Guide to Groot – a Sound Book


By Matthew K. Manning & Nicholas Rix (Becker & Mayer! books/Quarto)
ISBN: 978-0-7603-6217-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sheer Delight for Youngsters of Any Age… 9/10

Technically speaking, Groot is one of Marvel’s oldest characters, having debuted as a woody alien invader in Tales to Astonish #13 (cover-dated November 1960), a good year before Fantastic Four #1.

Crafted by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers, ‘I Challenged Groot! The Monster from Planet X’ revealed how a studious biologist saved humanity from a rapacious rampaging tree intent on stealing Earth cities and shipping them back to his distant world. That tale’s not in this tome, because in the intervening decades the deciduous despot cleaned up his act, pruned off the bad wood and now resides firmly on the side of the good guys…

As a beloved star of print and screen, the leafy legend has profoundly planted himself in the hearts of kids everywhere and this nifty marriage of sound and vision allows readers to enjoy a succession of cool narrative image scenarios by Nicholas Rix whilst Rocket Raccoon (in his identity of author Matthew K. Manning) clarifies the intricacies of Groot’s seemingly limited vocabulary in text. And all while Groot emotes right in your ears!

This is all achieved via a selection of 10 pushbutton activated sound files, each revealing the utterance nuances of the titanic timber-man’s 3-word vocalisations.

Following Rocket’s Introduction, the lessons commence with “I Am Groot” which of course means ‘Hello’ whereas the second spoken “I Am Groot” reveals just how the super sapling says ‘Did You Mean This?’

You get the picture – and they’re all beautifully rendered illustrations of key moments featuring Star-Lord, Gamora, Mantis, Drax, Rocket and other old favourites – as they are followed in close order by ‘I Gotcha’, ‘Nope. Not Gonna Happen’, ‘Geez. Leave Me Alone, Already’, ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘Trust Me. I Got This’, ‘I Want That!’, ‘Face My Wrath, Chumps!’ and ‘I Love You’

This is a marvellously accessible addition to any fan’s library or toybox so it’s a shame that Guide to Groot is not available in the UK yet. Still, as I’m sure you know the internet is your friend in situations like these…

I am Groot I am Groot I am Groot, I am Groot I am Groot I Am Groot I am Groot-I am Groot I am Groot I am…
© 2018 Marvel. MARVEL and all characters, names and distinct likenesses thereof ™ & © 2018 Marvel characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents The War that Time Forgot


By Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Russ Heath, Gene Colan, Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1253-7

The War That Time Forgot debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #90 and ran until #137 (May 1968) skipping only three issues: #91, 93 and #126 (the last of which starred the United States Marine Corps simian Sergeant Gorilla – look it up: I’m neither kidding nor being metaphorical…).

At present this stunningly bizarre black-&-white compendium is the only comprehensive collection: gathering together all the monstrously madcap material from SSWS #90, 92, 94-125 and 127-128 spanning April-May 1960 to August 1966.

Simply too good a concept to leave alone, this seamless, shameless blend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Caprona stories (known alternatively as the Caspak Trilogy or “The Land That Time Forgot”) provided everything baby-boomer boys – and probably girls too, if truth be told – could dream of: giant lizards, humongous insects, fantastic adventures and two-fisted heroes with lots of guns…

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature War comics, Horror stories, Romance, superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman and other genres too numerous to cover here.

He scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allen AKA the Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the World in 1956.

Kanigher sold his first stories and poetry in 1932, wrote for the theatre, film and radio, and joined the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel.

In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He scripted the Golden Age iterations of Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary, Dr. Pat and Lady Cop, plus memorable villainesses Harlequin and Rose and Thorn. This last he reconstructed, during the relevancy era of the early 1970s, into a schizophrenic crime-busting super-heroine.

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved into westerns and war stories, becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Amy at War.

He launched Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while working on Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, Viking Prince and a host of others.

Among his many epochal war series were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, the Haunted Tank and The Losers as well as the visually addictive, irresistibly astonishing “Dogfaces and Dinosaurs” dramas depicted here.

Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and I suspect that he used this uncanny but formulaic adventure arena as a personal try-out venue for his many series concepts. The Flying Boots, G.I. Robot, Suicide Squad and many other teams and characters first appeared in this lush Pacific hellhole with wall-to-wall danger. Indisputably the big beasts were the stars, but occasionally ordinary G.I. Joes made enough of an impression to secure return engagements, too…

The wonderment commenced in Star Spangled War Stories #90 as paratroopers and tanks of “Question Mark Patrol” are dropped on Mystery Island from whence no American soldiers have ever returned. The crack warriors discover why when the operation is plagued by Pterosaurs, Tyrannosaurs and worse on the ‘Island of Armoured Giants!’, all superbly rendered by veteran art team Ross Andru & Mike Esposito.

Larry and Charlie, the sole survivors of that first foray, returned to the lost world in #92’s ‘Last Battle of the Dinosaur Age!’ when aquatic beasts attacked their rescue submarine forcing them back to the lethal landmass…

‘The Frogman and the Dinosaur!’ take up most of SSWS #94 as a squad of second-rate Underwater Demolitions Team divers are trapped on the island, encountering the usual bevy of blockbuster brutes and a colossal crab as well.

What starts out as Paratroopers versus Pterodactyls in #95 turns into a deadly turf-war in ‘Guinea Pig Patrol!’ whilst ‘Mission X!’ introduces the Task Force X/Suicide Squad in a terse infiltration story with the increasing eager US military striving to set up a base on the strategically crucial monster island.

The Navy took the lead in #97’s ‘The Sub-Crusher!’ with equally dire results as a giant gorilla joins the regular roster of horrors, after which a frustrated palaeontologist is blown off course and into his wildest nightmare in ‘The Island of Thunder’. The rest of his airborne platoon aren’t nearly as excited at the discovery…

The Flying Franks were a trapeze family before the war, but as “The Flying Boots” Henny, Tommy and Steve won fame as paratroopers. In #99’s ‘The Circus of Monsters!’ they face the greatest challenge of their lives after washing up on Mystery Island and narrowly escape death by dinosaur. They aren’t too happy on being sent back next issue to track down a Japanese secret weapon in ‘The Volcano of Monsters!’

‘The Robot and the Dinosaur!’ in #101 ramped up the fantasy quotient as reluctant Ranger Mac is dispatched to the monstrous preserve to field-test the Army’s latest weapon: a fully automatic, artificial G.I. Joe, who promptly saves the day and returned to fight a ‘Punchboard War!’ in the next issue; tackling immense killer fish, assorted saurians and a giant Japanese war-robot that even dwarfs the dinosaurs.

The mecha-epic carried over and concluded in #103’s ‘Doom at Dinosaur Island!’, after which the Flying Boots returned in Star Spangled #104’s ‘The Tree of Terror!’ when a far-ranging pterodactyl drags the brothers back to the isle of no return for another explosive engagement.

‘The War on Dinosaur Island!’ sees the circus boys leading a small-scale invasion, but even tanks and the latest ordnance prove little use against the pernicious and eternally hungry reptiles, after which ‘The Nightmare War!’ reveals a dino-phobic museum janitor trapped in his worst nightmare. At least he has his best buddies and a goodly supply of bullets and bombs with him…

The action shifts to the oceans surrounding the island for sub-sea shocker ‘Battle of the Dinosaur Aquarium!’ with plesiosaurs, titanic turtles, colossal crabs and crocodilians on the menu, before hitting the beaches in #108 for ‘Dinosaur D-Day!’ as the monsters take up residence in the Navy’s landing craft.

‘The Last Soldiers’ pits determined tank-men against a string of scaly perils on land, sea and air, after which a new Suicide Squad debut in #110 to investigate a ‘Tunnel of Terror’ into the lost land of giant monsters: this time though, the giant gorilla is on their side…

That huge hairy beast is the star of ‘Return of the Dinosaur Killer!’ as the harried Squad leader and a wily boffin (visually based on Kanigher’s office associate Julie Schwartz) struggle to survive on the tropically reptilian atoll, whilst ‘Dinosaur Sub-Catcher!’ shifts the locale to freezing ice floes as a pack of lost sea dinosaurs attack a polar submarine and US weather station.

Star Spangled War Stories #113 returned to the blue Pacific for ‘Dinosaur Bait!’ and a pilot tasked with hunting down the cause for so many lost subs after which ‘Doom Came at Noon!’ once more returns to snowy climes as dinosaurs inexplicably rampage through alpine territory, making temporary allies out of old enemies dispatched to destroy hidden Nazi submarine pens.

Issue #115’s ‘Battle Dinner for Dinosaurs!’ has a helicopter pilot marooned on Mystery Island and drawn into a spectacular aerial dogfight, after which a duo of dedicated soldiers faced ice-bound beasts in ‘The Suicide Squad!’

The big difference being that here Morgan and Mace are more determined to kill each other than accomplish their mission…

‘Medal for a Dinosaur!’ bowed to the inevitable and introduced a (relatively) friendly baby pterodactyl to balance out Mace and Morgan’s scarcely-suppressed animosity, whilst ‘The Plane-Eater!’ finds the army odd couple adrift in the Pacific and in deep danger until the leather-winged little guy turns up once more…

The Suicide Squad were getting equal billing by the time of #119’s ‘Gun Duel on Dinosaur Hill!’, as yet another group of men-without-hope battle saurian horrors and each other to the death, after which the apparently un-killable Morgan and Mace return with Dino, the flying baby dinosaur.

They make a new ally and companion in handy hominid Caveboy before the whole unlikely ensemble struggle to survive against increasingly outlandish creatures in ‘The Tank Eater!’

Issue #121 presented another diving drama as a UDT frogman gains his Suicide Squad berth and proves to be a formidable fighter and ultimately, ‘The Killer of Dinosaur Alley!’

Increasingly now, G.I. hardware and ordnance began to gain the upper hand over bulk, fang and claw…

Much-missed representational maestro Russ Heath added an edge of hyper-realism to ‘The Divers of Death’ in Star Spangled War Stories #122 wherein two Frogman brothers battle incredible underwater insect monsters but are still unable to gain the respect of their land-lubber older siblings, whilst Gene Colan illustrated the aquatic adventure of ‘The Dinosaur who Ate Torpedoes!’ before Andru & Esposito returned to depict ‘Terror in a Bottle!’. This was the second short saurian saga to grace issue #123 and another outing for that giant ape who loved to pummel pterosaurs and larrup lizards.

Undisputed master of gritty fantasy art Joe Kubert added his pencil-and-brush magic to a tense and manic thriller ‘My Buddy the Dinosaur!’ in #124 and stuck around to illumine the return of the G.I. Robot in the stunning battle bonanza ‘Titbit For a Tyrannosaurus!’ in #125, after which Andru & Esposito covered another Suicide Squad sea saga ‘The Monster Who Sank a Navy!’ in #127.

The last tale in this volume (#128) then sees Colan resurface to illuminate a masterfully moving human drama which is actually improved by the inclusion of ravening reptiles in ‘The Million Dollar Medal!’.

Throughout this eclectic collection of dark dilemmas, light-hearted romps and spectacular battle blockbusters the emphasis is always on human fallibility; with soldiers unable to put aside long-held grudges, swallow pride or forgive trespasses even amidst the strangest and most terrifying moments of their lives, and this edgy humanity informs and elevates even the daftest of these wonderfully imaginative adventure yarns.

Classy, intense, insanely addictive and Just Plain Fun, The War that Time Forgot is a deliciously guilty pleasure and I for one hope the remaining stories from Star Spangled War Stories, Weird War Tales, G. I. Combat and especially the magnificent Tim Truman Guns of the Dragon miniseries all end up in sequel compilations before too much more time has passed.

Now Read This book and you will too…
© 1960-1966, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Eclipso


By Bob Haney, Lee Elias, Alex Toth, Jack Sparling & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2315-1

Although it’s generally accepted that everybody loves a good villain they seldom permit them the opportunity of starring in their own series (except perhaps in British comics, where for decades the most bizarre and outrageous rogues such as Charlie Peace, Spring-Heeled Jack, Dick Turpin, Von Hoffman or The Dwarf were seen as far more interesting than mere lawmen).

However, when America went superhero crazy in the 1960s (even before the Batman TV show sent the entire world into a wild and garish “High Camp” frenzy) DC converted all of its anthology titles into character-driven vehicles. Long-running paranormal investigator Mark Merlin suddenly found himself sharing the cover spot with a costumed but very different kind of co-star.

Breathing new life into the hallowed Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde concept, Bob Haney & Lee Elias debuted ‘Eclipso, The Genius Who Fought Himself’ in House of Secrets #61 (cover-dated July-August 1963. It began the torturous saga of solar scientist Bruce Gordon who was cursed to become host to a timeless Evil.

Whilst observing a solar eclipse on tropical Diablo Island, Gordon is attacked and wounded by Mophir, a crazed witchdoctor wielding a black diamond. As a result, whenever an eclipse occurs Gordon’s body is possessed by a demonic, destructive alter ego with incredible powers and malign hyper-intellect.

The remainder of the first instalment showed how the intangible interloper destroyed Gordon’s greatest achievement: a futuristic solar-powered city.

The format established, Gordon, his fiancé Mona Bennett and her father, who was also Gordon’s mentor, pursued and battled the incredible Eclipso and his increasingly astounding schemes. At least he had a handy weakness: exposure to sudden bright lights would propel him back to his cage within Bruce Gordon…

‘Duel of the Divided Man’ saw the helpless scientist attempting to thwart the uncontrollable transformations by submerging to the bottom of the Ocean and exiling himself to space – to no effect, whilst in ‘Eclipso’s Amazing Ally!’ – illustrated by the justifiably-legendary Alex Toth – the malignant presence manifests when an artificial eclipse and lab accident frees him entirely from Gordon’s body.

Against the backdrop of a South American war Gordon and Professor Bennett struggle to contain the liberated horror but all is not as it seems…

Issue #64 ‘Hideout on Fear Island’ finds Gordon, Mona and Bennett hijacked to a Caribbean nation inundated by giant plants for an incredible clash with giant robots and Nazi scientists. Naturally, when Eclipso breaks out things go from bad to worse…

‘The Man Who Destroyed Eclipso’ has the Photonic Fiend kidnap Mona before a deranged physicist actually separates Eclipso and Gordon as part of his wild scheme to steal a nuclear missile, after which the threat of a terrifying alien omnivore forces heroes and villain to temporarily join forces in ‘The Two Faces of Doom!’

‘Challenge of the Split-Man!’ sees Gordon and Eclipso once more at odds as the desperate scientist returns to Mophir’s lair in search of a cure before inexplicably following the liberated villain to a robot factory in Scotland.

Veteran cartoonist Jack Sparling took over the artist’s role with #68 wherein ‘Eclipso’s Deadly Doubles!’ reveal how Gordon’s latest attempt to effect a cure only multiplies his problems, after which ‘Wanted: Eclipso Dead or Alive!’ relates how the beleaguered boffin is hired by Scotland Yard to capture himself – or at least his wicked and still-secret other self…

‘Bruce Gordon, Eclipso’s Ally!’ returns the long-suffering trio to Latin America where an accident robs Gordon of his memory – but not his curse – leading to the most ironic alliance in comics…

‘The Trial of Eclipso’ has the periodically freed felon finally captured by the police and threatening to expose Gordon’s dark secret after which ‘The Moonstone People’ strand the Bennetts, Gordon and Eclipso on a lost island populated by scientists who haven’t aged since their own arrival in 1612…

Even such a talented writer as Bob Haney occasionally strained at the restrictions of writing a fresh story for a villainous protagonist under Comics Code Restrictions, and later tales became increasingly more outlandish after ‘Eclipso Battles the Sea Titan’, in which a subsea monster threatens not just the surface world but also Eclipso’s ultimate refuge – Bruce Gordon’s fragile body…

Another attempt to expel or eradicate the horror inside accidentally creates a far more dangerous enemy in ‘The Negative Eclipso’ after which a criminal syndicate, fed up with the Photonic Fury’s disruption of their operations, decrees ‘Eclipso Must Die!’

It had to happen – and did – when Mark Merlin (in his new and unwieldy superhero persona of Prince Ra-Man) met his House of Secrets stable-mate in book-length thriller ‘Helio, the Sun Demon!’ (#76, with the concluding second chapter drawn by the inimitable Bernard Baily).

Here Eclipso creates a fearsome, fiery solar slave and the Bennetts team with the enigmatic super-sorcerer to free Bruce and save the world from flaming destruction.

All-out fantasy subsumed suspense in the strip’s dying days with aliens and weird creatures abounding, such as ‘The Moon Creatures’ which Eclipso grew from lunar dust to do his wicked bidding or the hidden treasure of Stonehenge that transformed him into a ‘Monster Eclipso’.

Issue #79 saw a return match for Prince Ra-Man in ‘The Master of Yesterday and Tomorrow!’ with Baily again pitching for an extended epic wherein Eclipso gets his scurrilous hands on a selection of time-bending trinkets, before #80 (October 1966) ended the series with no fanfare, no warning and no ultimate resolution as ‘The Giant Eclipso!’ pitted the fade-away fiend against mutants, cops and his own colossal doppelganger.

Not everything old is gold and this quirky, exceedingly eccentric collection of comics thrillers certainly won’t appeal to everyone. However, there is a gloriously outré charm and helter-skelter, fanciful delight in these silly but absorbing sagas.

If you’re of an open-minded mien and the art of Elias, Toth, Sparling and Baily appeals as it should to all right-thinking fans (the drawing never looked more vibrant or effective than in this crisp and splendid black and white collection) then this old-world casket of bizarre wonders will certainly appeal.

Not for him or her or them then, but perhaps this book is for you?
© 1963-1966, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Survivors Book 2: The Eyes That Burned


By Hermann, translated by Dwight R. Decker (Fantagraphics Books)
No ISBN: ASIN: B005KE6S2K

Hermann Huppen was born in 1938 in Bévercé, in what is now the Malmedy region of Liège Province, Belgium. He studied to become a furniture maker and worked as an interiors architect before finally settling on a career in comics.

His true vocation commenced in 1963 when he joined with writer Greg (Michel Régnier) to create cop series Bernard Prince for Tintin. The artist then added to his weekly chores with Roman adventure serial Jugurtha (scripted by Jean-Luc Vernal) and in 1969 expanded his portfolio further by adding the Greg-penned western Comanche to his seamlessly stunning output…

Bernard Prince and Comanche made Hermann a superstar of the industry – a status he has built upon with further classics such as The Towers of Bois-Maury, oneiric fantasy Bonnes Nuits, Nic!, Sarajevo-Tango, Station 16, Afrika and many more.

However, Hermann bravely dropped guaranteed money-spinner Prince (but stayed with Comanche because of his abiding love for western- themed material) when a rival publisher offered him the opportunity to write and draw his own strip. That was legendary European comics impresario (and Hermann’s agent) Ervin Rustemagic, who slotted his new dystopian thriller into German magazine Zack. Soon the strip was appearing in translation all over the world.

By my count there are 34 volumes and one Special Edition (most of which can be read as stand-alone tales) in circulation globally and has been serialised in Journal de Spirou, Metal Hurlant, Stripoteka and Politikin Zabavnik amongst others.

Jeremiah is a saga of survival and friendship in a post-apocalyptic world – with all the trappings of later hits like Mad Max – but inexplicably, despite its American settings and the sheer quality of the stories and art, has never really caught on in the US.

Fantagraphics were the first to introduce the unlikely hero and his world – retitled The Survivors! – in the opening years of the specialised Comicbook Direct Sales marketplace.

That heady air of enterprise and openness to new and different kinds of illustrated experiences somehow didn’t spread to Jeremiah, however, and the series vanished after just two translated volumes.

Catalan took up the challenge next with a single album in 1990, after which Malibu released a triptych of 2-issue comicbook miniseries between January and September 1991.

At the end of 2002, Dark Horse Comics partnered with Europe’s Strip Art Features syndicate to bring the series to the public attention again; releasing later albums with no appreciable response or reward, despite tying in to the broadcasting of J. Michael Straczynski and Sam Egan’s woefully disappointing TV series based on the strip.

In 2012 the publishers had another shot: releasing the first nine European albums in three of their always-appealing Omnibus editions. These are harder to find than hen’s teeth (even after a civilisation ending nuclear exchange) so now I’m having another go.

I’m not publishing anything, just categorically stating that Jeremiah – in whatever printed iteration you can find it – is one of the finest bodies of sequential graphic storytelling and illustrative excellence ever put to paper, so if you love science fiction, gritty westerns, rugged adventure or simply bloody good comics, somehow track down Hermann’s masterpiece and give it a go.

In case you need a bit of plot and context, here’s what happens in the first tale as delivered by Fantagraphics. La Nuit des rapaces was released as a French-language Album in April 1979 and picked up by the US Indy publisher in 1982.

It describes how America died, not due to political intrigue or military error but as the result of a grotesque and appalling race war.

When the dust settled and the blood dried, the republic was reduced to pockets of survivors scavenging in ruins or grubbing out a life from leftover machines and centuries-old farming practises. It was a new age of settlers, pioneers and bandits. There was no law but brute force and every walled community lived in terror of strangers…

In that pitiless world, Jeremiah was an unhappy, rebellious teen who craved excitement and despised his little dirt-grubbing, formidably-stockaded village of Bend’s Hatch.

He got his wish the night he was late home. Locked out and stuck in the desert wastelands, the callow boy encountered youthful nomadic scavenger Kurdy Malloy and wound up beaten and unconscious. The assault saved his life…

Finally reaching home next morning, Jeremiah found the village razed and burning, with everything of value taken – including all able-bodied men. women and children…

Assuming Kurdy at least partly responsible, Jeremiah tracked the wanderer and saved him from being tortured by other outlaws in the desert wastes. A cack-handed rescue resulted in them establishing an uneasy truce whilst Kurdy taught the kid the necessities of life on the run.

Determined to find his people, Jeremiah and Kurdy followed their trail to the thriving outlaw town of Langton. The makeshift metropolis was divided in two: ordinary folk and an army of thugs led by a debauched madman Mr. W. E. Birmingham

From a central citadel his thugs run roughshod over everybody else, but before long the newcomers stoked resentment and anger into full rebellion…

When the shooting stopped the settlers were in control and Jeremiah convinced Kurdy to invade the Red Nation in search of the missing slaves…

Due to the exigencies of Fantagraphics’ licensing deal, the second translated volume was actually fourth Euro-Album Les Yeux de fer rouge (first released in 1980), but the jump is barely noticeable.

In Du sable plein les dent and Les Héritiers sauvages the lads successfully infiltrate and escape from tyrannical insular Indian country, but without freeing any captives. Now they are wandering the vast, malformed wastelands in search of a prisoner who has escaped the Red Dictatorship…

The Eyes That Burned opens in those eerie expanses with the brutalised boys uneasily catching glimpses of something strange dogging them. As night falls they meet a pioneer family whose wagon has become bogged down, but, even after tense, untrusting introductions slowly resolve into uneasy alliance, the combined stragglers are unable to free the conveyance.

The situation changes when macabre showman Pinkus L. C. Khobb pops up out of nowhere and has his heavily-cloaked performer and companion Idiamh lift the vehicle free. The weird strangers are gone before the party can thank them, but doughty matron Faye has had some kind of seizure and now sits comatose and unresponsive…

Unable to help, Jeremiah and Kurdy press on, tracking their target to a grim hell-hole town dubbed Lerbin’s Gate. Although they ride horses, they are amazed to find Pinkus has got there ahead of them. As they unsuccessfully enquire about the Indian escapee, the showman and his act perform spectacularly. The crowds are suitably enthralled but some of the visitors are taken strangely ill immediately afterwards…

When the boys decide to return to the wastes and scout around the Indian borderland, Pinkus is watching…

The altered terrain is a terrifying hellscape of sand, dust and petrified flora and before long, the lads are pretty sure their increasingly close calls with death are no accidents…

Eventually, they cross the barrier back into Indian territory and encounter motorised war parties rounding up escaped slaves. After a brutal skirmish they also face an utterly unexpected outcome: survivors from Bend’s Hatch being helped by a traitor in the Indian military and covertly running an underground railroad for fleeing slaves…

The reunion and exultancy only last until Pinkus pops up again, revealing his cruel conniving connection to the slaver state before turning his deadly mutant monster on the fugitives…

Sadly for the vile vaudevillian, Jeremiah is fast, observant, deeply intuitive and just as ruthless…

Fast-paced, explosively engaging, with wry and positively spartan writing and fantastic twists on classic cinema tropes, The Eyes That Burned uses beautiful pictures to tell a compelling story that is one the best homages to the wild west ever crafted. Try it and see…
The Survivors! volume Two: The Eyes That Burned © 1982 Koralle, Hamburg.

Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel


By Eoin Colfer &Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano with colour by Paolo Lamanna (Puffin Books)
ISBN: 978-0-141-32296-4

In an age when the boundaries of good guys and bad guys are constantly blurred and redefined, it’s well to keep your options open. One admirable player for the other side (mostly) is the captivating Artemis Fowl II. A criminal mastermind, scion of Ireland’s greatest family of rogues and villains, he is probably the greatest intellect on the planet.

The wee lad inherited the family business when his father mysteriously vanished on a caper, a loss from which Artemis’ mother has never recovered.

This Machiavellian anti-hero is a teenager so smart that he has deduced that fairies and mystical creatures actually exist and thus spends this first book stealing their secrets to replenish the family’s depleted fortunes and fulfil his greatest heart’s desire…

His greatest ally is Butler, a manically loyal and extremely formidable hereditary retainer who is a master of physical violence…

The first of the eight novels (with four so far making the transition to sequential narrative whilst production of the Disney movie nears completion) is here adapted by the author and Andrew Donkin; illustrated in a kind of Euro-manga style that won’t suit everybody but which nevertheless perfectly captures the mood and energy of the original.

This lavish adventure is also interspersed with comprehensive and clever data-file pages (by Megan Noller Holt) to bring everybody up to full speed on this wild, wild world…

Fowl is utterly brilliant and totally ruthless. Once determining that the mythological realm of pixies, elves, ogres and the like are actually a highly advanced secret race predating humanity and now dwelling deep underground, he “obtains” and translates their Great Book and divines all their secrets of technology and magic.

Artemis has a plan for the greatest score of all time, and knows that he cannot be thwarted, but he has not reckoned on the wit, guts and determination of Holly Short, an elf who works for the Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance Force.

She is the only female LEPRecon operative allowed to work on the world’s surface and has had to prove herself every moment of every day…

Combining sinister mastery, exotic locales, daring adventure, spectacular high fantasy concepts and appallingly low puns and slapstick, this tale has translated extremely well to the comics medium (but that’s no reason not to read the books too, especially as they’re all available in paperback and digital formats), offering a clever plot and characters that are both engaging and grotesquely vulgar – and thus perfect fare for kids.

I especially admire the kleptomaniac dwarf Mulch Diggum, whose species’ biological self-defence mechanism consists of overwhelming, explosive flatulence…

Farting, fighting and fantasy are pretty much the perfect combination for kid’s fiction and boys especially will revel in the unrestrained power of the wicked lead character. This is a little gem from a fabulously imaginative creator and an unrelentingly rewarding publisher. Long may you all reign…
Text © 2007 Eoin Colfer. Illustrations © 2007 Giovanni Rigano. All rights reserved.

Essential Godzilla


By Doug Moench, Herb Trimpe, Tom Sutton & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2153-4

What’s big and green and leaves your front room a complete mess? No, not a Christmas tree, but (arguably) the world’s most famous monster.

Back in 1976 manga and anime were only starting to creep into global consciousness and the most well-known popular culture Japanese export was a colossal radioactive dinosaur who regularly rampaged through the East, destroying cities and fighting monsters even more bizarre and scary than he was.

At this time Marvel was well on the way to becoming the multi-media corporate colossus of today and was looking to increase its international profile. Comic companies have always sought licensed properties to bolster their market-share and in 1977 Marvel truly landed the big one with a 2-year run of one of the world’s most recognisable characters. They boldly broke with tradition by dropping him solidly into real-time contemporary company continuity. The series ran for 24 guest-star-stuffed issues between August 1977 and July 1979.

Gojira first appeared in the eponymous 1954 anti-war, anti-nuke parable directed by Ishiro Honda for Toho Films; a symbol of ancient forces roused to violent reaction by mankind’s incessant meddling. The film was re-cut and dubbed into English with a young Raymond Burr inserted for US audience appeal, and the Brobdingnagian beast renamed Godzilla. He has smashed his way through 27 further Japanese movies, records, books, games, many, many comics and is the originator of the manga sub-genre Daikaijû (giant strange beasts).

Although a certified sell-out, this mammoth monochrome collection is not generally available and – due, I presume to copyright issues – is not likely to resurface anytime soon in either physical or digital form, but if you’re a regular prowler in back issue bins you might get lucky. Stranger things have happened…

In this no-frills, no-preamble Marvel interpretation compilation, the drama begins with ‘The Coming!’, courtesy of Doug Moench, Herb Trimpe & Jim Mooney, as the monstrous aquatic lizard with radioactive fire-breath erupts out of the Pacific Ocean and rampages through Alaska.

Superspy organisation S.H.I.E.L.D. is quickly dispatched to stop the onslaught, and Nick Fury calls in Japanese experts Dr. Yuriko Takiguchi, his grandson Robert and their eye-candy assistant Tamara Hashioka. After an inconclusive battle of ancient strength against modern tech, Godzilla returns to the sea, but the seeds have been sown and everybody knows he will return…

In Japan many believe that Godzilla is a benevolent force destined to oppose true evil. Young Robert is one of them and he gets the chance to expound his views in #2’s ‘Thunder in the Darkness!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia & George Tuska) when the skyscraper saurian resurfaces in Seattle and nearly razes the place before being lured away by S.H.I.E.L.D. ingenuity.

Veteran agents Dum-Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones and Jimmy Woo are seconded to a permanent anti-lizard task force until the beast is finally vanquished, but there are also dozens of freelance do-gooders in the Marvel universe…

Sadly, when the Green Goliath takes offence at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, he attracts the attention of a local superhero team. The Champions – a short-lived, California-based team consisting of Black Widow, The Angel, Iceman, Ghost Rider and Hercules – rapidly respond in ‘A Tale of Two Saviours’ (with the solids inks of Tony DeZuñiga adding a welcome depth to the art). Typically, the humans spend more time fighting each other than the monster…

There’re only so many cities even the angriest dinosaur can trash before tedium sets in so writer Moench begins his first continued story in #4 with ‘Godzilla Versus Batragon!’ (guest-pencilled by the superb Tom Sutton and again inked by DeZuñiga), wherein deranged scientist Dr. Demonicus enslaves Aleutian Islanders to help him grow his own world-wrecking giant horrors… until the real thing shows up…

The epic encounter concludes in ‘The Isle of Lost Monsters’ (inked by a fresh-faced Klaus Janson) before ‘A Monster Enslaved!’ in #6 opens another extended epic as Herb Trimpe returns and Godzilla as well as the general American public are introduced to another now commonplace Japanese innovation.

Giant, piloted battle-suits or Mecha first appeared in Go Nagai’s 1972 manga classic Mazinger Z, and Marvel would do much to popularise the sub-genre in their follow-up licensed title Shogun Warriors, (based on an import toy rather than movie or comic characters but by the same creative team as Godzilla). Here young Rob Takiguchi steals S.H.I.E.L.D.’s latest weapon – a giant robot codenamed Red Ronin – to aid the Big Green Guy when he is finally captured.

Fred Kida stirringly inked the first of a long line of saurian sagas with #7’s ‘Birth of a Warrior!’ whilst the uneasy giant’s alliance ends in another huge fight in concluding chapter ‘Titan Time Two!’

‘The Fate of Las Vegas’ (Trimpe and Kida) in Godzilla #9 is a lighter-toned morality play with the monster destroying Boulder Dam and flooding the modern Sodom and Gomorrah, but it’s soon back to big beastie bashing in ‘Godzilla vs Yetrigar’: another multi-part mash-up that ends in ‘Arena for Three!’ as Red Ronin returns to tackle both large looming lizard and stupendous, smashing Sasquatch.

The first year ends with #12’s ‘The Beta-Beast!’: first chapter in an invasion epic. Shanghaied to the Moon, Godzilla is co-opted as a soldier in a war between alien races who breed giant monsters as weapons, and when the battle transfers to Earth in ‘The Mega-Monsters from Beyond!’, Red Ronin joins the fray for blockbusting conclusion ‘The Super-Beasts’ (this last inked by Dan Green).

Afterwards, loose in cowboy country, Godzilla stomps into a rustling mystery and modern showdown in ‘Roam on the Range’ and ‘The Great Godzilla Roundup!’ before the final story arc begins.

‘Of Lizards, Great and Small’ in #17 starts with a logical solution to the beast’s rampages after superhero Ant-Man’s shrinking gas is used to reduce Godzilla to a more manageable size. However, when the diminished devastator escapes from his cage and becomes a ‘Fugitive in Manhattan!’, it’s all hands on deck as the city waits for the shrinking vapour’s effects to wear off.

‘With Dugan on the Docks!’ then sees the secret agent battle the saurian on more or less equal terms before the Fantastic Four step in for ‘A Night at the Museum.’

The FF have another humane solution and dispatch Godzilla to a primeval age of dinosaurs in #21’s ‘The Doom Trip!’, allowing every big beast fan’s dream to come true as the King of the Monsters teams up with Jack “King” Kirby’s uniquely splendid Devil Dinosaur – and Moon Boy – in ‘The Devil and the Dinosaur!’ (inked by Jack Abel), before returning to the 20th century and full size for a spectacular battle against the Mighty Avengers in ‘The King Once More’.

The story and series concluded in #24 (July 1979) with the remarkably satisfying ‘And Lo, a Child Shall Lead Them’ as all New York’s superheroes prove less effective than an impassioned plea, and Godzilla wearily departs for new conquests and other licensed outlets.

By no means award-winners or critical masterpieces, these stories are nonetheless a perfect example of what comics should be: enticing, exciting, accessible and brimming with “bang for your buck.”

Moench’s oft-times florid prose and dialogue meld perfectly here with Trimpe’s stylised interpretation, which often surpasses the artist’s excellent work on that other big, green galoot.

These are great tales to bring the young and disaffected back to the comics fold and are well worth their space on any fan’s bookshelf. If only somebody could get all the lawyers in a room and have them battle out a solution to enable us to see them in a new edition…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 2006 Toho Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved. Godzilla, King of the Monsters ® Toho Co., Inc.

Silent Invasion volume 1: Red Shadows


By Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-174-1

The 1980s were an immensely fertile time for English-language comics-creators. In America a fresh wave of creativity had started with the birth of dedicated comics shops and, as innovation-geared specialist retailers sprung up all over the country, operated by fans for fans, new publishers began to experiment with format and content, whilst eager readers celebrated the happy coincidence that everybody seemed to have a bit of extra cash to play with.

Consequently, those new publishers were soon aggressively competing for the attention and cash of punters who had grown resigned to getting their on-going picture stories from DC, Marvel, Archie and/or Harvey Comics. European and Japanese material began creeping in and by 1983 a host of young companies such as WaRP Graphics, Pacific, Eclipse, Capital, Now, Comico, Dark Horse, First and many others had established themselves and were making impressive inroads.

New talent, established stars and fresh ideas all found a thriving forum to try something a little different both in terms of content and format. Even shoestring companies and foreign outfits had a fair shot at the big time and much great material came – and almost universally, just as quickly went – without getting the attention or success they warranted.

By avoiding the traditional family sales points such as newsstands, more mature material could be produced: not just increasingly violent and with nudity but also far more political and intellectually challenging too.

Moreover, much of the “brain-rotting trash” or “silly kid’s stuff” stigma had finally dissipated and America was catching up to the rest of the world in acknowledging sequential narrative as a for-real, actual Art-Form, so the door was wide open for gosh-darned foreigners to make a few waves too…

One of the most critically acclaimed and just plain enjoyable features came from semi-Canadian outfit Renegade Press. They had spun out by a torturous and litigious process from Dave Sim’s Canadian Aardvark-Vanaheim enterprise, and set up shop in the USA before beginning to publish at the very start of the black and white comics bubble in 1984.

Renegade quickly established a reputation for excellence, picking up amongst others a surprisingly strong line of creator-based properties and some genuinely remarkable and impressive series such as Ms. Tree, Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire, Normalman, Flaming Carrot, the first iteration of Al Davison’s stunning Spiral Cage autobiography and a compulsive, stylish Cold War, flying-saucer paranoia-driven thriller series entitled The Silent Invasion.

This last was a stunningly stylish retro-Red Scare saga bolting 1950s homeland terrors (invasion by Commies; invasion by aliens; invasion by new ideas…) onto Film Noir chic and employing 20-20 hindsight to produce a truly fresh and enticing concept in the Reagan-era Eighties.

The series was eventually collected as four superbly oversized monochrome tomes (a whopping 298 x 2058 mm), re-presenting the lead story from the first dozen issues of The Silent Invasion wherein co-creators Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock concocted a delightful confection combining all the coolest genre elements of classic cult sci-fi, horror, spy, conspiracy theory, crime, romance and even comedy yarns…

Now, after far too long a wait – and with America once again enduring internecine struggle amongst the citizenry, corruption, collusion and cover-ups at every level of government and the press under attack from the people and traditions it seeks to inform and safeguard – the first two volumes have been re-released in a more manageable paperback size (or fully adjustable eBook format) with the expressed intention of catching up and finally completing the tensely compelling epic.

The 1950s in American were a hugely iconic and paradoxical time. Incredible scientific and cultural advancements, great wealth and desperate, intoxicating optimism inexplicably arose amidst an atmosphere of immense social, cultural, racial, sexual and political repression with an increasingly paranoid populace seeing conspiracy and subversive attacks in every shadow and corner of the rest of the world.

Such an insular melting pot couldn’t help but be fertile soil for imaginative outsiders to craft truly incisive and evocative tales dripping with convoluted mystery and taut tension, especially when wedded to the nation’s fantastic – and then-ongoing – obsessions with rogue science, flying saucers, gangsterism and espionage…

They were also obsessed with hot babes and bust sizes, but more of that elsewhere…

This first volume gathers prior collections Secret Affairs and Red Shadows and opens with Max Allan Collins’ expansive Introduction ‘Dick Tracy, Tintin and Serious Comics’, this titanic tale kicks off in April 1952 with ‘Chapter One: Atomic Spies’ within a dark desert landscape 22 miles outside Union City, USA.

Private eye Dick Mallet sees a strange light in the skies and in the morning the cops find his crashed car. There’s no sign of the infamous and distinguished Dick…

A month later reporter Matt Sinkage is still unhappy with his piece on “The Truth Behind Flying Saucers” but his mutterings and musings are interrupted by a hot blonde banging on the door of his foreign-sounding neighbour Ivan Kalashnikov.

Arriving at his desk on The Sentinel, Sinkage can’t believe the audacity of the Air Force’s official line about “marsh gas” and starts screaming at his Editor Frank Costello. The irascible bossman just bawls him out – again – and sends him off to cover real news…

Instead Sinkage heads out to the site of the latest sighting and starts interviewing local yokels. That night fiancée Peggy cooks him a meal but his mind is elsewhere, on that night six months back in Albany when he saw a UFO and impetuously chased after it: a night everyone but him remembers…

Later, in a bar, Matt continues badgering Frank until the booze gets to him. Eventually Sinkage slinks back to his apartment. Ivan’s door is open and a quick glance reveals the foreigner and others in front of a huge, weird machine and Matt realises they must be Reds! Atomic spies!

Before the reporter can react, Kalashnikov pulls a really strange gun and shoots. Next morning Sinkage awakes with another sore head and more fuzzy memories…

Days later Matt again collides with Mr K’s pretty friend Gloria Amber, but fails to get another look inside his neighbour’s place. Undeterred, he resorts to asking her out to lunch which somehow provokes the old guy into taking a sudden trip out of town. Things get even stranger when Gloria comes running to him, being chased by what she claims are Red agents…

Spiriting her away and stashing her somewhere safe, Matt doesn’t hear the pursuers accosting his landlord, claiming to be Federal Men…

‘Chapter Two: Secrets and Insidious Machinations’ finds the fugitives deep in the suburbs with Matt’s sedate brother Walter. The weary reporter is still seeing flying saucers and can’t understand why everybody else thinks they’re just jets. Meanwhile back in Union City, Frank is getting a grilling from FBI Agent Housley.

They’re old acquaintances. The G-Man regularly pops by to suppress one news item or another…

This time though the Feds want the vanished Sinkage and are not happy that Costello has no idea of the gadfly’s current location.

Back in suburbia, things are none too comfortable either. Stuck-up sister-in-law Katie is convinced Matt and his new floozy are up to no good and wants them out. At least she doesn’t know the FBI are scouring the city for them. Enigmatic Gloria, however, is more concerned that Sinkage is sleepwalking and having strange nightmares… just like Kalashnikov feared he might…

Matt and Gloria are just heading out in Walter’s borrowed car when Peggy pops by. She can’t understand why her man is with a flashy trollop and pointedly won’t talk to her. Gloria told Matt the real Reds are after Kalashnikov’s memoirs and convinced him to drive her to a quiet town in the desert where a “contact” will protect them both.

Mr K meanwhile has called in his own heavies to chase the couple, unaware that the FBI have visited Walter and Katie. A net is closing around Sinkage and the mystery woman he implicitly trusts… but really shouldn’t.…

The tension mounts in ‘Chapter Three: The Stubbinsville Connection’ as a mysterious Council of shadowy men convenes to discuss the Sinkage problem. As Housley’s report continues, when it becomes clear the reporter was also involved in the Albany event near-panic ensues…

In a cheap motel Matt’s suspicions are back. Gloria vanished from their room for a while during the night and hasn’t mentioned it…

They’re confirmed some time later when she helps Kalashnikov’s hoods Zanini and Koldst abduct her and rough him up. Back at Walter’s house the FBI turn up to interview them about Matt. They claim they’re the only Feds working on the case and no other government officials have been there before them…

Katie has had enough and spills all she knows. The agents instantly go into overdrive and organise all their forces to head for sleepy, remote Stubbinsville. Matt, meanwhile, has recovered and called the only guy he still trusts, his researcher Dan Maloney. That worthy warns him of the confusing profusion of agents all claiming to be working for the government, before sharing the same info with Frank Costello…

As Housley’s team fly in, Matt has decided to go on, hitchhiking to the rendezvous with a quirkily affable farmer who happily joins him in “pranking” the cops who have just arrested Zanini, Koldst and Gloria…

Reunited with his oddly-compliant mystery amour, Matt hurtles on to Stubbinsville in a stolen car, but with less than 100 miles to go Gloria falls ill. She makes him promise to get her there at all costs…

As the assorted pursuers converge, she directs Matt to a lonely wilderness area, but the forces of law and order have spotted them and follow. As the net closes a fantastic and terrifying lightshow ignites the dark skies. By the time Housley reaches the specified target area, all he finds is a comatose Sinkage.

As days pass, Matt finds himself free with all charges dropped, but he’s oddly content. Despite another blatant cover-up and no clue as to who all the various parties hounding him actually were, he knows what he knows and wonders when Gloria will be back…

By the time of ‘Chapter Four: A Pink Slip for a Pinko’ a little time has passed. It’s June 1952 and Matt Sinkage is tormented by nightmares of lights in the sky, Housley hunting him and Gloria beseeching him to join her kind…

His life has gone rapidly downhill. Stories of his being a “Commie” are everywhere, FBI agents shadow his every move and the oppressive tension is becoming overwhelming. When he gets a phone call from long-missing Dick Mallet, Matt arranges to meet the PI, and consequently notices that sister-in-law Katie is always listening recently and has become very chummy with his ominously ever-present G-Man surveillance detail…

First, though, Matt has to get the last of his belongings since the “Red” smear has allowed his landlord to terminate his lease. Aided by faithful fiancée Peggy and ever-friendly custodian Mr. Schneider, Sinkage collects his things and has an uncomfortable meeting with Kalashnikov. Almost in passing, Matt notices that he now has a different team of “Feds” dogging him.

When he finally meets Mallet, the gumshoe shows him an incredible set of photos: interior and exteriors shots of the flying saucers taken by the aliens…

At the Sentinel, Dan Maloney has made progress investigating Kalashnikov and Gloria but wants to finish his research before sharing. Sinkage has bigger problems though. His fellow workers have sent him to Coventry and the paper’s owner wants the “Commie” fired.

Costello is fighting back though. He suspects Housley is behind the disinformation and smear tactics targeting Matt.

Staying with Walter and Katie isn’t helping Matt’s mental state. As visions of the Albany event haunt him, his life takes another plunge when he finds Mallet murdered. Housley is there but frankly admits he knows Sinkage is innocent and (probably) the patsy of a cunningly contrived frame-up.

That doesn’t stop him trying to pump Matt for further information – just as his Council bosses ordered him to…

When Matt is finally fired and Maloney is killed in a freak accident the harried journalist knows is a case of Murder-By-Aliens, Sinkage feels the walls closing in and makes a run for it…

‘Chapter Five: Identity Crisis’ opens one night in July 1952 with Matt holed up in Maloney’s old hunting shack. He’s been utterly alone for weeks but is still seeing flying saucers in the night skies. He’s also reliving past events, helplessly mixing memories of Gloria with other moments. He’s so confused that when Peggy suddenly turns up, he mistakes her for his missing blonde mystery-woman…

Peggy visits him every night, offering food and company. She seems so different; warm and vivacious, but is always gone when he blearily wakes up in the morning.

Back in Union City, Housley and his secretary Meredith Monroe are reviewing the verifiable facts and reach a disturbing conclusion. Somebody on Phil’s team has their own agenda. He fears it’s his own boss – and Council stooge – Buzz Brennan but can’t find reasons to ignore their orders. Both his official employers and the secret ones above them want Sinkage found at all costs…

In the wilderness, Matt is starting to crack. Anonymously buying a gun from a local store he travels back to the city for Dan’s funeral and sees Housley and Brennan clash with Costello. He then sneaks back to his old building and breaks into Kalashnikov’s apartment. Sinkage finds a cache of files and as he reads them experiences a horrifying flashback: he’s strapped into some sort of brainwashing machine in a spaceship…

Matt is roused from the memories by Ivan’s return and bolts, leaving the scattered files behind. He then visits Peggy’s house where her mother’s hostile reception confirms a suspicion that has been growing in his mind…

His intended is waiting in the truck he borrowed, and as they furtively drive out to the country Matt drops his bombshell. He now believes he’s an alien consciousness improperly overlaid on a human mind and he knows Peggy is too: the same mental invader he used to know as Gloria Amber…

‘Chapter Six: What We Really Know about Flying Saucers’ pushes the drama into overdrive as Peggy frantically tries to dissuade Matt. He is adamant and, as Peggy storms off, Matt goes to Costello. They compare notes, unaware that the Council is mobilising all its covert assets in Housley’s FBI team to get Sinkage at all costs…

It might have worked had not Matt surprised everybody by turning himself in to share what he saw in Kalashnikov’s files with Housley and Meredith. Sadly, as he’s being taken to a safe-house Zanini and Koldst kidnap Sinkage and drag him back to Ivan… and Peggy!

By the time Housley realises what’s occurred and rushed to the apartment, it’s too late. The files are gone, but no one can determine whether they were cleared out by the foreigners or simply lost in the fire set by the Council’s inside man…

Matt has a different story. He survived the conflagration by rushing to the roof where he saw a saucer pick up one of his abductors, coldly leaving the rest to perish. It is a story he sticks to, even after he is committed…

To Be Continued…

Potently evocative, impeccably tailored and fabulously cool, The Silent Invasion remains a unique, boldly imagined and cunningly crafted adventure. Rendered in a style then considered revolutionary and even today still spectacularly expressionistic, this is a classic epic long-overdue for a modern revival: an unforgettable gateway to an eerily familiar yet comfortably exotic era of innocent joy and a million “top secrets” which no fan of fantastic thriller fiction should ignore.
© 1986, 1987, 2018 Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock. Introduction © 1988, 2018 Max Allan Collins. All rights reserved.

Silent Invasion: Red Shadows will be published on September 25th 2018 and is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Star Comics All-Star Collection


By Lennie Herman, Sid Jacobson, Stan Kay, Bob Bolling, Warren Kremer, Howard Post & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4291-1

Once upon a time the American comicbook industry for younger readers was totally dominated by Gold Key with their TV and Disney licenses, and Harvey Comics who had largely switched from general genres to a wholesome, kid-friendly pantheon in the mid-1950s. They totally owned the pre-school sector until declining morals, television cartoon saturation and rising print costs finally forced them to bow out.

Gold Key suffered a slow erosion, gradually losing valuable prime properties like Popeye, Star Trek, assorted Hanna-Barbera and Warner Brothers cartoon stars plus sundry other treasures until parent company Western Publishing called it a day in 1984. Harvey had already shut up shop in 1982 when company founder Alfred Harvey retired.

The latter’s vast archived artwork store was sold off and, with the properties and rights up for grabs, Marvel Comics (who had already secured those lost Star Trek and Hanna-Barbera rights) was frontrunner for licensing the family firm’s iconic characters. These included Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Sad Sack, Hot Stuff – the Little Devil, Wendy the Good Little Witch and many others.

When the bid failed, Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, recognising a huge gap in the market, launched a cloned imprint of the Harvey stable (which would also encompass new TV and toy properties such as Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies and Fraggle Rock, Alf, Madballs, Care Bears, Thundercats, Ewoks and such like) to devise the next generation of worthy, wholesome, entry-level comics for entertainment-hungry young minds and their concerned parents.

Marvel’s Star Comics line launched in 1985, edited by ex-Harvey head-honcho Sid Jacobson, with oddly familiar titles and an incontestably similar look and feel – achieved primarily by hiring former Harvey stalwarts such as Jacobson, Lennie Herman, Warren Kremer, Howard Post and others.

Millionaire prince and all-around good kid Royal Roy especially invoked the ire of the Harvey heirs who sued for copyright infringement of their astonishingly prolific Richie Rich: a glittering prize who had shone in more than 55 separate titles between his debut in 1953 and the bust of 1982.

Roy was cancelled after 6 issues – as were many Star series – in a brutal “Survival of the Funnest” publishing policy – and the suit was quietly dropped.

None of which affects the fact that those Eighties child stars were, in their own right, a superb agglomeration of all-ages fun, excitement and adventure joyously revisited in this sturdy digest collection from 2009: gathering that first wave of titles.

Featuring Planet Terry #1-2, Top Dog #1-3, Royal Roy #1-2 and Wally the Wizard #1-2 in a veritable nova of bubbly contagious thrills and frolics, the eccentric escapades open with a star who was just a little lost boy in space…

Planet Terry was created by Lennie Herman (who passed away just before the big Star Comics launch) and the truly magnificent Warren Kremer – whose animation-based art style became the defining look of Harvey Comics during its happy heyday – and starred a young lad searching the universe for the parents he had never known.

Introduced in ‘The Search’ (Herman, Kremer & Vince Colletta), Planet Terry was something of a nuisance, periodically landing on alien worlds, pestering the inhabitants and asking “Has anyone seen my mother and father?”

Found wandering in a life-pod which raised and educated him, the only clues Terry had to his past is a name bracelet and an empty picture frame…

However, this time when he returns to the obnoxious planet Bznko Terry accidentally drives off a menace which bores folks to death with bad jokes, so the inhabitants give him a junked lady robot as a reward.

This proves to be a blessing in disguise as Robota inadvertently leads the lonely lad to ‘A Clue’ when they all crashland on a mining asteroid and meet aged Enoch Diggs who recognises the life-pod the infant Terry was found in…

‘Some Answers’ are forthcoming as the dithery prospector reveals he once worked on a Confederation Cosmos Cruiser called the Space Warp where the captain’s wife was going to have a baby. Needing a sterile environment for the newborn infant, the crew placed him in the emergency life-boat, but his jubilant father accidentally triggered it whilst celebrating his son’s birth and the baby was rocketed into deep space.

Although they searched everywhere, the heartbroken spacemen never located the pod and assumed baby Terry was lost forever…

Although Enoch can’t remember the names of Terry’s parents he suggests that another old crewman might and the re-energised searchers rush to another asteroid to find him, only to instead encounter ‘The Malt Shop Menace’. Nevertheless, they recruit another voyager when Robota saves the brutish monster Omnus who gratefully joins their decidedly odd family. Little do they know that a sinister conspiracy is at work to keep the whereabouts and secret of the Space Warp lost forever…

Issue #2, by Herman, Kremer & Jon D’Agostino continues the quest as the family of outcasts encounter sabotage and opposition before landing their freshly repaired ship on the lost world of the Gorkels where the trio clumsily fulfil an ancient prophecy in ‘The Saga of Princess Ugly’.

In return for repairing Terry’s downed vessel, he, Robota and Omnus must rescue the abducted Princess by battling hostile jungles, shape-shifting beasts, killer vines, a whirlpool and a volcano – all controlled by arch-villain Vermin the Vile in ‘Too Close (enough) for Comfort’ before saving the girl from ‘The Doom of the Domed City’ and discovering the final resting place of the elusive Space Warp…

Also by Herman, Kremer & D’Agostino, Royal Roy debuted on his birthday in ‘The Mystery of the Missing Crown’ wherein the Prince of wealthy Ruritanian Cashalot discovers that the traditional, venerable Royal Highness Crown has gone missing on the day of his investiture. Whilst King Regal and Queen Regalia understandably panic, super-cool bodyguard Ascot diligently investigates, assorted resplendent relatives dither and interfere, so Roy and his pet crocodile Gummy keep their heads by ‘Picking up the Scent’. They soon expose a supernatural agency at work after ‘A Midnight Visit’ by ghostly ancestor William the Warhorse

Topping off the first issue was a snappy, snazzy short fun yarn starring the reptilian Gummy in ‘Crocadog’.

‘The Grand Ball’, scripted by Stan Kay, occupied most of Roy’s attention in the second issue as the underage but still eligible Prince took a fancy to simple commoner Crystal Clear whilst ambitious and mean social climber Lorna Loot spent all her time – and considerable cash – unsuccessfully attempting to beguile the boy by turning herself into a modern-day Cinderella in ‘A Strange Stranger’

‘Maneuvers!’ sees Roy fulfil his hereditary duties by joining the Cashalot army on dawn exercises, but as ruler-in-waiting of a rich and peaceful nation, the plucky lad isn’t too surprised to find that the entire armed forces consisted of one reluctant prince and a keen but aging general…

Top Dog featured a far more contemporary and pedestrian situation, depicting the lives of average American boy Joey Jordan and the mutt he brought home one day.

‘The Dog-Gone Beginning’ by Herman, Kremer & Jacqueline Roettcher revealed how, whilst looking for a lost baseball, the kid had accidentally seen a dog reading the newspaper and talking to himself. Exposed, the canny canine begged the boy to keep his secret else all the four-footed wonder could expect was a short and painful life being poked, prodded and probed by scientists…

When the lad swears to keep his secret, Top Dog agrees to come live with Joey in ‘House About a Dog, Mom?’, and whilst the boy tries to teach the pooch to bark – one of the few languages he can’t speak! – his accommodating family gradually get used to the seemingly normal dog and his boy.

However, when Mervin Megabucks – the richest and meanest kid in town – overhears the pair playing and conversing, the spoiled brat refuses to believe Joey is a ventriloquist. When the junior Jordan refuses to sell, Mervin steals Top Dog as the perfect addition to his palatial high-tech house.

Even torture won’t make the purloined pooch speak again however, and when Joey stages ‘The Big Breakout’ Mervin’s mega-robots prove no match for dogged determination and the plutocrat brat is left baffled, bamboozled and dog-less…

Issue #2 exposed ‘Spies!’ when the restless dog of a thousand talents appears to harbour a dark side. Going out on nightly jaunts, the marvellous mutt seemingly leads a double life as a security guard in a Defence Plant, triple-crossing everybody by photographing military secrets for a foreign power.

Of course, it is actually a diminutive enemy agent in a dog suit but Vladimir’s handlers hadn’t reckoned on a real dog looking – and speaking – just like their hairy operative. Thus they accidentally give their purloined plans to the chatty all-American canine…

After spectacularly trapping the sinister spies – without revealing his own astounding intellect – Top Dog is framed in #3 by Joey’s best friend Larry who is feeling rejected and neglected since the Brilliant Bow-wow moved in.

With a feral hound dubbed ‘The Mad Biter’ on the prowl and attacking people, it’s simple to send the perspicacious pup to the Pound, where he encounters lots of bad dogs who probably deserve to be ‘Caged’.

However, faithful Joey never gives up and after bailing his canine comrade out, the pair convince the guilt-ridden perjurer to see the light by treating him to an impromptu midnight ‘Ghost Story’

Even with Larry recanting his lies the neighbourhood families don’t trust Top Dog, but that all changes once the maligned mutt tracks down the real Biter and engages him in ‘A Fight to the Finish’

The final initial entry was written and illustrated by veteran Archie Comics artist Bob Bolling (probably most famous for creating and producing the first eight years’ worth of the award-winning Little Archie spin-off series), who concocted a fabulous medieval wonderland for Wally the Wizard to play in.

In #1’s ‘A Plague of Locusts’ mystical Merlin’s older, smarter brother Marlin is having trouble with his stubbornly inquisitive apprentice. Wally wants to know everything now, has no discipline and is full of foolish ideas and misconceptions. As a serious scientist, Marlin has no time for silly superstitions so after the lad accidentally releases a time-travelling demon from an age-old prison the mage refuses to believe him.

Gorg however swears faithfully to repay the favour before disappearing…

Despatched to deliver a potion to King Kodger, Wally also helps a dragon save his hatchling from a deep well, only just reaches the sovereign in time and has a feed on the Royal Barge where he once again fails to impress beauteous Princess Penelope

Meanwhile in distant Bloodmire Castle, wicked plotters Vastar the Vile, his sister Sybilious the Bilious and wicked warlock Erasmo are conspiring to conquer the kingdom by unleashing a gigantic metal locust to consume all in its path…

Even the noble knights led by invincible Sir Flauntaroy are helpless before the brazen beast and Wally realises only Marlin can save them. Unfortunately, the boy gets lost on route to fetch him, but happily for everybody the dragon and demon which the rationalist sorcerer refuses to believe in are ready to pay their debts to the apprentice…

Sid Jacobson, Howard Post & Jon D’Agostino took over for the second issue as Wally enters the annual apprentice’s games with Marlin now suddenly transformed into a traditional magic-making mage. In fact, Marlin, as a three-time champion of ‘The Magic-a-Thon!’ is secretly regretful that Wally is too inexperienced to compete, a fact his disciple discerns and tries to fix…

Desperately cramming for a week and eventually – with the coaching of his proud master -Wally sets off to compete but a lovelorn barbarian accidentally cleaves the kid’s crib notes in twain, leaving the lad able to create only half-spells and materialise semi-monsters…

Undaunted Wally continues and – even after a huge storm deprives him of the demi-directions and his back-up pouch of herbs and potions – perseveres, determined to win using nothing but his wits, guts and unflagging optimism…

This clutch of classic children’s tales also includes the enchanting covers and the original house-ads which introduced the characters to the Kids in America and more than three decades later is still a fabulous blast of intoxicating wonder and entertainment readers of all ages cannot fail to love…

With contemporary children’s comics on the rise again after too long a fallow period, it’s still sensible and fun to acknowledge the timeless classics we used to draw upon and which drew kids in. Historical compilations like this one belong on the shelves of every funnybook-loving parent and even those lonely couples with only a confirmed twinkle in their eyes…
© 1985 and 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Only Living Boy Omnibus


By David Gallaher & Steve Ellis (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-126-0

Here’s a rather short but exceedingly heartfelt and enthusiastic review for a mighty big book that’s been a long time coming. Scripter Dave Gallaher (Green Lantern, Box 13) and illustrator Steve Ellis (High Moon) first began their stupendous science fiction saga in 2012.

The series started life as a webcomic before being picked up by Papercutz. The hugely popular comics yarn (multiple reprintings and numerous award nominations) was collected as a quintet of graphic albums – Prisoner of the Patchwork Planet; Beyond Sea and Sky; Once Upon a Time; Through the Murky Deep and To Save a Shattered World – and now the tale is done has been regathered in a bulky paperback (or eBook edition) recounting the complete saga and including fresh material from a Free Comic Book Day tie-in and other sources.

So, what’s it about?

Erik Farrell is 12 years old and scared. That’s why he runs into Central Park at the dead of night in a thunderstorm. In the morning he wakes up in the roots of a tree clutching a little kid’s teddy-bear backpack that, for some inexplicable reason, he must not lose. He’s also lost most of his memory. Even so, he’s pretty sure home never had wild jungles, marauding monsters, talking beasts and bugs or a shattered moon hanging low in the sky…

Chased by howling horrors and dimly aware that the decimated city ruins are somehow familiar, Erik is saved by a green warrior calling herself Morgan Dwar of the Mermidonians, but the respite is short lived.

All too soon they are captured by slaves of diabolical experimenter Doctor Once and taken to his revolting laboratory. It doubles as gladiatorial arena where the scientist’s involuntary body modifications can prove their worth in combat.

Erik’s fellow captives soon apprise him of the state of his new existence. The world is a bizarre of patchwork regions and races, all of them at war with each other and all threatened by monstrous shapeshifting dragon Baalikar. The Doctor seeks the secrets of trans-species evolution and is ruthless and cruel in the pursuit of his goal.

In the arena, however, Erik shows them all the value of cooperation and promptly escapes with Morgan and insectoid Sectaurian Princess Thelandria AKA Thea

Constantly running to survive, the boy slowly uncovers an incredible conspiracy affecting this entire world and even long-gone Earth. The big surprise is an unsuspected secret connection between his own excised past, Doctor Once and the hidden manipulators known as the Consortium. On the way, just like Flash Gordon, Erik somehow inspires and unites strangely disparate and downtrodden races and species into a unified force to save the planet they must all share…

After a heroic journey and insurmountable perils faced Erik’s story culminates in the answers he’s been looking for and a classic spectacular battle where the many races ultimately extinguish the evil of Baalikar.

Sadly though, that just makes room for another menace to emerge…

Adding bonus thrills to the alien odyssey are a complete cover gallery plus two lengthy sidebar tales. ‘Under the Light of the Broken Moon’ and ‘In the Clutches of the Consortium’ focus on the developing relationship between Morgan and Sectaurian Warlord Phaedrus and on the repercussions of failure for failed-tool Doctor Once at the hands of his backers…

Rocket-paced, bold and constantly inventive, The Only Living Boy is a marvellous and unforgettable romp to enthral every kid with a sense of wonder and thirst for adventure.
© 2012-2018 Bottled Lightning LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The Only Living Boy Omnibus is scheduled for publication on 25th August 2018 and is available for pre-order now.

Earthling!


By Mark Fearing, with Tim Rummel; coloured by Ken Min (Chronicle Books)
ISBN:  978-0-81187-106-8(HB)   978-1-45210-906-0(PB)

For the longest  time I banged on about the dearth of good comics for kids – as opposed to the vibrant and thriving children’s prose book markets or the slavish and impenetrable dead-end niche-genres and daunting cross-marketing of contemporary comicbooks – but nowadays some interesting developments in strip-book publishing look like setting that imbalance to rights…

Earthling! is the first graphic novel by animator Mark Fearing (with some initial creative input from TV producer Tim Rummel) and tells the tale of solitary, nerdy lad Bud, dragged by his astronomer dad to the literal middle of nowhere to take up residence at the vast Von Lunar Radio Telescope Array in the dry wilds of New Mexico.

The place is weird and a little spooky, but with his Mum gone and his father preoccupied with work Bud’s getting used to coping on his own…

The real trouble starts the next morning when he dashes for the school bus. Late and in the middle of a storm Bud inadvertently stumbles into the wrong vehicle and finds himself stuck on a malfunctioning intergalactic shuttle taking a bunch of alien students to Cosmos Academy where all the kids in the Galactic Alliance are educated.

Being the new kid in school is always bad news, but when you’re the only one of your species…

Luckily geeky pariah Gort GortGort McGortGort takes Bud under his wing and steers him through the worst of the culture shock, but the human’s urgent desire to go home is countered by one overwhelming fact: Earth is the most feared planet in the Galaxy, its inhabitants are despised and reviled by every sentient race in creation and its spatial coordinates are a closely guarded secret…

Thinly disguised as a sporty, athletic Tenarian, Bud tries desperately to fit in and luckily fellow outcast Gort is determined to help him return home, but the Academy is almost as dangerous as an Earth school.

There are jocks and bullies and cliques everywhere, the cool sapients run everything and snarky sarcasm is a deadly threat at all times. Although there are some decent and friendly teachers, the robots, rogue or escaped science experiments and especially the cafeteria make daily life an incredible and potentially lethal prospect.

Moreover, Principal Lepton and his administration are brutal bureaucrats with an excessive punishment regime (this is one deep-space satellite school you do not want to be “expelled” from) who have a pretty cavalier attitude to student safety – or even survival – and a hidden agenda which involves using Academy resources to build super-weapons for use against Bud’s lost or hidden home-world…

Gradually though, the boy adjusts, even finding an unexpected flair for the terrifying null-gravity sport of ZeroBall, which is lucky as Gort has deduced that the immensely prestigious championship Tournament is being held tantalisingly close to the diabolical Planet Earth – close enough that a stolen space-pod could reach it, if by some miracle Bud’s team qualified for the finals…

Funny, thrilling, wildly imaginative and utterly engrossing, Earthling! blends elements of Tom Brown’s Schooldays with Joe Dante’s Explorers and Harry Potter’s best bits with the anarchic wit of animated movies such as Despicable Me, Home and Monsters vs Aliens to produce a delightfully compelling adventure yarn with endearing characters and a big, big payoff.

This is a book (or ebook if you prefer) any sharp, fun-loving kid can – and should – read… and so should the rest of you…
© 2012 by Mark Fearing. All rights reserved.