An Android Awakes: Fictional Alignment

By Mike French & Tony Allcock (Elsewhen Press)
ISBN: 978-1-911409-20-5                  eISBN: 978-1-911409-30-4

It’s been a while since we looked at anything non-traditional so here’s an intriguing illustrated book which has a lot to recommend it… most importantly, that it’s a long-awaited sequel to a captivating and fascinating tome we reviewed way back in 2015…

In the far future of An Android Awakes, human beings are practically extinct and androids have become the dominant intellects ruling the planet. Sadly, our synthetic successors are as prone to emotional foibles, personal insecurities, obsessive manias and ruthless zealotry as us meat-bags ever were.

To a great extent they also assimilated our creative urges too. One such was Android Writer PD121928 who was part of the Android Publishing Program. The state provided for his needs (drugs, whores, deep-frozen pets and the removal of his wife so that he can achieve the proper frame of artistic angst and squalor) and in return he was to conceive increasingly outré and wild adventure tales. The same deal applied for every creative automaton in the system: Filmmakers, photographers, artists, whatever…

His ultimate failure and tragic martyrdom allowed and compelled his human lover Sapphira to recycle his failed ideas into a global bestseller entitled Humans (An Arrangement of Minor Defects).

On its release – the first human work of fiction for over a century – the volume became the best-selling book of all time, but in the aftermath of publication an ideological schism triggered a violent change in Android government and philosophy leading to a pogrom against everything non-factual…

Eleven years later, with society in crisis and the mythoclasts in charge, Fiction is deemed filth and all creativity is consecrated to Fact. The mighty Pravda and his Proseologist assumed control of the Vatican and began excising everything non-verifiable – mood, tone, poesy, flights of fancy – from the world’s literature.

But even that is not enough. Thus, androids Heisenberg and Tractatus are ordered to conduct arch-imagineer Sapphira – and a select band of equally unwilling and iconic characters – on a succession of journeys through time to re-enact her book’s greatest feats and feasts of fictive excess, rendering them factual in every respect…

Sadly, whilst stage-managing great moments of love, death, spectacle, science fantasy and comedy to prove the fanciful concrete and validatable, the sheer corrupting power of imagination and the forces needed to make creativity and inspiration real have an implacably metamorphic effect of the agents of change and they begin using millennia of time travel to reshape the mission to their own twisted ever-shifting agendas…

Featuring old An Android Awakes favourites such as The Great Explorer Umberto Amunsden, The Locust Wife and The Amazing Arctic Sinking Man and introducing us to the almighty Digitised Treasury and the Real Jesus, this mind-bending Scientific Romance from Mike French offers a challenging odyssey through the theocracy of thought and depicts a trenchant guerrilla war between What Is, What Might and What Should be…

Devotees of Michael Moorcock, Brian Aldiss, J. G. Ballard, Thomas M. Disch and other heavyweights of the last century’s SF New Wave movement will love this challenging stand-out return to Big Idea, Deep Thought emotionally expressive speculative fiction, as will any reader hungry to have heart and mind expanded…
Text and artwork © Mike French 2018. Cover artwork © Tony Allcock 2018. All rights reserved.

Garth: The Women of Galba

By Jim Edgar & Frank Bellamy (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-0-90761-049-6

It’s a big anniversary for Britain’s greatest comic strip adventurer this summer, but other than a few old collections and the online reprints, nobody seems much moved to celebrate the event or revive a genuine original of cartoon entertainment. Here however, with our eyes firmly set on great comics of every era and at least one and a half feet firmly planted in the past, we’re not going to let him slip by without any fanfare at all…

Garth was created in response to America’s publishing phenomenon Superman and debuted in the Daily Mirror on Saturday, July 24th 1943, the creation of Steve Dowling and BBC producer Gordon Boshell. His comic strip page mates at that time were regular features Buck Ryan, Belinda Blue Eyes, Just Jake and the irrepressible, morale-boosting glamour-puss Jane.

A blond giant and physical marvel, Garth washed up on an island shore and into the arms of a pretty girl, Gala, with no memory of who he was, just in time to save the entire populace from a tyrant. Boshell never actually wrote the series, so Dowling, who was also producing the successful family strip The Ruggles, scripted Garth until a writer could be found.

Successful candidate Don Freeman dumped the amnesia plot in ‘The Seven Ages of Garth’ (which ran from September 18th 1944 to January 20th 1946); introducing studious jack-of-all-scientific trades Professor Lumiere whose psychological experiments regressed the hero back through his past lives.

In sequel tale ‘The Saga of Garth’ (January 22nd 1946-July 20th 1946) his origin was finally revealed. Found floating in a coracle off the Shetlands, baby Garth was adopted by a kindly old couple and grew to vigorous manhood. On reaching maturity he returned to the seas as a Navy Captain until he was torpedoed off Tibet in 1943.

Freeman continued as writer until 1952 and was briefly replaced by script editor Hugh McClelland until Peter O’Donnell took over in 1953. O’Donnell wrote 28 adventures before resigning in 1966 to devote more time to his own Modesty Blaise feature. His place was taken by Jim Edgar; who also scripted western strips Matt Marriott, Wes Slade and Gun Law.

In 1968 Dowling retired and his assistant John Allard took over the drawing until a permanent artist could be found. Allard had completed ten tales when Frank Bellamy came on board with the 13th daily episode of ‘Sundance’ (reprinted in Garth: The Cloud of Balthus). Allard remained as background artist and general assistant until Bellamy took full control during ‘The Orb of Trimandias’.

Professor Lumiere had discovered something about his patient which gave this strip its unique and distinctive appeal – even before the fantastic artwork of Bellamy elevated it to dizzying heights of graphic brilliance: Garth was blessed – or cursed – with an involuntary ability to travel through time and experience past and future lives.

This concept gave the strip infinite potential for exotic storylines and fantastic exploits, pushing it beyond its humble origins as a US mystery-man knock-off.

This second (1985) Titan Books collection of the Frank Bellamy era spans the period from 7th September 1972 to 25th October 1973 with the artist at the absolute peak of his powers. It opens here with eerie chiller ‘The People of the Abyss’ wherein Garth and sub-sea explorer Ed Neilson are captured by staggeringly beautiful naked women who drag their bathyscaphe to a city at the bottom of the Pacific. These undersea houris are at war with horrendous aquatic monstrosities and urgently need outside assistance, but even that incredible situation is merely the prelude to a tragic love affair with Cold War implications…

Next up is eponymous space-opera romp ‘The Women of Galba’ wherein an alien tyrant learns to rue the day he abducted a giant Earthman to fight and die as a gladiator. Exotic locations, spectacular action and oodles more astonishingly beautiful females make this an unforgettable adventure…

‘Ghost Town’ is a western tale, and a very special one. When Garth, vacationing in Colorado, rides into abandoned mining outpost “Gopherville”, he is irresistibly drawn back to a past life as Marshal Tom Barratt who lived, loved and died when the town was a hotspot of vice and easily purloined money. When Bellamy died suddenly in 1976 this tale – long acknowledged as his personal favourite – was rerun until Martin Asbury was ready to take over the strip.

The final adventure re-presented here – ‘The Mask of Atacama’ – sees Garth and Lumiere in Mexico City. Whilst sleeping the blonde colossus is visited by the spirit of beautiful Princess Atacama who escorts him through time to the vanished Aztec city of Tenochtitlan where, as the Sun God Axatl, Garth attempts to save their civilisation from the voraciously marauding Conquistadores of Hernan Cortés. Tragically, neither he nor the Princess have reckoned on the jealousy of the Sun Priests and their High Priestess Tiahuaca

Adding extra value to this volume are a draft synopsis and actual scripts for ‘The Women of Galba’, liberally illustrated, of course. There has never been a better comic adventure strip than Garth as drawn by Bellamy, combining action, suspense, glamour, mystery and the uncanny in a seamless blend of graphic wonderment. In recent years, Titan Books has published a superb line of classic British strips and comics and I’m praying that with Modesty Blaise and James Bond now completed, they’ll return to Garth (and while I’m dreaming, Jeff Hawke too) on the understanding that it’s up to us to make sure that this time the books find a grateful, appreciative and vast audience…
© 1985 Mirror Group Newspapers/Syndication International. All Rights Reserved.

Challengers of the Unknown by Jack Kirby

By Jack Kirby, France “Ed” Herron, Dave Wood, Roz Kirby, George Klein, Bruno Premiani, Marvin Stein & Wally Wood (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7719-2

The Challengers of the Unknown were a bridging concept between the fashionably all-American human trouble-shooters who monopolised comicbooks for most of the 1950s and the costumed mystery men who would soon return to take over the industry.

As superheroes began to return in 1956 here was a super-team – the first of the Silver Age – with no powers, the most basic and utilitarian of uniforms and the most dubious of motives… Suicide by Mystery.

Yet they were a huge hit and struck a chord that lasted for more than a decade before they finally died… only to rise again and yet again. The idea of them was stirring enough, but their initial execution made their success all but inevitable.

Jack Kirby was – and remains – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are quite rightly millions of words written (such as Paul Kupperberg’s enthusiastic Introduction and John Morrow’s pithy Afterword in this superb Trade Paperback and eBook compilation) about what the man has done and meant, and you should read those if you are at all interested in our medium.

I’m going to add a few words to that superabundance in this review of one of his best and most influential projects which, like so many others, he perfectly constructed before moving on, leaving highly competent but never quite as inspired talents to build upon.

When the comics industry suffered a witch-hunt-caused collapse in the mid-50’s, Kirby returned briefly to DC Comics where he produced tales of suspense and science fiction for the company’s line of mystery anthologies and revitalised Green Arrow (then simply a back-up strip in Adventure Comics) whilst creating the newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force.

He also re-packaged for Showcase (a try-out title that launched the careers of many DC mainstays) an original super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and long-time collaborator Joe Simon had closed their innovative but unfortunately ill-timed Prize/Essankay/Mainline Comics ventures.

After years of working for others Simon & Kirby had finally established their own publishing company, producing comics with a much more sophisticated audience in mind, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by an anti-comicbook pogrom spearheaded by US Senator Estes Kefauver and pop psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham.

Simon quit the business for advertising, but Kirby soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to a number of safer, if more conservative and less experimental, companies.

The Challengers were four ordinary mortals; explorers and adventurers who walked away unscathed from a terrible plane crash. Already obviously what we’d now call “adrenaline junkies”, pilot Ace Morgan, diver Prof Haley, acrobat and mountaineer Red Ryan and wrestler Rocky Davis summarily decided that since they were all living on borrowed time, they would dedicate what remained of their lives to testing themselves and fate. They would risk their lives for Knowledge and, naturally, Justice.

The series launched with ‘The Secrets of the Sorcerer’s Box!’ in Showcase #6 (cover-dated January/February 1957 – so it was on spinner-racks and news-stands in time for Christmas 1956).

Kirby and scripter Dave Wood, plus inkers Marvin Stein and Jack’s wife Roz, crafted a creepily spectacular epic wherein the freshly introduced doom-chasers were hired by the duplicitous magician Morelian to open an ancient container holding otherworldly secrets and powers.

This initial story roars along with all the tension and wonder of the B-movie thrillers it emulates and Jack’s awesome drawing resonates with power and dynamism, which grew even greater for the sequel: a science fiction drama instigated after an alliance of leftover Nazi technologists and contemporary American criminality unleashes a terrible robotic monster.

‘Ultivac is Loose!’ (Showcase #7, March/April 1957) introduced a necessary standard appendage of the times and the B-movie genre in the form of brave, capable, brilliant and beautiful-when-she-took-her-labcoat-off boffin Dr. June Robbins, who became the no-nonsense, ultra-capable (if unofficial) fifth Challenger at a time when most funnybook females had returned to a subsidiary status in that so-conventional, repressive era.

The uncanny exploits then paused for a sales audit and the team didn’t reappear until Showcase #11 (November/December 1957) as The Flash and Lois Lane got their respective shots at the big time. When the Challengers returned it was in alien invasion epic ‘The Day the Earth Blew Up’.

Uniquely engaging comics realist Bruno Premiani (a former associate and employee from Kirby’s Prize Comics days) came aboard to ink a taut doomsday chiller that keeps readers on the edge of their seats even today, and by the time of their last Showcase issue (#12, January /February 1958) the Questing Quartet were preparing to move into their own title.

‘The Menace of the Ancient Vials’ was defused by the usual blend of daredevil heroics and inspired ingenuity (with the wonderful inking of George Klein adding subtle clarity to the tale of an international criminal who steals an ancient weapons cache that threatens the entire world if misused), but the biggest buzz would come two months later with the first issue of their own magazine.

Challengers of the Unknown #1 (May 1958) was written and drawn by Kirby, with Stein on inks and presented two complete stories plus an iconic introductory page that would become almost a signature logo for the team. ‘The Man Who Tampered with Infinity’ pitted the heroes against a renegade scientist whose cavalier dabbling loosed dreadful monsters from the beyond onto our defenceless planet, before the team were actually abducted by aliens in ‘The Human Pets’ and had to win their freedom and a rapid rocket-ship (sphere actually) ride home…

The same creators were responsible for both stories in the second issue. ‘The Traitorous Challenger’ is a monster mystery, with June returning to sabotage a mission in the Australian Outback for the very best reasons, after which ‘The Monster Maker’ finds the team seemingly helpless against super-criminal Roc who can conjure and animate solid objects out of his thoughts.

Issue #3 features ‘Secret of the Sorcerer’s Mirror’ with Roz Kirby & Marvin Stein again inking The King’s mesmerising pencils, as the fantastic foursome pursue a band of criminals whose magic looking-glass can locate deadly ancient weapons, but undoubtedly the most intriguing tale for fans and historians of the medium is ‘The Menace of the Invincible Challenger’ wherein team strongman Rocky Davis is rocketed into space only to crash back to Earth with strange, uncanny powers.

For years the obvious similarities of this group – and especially this adventure – to the origin of Marvel’s Fantastic Four (#1 was released in November 1961) have fuelled fan speculation. In all honesty I simply don’t care. They’re both similar but different and equally enjoyable so read both. In fact, read them all.

With #4 the series became artistically immaculate as the sheer brilliance of Wally Wood’s inking elevated the illustration to unparalleled heights. The scintillant sheen and limpid depth of Woody’s brushwork fostered an abiding authenticity in even the most outrageous of Kirby’s designs and the result is – even now – simply breathtaking.

‘The Wizard of Time’ is a full-length masterpiece of the art form and opens with a series of bizarre robberies that lead the team to a scientist with a time-machine. By visiting oracles of the past rogue researcher Darius Tiko has divined a path to the far future. When he gets there, he intends to rob it blind, but the Challengers deftly find a way to follow and foil him…

‘The Riddle of the Star-Stone’ (#5) is a full-length contemporary thriller, wherein an archaeologist’s assistant uncovers an alien tablet bestowing various super-powers when different gems are inserted into it. The exotic locales and non-stop action are intoxicating, but Kirby’s solid characterisation and ingenious writing are what make this such a compelling read.

Scripter Dave Wood returned for #6’s first story. ‘Captives of the Space Circus’ sees the boys shanghied from Earth to perform in a interplanetary travelling carnival, but the evil ringmaster is promptly outfoxed and the team returns for France “Ed” Herron’s mystic saga ‘The Sorceress of Forbidden Valley’, wherein June becomes an amnesiac puppet in a power struggle between a fugitive gangster and a ruthless feudal potentate.

Issue #7 is another daring double-feature both scripted by Herron. First up is relatively straightforward alien-safari tale ‘The Beasts from Planet 9’, but it’s followed by a much more intriguing yarn on the ‘Isle of No Return’ as the lads face a super-scientific bandit whose shrinking ray leaves them all mouse-sized.

Concluding Kirby issue #8 (July 1959) offers a magnificent finale to a superb run as The King & Wally Wood went out in stunning style with a brace of gripping thrillers – both of which introduced menaces who would return to bedevil the team in future tales.

‘The Man Who Stole the Future’ by Dave Wood, Kirby and the unrelated Wally Wood, introduces Drabny – an evil mastermind who steals mystic artefacts and conquers a small nation before the team dethrones him. Although this is a tale of spectacular battles and uncharacteristic, if welcome, comedy, the real gem here is space opera tour-de-force ‘Prisoners of the Robot Planet’, (probably) written by Kirby & Herron. Petitioned by a desperate alien, the Challs travel to his distant world to liberate the population from bondage to their own robotic servants, who have risen in revolt under the command of the fearsome autonomous automaton, Kra

These are classic adventures, told in a classical manner. Kirby developed a brilliantly feasible concept with which to work and heroically archetypical characters. He then tapped into an astounding blend of genres to display their talents and courage in unforgettable exploits that informed and affected every team comic that followed – and certainly influenced his successive landmark triumphs with Stan Lee.

But then Jack was gone…

The Challengers would follow the Kirby model until cancellation in 1970, but due to a dispute with Editor Jack Schiff the writer/artist resigned at the height of his powers. The Kirby magic was impossible to match, but as with all The King’s creations, every element was in place for the successors to run with. Challengers of the Unknown #9 (September 1959) saw an increase in the fantasy elements favoured by Schiff, and perhaps an easing of the subtle tension that marked previous issues (Comics Historians take note: the Challs were bitching, bickering and snarling at each other years before Marvel’s Cosmic Quartet ever boarded that fateful rocket-ship).

But that’s meat for another book and review…

Challengers of the Unknown is sheer escapist wonderment, and no fan of the medium should miss the graphic exploits of these perfect adventurers in that ideal setting of not-so-long-ago in a simpler, better galaxy than ours.
© 1957, 1958, 1959, 2003, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

The Transformers UK Classics Volume One

By Steve Parkhouse, Simon Furman, James Hill, John Ridgway, John Stokes, Geoff Senior, Mike Collins, Barry Kitson, Will Simpson, Jeff Anderson & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-943-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Nostalgia-Fuelled Read to Toy With… 8/10

The metal-morphing Transformers toys took the world by storm in the 1980’s and a tie-in monthly American Marvel comicbook was a smash hit. Marvel’s UK division quickly produced their own fortnightly (ultimately weekly) periodical reprinting the US material, but the scheduling disparity soon necessitated the creation of original material.

As you’d expect from a top brand, the supremely popular shiny shapeshifters have been the jewel in the crown of numerous publishers ever since. The license currently resides with IDW and as part of their line, the new guys have kindly added archival editions of past glories to enthral new readers and give inveterate nostalgics a potent reminder of the good old days…

It should be noted that although a toy and cartoon show tie-in, the weekly British comic – when not reprinting US Marvel stories – seemed to pitch their material at a slightly older, if not necessarily more mature, readership…

As well as re-presenting originated material from The Transformers #1-44 (September 20th 1984 – January 18th 1986), this initial hardback/Trade Paperback/eBook archive also includes an erudite and extremely informative introduction – ‘A Complete History of Transformers UK’ – by James Roberts (following his Foreword) – detailing not only the origins and impact of the toys but the nuts and bolts of the creation of the British material. There’s even a list of feature pages, ads and premium give-aways!

Moreover, each episodic strip adventure is preceded by fulsome notes and commentary as well as a complete cover gallery – and that’s a lot of covers!

Following more candid background data the comics magic begins with ‘Man of Iron’ by Steve Parkhouse, John Ridgway & Mike Collins; coloured by Gina Hart & Josie Firmin and lettered by Richard Starkings.

The 4-part thriller ran in Transformers #9-12 (January 12th to February 23rd 1985) and revealed that a lost and unknown Autobot had periodically emerged for millennia from a crashed ship buried deep beneath rural England.

A castle built on the grounds provided year of sightings and legends but the era of mystery abruptly ends when both modern-day Autobots and Decepticons zero in on the legendary figure…

Weekly comics are hugely labour-intensive and time-critical, necessitating a vast turnover of staff – all duly recorded here. After the UK’s surprise hit periodical reprinted more US-originated material another Made-in-Britain epic began with the debut of star scribe-in-the-making Simon Furman who wrote ‘The Enemy Within!’ for #13-17 (March 9th – May 4th). Illustrated by Ridgway, Collins, Hart & Starkings, the saga details how rival Decepticons Megatron and Starscream vie for supremacy whilst vile spy Ravage infiltrates the Autobots’ Ark to action a malign mechanoid plan involving framing the Good Robots for an attack on a human military base…

‘Raiders of the Last Ark!’ #18-21 (May 16th – 29th by Furman, Collins, Jeff Anderson, Hart, Starkings & John Aldrich) then finds a Decepticon attempt to seize the Ark derailed when the vast ship’s AI consciousness manifests as a judgemental Auntie who proposes assessing the worthiness of both sides and eradicating those she finds lacking…

Following found text feature ‘Robot War! From Cybertron to Earth: The Story So Far!’ and another tranche of covers ‘Decepticon Dam-Busters’ (#29-30 October 5th – 12th 1985 and by Furman, John Stokes, Steve Whitaker & Starkings) attempts to marry toy, TV and comics universes in a brutal clash of ideologies and metal muscles in a tale adapted from an animated television episode.

Then it’s back to comicbook basics for #31-31 (October 19th – 26th) as Dinobots Grimlock, Sludge, Snarl and Slag face ‘The Wrath of Guardian!’ by Furman, Barry Kitson, Hart & Annie Halfacree as the tragic Autobot turned into a Decepticon slave battles his former allies before eventually succumbing to ‘The Wrath of Grimlock!’ (Furman, Kitson, Mark Farmer, Scott Whittaker & Mike Scott).

Preceded by ‘Robot War II: The Saga of the Transformers!’ and Geoff Senior’s black-&-white try-out art assignment, ‘Christmas Breaker!’ (James Hill, Will Simpson, Hart & Starkings from #41 December 28th) sees human robot hunter Circuit Breaker declare a temporary truce with her quarry to save a child, after which ‘Crisis of Command!’ (#42-44, January 4th – 18th 1986) – written by Collins & Hill, illustrated by Senior & Stokes, coloured by Steve Whitaker, John Burns, Gina Hart & Stuart Place & Starkings, and lettered by Mike Scott – sees burned out Optimus Prime under pressure from his own friends to create Super Autobots. The moral machine is severely embattled but knows becoming worse than Decepticons is no way to win the million-year-war…

Meanwhile, waiting in the shadows, Ravage lurks, ready to exploit the Autobots’ hesitation…

This initial compilation heads toward a conclusion with the all-UK material created for The Transformers Annual 1986; released in Autumn 1985 for the Christmas trade.

After plenty of candid, behind-the-scenes creative secrets shared, the narratives resume with

‘Plague of the Insecticons!’ (Furman, Collins, Anderson, Hart & Starkings) as a new breed of robots are catastrophically unleashed just as the Autobots are invited to the White House for a parley with President Reagan…

Then Tales of Cybertron takes us back eons to the robot homeworld where and when ‘And There Shall Come… A Leader!’ (by Furman, Stokes, Hart & Starkings) reveals the origins of the Autobot leader.

Annuals used prose stories to beef up the content and cut down on illustrating costs and a brace follow here.

Written by Hill with spot illos from Ridgway & Hart, ‘Missing in Action!’ details how neophyte Autobot Tracks gets accidentally involved in a bank robbery whilst ‘Hunted!’ finds Bumblebee battling for his life against Ravage in the Amazon jungle…

Rounding out this procession of childhood delights is a big bunch of ‘Adverts and Ephemera’ reprinting numerous toy infomercials and ‘Interface Fact Files’ offering byte-sized (sorry!) bursts of data on the galvanised Goodies and Baddies…

Fast-paced and furious in intensity, this cosmic drama for all ages still carries a punch today and the early work of modern graphic luminaries is a distinct pleasure for today’s fans to see.

Chock full of high-tech, explosive-but-not-gratuitous action, this book fairly barrels along: A solid read for aficionados and thrill-seeker of all ages.
The Transformers Classics UK vol. 1. Hasbro and its logo TRANSFORMERS and all related characters are trademarks of Hasbro and are used with permission. © 2011 Hasbro. Circuit Breaker and all related characters are ™ and © Marvel Entertainment LLC and its subsidiaries All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek: Year Four – The Enterprise Experiment

By D.C. Fontana, Derek Chester, Gordon Purcell, Joe & Rob Sharp & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-279-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Cosmic Christmas Cracker… 8/10

Star Trek debuted on American televisions on September 8th 1966 and pursued its declared “five-year mission” for three seasons comprising 79 episodes and running until June 3rd 1969.

Although a moderate success, the series only truly became a phenomenon after going into syndication, running constantly in American local TV regions throughout the 1970s. It was also sold all over the world, popping up seemingly everywhere and developing a remarkably passionate and devoted fanbase.

The stellar brand is probably one of the biggest franchise engines on Earth, permeating every merchandisable sector imaginable and becoming part of global popular culture and idiom. You can find daily live-action or animated screen appearances constantly screening somewhere on the planet, toys, games, conventions, merchandise, various comics iterations generated in a host of nations and languages and a reboot of the movie division proceeding apace even as I type this. There’s even a new rebooted TV series Star Trek Discovery

Many companies have published comicbook adventures based on the exploits of Gene Roddenberry’s greatest brainchild. During IDW’s control of the treasured funnybook license they revived and re-released older iterations crafted by previous licensees and combined those choice selections of vintage exploits with great new tales from every aspect of the fictive universe.

In 2012 the company began adapting, updating and retelling classic episodes of the original 5 Year Mission in the context and with the likenesses of actors from the 2008 rebooted film franchise (as re-imagined by J. J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman). To supplement that graphic reconfiguration IDW also initiated another strand: exploring the most fundamental aspect of the mythology by crafting new tales from the never-filmed Fourth Year of the original mission…

To be strictly accurate, the 1973-1974 animated series from Filmation/Norway Productions is considered by most fans to cover that year and indeed a few of the characters from that era have made it into this story which was originally published in 2007 as 5-issue miniseries Star Trek: Year Four – The Enterprise Experiment before being collected as this engaging paperback or eBook edition.

‘The Enterprise Experiment’ springs from the fertile imagination of Classic Star Trek television scripter Dorothy Catherine “D.C.” Fontana, who wrote ten episodes of the original series and was story editor for the first two seasons. She also wrote for the Animated Series, Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.

Here, with writing partner Derek Chester (Star Trek: Legacy) she explores that aforementioned Fourth Year, whilst revisiting her own teleplay The Enterprise Incident

With the artists utilising the likenesses of the original 1960s cast, the action begins as Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock pilot the shuttle Galileo towards the Enterprise. It shouldn’t be difficult, but the starship is testing a prototype cloaking device and is not responding as the projections predicted…

After heroic measures and deep cerebrations, the worried officers finally plot their craft aboard the Enterprise only to discover that the crew have utterly vanished. Moreover, even as Spock deduces what has happened and begins fixing the problem, the situation worsens after a Romulan Warbird decloaks to reveal an old enemy Commander who plans to reenergise her stalled career path by capturing the Federation prize, plundering its experimental technology and expiating her pent-up hostilities on the human and Vulcan who made a fool of her…

Blending tense suspense with stirring action this exploit is but a prelude to a far bigger story as the victorious Captain Kirk is plunged into another duel with Klingon enemy Kor.

After they first clashed (in TV episode Errand of Mercy) a highly advanced race calling themselves Organians used their god-like powers to enforce a détente between The Federation and Klingon Empire.

Now however, whilst illegally raiding a human mining colony, Kor has discovered and stolen ancient technology belonging to the primal species known as The Preservers. His plan is to sunder the Organians’ chafing brake on Klingon expansion and revenge himself on Kirk, but the desperate mission to stop him makes allies out of ancient enemies and neatly ties together numerous old exploits to reveal the origins of the great races of the universe and the Great Barrier sealing the galaxy from the greater universe.

And then the Organians return to pass judgement on the Federation and Klingons…

A total treat for lovers of the original series masterfully told and weaving together story-strands every fan grew up with, this is pure Trek gold.

Augmented by inkers Terry Pallot, Drew Geraci, José Marzán, Jr., Tom Nguyen, Bob Smith & Bob Almond, colourists Mario Boon, John Hunt & Jason Jenson and letterers Chris Mowry, Robbie Robbins and Neil Uyetake, veteran Trek illustrator Gordon Purcell delivers drama and tension in his immaculate understated manner, never forgetting that we’re here for the Enterprise crew not flashy graphics.

Supplementing the stellar experience is a full cover “Art Gallery” by the Sharp Brothers & Leonard O’Grady plus Fontana’s ‘Comic Book Proposal’ for the series to complete a heady experience of newly-minted nostalgia.

This is another fabulously enticing, expansive and engrossingly epic compendium of thrills, offering wonderfully engaging stories to delight young and old, fan or casual reader alike, and well worthy of your eager attentions.
STAR TREK ® and © 2008 CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Star Trek and related marks are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Land of the Giants: The Complete Series

By Paul S. Newman, Tom Gill & various (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-93256-343-6

Land of the Giants debuted in America in September 1968, the fourth of producer Irwin Allen’s incredibly successful string of TV fantasy series which also included Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and The Time Tunnel.

The key premise was that in the then far-future of 1983 the passengers and crew of Sub-Orbital Space-liner flight 703 from Los Angeles to London fall through a space-warp and crashes in an incredible world twelve times larger than ours (mimicking the dimensions of the Brobdingnagians in Gulliver’s Travels).

To make things even scarier, the giant society closely parallels Earth in the primitive era of the mid-1960s, with crime, Cold War espionage, cultural paranoia and social injustice obsessing every anxious citizen of the Big New World…

The motley and disparate occupants of the ailing Spindrift thus have to survive and seek ways to return home whilst giant beasts, agents of totalitarian governments of that colossal planet, greedy opportunists and their own perverse natures all conspire against them.

The fact that doom is always looming above them is exacerbated by a perpetual dilemma: the ship is still space-worthy and the dimensional warp a permanent fixture but Spindrift is drained of the electrical energy needed to achieve high orbit.

Daily existence consists of staying alive and free whilst somehow scavenging – like high-tech Borrowers – enough motive power from the hulking natives to blast off forever…

The TV series generated 51 episodes and ran until 1970 with many re-runs throughout the intervening decades. It spawned a Viewmaster reel and book, a comicbook series, numerous games and toys plus a string of excellent novels by pulp Sci Fi legend Murray Leinster.

While the show aired it was the most expensive television series ever produced, but a special effects budget was no hindrance to publisher Gold Key whose five comicbook issues – released between November 1968 to September 1969 – honed in on the perilous plight of the starlost Spindrifters via the scripts of Paul S. Newman (Turok, Son of Stone, Lone Ranger) and sagely meticulous illustrator Tom Gill (Flower Potts, Lone Ranger).

Collected in this sturdy hardcover archival edition (also available in eBook editions), the miniscule voyagers’ odyssey is preceded by an effusive photo-filled ‘Introduction: Revisiting Gulliver’ by Chris Irving, covering every aspect from series production to the history of Gold Key before the graphic reverie opens with ‘The Mini-Criminals’ from Land of the Giants #1.

Behind the evocative photo-montage cover (each issue boasted one), Part I – ‘The Power-Stealers’ – sees the crew’s perpetual search for fuel sources to re-energise Spindrift lead to capture by opportunistic and imaginative thief Carlo Krogg.

In this action-oriented adventure the focus is on passengers Mark Wilson, fugitive conman Fitzhugh and he-men crew members Captain Steve Burton and co-pilot Dan Erickson who toil mightily to free hostage stewardess Betty Hamilton from Krogg’s clutches whilst pretending to burgle a jewellery store for him.

Issue #2 featured ‘Countdown to Escape’ and opens with flighty socialite Valerie Scott revealing an unsuspected talent for falconry after catching and training a giant raptor to carry the ship on ‘The Wings of an Eagle’

Sadly, the plan goes agonisingly wrong for ‘The Little Buccaneers’ after animal keepers recapture their missing exhibit, inadvertently marooning the Little People in a zoo. Although this presents them with an astounding opportunity to secure their energy-needs, the end result is another frustrating return to square one…

In ‘Giant Damsel in Distress’, Val and Betty befriend a young woman unjustly accused of a terrible crime and on the run. Colossal fugitive Linda offers to restore the stranded ship’s energy reserves with ‘Mirror Power’ but before they can benefit from the deal, the real criminals track her down, leading to a catastrophic and one-sided battle in ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’

LotG #4 reveals a daring ‘Safari in Giantland’ as the mini-marooned break into a department store to steal super-strong power cells in ‘Assault and Battery’. Typically, however, even after purloining model trucks from the kids’ wing to transport their electrical booty, the ‘Babes in Toyland’ lose the precious batteries when a giant rat attacks…

The last issue is uncharacteristically dark and grim for comics of the period. By never signing up to the draconian overreaction of the bowdlerizing Comics Code Authority, Dell/Gold Key became the company for life and death thrills, especially in the arena of traditional adventure stories.

If you were a kid in search of a proper body count instead of flesh wounds you went for Tarzan, Zorro, Roy Rogers, Tom Corbett and their ilk. That’s not to claim that the West Coast outfit were gory, exploitative sensationalists – far from it – but simply that the writers and editors knew that fiction – especially kids’ fiction – needs a frisson of danger and honest high stakes drama to make it work.

‘Operation Mini-Surgeon’ begins with ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma…’ as juvenile Spindrift passenger Barry Lockridge – who had been travelling unaccompanied to meet his parents in London – succumbs to a deadly infection. The adult castaways determine to take the boy to a giant physician, whatever the risk, and are on hand when a diplomat from a hostile foreign power is caught in an assassin’s bomb blast…

Although under government scrutiny and initially unable to save the dying Premier Klosson, surgeon Dr. Rains is still willing to aid the Little People in curing Barry. In return Mark and Steve enter the dying Klosson’s wounds to repair the tyrant from the inside in ‘A Life in Their Hands’

Tragically, before the eternally-grateful Rains can deliver the batteries that would send the aliens home, political intrigue and expedience make him a martyr to someone else’s cause…

Stuffed throughout with cast stills and candid photos, the rocket ride down memory lane concludes with ‘Photos, Artwork, and Collectibles’, offering a bonanza of stills, production photographs, promo material, posters, cast shots, original artwork from the comics, bubble gum cards, pages from Mort Drucker’s Mad Magazine parody “Land of the Giant Bores”, box art from a jigsaw puzzle and the Aurora model kit of the Spindrift, plus a picture gallery of the show’s celebrity guest stars.

Even more tantalising treats include Leinster’s novel covers, the View Master packaging, colouring Book covers and the cover of the British TV21 1971 annual…

TV themed compendia of screen-to-page magic were an intrinsic part of growing up in Britain for generations and still occur every year with only the stars/celebrity/shows changing, not the package. The show itself has joined the vast hinterland of fantasy fan-favourites and is immortalised in DVD and streamed all over the world but if you want to see more, this sparkling tome is a treat you won’t want to overlook.
Land of the Giants® is © 1968, 1969 and 2010 Irwin Allen Properties, LLC and 20th Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved throughout the world.

Doctor Who – The Twelfth Doctor volume 2: Fractures

By Robbie Morrison, George Mann, Brian Williamson, Mariano Laclaustra, Hi Fi & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-301-7 (HB)                    978-1-78276-659-9 (SC)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Timeless Traditional TV-Toned Treat… 8/10

The British love comic strips and they love celebrity and they love “characters.”

The history of our graphic narrative has a peculiarly disproportionate amount of radio comedians, Variety stars and film and television actors such as Charlie Chaplin, Flanagan & Allen, Winifred Atwell, Jimmy Edwards and their ilk as well as actual shows and properties such as Whacko!, ITMA, Old Mother Riley, Supercar, Pinky and Perky plus hundreds more.

Anthology comics such as Radio Fun, Film Fun, TV Fun, Look-In, TV Tornado, TV Comic and Countdown translated our viewing and listening favourites into pictorial gold every week, and it was a pretty poor star or show that couldn’t parley the day job into a licensed comic property.

Doctor Who premiered on black-&-white televisions across the UK with the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’ on November 23rd 1963, and in 1964 his decades-long association with TV Comic began in #674 (the premier instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’).

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th) Marvel’s British subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly. It became a monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) and has been with us – under various names – ever since. All of which only goes to prove that the Time Lord is a comic hero with an impressive pedigree.

The comicbook division of the Whovian mega-franchise has roamed far and wide and currently rests with Titan Comics who have sagaciously opted to run parallel series starring many individual incarnations of the trickily turbulent Time Lord…

These tales – starring the Peter Capaldi iteration – comprise issues #6-10 of the monthly periodical plus a short tale from Doctor Who – The Twelfth Doctor Free Comic Book Day 2015 with our tetchy Time Lord still gallivanting all across the universe in the company of schoolteacher and “Impossible Girl” Clara Oswald.

Scripted by Robbie Morrison (Nikolai Dante, The Authority) and illustrated by Brian Williamson (Torchwood, Primeval, Spider-Man) with assistance from Hi Fi Colour Design, the calamity commences soon after the defeat of self-proclaimed goddess Kali (see volume 1)

Strange occurrences are plaguing the area around Coal Hill Secondary School in Shoreditch, East London where Miss Oswald has a teaching job. They all centre around young Molly Foster whose dad – a Unified Intelligence Task-Force scientist – recently died in a car crash.

The family is naturally devastated, but little Molly’s black mood turns quite suddenly after she pulls the somehow not-deceased Dr. Foster out of a hole in the air…

When the TARDIS alarms reveal that something is trying to tear down the walls of the Multiverse, Clara and the Doctor warp into UNIT HQ and find the militarised boffins have been meddling with Foster’s last experiment… a Trans-Reality Gate…

Molly has no idea that the Daddy she’s hiding from the rest of the bereaved family in the shed in the garden comes from a parallel world where he was the only survivor of the traffic wreck. Paul only knows he’s found his lost loved ones again. The Doctor knows the reality breaches are eroding the crucial interdimensional barriers preserving Reality.

Nobody has any notion that the universes have their own safeguards and upholders of the Laws of Reality until merciless energy beings calling themselves ‘The Fractures’ leak into our dimension, possess humans and start hunting for the transgressors: Paul Foster, little Molly and anyone aiding and abetting them.

Since he considers Earth under his personal protection, The Doctor – despite utterly disapproving of Foster’s experiment and familial sentimentality – is resolved that the rampaging Fractures’ brutal police action will not go unpunished…

Bombastic ultra-cosmic invasion and last-ditch combat action gives way to cool wit, slick moves and devious criminal intent as ‘Gangland’ (with additional art by Mariano Laclaustra) sees Clara and The Doctor pop back to 1963 Las Vegas to catch a concert by the inimitable “Wolf Pack”.

Sadly, Frankie, Dino and the Boys are blithely unaware that their Mafioso employers are in a spot of extraterrestrial bother…

Millenia previously, the Hyperion War between the universe’s great races ended with the chief Time Lord employing a deadly chronal gun in a game of chance with Count D’if of the Cybock Imperium. The gambit – known as “Rassilon’s Roulette” – ensured Gallifreyan dominance for uncounted eons.

Now, however, the surviving Cybock octoids have stolen Rassilon’s legendary pistol and created a gangster syndicate on Earth. The intention is to subjugate the planet and reconstitute their Imperium as a criminal enterprise through which they can ultimately conquer the galaxy, but they have not counted on the ruthless greed and stubbornness of Earth mobsters, the devil-may-care pluck of drunken entertainers or the deadly wiles of the last Time Lord…

Scripted by George Mann and illustrated by Laclaustra & Luis Guerrero, ‘The Body Electric’ comes from Doctor Who – The Twelfth Doctor Free Comic Book Day 2015.

Short, sharp and shocking, the tale reveals how the Time Lord and Clara arrive on quartz planet Asmoray just as the humans mining the world for its electricity begin dying. It doesn’t take the grumbling Gallifreyan long to determine that the world is neither lifeless nor exclusively owned by humanity. Then all he has to do is stop two species eradicating each other…

All in a day’s work really…

Enthrallingly entertaining and wickedly witty, this titanic time-space tome comes with a gallery of alternate and variant covers by Blair Shedd, Brian Williamson & Luis Guerrero, Rian Hughes and AJ, so if you’re a fervent fan of the television Time Lord, this book – also available as a digital download – could well make you an addict of the print iteration too.

Fractures is a splendid romp for casual readers, a fine additional avenue for devotees of the TV show to explore and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote comics to anyone minded to give strip sagas another go…
BBC, Doctor Who (word marks, logos and devices) and Tardis are trade marks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. BBC logo © BBC 1996. Doctor Who logo © BBC 2009. Tardis image © BBC 1963. First edition April 2015.

The Jack Kirby Omnibus volume 2 – starring The Super Powers

By Jack Kirby with Joe Simon, Mike Royer Paul Kupperberg, Adrian Gonzalez & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3833-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic Entertainment… 9/10

Famed for his larger than life characters and gigantic, cosmic imaginings, Jack Kirby was an astute, imaginative, spiritual man who had lived through poverty and gangsterism, the Depression, Post-War optimism, Cold War paranoia, political cynicism and the birth and death of peace-seeking counter-cultures. He was open-minded and utterly wedded to the making of comics stories on every imaginable subject. He also always believed that sequential narrative was worthy of being published as real books beside mankind’s other literary art forms.

Looks like he was right, and – as usual – just ahead of the times, doesn’t it?

There’s a magnificent abundance of Kirby commemorative collections around these days (though still not all of it, so I remain a partially disgruntled dedicated fan). This particular magnificent hardback compendium re-presents most of miscellaneous oddments of the “King’s Canon” crafted for DC – at least those to which the company still retains rights.

The licenses on stuff like his run on pulp adaptation Justice Inc. (or indeed Marvel’s 2001: A Space Odyssey comic) will not be forthcoming any time soon…

This massive tome begins with pages of hyper-kinetic Kirby pencil pages and a moving ‘Introduction by John Morrow’ before hurtling straight into moody mystery with a range of twice told tales.

On returning from WWII, Kirby reconnected with his long-term creative partner Joe Simon. National Comics was no longer a welcoming place for the reunited dream team supreme and by 1947 they had formed their own studio. They enjoyed a long and productive relationship with Harvey Comics (Stuntman, Boy’s Ranch, Captain 3-D, Lancelot Strong, The Shield, The Fly, Three Rocketeers and more) and created a stunning variety of genre features for Crestwood/Pines supplied by their Essankay/Mainline studio shop.

These included Justice Traps the Guilty, Fighting American, Bullseye, Police Trap, Foxhole, Headline Comics and Young Romance amongst many more (see the superb Best of Simon and Kirby for a salient selection of these classic creations): a veritable mountain of maturely challenging strip material in a variety of popular genres.

One of those was mystery and horror and amongst that dynamic duo’s “Prize” concoctions was noir-ish, psychologically-underpinned supernatural anthology Black Magic and latterly a short-lived but fascinating companion title Strange World of Your Dreams. These comics anthologies eschewed the traditional gory, heavy-handed morality plays and simplistic cautionary tales for deeper, stranger fare, and – until the EC comics line hit their peak – were far and away the best mystery titles on the market.

When the King quit Marvel for DC in 1970, his new bosses accepted suggestions for a supernatural-themed mature-reading magazine. Spirit World was a superb but poorly received and largely undistributed monochrome magazine. Issue #1 – and only – launched in the summer of 1971, but editorial cowardice and back-sliding scuppered the project before it could get going.

Material from a second, unpublished issue eventually appeared in colour comicbooks Weird Mystery Tales and Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion but with his ideas misunderstood, ignored or side-lined by the company, Kirby opted again for more traditional fare. Never truly defeated though, he cannily blended his belief in the marketability of the supernatural with flamboyant super-heroics to create another unique and lasting mainstay for the DC universe. The Demon only ran a couple of years but was a concept later, lesser talents would make a pivotal figure of the company’s continuity.

His collaborations with fellow industry pioneer Joe Simon always produced dynamite concepts, unforgettable characters, astounding stories and huge sales, no matter what genre avenues they pursued, blazing trails for so many others to follow and always reshaping the very nature of American comics with their innovations and sheer quality.

As with all their endeavours, Simon & Kirby offered stories shaped by their own sensibilities. Identifying a “mature market” gap in the line of magazines they autonomously packaged for publishers Crestwood and Prize they saw the sales potential for high-quality spooky material. resulting in the superb and eerily seminal Black Magic (launched with an October/November 1950 cover-date), supplemented in 1952 by boldly obscure psychological drama anthology The Strange World of Your Dreams: a title inspired by studio-mate Mort Meskin’s vivid and punishing night terrors.

Dealing with fantastic situations and – too frequently for comfort – unable or unwilling to provide pat conclusions or happy endings, cosmic justice or calming explanations were seldom available to avid readers. Sometimes the Unknown just blew up in your face and you survived or didn’t… and never whole or unchanged.

Thus, this colossal compendium of cult cartoon cavortings commences with DC’s revival of Black Magic as a cheap, modified reprint title.

The second issue #1 launched with an October/November 1973 cover-date, offering rather crudely re-mastered versions of some astounding classics. Far better reproduced on the good quality paper here is ‘Maniac!’ (originating in Black Magic #32 September/October 1973); an artistic tour de force and a tale much “homaged” in later years, detailing how – and why – a loving brother stops villagers taking his simple-minded sibling away. This is followed by ‘The Head of the Family!’ (BM #30 May/June 1954, by Kirby & Bruno Premiani), revealing the appalling secret shame of a most inbred clan…

DC’s premier outing ended with a disturbing tale first seen in Black Magic #29 (March-April 1954). Specifically cited during the1954 anti-comicbook Senate Hearings, ‘The Greatest Horror of them All!’ told a tragic tale of a freak hiding amongst lesser freaks…

DC’s second issue – cover-dated December 1973/January 1974 – opened with ‘Fool’s Paradise!’ (BM #26, September/October 1953) wherein a petty thug stumbles into a Mephistophelean deal and revealed how ‘The Cat People’ (#27 November/December 1953) mesmerised and forever marked an unwary tourist in rural Spain before ‘Birth After Death’ (#20 January 1953) retold the true story of how Sir Walter Scott’s mother survived premature burial, and ‘Those Who Are About to Die!’ (#23 April 1953) sketched out the tale of a painter who could predict imminent doom…

‘Nasty Little Man!’ (#18 November 1952) fronted DC’s third foray and gets my vote for creepiest horror art job of all time. It saw three hobos discover to their everlasting regret why you shouldn’t pick on short old men with Irish accents. ‘The Angel of Death!’ (#15 August 1952) then detailed an horrific medical mystery far darker than mere mystic menace…

As the 1950s editions grew in popularity, Simon & Kirby were stretched thin. Utilising a staff of assistants and crafting fewer stories themselves meant they could keep all their deadlines…

The ‘Cover art for Black Magic #4, June/July 1974’ sensibly segues into ‘Last Second of Life!’, from Black Magic volume 1 #1, October-November 1950) wherein a rich man, obsessed over what the dying see at final breath, learns to regret the unsavoury lengths he went to in finding out: their only contribution to that particular DC issue.

There were two in the next release. ‘Strange Old Bird!’ (Black Magic #25 June/July 1953) is a gently eerie thriller of a little old lady who gets the gift of renewed life from her tatty and extremely flammable feathered old friend and ‘Up There!’ from the landmark 13th issue from June 1952 – the saga of a beguiling siren of the upper stratosphere scaring the bejabbers out of a cool test pilot…

DC issue #6 reprises ‘The Girl Who Walked on Water!’ (BM #11 April 1952) exposing the immense but fragile power of self-belief whilst the ‘Cover art for Black Magic #7, December 1974/January 1975’ (originally #17 October 1952) provides a chilling report on a satanic vestment ‘The Cloak!’ (from BM #2 December 1950/January 1951) and ‘Freak!’ (from the aforementioned #17) shares a country doctor’s deepest shame…

DC’s #8 revisited The Strange World of Your Dreams, beginning with “a typical insecurity nightmare” ‘The Girl in the Grave!’ (from #2, September/October 1952). The Meskin-inspired anthology of oneiric visions eschewed cheap shocks, mindless gore and goofy pun-inspired twist-ending yarns in favour of dark, oppressive suspense soaked in psychological unease and inexplicable unease: tension over teasing…

Following up with ‘Send Us Your Dreams’ from the same source (requesting readers’ ideas for parapsychologist Richard Temple to analyse), DC’s vintage fear-fest concludes with # 9 (April/May 1975) and ‘The Woman in the Tower!’ as originally seen in The Strange World of Your Dreams #3, (November/December 1952) detailing the symbolism of oppressive illness…

Kirby continued creating new material with Kamandi – his only long-running DC success – and explored WWII in The Losers whilst creating the radical, scarily prophetic, utterly magnificent Omac: One Man Army Corps, but still could not achieve the all-important sales the company demanded. Eventually he was lured back to Marvel and new challenges such as Black Panther, Captain America, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man and especially The Eternals.

Before then, though, he unleashed a number of new concepts and even filled in on established titles. As previously moaned about, however, his 3-issue run on Justice Inc. adapting licensed pulp hero The Avenger is not included here, but at least his frankly astounding all-action dalliance with martial arts heroics is…

Debuting in all-new try-out title 1st Issue Special #1 (April 1975, and inked by D. Bruce Berry), ‘Atlas the Great! harked back to the dawn of human civilisation and followed the blockbusting trail of mankind’s first super-powered champion in a blazing Sword & Sorcery yarn.

1st Issue Special #5 (August 1975, Berry) highlighted the passing of a torch as a devout evil-crusher working for an ancient justice-cult retired and tipped his nephew – Public Defender Mark Shaw – to become the latest super-powered ‘Manhunter’

A rare but welcome digression into comedy manifested as ‘The Dingbats of Danger Street’ (1st Issue Special #6, September 1975) with Mike Royer inking a bizarre and hilarious revival of Kirby’s Kid Gang genre starring four multi-racial street urchins united for survival and to battle surreal super threats…

Always looking for work Kirby – and Berry – stepped in for #3 of troubled martial arts series Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter (August/September 1975). Scripted by Denny O’Neil, the savage shocker pits the lone fighter against an army of assassins in ‘Claws of the Dragon!’

‘Fangs of the Kobra!’ comes from Kobra #1, released with a February/March 1976 cover-date. The tale is strange in both execution and delivery, with Kirby’s original updating of Dumas’ tale of The Corsican Brothers reworked by Martin Pasko, Steve Sherman and artists Pablo Marcos & Berry.

It introduces brothers separated at birth. Jason Burr grew up a normal American kid whilst his twin – stolen by an Indian death cult – was reared as Kobra, the most dangerous man alive. Sadly for the super-criminal, young adult Jason has been recruited by the authorities because of his psychic connection to the snake lord: a link which allows them to track each other and also feel and experience any harm or hurt the other incurs…

When Simon & Kirby came to National/DC in 1942 one of their earliest projects was revitalising the moribund Sandman strip in Adventure Comics. Their unique blend of atmosphere and dynamism made it one of the most memorable, moody and action-packed series of the period (as you can see by reading complete Sandman edition which is a companion to this volume).

The band was brought back together for The Sandman #1 (cover-dated Winter 1974); a one-shot project which took the name and created a whole new mythology…

Scripted by Simon and inked by Royer ‘General Electric’ revealed how the realm of dreams was policed by a scarlet-&-gold super-crusader dedicated to preventing nightmares escaping into the physical world. With unwilling assistants Glob and Brute, the Sandman also battled real world villains determined to exploit the unconscious Great Unknown. The heady mix was completed by frail orphan Jed, whose active sleeping imagination seemed to draw trouble to him.

The proposed one-off was a minor hit at a tenuous time in comics publishing, and DC opted to keep it going, even though the originators were not interested. Kirby & Royer did produce the ‘Cover art Sandman #2, April/May 1975’ and ‘Cover art Sandman #3, June/July 1975’ before returning to the series with #4.

‘Panic in the Dream Stream’ – August/September 1975 – was scripted by Michael Fleisher, and revealed how a sleepless alien race attempted to conquer Earth through Jed’s fervent dreams: a traumatic channel that even allowed them to invade the Sandman’s Dream Realm. The next issue (October/November 1975) heralded an ‘Invasion of the Frog Men!’ into an idyllic parallel dimension before the next issue reunited a classic art team. Wally Wood inked Jack for Fleisher’s ‘The Plot to Destroy Washington D.C.!’, with mind-bending cyborg Doctor Spider, subverting and enslaving Glob and Brute in his eccentric ambition to take over America…

Although Sandman #6 (December 1975/January 1976) was the last issue, another tale was already completed and it finally appeared in reprint digest Best of DC #22 in March 1982. ‘The Seal Men’s War on Santa Claus’ with Fleisher scripting and Royer handling the brushwork was a sinister seasonal romp with Jed’s wicked foster-family abusing the lad in classic Scrooge style before the Weaver of Dreams seconds him to help save Christmas from bellicose well-armed aquatic mammals…

During the 1980s costumed heroes stopped being an exclusively print cash cow. Many toy companies licensed Fights ‘n’ Tights titans and reaped the benefits of ready-made comicbook spin-offs. DC’s most recognizable characters became a best-selling line of action figures and were inevitably hived off into a brisk and breezy, fight-frenzied miniseries.

Super Powers launched in July 1984 as a 5-issue miniseries with Kirby covers and his signature characters prominently represented. Jack also plotted the stellar saga with scripter Joey Cavalieri providing dialogue, and Adrian Gonzales & Pablo Marcos illustrating a heady cosmic quest comprising numerous inconclusive battles between agents of Good and Evil.

In ‘Power Beyond Price!’, ultimate nemesis Darkseid despatches four Emissaries of Doom to destroy Earth’s superheroes. Sponsoring Lex Luthor, The Penguin, Brainiac and The Joker the monsters jointly target Superman, Batman & Robin, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman and Hawkman

The combat escalates in #2’s ‘Clash Against Chaos’ with the Man of Steel and Scarlet Speedster tackling Luthor, whilst Aquaman and Green Lantern scupper the Penguin as Dark Knight and Winged Wonder confront a cosmically-enhanced Harlequin of Hate…

With Alan Kupperberg inking, an inconclusive outcome leads to a regrouping of evil and an attack by Brainiac on Paradise Island. With the ‘Amazons at War’ the Justice League rally until Superman is devolved into a brutal beast who attacks his former allies. All-out battle ensues in ‘Earth’s Last Stand’, before the King steps up to write and illustrate the fateful finale: cosmos-shaking conclusion ‘Spaceship Earth – We’re All on It!’ (November 1984, with Greg Theakston suppling inks)…

A bombastic Super Powers Promotional Poster leads into a nostalgic reunion as DC Comics Presents #84 (August 1985) reunited Jack with his first Fantastic Four.

‘Give Me Power… Give Me Your World!’ – written by Bob Rozakis, Kirby & Theakston (with additional art by the legendary Alex Toth) – pits Superman and the Challengers of The Unknown against mind-bending Kryptonian villain Zo-Mar, after which the ‘Cover art for Super DC Giant S-25, July/ August 1971’ (inked by Vince Colletta) segues into the Super Powers miniseries, spanning September 1985 to February 1986.

Scripted by Paul Kupperberg the Kirby/Theakston saga ‘Seeds of Doom!’ recounts how deadly Darkseid despatches techno-organic bombs to destroy Earth, requiring practically every DC hero to unite to end the threat.

With teams of Super Powers travelling to England, Rome, New York, Easter Island and Arizona the danger is magnified ‘When Past and Present Meet!’ as the seeds warp time and send Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter back to days of King Arthur

Super Powers #3 (November 1985) finds Red Tornado, Hawkman and Green Arrow plunged back 75 million years in ‘Time Upon Time Upon Time!’ even as Doctor Fate, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman are trapped in 1087 AD battling stony-faced giant aliens on Easter Island.

Superman and Firestorm discover ‘There’s No Place Like Rome!’ as they battle Darkseid’s agent Steppenwolf in the first century whilst Batman, Robin and Flash visit a future where Earth is the new Apokolips in #5’s ‘Once Upon Tomorrow’ before Earth’s scattered champions converge on Luna to spectacularly squash the schemes-within-schemes of ‘Darkseid of the Moon!’

Rounding out the astounding cavalcade of wonders, are a selection of Kirby-crafted ‘Who’s Who Profiles’ pages from Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe 1985-1987: specifically, Ben Boxer, the Boy Commandos, Challengers of the Unknown, Crazy Quilt, Etrigan the Demon, Kamandi, the Newsboy Legion, Sandman (the Dream Stream version from 1974), Sandy, the Golden Boy and Witchboy Klarion.

Jack Kirby was and is unique and uncompromising: his words and pictures comprise an unparalleled, hearts-and-minds grabbing delight no comics lover can possibly resist. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind.

That doesn’t alter the fact that Kirby’s life’s work from 1937 to his death in 1994 shaped the entire American comics scene – and indeed the entire comics planet – affecting the lives of billions of readers and thousands of creators in all areas of artistic endeavour for generations and is still winning new fans and apostles every day, from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. His work is instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral, deceptively deep and simultaneously mythic and human.

He is the King and will never be supplanted.
© 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Mega Robo Bros volume 2: Mega Robo Rumble

By Neill Cameron with Abby Bulmer & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-81-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: The Future of Fun… 9/10

After far too long an interval, the second sterling all-ages outing for Neill (Tamsin of the Deep, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea) Cameron’s marvellous metal and plastic paladins return to share more of their awesome adventures and growing pains!

It’s the Future!

In a London much cooler than ours Alex and his younger brother Freddie are (mostly) typical kids: boisterous, fractious, always arguing, but devoted to each other and not too bothered that they’re adopted. It’s no big deal for them that they were constructed by the mysterious Dr. Roboticus (before he vanished from all human knowledge) and are considered by those in the know as the most powerful robots on Earth.

They recently became super-secret agents too, but almost the entire world knows that…

It’s enough for the digital duo that Mum and Dad love them, even though the boys are a bit more of a handful than most kids. They live as normal a life as possible; going to school, making friends, putting up with bullies and hating homework: it’s all part of the Mega Robo Routine combining boring lessons, fun with friends, playing games, watching TV and training in the covert combat caverns under RAID HQ…

When occasion demands, the lads undertake missions for bossy Baroness Farooq, head of government agency R.A.I.D. (Robotics Analysis Intelligence and Defence). They think it’s because they are infinitely smarter and more powerful than the Destroyer Mechs and other man-made minions she employs…

However, although Dad may be just your average old guy it’s recently become clear that Mum is a bit extraordinary herself and, as renowned boffin Dr. Nita Sharma, harbours some surprising secrets of her own…

All the same, life in the Sharma household is pretty normal. Freddie is insufferably exuberant and over-confident whilst Alex is at the age when self-doubt and anxiety begin to manifest. Of course, their parents’ other robot rescues can be a bit of a trial.

Baby triceratops Trikey with his dog-programming is ok, but French-speaking deranged ape Monsieur Gorilla can be mighty confusing whilst gloomily annoying, existentialist aquatic fowl Stupid Philosophy Penguin constantly quoting dead philosophers all the time makes most people rapidly consider self-harm or manic mayhem …

Culled from the pages of fabulous UK weekly comic The Phoenix, this fistful of fun kicks off with ‘Chapter 1: Mega Robo Schooldays’ as Alex gets a hard time from classmates Mira and Taia. They used to be best friends, but with all his extra-curricular activities the girls are feeling a bit neglected. Alex’s guilt turns to something far worse on Monday at Oak Hill Primary School after a heated football match leads bully Jamal to make a startling accusation. But actually, how do we know if Alex is a Boy or a Girl…?

Deeply shaken the startled hero naturally asks Mum, and she’s never been more grateful for a sudden sneaky Surprise Giant Robot Attack…

In ‘Chapter 2: Mega Robo Underground’ Alex and Freddie are called in by Baroness Farooq, and jet over to Aldgate Tube Station to battle a colossal driller-droid. Further investigation leads the lads and a R.A.I.D. science team deep, deep into the abandoned transport tunnels beneath the city.

Here they encounter an army of rejected and rebuilt robots all undertaking the bizarre agenda of a crazy bag-lady calling herself “The Caretaker”. When she abruptly loses control of her precious charges, all Hell breaks loose. After a massive fight, she escapes to an even more secret lair and an ongoing repair project with hidden ramifications that will have dire consequences for the bombastic boys and the entire world…

Freddie gets to see Mum’s stern side when she takes him – kicking and screaming – clothes shopping in ‘Chapter 3: Mega Robo Weekend’ after which shameful incident ‘Chapter 4: Mega Robo Celebrities’ zooms in on the price of fame when Prettiest Girl in School Jamila finally notices Alex.

With his shiny head all turned around, he’s in no mood for Freddie’s jealous response: candid home videos posted on VuTube. He’s even less chuffed when the postings go mega-viral but cheers up when Freddie’s celebrity bubble inevitably implodes in a most unfortunate manner…

Wrapping up with a spectacular big finish, ‘Chapter 5: Mega Robo Expo’ finds the kids – and their surprisingly famous mum – as guests of a massive Robot Show. After taking down obnoxious, fame-craving mech-makers Team Robotix in a gladiatorial contest, the lads think the action portion of the entertainment has ended, but then the Caretaker’s darkest secret bursts in with mass-murder in mind…

The huge rampaging robot quickly reinforces all humanity’s fears and anxieties about sentient mechanicals, but as the Mega Robo Bros drive the belligerent Wolfram off, Alex realises with alarm that Mum knows far more about the rogue – and her own “sons” – than she’s letting on…

To Be Continued…

Crafted by Cameron and his doughty colouring assistants Abby Bulmer & Lisa Murphy (Tamsin of the Deep, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea), this is another exceedingly engaging romp which rockets along like anti-gravity rollercoaster, blending mirth with warmth, wit and incredible verve. Alex and Freddy are utterly authentic boys, irrespective of their artificial origins, and their antics strike exactly the right balance of future shock, family fun and bombastic superhero action to capture readers’ hearts and minds. What a movie this would make!

Unmissable excitement for kids of all ages and vintage, this is a true “must-have” item.
Text and illustrations © Neill Cameron 2016. All rights reserved.

And while we’re talking perfect X-Mas gifts, why not pick up Mega Robo Bros volume 1 and enjoy the whole superb saga to date?

Steve Ditko Archives volume 2: Unexplored Worlds

By Steve Ditko & various, edited by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-289-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Immaculate Yule Yarn-Spinning… 9/10

Once upon a time the anthological title of short stand-alone stories was the sole staple of the comicbook profession, where the plan was to deliver as much variety as possible to the reader. Sadly, that particular vehicle of expression seems all but lost to us today…

Steve Ditko is one of our industry’s greatest talents and one of America’s least lauded. His fervent desire to just get on with his job and to tell stories the best way he can – whilst the noblest of aspirations – has always been a minor consideration or even stumbling block for the commercial interests which for so long controlled all comics production and still exert an overwhelming influence upon the mainstream bulk of comicbook output.

Before his time at Marvel, young Ditko perfected his craft creating short sharp yarns for a variety of companies and it’s an undeniable joy today to be able to look at this work from such an innocent time when he was just breaking into the industry: tirelessly honing his craft with genre tales for whichever publisher would have him, utterly free from the interference of intrusive editors.

This superb full-colour series of hardback collections (also available as digital editions) has reprinted those early efforts (all of them here are from 1956-1957) with material produced after the draconian, self-inflicted Comics Code Authority sanitised the industry following Senate Hearings and a public witch-hunt.

Most are wonderfully baroque and bizarre supernatural or science fantasy stories, but there are also examples of Westerns, Crime and Humour: cunningly presented in the order he completed and sold them rather than the more logical but far-less-revealing chronological release dates. Moreover, they are all helpfully annotated with a purchase number to indicate approximately when they were actually drawn – even the brace of tales done for Stan Lee’s pre-Marvel Atlas company.

Sadly, there’s no indication of how many (if any) were actually written by the moody master…

This second sublime selection reprints another heaping helping of his ever-more impressive works: most of it courtesy of the surprisingly liberal (at least in its trust of its employees’ creative instincts) sweat-shop publisher Charlton Comics.

And whilst we’re being technically accurate, it’s also important to reiterate that the cited publication dates of these stories have very little to do with when Ditko crafted them: as Charlton paid so little, the cheap, anthologically astute outfit had no problem in buying material it could leave on a shelf for months – if not years – until the right moment arrived to print. The work is assembled and runs here in the order Ditko submitted it, rather than when it reached the grubby sweaty paws of us readers…

Following an historically informative Introduction and passionate advocacy by Blake Bell, concentrating on Ditko’s near-death experience in 1954 (when the artist contracted tuberculosis) and subsequent absence and recovery, the evocatively eccentric excursions open with a monochrome meander into the realms of satire with the faux fable – we’d call it a mockumentary – ‘Starlight Starbright’ as first seen in From Here to Insanity (volume 3 #1 April 1956) before normal service resumes with financial fable ‘They’ll Be Some Changes Made’ (scripted by Carl Wessler from Atlas’ Journey Into Mystery #33, April 1956) wherein a petty-minded pauper builds a time machine to steal the fortune his ancestors squandered, whilst a crook seeking to exploit a mystic pool finds himself the victim of fate’s justice in ‘Those Who Vanish’ (Journey Into Mystery #38, September 1956 and again scripted by Wessler).

Almost – if not all – the Charlton material was scripted by the astoundingly fast and prolific Joe Gill at this time, and records are spotty at best so let’s assume his collaboration on all the material here beginning with ‘The Man Who Could Never Be Killed’ from Strange Suspense Stories #31, published in February 1957. This tale of a circus performer with an incredible ethereal secret segues into ‘Adrift in Space’ (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #8 June 1958) wherein a veteran starship captain pushes his weary crew over the edge whereas ‘The King of Planetoid X’ – from the previous MoUW (February) details a crisis of conscience for a benevolent and ultimately wise potentate…

The cover of Strange Suspense Stories #31 (February 1957) leads into ‘The Gloomy One’ as a misery-loving alien intruder is destroyed by simple human joy before the cover to Out of This World #5 September 1957 heralds that issue’s ‘The Man Who Stepped Out of a Cloud’ and an alien whose abduction plans only seem sinister in intent…

Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5 (October 1957) tells the story of a young ‘Stowaway’ who finds fulfilment aboard a harshly-run space ship after which the cover for Out of This World #3 (March 1957) leads to an apparent extraterrestrial paradise for weary star-men in ‘What Happened?’

Next up is a tale from one of Charlton’s earliest star characters. The title came from a radio show that Charlton licensed the rights to, with the lead/host/narrator acting more as voyeur than active participant. “The Mysterious Traveler” spoke directly to camera, asking readers for opinion and judgement as he shared a selection of funny, sad, scary and wondrous human-interest yarns, all tinged with a hint of the weird or supernatural. When rendered by Ditko, whose storytelling mastery, page design and full, lavish brushwork were just beginning to come into its mature full range, the contents of Tales of the Mysterious Traveler were always exotic and esoteric and utterly mesmerising…

From issue #2, February 1957, ‘What Wilbur Saw’ reveals the reward bestowed on a poverty-stricken country bumpkin who witnessed a modern-day miracle after which Out of This World #3 provides a cautionary tale of atomic mutation in ‘The Supermen’

The eerie cover to Out of This World #4 (June 1957) leads to a chilling encounter for two stranded sailors who briefly board the ‘Flying Dutchman’ and Strange Suspense Stories #32’s cover (May 1957) dabbles in magic art when a collector is victimised by a thief who foolishly stumbles into ‘A World of His Own’. From the same issue comes a salutary parable concerning a rich practical joker who goes too far before succumbing to ‘The Last Laugh’, after which ‘Mystery Planet’ (Strange Suspense Stories #36, March 1958) offers a dash of interplanetary derring-do as a valiant agent Bryan Bodine and his comely associate Nedra confounds an intergalactic pirate piloting a planet-eating weapon against Earth!

A similarly bold defender then saves ‘The Conquered Earth’ from alien subjugation (Out of This World #4, June 1957) whilst in ‘Assignment Treason’ (Outer Space #18. August 1958) the clean-cut hero goes undercover to save earth from the predatory Master of Space whilst in Out of This World #8 (May 1958) ‘The Secret of Capt. X’ reveals that the inimical alien tyrant threatening humanity is not what he seems to be…

The cover to Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #3 (April 1957) gives way to a trio of fantastic thrillers beginning with ‘The Strange Guests of Tsaurus’ as an alien paradise proves to be anything but and ‘A World Where I Was King’ sees a clumsy janitor catapulted into a wondrous realm where he wins a kingdom he doesn’t want. Diverting slightly, Fightin’ Army #20 (May 1957) provides a comedic interlude as a civil war soldier finds himself constantly indebted to ‘Gavin’s Stupid Mule’ before ‘A Forgotten World’ wraps up the MoUW #3 contributions with a scary tale of invasion from the Earth’s core…

‘The Cheapest Steak in Nome’ turns out to be defrosted from something that died millions of years ago in a light-hearted yarn from Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #7 (February 1958) after which the cover to MoUW #4 (July 1957) precedes more icy antediluvian preservations found in the ‘Valley in the Mist’ whilst the cover to Strange Suspense Stories #33 (August 1957) leads into a bizarre corporate outreach project as the ‘Director of the Board’ attempts to go where no other exploitative capitalist has gone before…

It’s back to Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #3 for a brush with the mythological in ‘They Didn’t Believe Him’ before ‘Forever and Ever’ (Strange Suspense Stories #33) reveals an unforeseen downside to immortality and Out of This World #3 sees a stranger share ‘My Secret’ with ordinary folk despite – or because – of a scurrilous blackmailer…

cover Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5 October 1957

‘A Dreamer’s World’ from Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5 (October 1957) follows the chilling cover thereof as a test pilot hits his aerial limit and discovers a whole new existence, before Unusual Tales #7 (May 1957) traces the tragic path of ‘The Man Who Could See Tomorrow’ whilst the cover of Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #4 (August 1957) opens a mini-feast of the voyeur’s voyages beginning with that issue’s ‘The Desert’ a saga of polar privation and survival.

Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #3 (May 1957) offers the appropriate cover and a ‘Secret Mission’ for a spy parachuted into Prague after which TotMT #4 offers ‘Escape’ for an unemployed pilot dragged into a gun-running scam in a south American lost world; ‘Test of a Man’ sees a cruel animal trainer receive his just deserts and ‘Operation Blacksnake’ grittily reveals American venality in the ever-expanding Arabian oil trade…

Returning to Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5, ‘The Mirage’ torments an escaped convict who thinks he’s escaped his fate whilst Texas Rangers in Action #8 (July 1957) sees a ruthless rancher crushed by the weight of his own wicked actions in ‘The Only One’, after which the stunning covers to Unusual Tales #6 and 7 (February and May 1957) lead into our final vignette ‘The Man Who Painted on Air’: exposing and thwarting a unique talent to preserve humanity and make a few bucks on the side…

This sturdily capacious volume has episodes that terrify, amaze, amuse and enthral: utter delights of fantasy fiction with lean, plots and stripped-down dialogue that let the art set the tone, push the emotions and tell the tale, from times when a story could end sadly as well as happily and only wonderment was on the agenda, hidden or otherwise.

These stories display the sharp wit and contained comedic energy which made so many Spider-Man/J. Jonah Jameson confrontations an unforgettable treat half a decade later, and this is another cracking collection not only superb in its own right but as a telling tribute to the genius of one of the art-form’s greatest stylists.

This is something every serious comics fans would happily kill or die or be lost in time for…
Unexplored Worlds: The Steve Ditko Archive Vol. 2. This edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books. Introduction © 2010 Blake Bell. All rights reserved.