golden Press books for children. This partnership ended in 1962 and Western had to swiftly reinvent its comics division as Gold Key.

As previously stated, Western Publishing had been a major player since comics’ earliest days, blending a huge tranche of licensed titles such as newspaper strip, TV and Disney titles, (like Nancy and Sluggo, Tarzan, or The Lone Ranger) with home-grown hits like Turok, Son of Stone and Space Family Robinson.

In the 1960s, during the camp/superhero boom the original adventure titles expanded to include Brain Boy, M.A.R.S. Patrol, Total War (created by Wally Wood), Magnus, Robot Fighter (by the incredible Russ Manning) and – in deference to the atomic age of heroes – Nukla and another brilliantly cool and understated thermonuclear white knight…

Despite supremely high quality and passionate fan-bases, Western’s pantheon never really captured the media spotlight of DC or Marvel’s costumed cut-ups, and eventually – in 1984 – the West Coast crew closed their comics division, having lost or ceded their licenses to DC Marvel and Charlton.

As a publisher, Gold Key never really “got” the melodramatic, breast-beating, often-mock-heroic Sturm und Drang of superheroes – although for a sadly-dwindling number of us, the understated functionality of Silver Age classics like Magnus, Robot Fighter or remarkably radical concepts of atomic crusader Nukla and even the crime-fighting iterations of classic movie monsters Dracula, Frankenstein and Werewolf were utterly irresistible.

The sheer off-the-wall lunacy of features like Neutro or Dr. Spektor I will save for a future occasion…

The company’s most recognisable and significant stab at a superhero was an understated nuclear age paladin with the rather unwieldy codename of Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom, who debuted in an eponymous title dated October 1962 – Happy Anniversary! – sporting a captivating painted cover by Richard M. Powers that made the whole deal feel like a grown up book rather than a mere comic.

With #3, Frank Wilson took over the iconic painted covers: a glorious feature that made the hero unique amongst his costumed contemporaries…

By the time of this second collection – also available in hardback, but tragically not in any digital editions I know of – Paul S. Newman (A Date With Judy; The Lone Ranger; Turok, Son of Stone; I Love Lucy and literally countless other titles) was the sole writer and Frank Bolle (The Twilight Zone; Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery; Flash Gordon; The Heart of Juliet Jones) was providing slick understated visuals for one of the most technically innovative and conceptually spectacular series on the stands…

More factual opinions and inside information can be accessed in the ‘Foreword’ by Jim Shooter (a latter day Solar scribe) as well as a fond critical appraisal and background on the classics that follow…

The Supreme Science Hero was born when a campaign of sabotage at research base Atom Valley culminates in the death of Dr. Bentley and the accidental transmutation of his lab partner Doctor Solar into a (no longer) human atomic pile with incredible, impossible and apparently unlimited powers and abilities. Of course, his very presence is lethal to all around him…

The nuclear nightmares – from Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #8-14 (July 1964 to September 1965) – begin with the latest ploy mysterious mastermind Nuro, who wants the monopoly on atomic science. A fiend employing espionage and murder, his current scheme is to use mind-science to destroy his enemies, deploying ‘The Thought Controller’ to create hallucinations and exhaust Solar to the point of expiration. It initially works but Nuru has not reckoned on the devotion of girlfriend Gail Sanders and mentor Dr. Clarkson who help him overcome ‘The Final Challenge’

Cover-dated October-December, issue #9 revealed how the spy supremo abducts America’s greatest cybernetic innovator and compels him to construct ‘Transivac, the Energy-Consuming Computer’. Rapidly becoming self-aware and autonomous, the monster machine seems easy able to complete its mission and destroy Solar but when it goes berserk even Nuro neds his arch enemy to defeat ‘The Enemy Within’

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #10 (January-February 1965) tells in two parts how a hasty effort to repair the utterly fractured polar ice shelf necessitates the Atomic Adventurer absorbing unimaginable extra energy from our closest star to save humanity. Tragically, the solar overdose turns him into a 100 foot, mega-tonnage colossus and ‘The Sun Giant’ must perform extraordinary energy-consuming feats to reduce himself to human scale…

He’s still not quite there in #11 (March-April) as Nuro strikes again, exploiting the Man of the Atom’s exertions and increasing amnesia to orchestrate ‘The Day Solar Died’. As the hero becomes a growing menace, only a token of love turns back the tide of terror…

Economic catastrophe stems from a sinister plot as ‘The Mystery of the Vanishing Silver’ (#12, May-June) sees Solar working for the Federal government while Nuro’s top henchman Aral Uzbek demonstrates his own appetite for destruction and multi-tasking skills, leading to a shocking new transition for all men of the Atom before order is restored…

Please don’t stop me if you’ve heard this next one…

When ‘The Meteor from 100 Million B.C.’ (#3 July-August) crashes into a swamp and buries itself down deep, hyper-fast evolutionary forces quickly generate waves of monstrous predatory life-forms that demand rapid responses and a pose a momentous moral quandary for Solar, Gail and Clarkson. Ultimately, the stark demands of survival of the fittest make the decision for them…

The epics end for now with #14 (September-October 1965) As Nuro and Uzbek’s latest terror-weapon prompts a full infiltration of Atom Valley and subsequent sabotage of a new reactor. While the Man of the Atom prevents nuclear catastrophe, the radiation alters his composition, giving him an uncontrollable new ability in ‘Solar’s Midas Touch’. Inadvertently changing the atomic structure of anything he touches, the frantic hero is further tested when Nuro’s toy is unleashed for a crucial rocket launch at Cape Kennedy and Solar must find a way to turn misfortune to his advantage…

Rounding out this second tome, a Bonus Section culled from filler pages in issues #15-22 and all colored and retouched by Dan Jackson, examines ‘The Science of Solar’ with peeks into ‘Secrets of Atom Valley’, ‘Birth of a Death Ray’, ‘Security Guard’, and ‘…Her Two Mile “Gun”’, whilst Doctor Solar: Forms of Energy examines ‘Radio Waves’, ‘Light’and ‘Heat’ before class is dismissed following breakdowns of Doctor Solar’s Senses – specifically ‘Touch’ and ‘Hearing’– and a summation of ‘The Five Incredible Senses of the Man of the Atom’

Augmented by fulsome ‘Biographies’ of the creative personnel, this charismatic collection offers potently underplayed and scientifically astute (as far as the facts of the day were known) adventures blending the best of contemporary movie tropes with the still fresh but burgeoning mythology of the Silver Age superhero boom. Enticingly restrained and understated, these Atom Age action comics offered a compelling counterpoint to the eccentric hyperbole of DC and Marvel and remain some of the most readable thrillers of the era.

These tales are lost gems from a time when fun was paramount and entertainment a mandatory requirement. This is comics the way they were and really should be again…
DOCTOR SOLAR®, MAN OF THE ATOM ARCHIVES Volume 1 ™ and © 2010 Random House, Inc. Under license to Classic Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

Ronin – the Deluxe Edition


By Frank Miller with Lynn Varley & John Costanza (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4895-6 (HB)

I always feel a bit daft reviewing stuff that everyone already knows about, but I’m constantly being reminded that even though somebody talks about the classics of our art-form it doesn’t mean they actually have read them. Moreover, the great thing about comics is that they’re meant to be re-experienced, over and over and over…

So here’s a quick look at Frank Miller’s breakthrough epic: a canny blending of East and West, ancient and futuristic, mythical and technological, all used to scrutinise the unchanging nature of human passion, readily available in a number of versions including Black Label and Absolute Ronin. This edition – available in hardback and digital formats – is a simple Deluxe tome, released in 2014…

Set mostly in a near future where society has irretrievably broken down (just look out of your window, if you still have any of those), our story actually opens eight centuries earlier in feudal Japan, where a beloved, noble lord and his youngest, most untried samurai are besieged by the forces of a terrible demon named Agat who craves the sacred, mystical sword the old daimyo protects.

Eventually, its unrelenting attacks succeed and Lord Ozaki is compromised and murdered. Shamed at his failure and maimed by the shape-shifting demon, the neophyte samurai becomes a masterless warrior: a Ronin forced to wander the Earth until he can regain his honour…

Meanwhile in the 21st century, New York City – and indeed the entire planet – are dying, destroyed by economic, industrial and societal abuse. However, at the heart of the dystopian nightmare, a small team of free-thinking and idealistic scientists are pioneering a scheme to save humanity from itself.

Technological wizard Peter McKenna has invented self-replicating “bio-circuitry” that feeds itself from the polluted earth to grow clean buildings and even new prosthetic limbs. His greatest achievement is the Aquarius complex, a self-staining habitat governed by a benevolent Artificial Intelligence dubbed Virgo. Peter’s wife Casey runs security for the complex, whilst their friend Taggart runs the corporation they jointly founded, selling their world saving tech – and message – to the rest of humanity.

Maternal Virgo is increasingly becoming the fourth member of the team: making autonomous decisions for the benefit of all. She works closely with Billy Challas, an extreme congenital quadriplegic with latent psionic powers. His hidden mental abilities have enabled Virgo to make huge leaps in replacement limbs, but recently his dreams have been disturbed by visions of Ozaki, Agat and the Ronin. Virgo is troubled by how historically accurate the nightmares are…

In ancient Japan, the Ronin has wandered for years, continually defending the holy sword from Agat’s forces, until in one self-sacrificing final duel, demon and hero are both killed by the eldritch blade…

When Virgo’s researches uncover the dream Katana in a junk shop eight centuries later, she accidentally causes an explosion which decimates portions of Aquarius, releasing Agat into our world again. Mercifully, the Ronin’s spirit simultaneously enters Billy, who uses his submerged mind-powers to reconfigure deformed flesh into the form of the ancient warrior.

Lost, dazed and confused, the Ronin wanders through the horrific landscape of post-civilised New York: encountering a debased and corrupted populace whilst Agat possesses Taggart and begins to subvert the pacifist, redemptive mission of Aquarius.

As chief of security, Casey McKenna digs (quite literally) into the problem and with Virgo’s help tracks down Billy/Ronin, but rather than saving the lad she is incomprehensibly drawn into his mystical confusion. Meanwhile, as “Taggart” retools the complex into a munitions super-factory, Peter begins unravelling the mystery: discovering nothing is as it seems, and that there are far more sinister threats than debased gang-mutants and ancient demonic creatures. The entire world is under imminent threat and the clock is ticking…

This tale was not well received when it debuted: the heady mix of manga influences (particularly Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima’s stunning and epic Lone Wolf and Cub which permeates and guides this tale like a ghostly grandfather), science fiction, social politics and supernatural ultra-violence was clearly not what the superhero-reading fans had expected.

Although some thematic overtones remained, this was clearly no continuation of Miller’s landmark Daredevil run at Marvel: those issues were returned to in successive DC epics The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One

However, Ronin did alter American comics forever, allowing adult sensibilities (that had flourished in Europe and Japan for decades) to finally gain a foothold in the dogmatically juvenile American comics market. Of course it wasn’t alone, but with American Flagg! and a few precious others, it was at the vanguard of the zeitgeist that put style and mature content above Fights, Tights and empty frights…

Oppressive, exhilarating, terrifying and mystifying – supplemented here with An Introduction by Jennette Khan; a Ronin Gallery comprising contemporary promotional material; concept sketches; retail posters; original art and pages previous editions’ cover art – Ronin is truly spectacular: a visual tour de force that reshaped what we read and how we read it. As a fan you have a divine obligation to see it for yourself…
© 1983, 1984, 2014 Frank Miller, Inc. Introduction © 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow: Space Traveling Heroes


By Denny O’Neil, Frank McGinty, Elliot S! Maggin, Mike Grell, Alex Saviuk, Vince Colletta & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401295530 (HB)

After their hugely successful revival and reworking of The Flash, DC were keen to build on a resurgent superhero trend. Showcase #22 hit newsstands at the same time as the fourth issue of the new Flash comic book (#108) and once again the guiding lights were Editor Julie Schwartz and writer John Broome. Assigned as illustrator was action ace Gil Kane – usually inked by Joe Giella – and the issue revealed a Space Age reconfiguration of the Golden Age superhero with magic replaced by super-science.

Hal Jordan was a young test pilot in California when an alien policeman crashed his spaceship on Earth. Mortally wounded, Abin Sur commanded his power ring – a device for materialising thoughts – to seek out a replacement officer, honest and without fear.

Scanning the planet, it selected Jordan and brought him to the crash site. The dying alien bequeaths his ring, lantern-shaped Battery of Power and professional vocation to the astonished Earthman.

Having established characters, scenario and narrative thrust of a series that would become the spine of all DC continuity, the editors were confident of their ground. Unlike the years-long, practically glacial debut of The Flash, the next two Showcase issues carried the new costumed champion to even greater exploits, and six months later Green Lantern #1 was released.

In this iteration the Emerald Gladiators are a universal police force (Jordan’s “beat” is Space Sector 2814), and over many traumatic years, he grew into one of the greatest members of the serried band of law-enforcers. The Green Lantern Corps has safeguarded the cosmos from all evil and disaster for billions of years, policing countless sentient beings under the severe but benevolent auspices of immortal super-beings who consider themselves the Guardians of the Universe.

These undying patrons of Order were one of the first races to evolve and dwelt in sublime, emotionless security and tranquillity on the world of Oa at the very centre of creation.

Green Lanterns are chosen for their capacity to overcome fear and are equipped with a ring that creates solid constructs out of emerald light. The miracle weapon is fuelled by the strength of the user’s willpower, making it – in the right hands – one of the mightiest tools imaginable…

For eons, a single individual from each of the 3600 sectors of known space was selected to patrol his, her or its own beat, but being cautious and meticulous masters, the Guardians laid contingency plans as appointing designated reserve officers.

The series a ran for a decade before changing tastes pushed it into radical territory as a soap box for social injustice and environmental issues. The “relevancy period” generated landmark groundbreaking tales from Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams that revolutionised the industry, whilst registering such poor sales that the book was cancelled and the twinned heroes (a cost-cutting concept had seen GL paired with liberal firebrand Green Arrow as a walking, rip-roaring conscious for the conservative ring-wielder) unceremoniously shipped into the back of another comic book – the marginally more successful Flash.

The Flash #217-246 saw the transition from Adams to new art sensation Mike Grell: a run that precipitated the viridian vigilantes back into their own title. With the emphasis shifting back to crime, adventure and space opera, Green Lantern was again popular enough for his own book and he naturally brought the boisterous bowman along for the ride….

Collecting Green Lantern #90-106 (August/September 1976-July 1978) this hardback and digital compendium sees them (mostly) return to the starry firmament for cosmic duties beginning with #90 (August/September 1976) as ‘Those who Worship Evil’s Might’ – by Denny O’Neil & Mike Grell – finds the Green Gladiators investigating a starship buried in the Las Vegas desert for countless years. When it disgorges an ancient evil the heroes also meet the freshly awakened officers of a force used by the Guardians of the Universe before green rings were invented…

Issue #91 depicts the return of arch-nemesis Sinestro who inflicts ‘The Revenge of the Renegade’ upon his foes after taking over a poverty-stricken third world monarchy. When the tables are turned, he flees into space and across dimensions, arriving with the green team on a primitive world in dire need of champions legendarily saved via ‘The Legend of the Green Arrow’ (inked by Robert “Bob” Smith).

Inked by Terry Austin, #93’s ‘War Against The World-Builders’ finds aliens abducting homeless people to build a colony world. As GL interrupts his Thanksgiving dinner to play saviour, however, his lover Carol Ferris, Black Canary and Green Arrow are ambushed by government spooks and the archer is abducted. Rogue agents need him to kill someone and believe they have the perfect inducement in #94’s ‘Lure for an Assassin’ (Austin & Dick Giordano inks) but didn’t count on his ingenuity and the return of substitute GL John Stewart, culminating in a political scandal barely averted in concluding chapter ‘Terminal for a Tragedy’ with Vince Colletta signing on as regular inker.

Bouncing back to the big black yonder, #96’s ‘How Can an Immortal Die?’ sees the reappearance of alien Lantern Katma Tui, crashing to Earth and bringing warning of a terrible threat that has infiltrated the Guardians. Rushing rashly to the rescue, Jordan battles his comrades and patrons to solve and defuse ‘The Mystery of the Mocker’ in a spectacular romp that marks the series’ restoration to monthly status.

The plan doesn’t end well and #98 finds the mind monster loose on Earth and tormenting Black Canary with visions of the dead in ‘Listen to the Mocking Bird’. Tracing the abominable mocker Ffa’rzz to an antediluvian and impossibly distant space station, Jordan Katma Tui, the Arrow and enigmatic space critter Itty infiltrate the monolith and face constant nightmare as they realise ‘We Are on the Edge of the Ultimate Ending!’ Thankfully, devious plotter Ollie Queen has a plan to save everything…

Double-sized Green Lantern/Green Arrow #100 carried a January 1978 cover-date and two tales, beginning with O’Neil, Alex Saviuk & Colletta’s ‘Rider of the Air Waves’ which expanded the Jordan family by introducing a distant cousin. Also called Hal Jordan, this kid had inherited his father Larry’s title as Air Wave (a Golden Age Great using the power of radio to crush crooks) but got trapped in energy form by debuting dastard Master-Tek. It didn’t take long to sort things out and find little Hal a tutor after which Elliot S! Maggin, Grell & Colletta took Ollie, the Canary and former sidekick Roy “Speedy” Harper back to Star City in ‘Beware the Blazing Inferno!’ the task of stopping a ring of bombers opened old wounds however, and the archer again opted to try fixing things from within by running for Mayor…

Frank McGinty, Saviuk & Colletta deconstructed ‘The Big Braintrust Boom’ in #101 as freewheeling trucker Hal – the elder – Jordan uncovers a mind-bending, potentially world-dominating cult run by old enemies Hector Hammond and Bill Baggett, before O’Neil, Saviuk & Colletta reveal a cunning alien plot to shanghai humans as batteries in ‘Sign Up… and See the Universe’ which intensifies into a full blown invasion in #103’s ‘Earth – Asylum for an Alien’ with David Hunt stepping in to ink. Happily our heroes are up to the challenge, but when a valued comrade suddenly dies the consequences are not just tragic but simply catastrophic in #104’s ‘Proof of the Peril’ by O’Neil, Saviuk, Colletta. Even this is not the end, however, as the bizarre events herald the vengeful assault of old enemy Sonar in follow-up yarn ‘Thunder Doom’leading to a close call with an all-consuming atrocity and revelatory conclusion  ‘Panic… in High Places and Low’ by O’Neil, Grell & Bruce Patterson in last inclusion #106.

Although still laced with satire and political barbs, this tome sees challenging tales of rebellion give way to plot-driven sagas of wit and courage, packed with a less shining, less optimistic sense of wonder albeit still bristling with high-octane action. Here are evergreen adventures that confirmed the end of the Silver Age of Comics and the birth of something new. Illustrated by some of the most revered names in the business, the exploits in this volume closed one chapter in the life of Green Lantern and opened the doors to today’s sleek and stellar sentinels of the stars.
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Mighty Warriors Annual 1979


By Paul S. Newman, Don Glut, Dick Wood, José Delbo, Jesse Santos, Paul Norris & various (Stafford Pemberton Publishing)
ISBN: 0 86030 140 0(HB) ASIN: B001E37D7U

The comics colossus identified by fans as Dell/Gold Key/Whitman had one of the most complicated publishing set-ups in history but that didn’t matter to the kids of all ages who consumed their vastly varied product. Based in Racine, Wisconsin, Whitman was a crucial part of the monolithic Western Publishing and Lithography Company since 1915, and drew on the commercial resources and industry connections that came with editorial offices on both coasts (and even a subsidiary printing plant in Poughkeepsie, New York).

Another useful connection was with fellow Western subsidiary K.K. Publications (named for licensing legend Kay Kamen who facilitated extremely lucrative “license to print money” merchandising deals for Walt Disney Studios between 1933 and 1949).

From 1938 on, Western’s comic book output was released through a partnership deal with a “pulps” periodical publisher under the umbrella imprint Dell Comics – and again those creative staff and commercial contacts fed into the line-up of the Big Little, Little Golden and Golden Press books for children that featured in thousands of stores and newsstands. When the partnership ended in 1962 Western swiftly reinvented its comics division as Gold Key.

As previously cited, Western Publishing was a major player since comics’ earliest days, blending a huge tranche of licensed material including newspaper strips, TV and Disney titles (such as Nancy and Sluggo, Tarzan, or The Lone Ranger) with home-grown hits like Turok, Son of Stone and Space Family Robinson.

In the 1960s, during the camp/superhero boom these original adventure titles expanded to include Brain Boy, Nukla, M.A.R.S. Patrol, Total War (created by Wally Wood), Russ Manning’s Magnus, Robot Fighter and much more. There were even heroic classic monsters Dracula, Frankenstein and Werewolf which were utterly irresistible. The sheer off-the-wall lunacy of features like Neutro or Dr. Spektor I shall save for a future occasion…

Such output was a perfect source of material for British publishers whose regular audiences were profoundly addicted to TV and movie properties. For decades, Western’s comics from Frankenstein Jr. to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Yogi Bear and the Beverly Hillbillies to Land of the Giants and Star Trek filled out Christmas Annuals, and along the way also slipped in a few original character concepts.

Despite supremely high quality material and passionate fan-bases, Western never really captured the media spotlight of DC or Marvel’s costumed cut-ups, and in 1984 – having lost or ceded their licenses to DC, Marvel and Charlton – closed the comics division.

crime-fighting iterations of classic movie

The company’s most recognisable stab at a superhero was an understated nuclear era star with the rather unwieldy codename Dr. Solar, Man of the Atom who debuted in an eponymous title dated October 1962, sporting a captivating painted cover by Richard M. Powers that made the whole deal feel like a grown up book rather than a mere comic.

Crafted by writers Paul S. Newman & Matt Murphy with art by Bob Fujitani, the 2-part origin detailed how a campaign of sabotage at research base Atom Valley culminated in the accidental transmutation of a scientist into a (no longer) human atomic pile with incredible, impossible and apparently unlimited powers and abilities. Of course, his very presence is lethal to all around him…

Here – sans any such useful background – the now well-established atomic troubleshooter battles his old cyborg enemy Nuro to prevent marauding energy beings using ‘The Ladder to Mars’ to invade Earth and solves ‘The Mystery Message’ before winning an outer space ‘Battle of the Electronic Fighters’. The done-in-one yarn originally appeared in Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #27 (April 1969) crafted by Dick Wood & José Delbo.

During its lifetime the parent company was keenly attuned to trends, and when comic book Sword & Sorcery bloomed they had their own offering: a darkly toned barbarian blockbuster dubbed Dagar the Invincible. Reprinting the first issue origin of an orphan who became a vengeance-seeking mercenary ‘The Sword of Dagar’ is by Don Glut & Jesse Santos, providing motivating backstory, an epic quest and tragic doomed loves story culminating at the ‘Castle of the Skull’ as first witnessed in October 1972’s Tales of Sword and Sorcery – Dagar the Invincible #1.

Ending the outré adventure is a tale of Magnus Robot Fighter 4000 AD which comes from issue #25 (February 1969) of his US comic. The mighty mech masher was first seen in the UK as part of a Gold Key comic strip package deal comprising Tarzan, The Green Hornet, Lone Ranger, Phantom and Flash Gordon for weekly TV Tornado and here battles ‘The Micro-Giants’ – size-shifting alien automatons – and a nefarious human entrepreneur in a classy action-romp by an unidentified author and artists Paul Norris & Mike Royer.

Superb quality and a beguilingly off-beat feel makes these stories and this book a truly enticing prospect. Why don’t you give it a shot?
© MCMLXXVIII by Western Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved throughout the world.

Pow! Annual 1971


By unknown writers & artists and Miguel Quesada Cerdán, Vicente Ibáñez Sanchis, José Ortiz Moya, Matías Alonso, Enric Badia Romero, Eustaquio Segrelles del Pilar, Leopoldo Ortiz & various (Odhams Books)
SBN: 60039607X

This quirky item is one of my fondest childhood memories and quite inspirational in directing my career path, and as well as being still a surprisingly splendid read I can now see it as a bizarre and desperately belated sales experiment…

By the end of the 1960s, DC Thomson had overtaken the monolithic comics publishing giant that had been created by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the twentieth century. The company – variously named Fleetway, Odhams and IPC – had absorbed rivals such as The Eagle’s Hulton Press, and stayed at the forefront of sales by latching onto every fad they had kept their material contemporary, if not fresh, but the writing was on the wall, but now

the comedy strip was on the rise and action anthologies were finding it hard to keep readers attention.

By 1970 – when this annual was released – the trend generated by the success of the Batman TV show was thoroughly dead, so why release a book of all-new superhero strips in a title very much associated with comedy features and cheap Marvel Comics reprints?

A last ditch attempt to revive the genre? Perhaps a cheap means of using up inventory?

I don’t know and I don’t care. What they produced that year was a wonderful capsule of fanboy delight, stuffed with thrills, colourful characters and a distinctly cool, underplayed stylishness, devoid of the brash histrionics of American comic books.

Conceived by tragically uncredited writers – but purportedly all created by Alan Hebden – this is a visual delight illustrated in alternating full colour (painted) and half-colour (black and magenta) sections by IPC’s European stable of artists: some of the greatest artists of the era, and delivered in a thoroughly different and grittily dark take on extraordinary champions, costumed crimebusters and the uncanny unknown…

The wonderment kicked off with ‘Magno, Man of Magnetism’ drawn by Miguel Quesada Cerdán: a valiant crimecrusher who seemed a cross between Simon Templar and James Bond, who donned his mask and used his superpowers only if things got really rough…

Eerily off-kilter sea scourge ‘Aquavenger’ was an oceanic crimefighter illustrated by The Victor veteran Vicente Ibáñez Sanchis, while ‘Mr. Tomorrow: Criminal of the Future’ – illustrated by jack of all genres Matías (Air Ace, Battle Action, Commando, The Victor, Twinkle) Alonso was an outright rebel from an oppressive state in days to come.

I don’t know who wrote or drew edgy, self-contained thriller ‘The Hunter and the Hunted’, but ‘Electro’ (no relation to the Marvel villain – other than the high-voltage shtick) is gloriously rendered by the legendary José Ortiz Moya (Caroline Baker, Barrister at Law; Smokeman; UFO Agent; The Phantom Viking; Commando Picture Library; BattlePicture Library; Vampirella; The Thirteenth Floor; Rogue Trooper; Tex Willer, Judge Dredd and many more).

In the most  traditional tale of the book, Eddie Edwards defends Surf City, USA as a voltaic vigilante and as part of the hero-heavy Super Security Bureau defeating terrors such as the crystalline marauders on view here…

Limned by future Modesty Blaise and Axa illustrator Enric Badia Romero, the fascinating psionic super-squad ‘Esper Commandos’ infiltrate and eliminate the competition before urban hunter ‘Marksman’ deals with a deadly saboteur and faux vengeful spectre ‘The Phantom’ (again no relation to any US star and illustrated by watercolours specialist Eustaquio Segrelles del Pilar) hands out summary justice decked out in a spooky uniform loaded with cunning gadgets…

We dip into the mind of a monster when aquatic horror ‘Norstad of the Deep’ – illustrated by Leopoldo Ortiz – invades the upper world but revert to heroic adventure for closing yarn ‘Time Rider’. Rendered by Ibáñez, it details how a bored genius millionaire builds a time-travelling robot horse and goes in search of adventure…

These are all great little adventures, satisfactorily self-contained, beautiful and singularly British in tone, even though most of the characters are American – or aliens (and no, that’s not necessarily the same thing). This tome easily withstands a critical rereading today, but the most important thing is the inspiring joy of these one-off wannabes. They certainly prompted me to fill sketchbook after sketchbook and determined that I would neither be a “brain surgeon nor a bloke wot goes down sewers in gumboots”. This great little tome gave me that critical push towards the fame and fortune I now enjoy, and could probably do it again!
© 1970 The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited.

The Dandy Book 1970


By Many & various (D.C. Thomson & Co.)
ISBN: 978-0-85116-008-5 (HB)

For generations of British fans Christmas means The Beano Book, The Broons, Oor Wullie and making every December 25th magical. There used to be many more DC Thomson titles, but the years have gradually winnowed them away. Thankfully, time means nothing here, so this year I’m concentrating on a another Thomson Christmas cracker that made me the man wot I am. As usual my knowledge of the creators involved is woefully inadequate but I’m going to hazard a few guesses anyway, in the hope that someone with better knowledge will correct me when I err.

The Dandy comic predated The Beano by eight months, utterly revolutionising the way children’s publications looked and – most importantly – how they were read. Over decades it produced a bevy of household names that delighted millions of households, with end of year celebrations being bumper bonanzas of the weekly stars in magnificent bumper hardback annuals.

Premiering on December 4th December 1937, The Dandy broke the mould of its hidebound British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under the sequential picture frames. A colossal success, it was followed on July 30th 1938 by The Beano and together they completely changed children’s publications. Dandy was the third longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937).

Over the decades the “terrible twins” spawned countless cartoon stars of unforgettable and beloved household names who delighted generations of avid and devoted readers…

The fun-filled action begins on the inside front cover as seasoned star Korky the Cat (by Charles Grigg?) set the ball rolling as he dodges the rozzers after a spot of illicit angling. As was traditional at this time, he also performed similar service at the far end – there falling foul of his own meagre engineering skills after building a triple decker “cartie” (think of the Red Bull Soapbox Challenge but sans the manic testosterone overload…)

These annuals were traditionally produced in the wonderful “half-colour” that many British publishers used to keep costs down whilst bringing a little spark into our drab and gloomy young lives. This was done by printing sections of the books with two plates, such as blue/Cyan and red/Magenta. The versatility and palette range provided was astounding. Even now this technique screams “Holidays” to me and my contemporaries, and this volume uses the technique to stunning effect.

D.C. Thomson were also extremely adept at combining anarchic, clownish comedy with solid fantasy adventure tales such as opening comedy thriller ‘King of the Sawdust Ring’ (limned by Paddy Brennan) wherein circus boy Billy King has to recapture an escaped lion and save his pet deer when a parade through town goes badly wrong…

As seen here, these picture thrillers usually came in the old-fashioned captioned format, with blocks of typeset text rather than lettered word balloons. Drama gives way to daft destruction as cowboy superman Desperate Dan (by Dudley D. Watkins) gets lost in fog, whilst another Korky the Cat short wreaks havoc in an ironmonger’s shop before his picture puzzle ‘Twig the Twins!’ – by the always-magnificent Eric Roberts – tests mind and eye.

The Smasher was a lad cut from the same mould as Dennis the Menace and in the episodes here (by Hugh Morren) he carves a characteristic swathe of anarchic destruction, even if his first encounter proves he’s not the toughest lad in town…

Drawn by Ron Spencer, pint-sized Dinah Mite proves she has no need of martial arts training after which hard-pressed squaddie Corporal Clott (by Dennis the Menace originator Davy Law or possibly his successor David Sutherland) disrupts the Army Camp sports day and accidentally and painfully boosts surly Colonel Grumbly to undreamed of heights.

Drawn by Jimmy Hughes, Bully Beef and Chips invariably proved that a weedy underdog’s brain always trumped brutal brawn, as here where little Chips orchestrates a well-deserved water-pistol drubbing…

Eric Roberts does triple-duty this year with puzzles, schoolboy grifter Winker Watson and perennial bath-dodger Dirty Dick who here plays chalk-based pranks on the police, after which Winker Watson’s Dandy Doodles baffle and bemuse before crafty Korky is outsmarted by a peg-legged sailor…

Another package of light-hearted drama then ensues courtesy of schoolboy Charley Brand and his robotic pal ‘Brassneck’– by the fabulous Bill Holroyd – who are largely innocent spectators as Christmas Day devolves into a toy and snowball brawl for all the adults in the street, after which Desperate Dan learns the cost of his well-meaning but excessive generosity and Dinah Mite discovers another benefit to small size and big muscles at a football match…

Bully Beef and Chips then clash whilst fishing which segues into a tale of The Island of Monsters (drawn by Q-Bikes artist Andrew Hutton?): a thrilling castaway series with two boys marooned on a tropical paradise where all the animals are incredibly enlarged. This time, the lads witness the results of human pirates underestimating the power and ferocity of giant gulls, beetles, bees and grasshoppers…

Next ‘Dirty Dick’s Picture Puzzle’ tests our brains before Korky’s superstitious nature pays off in a fish supper and our little Dick pops back, finally meeting his match in an escaped zoo chimp in a grubby but great strip by (perhaps) Tom Williams.

Whilst a great deal of material was based on school as seen by pupils, George Martin’s ‘Greedy Pigg’ featured a voracious teacher always attempting to confiscate and scoff his pupils’ snacks. Here he abandons kids’ tuck boxes to extend his appetite to encompass the pantries and larders of adults and even a wandering tramp gets what he deserves…

Dinah Mite then returns to train her new gang to the peak of punishing fitness, after which Desperate Dan’s heavy-footed antics wreck the skating pond and The Smasher takes three pages to ponder his job when he grows up.

Korky’s parrot declares war on the cat but comes to regret allying with the mice, whilst Corporal Clott successfully spoils target practice and Dirty Dick cleans up as golf caddy.

Jimmy Hughes’ geriatric delinquent Smarty Gran’pa mentors little kids in scrumping, pranking and dodging coppers whilst Corporal Clott wrecks record-keeping and penmanship before we return to drama as ‘Ricky’s Racer’ (probably by Brennan) sees a poor but proud kid master a found sledge: tearing up the icy landscape, making friends with a rich toff’s son and even foiling a burglary in a ripping yarn only DC Thomson could pull off…

A brutal training regime pays off in scoff for The Smasher’s new gang, before Bully Beef and Chips escalate a darts match into armoured warfare heralding classic comedy japes in a posh private school…

Winker Watson was always a triumph for artistic legend Eric Roberts, who here turns a visiting TV documentary crew into the spur for another string of victories against boarding school tyranny. Our devious mastermind easily humiliates the masters and treats his chums to a “slap-up feed” of the kind ‘Greedy Pigg’ constantly contrived to steal.

In a neat segue, George Martin’s voracious pie predator is led to his “just desserts” by toffee apples stuck on arrows before Robert returns with picture teaser ‘Winker Watson’s Class for Clever Dicks’ – combining comedy with brain testing scenarios before Dirty Dick encounters a military mascot and learns how the army deal with dust and disarray…

Korky’s flying lessons soon bring him into dispute with squadrons of geese, after which family favourite ‘Spunky and his Spider’ offers another delightfully rustic tale of an affable, truanting kid and his devoted, amiable apple-loving, giant antediluvian arachnid as limned by the fabulous Bill Holroyd. This time the eight-legged wonder helps school kids beat bullies trying to snatch the cash made from carol-singing…

Greedy Pigg’s appetite and lack of scruples scupper him again just as Desperate Dan’s snow balls make him lots of enemies whilst Bodger the Bookworm (by Shamus O’Doherty) uses some novel notions to retrieve a confiscated ball before the fun climaxes with the saga of Barefoot Bill (Hutton again?): a schoolboy whose gigantic feet and love of soccer forced him to learn to play sans footwear…

With Puzzle Answers and the aforementioned Korky endpapers wrapping up proceedings, let’s celebrate another tremendously fun book, with so much merriment on offer I can’t believe this book is over half a century old and still available through second hand outlets.

The only thing better would by curated archive reissues and digital editions…
© 1968 D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. All rights reserved.

The DANDY is a trademark of and © D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. 2006. Associated characters, text and artwork © D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. 2006. All rights reserved.

Hurricane Annual 1968


By Many & various (Fleetway)
No ISBN:

From the late 1950s and increasingly through the 1960s, Scotland’s DC Thomson steadily overtook their London-based competition – primarily monolithic comics publishing giant Amalgamated Press. Founded by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the twentieth century, AP sought to regain lost ground, and the sheer variety of material the southerners unleashed as countermeasures offered incredible vistas in adventure and – thanks to the defection of Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid to the enemy – eventually found a wealth of anarchic comedy material to challenge the likes of the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and their unruly kin.

During the latter end of that period the Batman TV show sent the entire world superhero-crazy. Amalgamated had almost finished absorbing all its local rivals – such as The Eagle’s Hulton Press – to form Fleetway/Odhams/IPC and were about to incorporate American-styled superheroes into their heady brew of weekly thrills.

Once the biggest player in children’s comics, Amalgamated had stayed at the forefront of sales by latching onto every fad: keeping their material contemporary, if not strictly fresh. The all-consuming company began reprinting early Marvel Comics successes for a few years: feeding on the growing fashion for US style adventure which had largely supplanted the rather tired True-Blue Brit style of Dan Dare or DC Thompson’s Wolf of Kabul.

Even though sales of all British comics were generally – and in some cases, drastically -declining, the 1960s were a period of intense and impressive innovation with publishers embracing new sensibilities; constantly trying new types of character and tales. At this time Valiant and its stable-mate Lion were the Boys’ Adventure big guns (although nothing could touch DC Thomson’s Beano and Dandy in the comedy arena).

Hurricane was an impressive-looking upgrade that began during that period of expansion and counterattack, apparently conceived in response to DCT’s action weekly Hornet. It launched the week of February 29th 1964 and ran for 63 issues, but was revamped three times during that period before ultimately being merged into companion paper Tiger.

It carried a superbly varied roster of features in that time, including two (and a half) stars who survived its extinction. Racing driver Skid Solo and comedy superman Typhoon Tracy as well as Sgt Rock – Paratrooper… but not for so long for him…

There was heavy dependence on European and South American artists initially, among them Mario Capaldi, Nevio Zeccara, Georgio Trevisan, Renato Polese and Lino Landolfi, some of whom lasted into the Annuals. As with so many titles, although the comics might quickly fade, Christmas Annuals maintained a presence for years after and Hurricane seasonal specials were produced for every year from 1965 to 1974…

Following a tried-&-true formula, this book – published in 1967 – offers comics adventures, prose stories, fact-features, funnies and puzzles and kicks off with stunning full-colour fact feature strip ‘Lawmen and Badmen of the Wild West’.

Looking  like they’re painted by Reg Bunn or Tony Weare, these comics outline the lives and times of Wyatt Earp, Tom Smith, Black Bart, Sam Bass, Billy the Kid and Bat Masterson, before fully fictional western star Drago teaches a headstrong young cavalry officer the meaning of command in monochrome thriller ‘He Rides Alone’ – possibly illustrated by Polese.

Regular prose feature ‘The Worst Boy in the School’ (illustrated by Geoffrey Whittam?) follows a page of medical gags entitled ‘Take a dose of Chuckles!’ The long-running boarding school saga was enlivened by its star Duffy coming from Circus stock. Here the comedy, chaos and espionage excitement stems from a New Boy who’s convinced enemies of his father – a South American president – are trying to kidnap him. He’s not wrong…

Returning to monochrome strips, ‘Sgt. Rock – Special Air Service’ ferrets out Nazi infiltrators masquerading as American GIs before we switch back to fact for a photo-feature offering capacious coverage of modern British military might in ‘The Army Marches on its Wheels!’ whilst the comedy capers of ‘Rod the Odd Mod and ‘is old pal Percy Vere’ literally bring the house down when he gets the Hi Fi bug.

‘Casey and the Champ’ stars a veteran railroad man and his steam engine who here reveal in strip form the unlikely salvation of a played-out mining town as prelude to photo feature ‘Why Not Go by Balloon?’ before heading to 1804 where Regency prize-fighter Jim Trim stumbles upon a Napoleonic plot to conquer England in ‘Two Fists Against the World!’ (perhaps illustrated by Carlos Roume)…

Prose yarn ‘Carlos of the Wild Horses’ details the story of conquistadores imperilled by rebellious Aztecs and saved by the bond between the governor’s young son and a herd of mustangs and is followed by text fact-features ‘War Dogs’ – commemorating canines in combat – and ‘Atlantic Greyhounds’ explaining why the glory days of cruise liners had passed and why they could be built no bigger. Ah, the joys of schadenfreude and hindsight in action…

Next is a prose-&-photo precis current of movie release ‘The Train’(starring Burt Lancaster, but I’d never heard of it): a tale of Nazi collaboration and pursuit of transport of stolen art, followed by photo feature ‘When Nature Turns Nasty!’ before the incontestable star of Hurricane thunders in on a wave of colour illustration. ‘The Juggernaut from Planet Z’ is again despatched to aid his Earth chum Dr. Dan Morgan only to be overridden – and temporarily enslaved – by crazed would-be dictator General Zeb.

Sport next as ‘Hurry of the Hammers’ finds the football star in black-&-white and almost deprived of club and grounds by an unscrupulous new owner more interested in profit than the beautiful game. Historical factual strip ‘They Climbed… the Matterhorn’ then leads to a prose outing for the worst ship in the WWII navy. One again confounding the British Admiralty and escaping being broken up for parts in ‘HMS Outcast – Pride of the Fleet’ sees Geoff Campion’s unruly mob save the Pacific flotilla from destruction by the Japanese using ping pong balls and tomato sauce…

‘Typhoon Tracy’s Lucky Strike!’ finds the mighty moron in Alaska, battling bears, triggering a gold rush and helping an old friend stave off poverty, after which Giovanni Ticci employs duo-colour to limn a superbly light-hearted ‘Sword for Hire’ romp starring Cavalier soldier-of-fortune Hugo Dinwiddie who saves a fugitive king’s agent from capture even while acting as an unwilling substitute for a duellist.

Reverting to prose, ‘The Terrible Revenge of Dr. Parvo’ stars atomic accident survivors Ace Sutton and Flash Casey who use their journalistic skills and ability to walk through walls to stop a madman weaponizing weather, after which strip ‘Danger at Manakee Deep’ details a futuristic undersea habitat and resource factory endangered by greed and treachery.

‘Rodeo!’ traces the history of the sport with photos front the Calgary Stampede whilst monochrome strip ‘The Ragged Racer’ offers early environmental activism from its Wildman hero as he thwarts a circus’ scheme to destroy his mountainous animal preserve and gag page ‘It’s a Dog’s Laugh!’ brings us the text cover feature ‘R.A.F. to the Rescue’ outlining the history and activities of the coastal guardians.

The prose perseveres with adventure yarn ‘The Fiery Furnaces’ as two roving sportsmen accidentally dethrone a South American tyrant with delusions of grandeur (with illustrations by either Nevio Zaccara or Alfredo Giolitti) before ‘Rod the Odd Mod and ‘is old pal Percy Vere’ endure a calamitous bath night…

Sport was a major fascination of publishers at this time and ‘Soccer Special by The Ref’ opens an extended section of pictorial mini-features comprising ‘Famous Captains before they were Famous’, ‘Soccer Trophies Worth Winning’ and ‘Strange Things Happen in Soccer’ before we all ride off into the sunset, ending with comic strip masked cowboy ‘The Black Avenger’ who chases and then saves a “white magician” stirring up Indian tribes.

Eclectic, wide-ranging and always of majestically high quality, this blend of fact, fiction, fun and thrills is a splendid evocation of lost days of joy and wonder. We may not be making books like this anymore but at least they’re still relatively easy to track down. Of course, what’s really needed is for some sagacious publisher to start re-issuing them…
© Fleetway Publications Ltd., 1967

The Outer Limits Annual 1966


By Paul S. Newman(?) & Jack Sparling, & various (World Distributors {Manchester} Limited)
No ISBN. ASIN: B0042Q9PAE (HB)

British Comics have always fed heavily on other media and as television grew during the 1960s – especially the area of children’s shows and cartoons – those programmes increasingly became a staple source for the Seasonal Annual market. There would be a profusion of stories and strips targeting not readers but young viewers and more and more often the stars would be American not British.

Much of this stuff wouldn’t even be as popular in the USA as here, so whatever comic licenses existed usually didn’t provide enough material to fill a hardback volume ranging anywhere from 64 to 160 pages. Thus, many Annuals such as Daktari, Champion the Wonder Horse, Lone Ranger and a host of others required original material or, as a last resort, similarly-themed or related strips. That’s not the case here…

The Outer Limits launched in the USA on September 16th 1963, running until January 16th 1965: two seasons comprising 49 self-contained episodes of an anthological science fiction series with no returning stars where drama, suspense and uncanny situations beguiled paranoid, culturally shell-shocked audiences seeking a brief release from real-world threats like the Cold War and Cost of Living. Like contemporary rival show The Twilight Zone, it was sold all over the world and developed a fanatically devoted fanbase, thereby achieving a kind of immortality, with modern reboots and merchandising.

Comic book franchising specialist Gold Key produced a series of 18 issues spanning March 1964 to October 1969, running almost half a decade beyond the show’s cancellation (but presumably sustained by regional TV syndication). They were part of print monolith western Publishing whose Dell Comics, Gold Key, Big Little, Little Golden and Golden Press books for children were a staple of kids’ lives in America for decades.

Western Publishing was a major player since comics’ earliest days, blending a huge tranche of licensed material including newspaper strips, TV and Disney titles, (such as Nancy and Sluggo, Tarzan, or The Lone Ranger) with home-grown hits like Turok, Son of Stone and Magnus, Robot Fighter.

Their output was an ideal perfect source of material for British publishers whose regular audiences were profoundly addicted to TV and movie properties. For decades, Western’s comics from The Impossibles and Bugs Bunny to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Star Trek filled our Christmas treats and also slipped in some original character concepts.

“All Killer and No Filler”, this book – the second of two Outer Limits editions – was produced in a non-standard UK format, with full-colour for three American reprints and nothing else: no prose pieces, puzzles, games or fact-features on related themes. It looks and feels like it’s one from the wonderful Mick Anglo’s packaging company Gower Studios, however and I’m fairly certain the originals were scripted by prolific wonder Paul S. Newman (Dr. Solar, Man of the Atom, Space Family Robinson, Turok, The Lone Ranger)

There’s no doubt the illustrator was the uniquely stylish and equally prolific John Edmond “Jack” Sparling (Hap Hopper, Washington Correspondent, Claire Voyant, Doc Savage, Challengers of the Unknown, Unknown Soldier, Captain America) who in sterling fashion produced this trio of terrors…

‘The Dread Discovery’ debuted in quarterly issue #5 (April 1965) and is set in a NASA base where Peter Norton, with his pals Andy and Fred, accidentally shoot down a flying saucer with their model rocket. The kids’ parents all work on-base and are – eventually – delighted to meet the vessel’s occupant. FR-2 is a defector from his own people, arriving in advance of their invasion fleet and willing to give his life to save humanity…

The Outer Limits #6 (July 1965) recounted the saga of ‘The Mystery Moon’ wherein little Jim Burke is abducted by aliens when he exposes their seeming mission of mercy as a devious scheme to fling earth out of orbit. Luckily for humanity, the lad’s a lot smarter and more cunning than his kidnappers…

The brooding mystery and omnipresent menace conclude with ‘The Message from Space’ (#8, July 1966) as radio-astronomer Arthur Godderd decodes a communication from distant star 102 Beta and has his chemist chum Charles Dilling mix up the resulting formula. When sunlight hits the goo, it super-expands and attacks civilisation on multiple fronts. Seemingly unstoppable, the glob is only countered when all the previously warring nations on Earth act in unison in accordance with a crazy theory put forward by desperate Dr. Dilling…

Quirky but chilling, and always applying sound scientific principles to the most outlandish plot circumstances, this is a superb scare package for kids in the manner of Goosebumps and well worth a latter-day revisit.
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