Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown volume 1


By Jack Kirby, Bob Brown, Dave Wood, Ed Herron, Roz Kirby, Marvin Stein, Bruno Premiani, George Klein, Wally Wood & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1087-8 (TPB)

In an era where comicbooks had slipped into an undirected and formless mass of genre-niches, 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 were being gradually revived in 1956 under the cautious aegis of Julius Schwartz, here was a super-team – the first of the Silver Age – with no powers, the most basic and utilitarian of costumes and the most dubious of motives: Suicide by Mystery.

Despite all that 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 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 even more words to that superabundance in this review of one of his best projects, which like so many others, he perfectly constructed before moving on as he always did, leaving highly competent but never quite as inspired talents to build upon his legacy.

When the comic industry suffered an economic collapse in the mid 1950’s, Kirby’s partnership with Joe Simon ended and he returned briefly to DC Comics. Here he worked on mystery tales and the minority-interest Green Arrow back-up strip whilst creating newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force.

Never idle for a moment, 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 collaborator Simon had closed their innovative but unfortunate Mainline Comics.

After years of working for others, Simon and Kirby had finally established their own publishing company, producing comics for a much more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by the anti-comic book witch-hunt of US Senator Estes Kefauver and psychologist Dr Fredric Wertham.

Simon moved into advertising, but Kirby soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to a number of safer, if less experimental, companies.

The Challengers of the Unknown were four ordinary mortals; heroic adventurers and explorers who walked away unscathed from a terrible plane crash. Clearly what we now call “adrenaline junkies”, they 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 Kirby tales of the team have been thankfully immortalised in full-colour archival print and digital editions, but the team captivated readers for a decade beyond those glorious beginnings, and thus far those tales are only available in these monochrome tomes. Hope springs eternal, though…

The series launched with ‘The Secrets of the Sorcerer’s Box!’ (Showcase #6, cover-dated January/February 1957 – which meant it came out in time for Christmas 1956). Kirby and scripter Dave Wood, plus inkers Marvin Stein and Jack’s wife Roz, crafted a spectacular epic as the doom-chasers are hired by 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 Kirby’s awesome drawing resonates with power and dynamism. That continues for the sequel, a science fiction drama sparked by an alliance of Nazi technologies and American criminality which unleashes a terrible robotic monster. ‘Ultivac is Loose!’ (Showcase #7, dated March/April 1957) introduces beautiful and capable boffin (aren’t they always?) Dr. June Robbins, who becomes the unofficial fifth Challenger at a time when most comic females (and living ones too) – had been banished back to subsidiary domestic status in that so-conservative era.

The team didn’t reappear until Showcase #11 (November/December 1957) as The Flash and Lois Lane got their shots at the big time. When the Challs did return, it was in alien invasion adventure ‘The Day the Earth Blew Up’, with unique realist Bruno Premiani inking a taut doomsday chiller pinning readers to the edges of their seats even today, and by the time of their last Showcase outing (#12, January /February 1958) they had won their own title.

‘The Menace of the Ancient Vials’ was defused by the usual blend of daredevil heroics and 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 came two months later with the debut of their own magazine.

Issue #1, written and drawn by Kirby, with Stein on inks, presented two complete stories plus an iconic introductory page that would become almost a signature second logo for the team.

‘The Man Who Tampered with Infinity’ pits the heroes against a renegade scientist whose cavalier dabbling liberates dreadful monsters from the beyond onto our defenceless planet, after which the team are abducted by aliens to become ‘The Human Pets’.

The same creators were responsible for a brace of thrillers in #2. ‘The Traitorous Challenger’ is a monster mystery, with June returning to sabotage a mission in the Australian Outback, whilst ‘The Monster Maker’ finds the team seemingly helpless against a super-criminal who can conjure up and animate solid objects out of his thoughts.

The third issue features ‘Secret of the Sorcerer’s Mirror’ with Roz Kirby & Marvin Stein again inking the mesmerising pencils, as the boys pursue a band of criminals whose magic looking glass can locate deadly ancient weapons, although the most intriguing tale for fans and historians is undoubtedly ‘The Menace of the Invincible Challenger’.

Here 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 (FF #1 came out in the autumn of 1961) have fuelled speculation. In all honesty, I simply don’t care. They’re both similar and different but equally enjoyable, so read both. In fact, read them all.

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

‘The Wizard of Time’ is a full-length masterpiece wherein a series of bizarre robberies leads the team to a scientist with a time-machine. By visiting oracles of the past, he finds a path to the far future. When he gets there, he plans on robbing it blind, but the Challengers find a way to follow him…

‘The Riddle of the Star-Stone’ (#5) is a contemporary full-length 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 spectacular action are intoxicating, but the 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’ has the boys kidnapped from Earth to perform in a interplanetary show, but the evil ringmaster is promptly outfoxed and the team returns for Ed Herron’s mystic saga ‘The Sorceress of Forbidden Valley’, as June becomes an amnesiac puppet in a power struggle between a fugitive gangster and a ruthless feudal potentate.

There are also two stories in #7. Herron scripted both the relatively straightforward alien-safari tale ‘The Beasts from Planet 9’ and much more intriguing ‘Isle of No Return’ with the team confronting a scientific bandit before his shrinking ray leaves them permanently mouse-sized.

Issue #8 is a magnificent finale to a superb run, as Kirby & Wally Wood go out in style via two gripping spectaculars (both of which introduce 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, introduces Drabny – a mastermind who steals mystic artefacts and conquers a small nation before the lads hand him his marching orders. This is a tale of blistering battles and uncharacteristic, if welcome, comedy, but the true gem is science fiction tour-de-force ‘Prisoners of the Robot Planet’, with art by Kirby & Wally, and most 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 fearsome 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 in cool pilot Ace Morgan, indomitable strongman Rocky, intellectual aquanaut “Prof”. Haley and daredevil acrobat Red Ryan. He then manipulated, mixed and matched an astounding blend of genres to display their talents and courage in unforgettable exploits that informed every team comic that followed, and certainly influenced his successive and landmark triumphs with Stan Lee. But then he left.

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 and inter-group fractious bickering that marked previous issues (Comics Historians take note: the Challs were snapping and snarling at each other years before Marvel’s Cosmic Quartet ever boarded that fateful rocket-ship).

A number of writers, many sadly lost to posterity, stepped in, including Bill Finger, Ed Herron and possibly Jack Miller, Bob Haney and Arnold Drake, but one man took over the illustrator’s role: Bob Brown.

Brown was born August 22nd 1915 and he died in 1977 following a long illness. He studied at Hartford Art School and Rhode Island School of Design, and worked with his showbiz folks and sister in a song-&-dance act from 1927 onwards. He was drafted in 1940 – the year he also began working as a comics artist and scripter for Fox, Timely/Atlas. As the war intensified, he was an aircraft radio operator, an aviation cadet and served in the Pacific as bombardier and navigator in B-29 bombers, earning six air medals and a Distinguished Flying Cross.

After jobbing around the industry during the late 1040s and 1950’s Brown settled at National Comics/DC, co-created the long-running Space Ranger, drawing Tomahawk, western hero Vigilante, Batman, Superboy, Doom Patrol, World’s Finest Comics and a host of other features and genre shorts. He moved to Marvel in the 1970s where he drew Warlock, Daredevil and the Avengers among others.

He was a consummate professional and drew every issue of the Challengers from #9-63: almost a decade of high adventure ranged from ravaging aliens, cute-and-fuzzy space beasts to truly scary supernatural horrors.

‘The Men who Lost their Memories’ finds the team fighting crooks with a thought-stealing machine, whereas ‘The Plot to Destroy Earth!’ is a full-on, end-of-humanity thriller with monsters bent on carving our world into chunks for their resource-hungry alien masters. Only the guts and ingenuity of our heroes can save the day…

A destructive giant with a deadly secret is the motivating premise of ‘The Cave-Man Beast’ and #10’s cover-featured second tale sets another time-travel conundrum as the boys discover their own likenesses on a submerged monolith in fanciful thriller ‘The Four Faces of Doom’.

Issue #11 is an action-packed full-length interdimensional romp subdivided into ‘The Creatures from the Forbidden World’, ‘Land beyond the Light’ and ‘The Achilles Heel’, after which the two-story format returns for the next issue, which boasts ‘The Challenger from Outer Space’ – with an alien superhero joining the team – and ‘Three Clues to Sorcery’ with our quarrelsome quartet again forced to endure exotic locales and extreme perils to acquire mystic artefacts for a criminal mastermind. Even so, this time there’s a unique and deadly twist in this oft-told tale…

‘The Prisoner of the Tiny Space Ball’ see the team rescuing the ruler of another world, before Rocky is possessed by the legendary Golden Fleece, making him a puppet of ‘The Creatures from the Past’.

Issue #14 opens with one of the few adventures with a credited scripter. Ed “France” Herron was a 30-year comics veteran and ‘The Man who Conquered the Challengers’ is one of his best tales, with crooked archaeologist Eric Pramble stealing an ancient formula for “liquid light” which makes him functionally immortal. Moreover, every time he’s killed, he reanimates with a different super-power!

As Multi-Man, Pramble became the closest thing to an arch-villain the series ever had, and even graduated to becoming a regular foe across the DCU. Once again, cool wits and sheer nerve find a way to victory that sheer firepower never could.

In second yarn ‘Captives of the Alien Beasts’, all five Challs are teleported to another world by animals who have invaded a scientist’s laboratory. It’s a relatively innocuous tale when compared to #15’s all-out fight-fest ‘The Return of Multi-Man’ and bizarre offering ‘The Lady Giant and the Beast’, wherein June is transformed into a 50-foot leviathan just as a scaly monster cuts a swathe of destruction through the locality.

Issue #16’s ‘Incredible Metal Creature’ sees an Earth thug join forces with an escaped alien criminal. No real Challenge there, but a back-up yarn finds the team in Arabia as ‘Prisoners of the Mirage World’ facing knights who have been trapped there since the time of the Crusades.

This thrill-stuffed then tome concludes with #17’s supernatural crime whimsy ‘The Genie who Feared June’, and interplanetary mission of mercy ‘The Secret of the Space Capsules’; both solid pieces of adventure fiction that, if not displaying the unique Kirby magic, are redolent with its flavours.

As well as being probably (certainly at this moment, anyway) my favourite comics series, Challengers of the Unknown is sheer escapist wonderment, and no fan of the medium should miss the graphic exploits of these perfect adventurers in the ideal setting of not so long ago in a simpler better world than ours. If only we could convince DC Comics to give them the archival home in print and digital editions they so richly deserve, to match the constant re-imaginings the team and title regularly enjoy…
© 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Metal Men volume 1


By Robert Kanigher, Bob Haney, Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, Ramona Fradon & various (DC Comics)
SBN: 978-1-4012-1559-0 (TPB)

Dc comics have a vast unexploited wealth and variety of comics classics that remain untapped for modern fans. This especially kid-friendly series is one that really should be back in digital and paperback archival tomes…

In contrast to his gritty war and adventure scripts Robert Kanigher usually kept his fantasy and superhero comicbook tales light, visually intriguing and often extremely outlandish… and that’s certainly the case with these eccentric artificial heroes who briefly caught the early 1960’s zeitgeist for bizarre and outrageous light-hearted adventure.

The Metal Men first appeared in four consecutive issues of National/DC’s try-out title Showcase: legendarily created over a weekend by Kanigher after an intended feature blew its press deadline. The prospect was rapidly rendered by the art-team of Ross Andru & Mike Esposito: a last-minute filler that attracted a large readership’s eager attention. Within months of their fourth and final adventure, the gleaming gladiatorial gadgets were stars of their own title.

This first cheap and cheerful monochrome compendium collects the electrifying contents of Showcase #37-40, Metal Men #1-15 (spanning (March/April 1962 to September 1965) as well as the first of their nine team-up appearances in Brave and the Bold: specifically issue #55.

The alchemical excitement began in Showcase #37 (March/April 1962) with ‘The Flaming Doom!’ wherein an horrific radioactive antediluvian beast flies out of a melting polar glacier (geez! Topical) to mindlessly devastate humanity’s great cities. Helpless to stop the creature, the American military desperately approaches brilliant young technologist Dr. Will Magnus for a solution. He rapidly constructs a doomsday squad of self-regulating, highly intelligent automatons, patterned after Tina, a prototype “female” robot constructed from platinum and malleable memory ceramic, governed by a tiny supercomputer dubbed a “Responsometer”.

This miracle of micro-engineering not only simulates – or perhaps originates – thought processes and emotional character for the robots, but constantly reprograms the base form – allowing the mechanoids to change their shapes.

Magnus patterns his handmade heroes on pure metals, with Gold as leader of a tight-knit team consisting of Iron, Lead, Mercury and Tin warriors. Thanks to their responsometers, each robot specialises in physical changes based on its elemental properties but – due to some quirk of programming – the robots also develop personality traits mimicking the metaphorical attributes of their base metal.

Tina is especially intransigent, believing herself to be passionately in love with her dashing creator…

As soon as they’ve introduced themselves, the shining squad sets off to confront the deadly monster in a flying rocket-saucer and, after a terrible battle, succeed at the cost of their own brief lives…

In Showcase #38 a very public campaign to reconstruct the Metal Men results in Magnus building them anew. However, their unique characters are gone and they promptly fail in battle against a Soviet-backed Nazi scientist’s robotic marauder… until the desperate Yankee inventor manages to recover their original responsometers in ‘The Nightmare Menace!’

‘The Deathless Doom!’ then pits the malleable machines against an animated glassine tank used to store toxic residues from failed experiments by genius chemist Professor Norton. The intermingled waste products combine to create a deadly new life form dubbed Chemo who (Which? What?) would become one of the greatest menaces in the DC universe…

The Showcase trial run concluded with September/October 1962 issue as ‘The Day the Metal Men Melted!’ sees Chemo return just as Magnus’ previous exposure to the Toxic Terror coincidentally transforms the inventor into a radioactive, metallic giant. Acutely aware of his dangerous condition, Magnus exiles himself to deep space and manages to take Chemo with him where, luckily, the outer limits provide the valiant scientist with an unexpected cure…

Whereas the first three tales were relatively straight dramas, with this yarn rationalistic physics began giving way to fantastic fringe science and comedic elements began to proliferate. By increasingly capitalising on the Metal’s Men quirky characters, successive stories became as much fantasy as drama.

Metal Men #1 launched with an April/May 1963 cover-date, detailing the astonishing ‘Rain of the Missile Men’, in which alien robot Z-1 falls in love with Tina from astronomically afar and builds innumerable hordes of duplicates of himself to claim her. When his automaton army invades Earth, only Tina survives to the end of the issue…

At this point Magnus is becoming increasingly schizophrenic about the desperately lovesick and fiercely jealous Tina: alternately berating her impossible emotions then moping and missing her after he’s donated the troublesome toy to a museum… Huh! Robot Women: can’t live with them, can’t make them whatever you want them to…

Kanigher’s greatest ability was always his knack for dreaming up outlandish visual situations and bizarre emotive twists. ‘Robots of Terror’ describes how the frustrated Tina constructs her own mechanical Doc Magnus, which turns evil and develops an equally iniquitous team of elemental warriors – Barium, Aluminium, Calcium, Zirconium, Sodium and Plutonium – to battle the recently reconstructed Metal Men, after which #3’s ‘The Moon’s Mechanical Army!’ sees the team undertake a lunar search for the Platinum Bombshell after she sacrifices herself to save them all. In the process, they inadvertently bring an uncontrollable amoebic monster back to Earth…

Tin was the meekest Metal and most lacking in confidence, but in ‘The Bracelet of Doomed Heroes!’ a Giant-Alien-Robot-Amazon-Queen takes a shine to the timid tyke and shanghaies him to her distant planet. When his alchemical comrades come to the rescue they are trapped and enslaved until Tin turns the tide in the concluding ‘Menace of the Mammoth Robots!’

Back on Earth, the Metal Men battle a Gas Gang (Oxygen, Helium, Chloroform, Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide) of evil mechanical marauders after cosmic rays made Magnus evil and electronic on ‘The Day Doc Turned Robot!’, after which ‘The Living Gun!’ finds a fully-restored team confronting a colossal monster formed from a runaway solar prominence.

Metal Men #8 has the team take a little blind boy on a jaunt to another world, only to be trapped by extraterrestrial robots in ‘The Playground of Terror!’ before young Billy saves the day in the concluding battle with ‘The Robot Juggernaut!’

‘Revolt of the Gas Gang!’ relates how Doc is forced to revive the vaporous villains when the Metal Men are accidentally merged into one monolithic menace, after which the tightly continuous sagas briefly halt here to include a team-up tale from Brave and the Bold #55 (August/September 1965) in which writer Bob Haney and illustrators Ramona Fradon & Charles Paris detail the ‘Revenge of the Robot Reject’.

When a series of suspicious lab accidents destroys the Heavy Metal Heroes, distraught Doc is menaced by rogue robot Uranium and its silver metal lover Agantha, until size-changing champion Professor Ray Palmer intervenes as the all-conquering Atom, after which the scrap-heap scrappers are once more resurrected to end the evil automaton’s nuclear threat forever.

Meanwhile, back in Metal Men #11, by usual suspects Kanigher, Andru & Esposito, ‘The Floating Furies!’ finds the resourceful robots both upon and beneath the briny seas, battling intelligent mines, giant crustaceans and even King Neptune, before Z-1’s inexhaustible horde of Missile Men returns to ‘Shake the Stars!’, after which the ‘Raid of the Skyscraper Robot’ introduces a new Metal Man… of sorts.

When lonely Tin builds himself a girlfriend from a toy kit, neither is able to withstand the mockery of fellow metal Mercury. The automatic lovers flee Earth, only to encounter a devastated mobile planet of monolithic mechanical monsters which follow them back here – only to face final defeat at the gleaming hands of the reunited team.

Chemo returns to disable – but never defeat – the Metal Men in #14’s ‘The Headless Robots!’ before this initial instalment of elemental epics concludes with ‘The Revenge of the Rebel Robots!’ in which the fashionable fad for acronymic spy stories pitches the Sterling Stalwarts into combat with a giant spy machine from the subversive secret society B.O.L.T.S.! (…and no, I don’t know what it stands for…)

Wildly imaginative, weirdly enthralling and brilliantly daft, these full-on, frantic fantasies are a superb slice of the nostalgic good old days, when every day lasted a week and the world was stuffed to bursting with dinosaurs, robots and monsters. Sometimes, if you buy the right book, you can still get all those thrills at once, so let’s hope it’s not long before these marvellous yarns are back in vogue… and print…

© 1962-1965, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Star Hawks Volume 1


By Ron Goulart & Gil Kane, & various (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-163140-397-2 (HB)
In the later 20th century, comicbook publishers worked long and hard to import their colourful wares to the more popular and commercially viable shelves of bookshops, until the eventual acceptance of the hybrid form we know now as graphic novels. Newspaper strips (and episodic humour magazines like Mad), however, had been regular fare since the 1950s.

By dint of more accessible themes and subjects, simpler page layouts and just plain bigger core readerships, comedy and action periodical serials easily translated to digest-sized book formats and sold by the bucketload to a broad base of consumers. Because of this, the likes of Peanuts, B.C., Broom Hilda, Flash Gordon, Mandrake and many others were an entertainment staple for cartoon-loving, joy-deficient kids – and adults – from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Comedies and gag books far outweighed dramas however. By the TV-saturated 1970s the era of the grand adventure strip in newspapers was all but over, although there were still a few dynamic holdouts and even some few new gems still to come.

One such was this astonishingly addictive space opera/police procedural which debuted on October 3rd 1977. The strip was created by novelist, comics scripter and strip historian Ron Goulart slightly in advance of the science fiction revival and resurgence sparked by release of Star Wars (and later continued by the legendary Archie Goodwin who all-but-sewed up the sci-fi strip genre at that time by also simultaneously authoring the Star Wars newspaper serial which premiered in 1979)…

Star Hawks was graced by the dazzlingly dynamic art of Gil Kane and blessed with an innovative format for such strips: a daily double-tier layout that allowed far bigger, bolder graphics and panel compositions than the traditional single bank of three or four frames.

The core premise was also magically simple: in our future, man has spread throughout the galaxy and now inhabits many worlds, moons and satellites. And wherever man goes there’s crime and a desperate need for policemen and peacekeepers…

As revealed in his picture and photo-packed Introduction ‘In at the Creation’, Goulart began with the working title “Space Cops” but that was eventually editorially overruled and superseded with the more dashingly euphonious and commercially vibrant Star Hawks. He goes on to describe the resistance the strip suffered from its own syndicate, the delays that meant it only launched after Star Wars set the world on fire and how he was ultimately edged out of the creative process altogether…

A brace of mass-market digest paperbacks were released whilst the strip was still running, and at the end of the 1980s, four comicbook-sized album collections were published by Blackthorne, but these are all now out-of-print and hard to acquire, so let’s be thankful for this first sturdy hardback archival edition…

This stirring tome is printed in landscape format with each instalment fitting neatly onto a page: thus the black and white art (almost original publication size) is clean, crisp and tight as Book 1 steams straight in with the premiere episode from October 4th 1977 by introducing the villainous Raker and his sultry, sinister boss child-of-privilege Ilka, scouring the slums and ruins of alien world Esmeralda for a desperate girl plagued by dark, dangerous visions…

Enter Rex Jaxan and burly Latino ladykiller Chavez: two-fisted law-enforcing police officers on the lookout for trouble, who promptly save the lass from slavers only to become embroiled in a dastardly plot to overthrow the local Emperor by scurrilous arms merchants. Also debuting in that initial tale is the cops’ boss Alice K. Benyon (far more than just a sexy romantic foil for He-Hunk Jaxan, and an early example of a competent woman actually in charge), the awesome space station “Hoosegow” and Sniffer, the snarkiest, sulkiest, snappiest robo-dog in the galaxy. The mechanical mutt gets all the best lines…

Barely pausing for breath, the star-born Starsky and Hutch (that’s Goulart’s take on them, not mine) are in pursuit of an appalling new weapons system developed to topple the military dictatorship of Empire 13 – the “Dustman” process (beginning on November 15th 1977). Before long however the search for the illegal and appalling WMD develops into a full-on involvement in what should have stayed a local matter – civil war…

The next sequence (running from March 17th to June 19th 1978) opens with the pair investigating the stupendous resort satellite Hotel Maximus, with Alice K. along to bolster their undercover image. On Maximus every floor holds a different daring delight – from dancing to dinosaur wrangling to Alpine adventure – but the return of the malevolent Raker heralds a whole new type of trouble as he is revealed to be an agent of the pan-galactic cartel of criminals known only as The Brotherhood.

Moreover, the Maximus is the site of their greatest coup – a plot to mind-control the universe’s richest and most powerful citizens. So pernicious are these villains that the Brotherhood can even infiltrate and assault Hoosegow itself…

Foiling the raiders, Jaxan and Chavez quickly go on the offensive, hunting the organisation as a new epic begins on 20th June (which frustratingly leaves this initial collection paused on a tense cliffhanger). The hunt takes them to pesthole planet Selva: a degraded world of warring tribes and monstrous mutations, where ambitiously dogged new recruit Kass seeks to distinguish himself, even as on Hoosegow the Brotherhood is deadly and persistent and new leader Master Jigsaw has a plan to destroy the Star Hawks from within…

Wrapping up the starry-eyed wonderment is the first part of Daniel Herman’s biographical assessment ‘Gil Kane: Bringing a Comic Book Sensibility to Comic Strips’

The Star Hawks strip ran until 1981, garnering a huge and devoted audience, critical acclaim and a National Cartoonists Society Award for Kane (1977 Story Comic Strip Award). It is quite simply one of the most visually exciting, rip-roaring and all-out fabulous sci-fi sagas in comics history and should be part of every action fan’s permanent collection. These tales are a “must-have” item for every thrill-seeking child of the stars and fan of the classic space age
© 1977, 1978, 2017 United Features Syndicate, Inc. All rights reserved.

The City


By James Herbert & Ian Miller (Pan Books)
ISBN13: 978-0-33032-471-7 (PB Album)

In the early 1990s, a number of British publishers – fired up by the massive mainstream sales of breakthrough sequential narratives such as Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and Maus – dipped their corporate toes in the waters of graphic novel publication, with varying degrees of commercial and aesthetic success.

Macmillan, through its Pan Books imprint, was one that took it all very seriously and it’s a crying shame that they were not better rewarded for their bold efforts. Still and all, with the way the country and the world are going at present, a timely reissue couldn’t be more relevant…

This particular slim, apocalyptic tome built upon an already popular property. Horror author James Herbert began his extensive writing career with The Rats (1974) following up with sequels Lair in 1979 and Domain in 1984. Those three novels told of a post-Holocaust Britain where mutated giant Black Rats have risen as humanity declined. In The City (technically Herbert’s 17th book) – and more of an episode than a narrative – an armoured figure known as The Traveller fights his way into the devastated ruins of London.

The decimated Capital is now the undisputed kingdom of the rats and their truly monstrous queen, but the lone human is set irrevocably on a mission of murder, and he has a secret, personal purpose for going into the hellish ruins…

Dark, simplistic and terrifying, the story is elevated to nightmare heights and depths by the astonishing, grotesquely beautiful art of sculptor, painter, film-designer and illustrator Ian Miller (Ratspike, The Luck in the Head, Green Dog Trumpet, Magic: The Gathering). Armageddon has never been better realised, the skies have never looked uglier and the shabby remains and detritus of civilisations never more familiar. His mutants are appalling to see and his intense line-work and domineering colours will haunt you.

Horror is tough to write and nearly impossible to illustrate. This book manages to tell no real story and make it scarier every time you return to it. Let’s hope some sagacious publisher does so before it’s too late for us all…
©1994 James Herbert. Illustrations ©1994 Ian Miller. All Rights Reserved.

Lost in Time volume 1: Labyrinths


By Jean-Claude Forest & Paul Gillon, with an introduction by Alex Toth (NBM)
ISBN: 978-0-91834-818-0 (HB)

France has had an ongoing love affair with science fiction that goes back at least to the works of Jules Verne and – depending upon your viewpoint – arguably even as far back as Cyrano de Bergerac’s posthumously published fantasy stories L’Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune (The Other World: or the States and Empires of the Moon) and Les États et Empires du Soleil (The States and Empires of the Sun) published in 1657 and 1662. Moreover, their comic iterations have always been groundbreaking, superbly realised and deeply enjoyable.

A perfect case in point is Les Naufragés du Temps (alternately translated as either Castaways in Time or, as here, Lost in Time) created in 1964 by Jean-Claude Forest and classical master-draughtsman Paul Gillon.

Forest (1930-1998) was a Parisian and graduate of the Paris School of Design who began selling strips while still a student. His Flèche Noire (Black Arrow) led to a career illustrating for newspapers and magazines such as France-Soir, Les Nouvelles Littéraires and Fiction in the 1950s, all whilst producing the Charlie Chaplin-inspired comic series Charlot and acting as chief artist for publisher Hachette’s science fiction imprint Le Rayon Fantastique. For this last client he produced illustrations and covers on translations of imported authors A. E. Van Vogt, Jack Williamson, and others.

In 1962, Forrest created Barbarella for V-Magazine and his sexy-charged icon quickly took the country and world by storm, consequently generating an explosion of like-minded SF Bandes Dessinées features. Forest never looked back, subsequently creating Baby Cyanide and more serious tales like Hypocrite; the Verne-inspired Mysterious Planet; La Jonque Fantôme Vue de l’Orchestre and Enfants, c’est l’Hydragon qui Passe.

He also found time to script for other artists: Ici Même for Jacques Tardi, occult detective series Leonid Beaudragon for Didier Savard and, with Gillon, the subject of today’s review – a classic of both comics and science fiction inexplicably all-but-ignored by English language publishers since the 1980s. If you read French, however, all volumes are still available in print and digitally…

Paul Gillon (1926-2011) was also born in Paris but suffered from debilitating tuberculosis in early life. After his full recovery, the isolated shut-in became something of a brilliant wild child, expelled from many schools – including the prestigious Ecole des Arts Graphiques.

As a teenager he considered a career in film, theatre or fashion, but slipped almost accidentally into the world of cartooning and caricature, working freelance for such arts magazines as Samedi-Soir, France Dimanche and Gavroche.

The end of WWII created chaotic circumstances in France, subsequently spawning a whole new comics industry, and in 1947 Gillon began illustrating for the popular weekly Vaillant, both on existing adventures strips such as Wango and Lynx Blanc (both written by Roger Lécureux) and Jean Ollivier’s Le Cormoran, as well as the later spin-off Jérémie which Gillon also scripted. In 1950, he created Fils de Chine (Sons of China) with Lécureux which ran for three years.

Working in a refined and highly classicist style epitomised by the likes of global industry giants Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff and Hal Foster, Gillon also wrote and drew shorter complete pieces for titles such as 34 Camera, Femmes D’Aujourd’hui, Reves and Radar, but his big break came in September 1959 when he began illustrating a daily soap-opera strip for national newspaper France Soir.

He would render the stunningly beautiful human heartbreaks of 13, rue de l’Espoir until the end of 1972, becoming a household name in the process…

Based on the American serial The Heart of Juliet Jones and scripted by Jacques and François Gall, the feature followed the fortunes of vivacious Parisienne Françoise Morel, and unfolding daily took the heroine and the Family Morel through some of the most tumultuous years of modern European social change, in nearly 4200 strips which were naturally compiled into two collected Albums – something else which should be translated into English but probably won’t be…

Throughout that period Gillon continued in comics, producing Jérémie, working for the Disney comic Le Journal de Mickey and other magazines while trying out new venues and genres.

Les Naufrages du Temps first appeared in 1964, part of the line-up in short-lived French comic Chouchou. A decade after the periodical closed, the strip was reprinted and saga completed in France-Soir before being released as 2 bichromic (a two-coloured palette) albums from major publisher Hachette in 1974 and 1975. Two further full-colour book volumes followed in 1976.

In 1977 the saga was serialized in groundbreaking Sci-fi magazine Metal Hurlant, prompting publisher Les Humanoides Associes to re-release the four albums (L’Etoile Endormie/The Sleeping Star; La Mort Sinueuse/The Creeping Death; Labyrinthes/Labyrinths and L’Univers Cannibale/The Cannibal Universe) in colour, before continuing the series with Gillon scripting as well as illustrating until its end in 1989: a total of six further volumes.

Never idle, Gillon then created spy-thriller Les Leviathans (The Leviathans) for Les Humanoides and adult science fiction epic La Survivante (The Survivor) for L’Echo des Savanes. He also adapted literary classics such as Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and re-imagined the legend of Joan of Arc as the erotic epic Jehanne.

His later efforts included Processus de Survie (Survival Process) in 1984 and La Derniere des Salles Obscures (The Last of the Dark Rooms) in 1998. He was still creating comics well into the 21st century and remains one of France’s most honoured, celebrated and revered comics creators, so just why so few of his incredibly illustrated tales have been translated is an utter mystery to me.

One that did make the jump was Lost in Time: Labyrinths, released as a spectacular hardback by NBM in 1987 and one of the few European imports to be seen “cold” in the USA (i.e. without first running as a serial in Heavy Metal magazine). As cited above it was the third album of the French series and opened with a much-needed preamble…

So just to recap something we hadn’t actually seen: at the end of the 20th century, humanity was imperilled by “the Scourge”: a plague of extraterrestrial spores and/or a global sickness of its own negligent making.

Chris Cavallieri and Valerie Haurele were selected for a shot at survival and placed in suspended animation in individual space-capsules to preserve the best of our race and possibly reconstruct our lost glories in a newer age…

A thousand years later Chris was awakened into a bewildering but thriving multi-species civilisation in deadly danger. Earth was a derelict, plague world inhabited by mutant monsters whilst society abandoned it and grew to inhabit a hugely re-configured Solar system.

Helping the inhabitants of the patchwork “System” – ex-pat human, alien and genetically altered/hybridised animal-beings – to defeat an invasion by alien winged rats dubbed the Thrass, Chris fortuitously found Valerie’s lost capsule and revived her – but the longed-for happy reunion led to utter disaster.

Throughout their millennial slumber both ancient human lovers had dreamt of each other and a perfect meeting, but once they were together again in a furious new future, they discovered that they could not stand each other…

This tale begins after the defeated Thrass have fled the System and Valerie, rejected by Chris, has disappeared. The resurrected Ancient and his new-found true love Mara (one of the scientists who first recovered and rehabilitated Christopher) are the topic of much discussion amongst his new friends Dr. Otomoro and military cyborg Major Lisdal. Chris haunts morgues and seedy dives of the pan-cosmopolitan city of Roobo-ein-Sarra on System capital Limovan, unable to shake his destructive, obsessive fear for the fate of his millennial ex-lover…

Depressed, despondent and bitterly confused, Chris roams the exotic streets and bazaars where hordes of newly-liberated beings manically celebrate their hard-won freedom and security, unaware that he has been targeted by sinister plotters. An old “frenemy”, Morfina, accosts him and, past injuries and seductions forgotten, lures the old Earthman to the Mood Market, a vast, baroque area of bordellos run by a legendary criminal overlord. The Boar is a burly, erudite and unctuous humanoid with a Tapir’s head and plenty to hide…

(In the original this major series villain is in fact the Tapir – I’ve no idea why he was so erroneously renamed but have a sneaking suspicion that it involves European prejudices about English and American educational attainment…)

Completely off-guard, Chris succumbs to sybaritic release and is framed for the murder of a diplomat and his companion whilst out of his head. Once awake and panicked by the corpses around him, the Last Earthman accepts the extremely costly aid of the Boar to escape…

Even Christopher believes himself guilty until he discusses the affair with Mara, Lisdal and Otomoro in the cold light of day. However, even as the wool is pulled from his eyes and he realises his precarious predicament, the bamboozled human is utterly unaware that The Boar is working with compliant, vindictive Valerie, who is briefing the crime-lord on all Chris’s secrets…

When Lisdal suggests seeking help from brilliant scientific maverick Saravon Leobart, the friends are welcomed by the aged sage, but the Boar moves quickly, sending his gamin cyber-assassin Baby to quickly whisk Chris and Mara away under the pretext that the police have arrested Lisdal and Otomoro…

It’s all a colossal bluff: The Boar needs Chris to recover a deadly pre-Scourge secret weapon cached away at the time of humanity’s fall, and all the data needed to find and operate it lies buried in his Ancient subconscious. Chris is completely unaware that the thing even exists: his mind was re-programmed before his hibernation and only vengeful Valerie holds the secret of retrieving it…

Soon the Boar and his “guests” are hurtling deep into the outer system with Leobart, Morfina and Chris’ chums in hot pursuit. After a brutal clash in space, Chris and Mara are rescued but the Boar is ready and willing to retaliate. Moreover, benevolent Leobart is not all he seems…

To Be Continued…

This is a beautiful, stately and supremely authoritative adult fantasy thriller, tantalisingly teasing the reader with the promise of so much more. The second part was released in English as Lost in Time: Cannibal World in 1987, but even that only moved the saga forward without comfortably ending things. As far as I know, the only other Gillon works to make it into English are the first two volumes of The Survivor

Mature, solid science fiction with thoroughly believable and pettily human characters confronted with fantastic situations, lots of action and loads of gratuitous nudity: how on Earth has this sublime series remained a secret French Possession for so very long? And can we please end that particular embargo soon?
© Les Humanoides Associes. © NBM 1986 for the English edition.

Showcase Presents Rip Hunter… Time Master


By Jack Miller, Bill Ely, Ruben Moreira, Mike Sekowsky & Joe Giella, Joe Kubert, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Nick Cardy, Alex Toth, various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3521-5 (TPB)

The concept of curious chrononauts is as old as the science fiction genre itself, and every aspect of literature has displayed fascination with leaving the Now for the Then and Thence. As the 1950s closed and the superhero genre slowly re-established itself in comicbooks, National/DC – who had for half a decade been a prime purveyor of bold, he-man fantasy action – successfully scored one last plainclothes hit with the infinite potential of temporal exploration.

With costumed cavorters reappearing everywhere the company combined time-travel vistas with their tried-and-true Adventuresome Quartet format (most effectively utilised for Jack Kirby’s groundbreaking Challengers of the Unknown) and, on a creative high and riding a building wave, introduced a dauntless team of comfortingly ordinary folks as Rip Hunter… Time Master debuted in Showcase #20, cover-dated May/June 1959. This mammoth monochrome testament containing all the Showcase try-outs (and #1-15 of his starring vehicle) is still the only place to find these grand old tales, sadly…

Studious yet manly, inventor Hunter had just finished building flying globes which could crack the time barrier and, like any sensible man, wanted his best friend Jeff Smith and even girlfriend Bonnie Baxter to share in his fun-filled jaunts. Bonnie’s little brother Corky just came along for most rides…

Series creator Jack Miller and scripter was a serious history buff who filled the stories with the very latest in historical facts and theories, but that never got in the way of strong, rousing storytelling from the outset, and the series’ one potential flaw – lack of a consistent art-team – became a huge bonus in the early days, as a procession of top-flight illustrators took turns rendering the strangest and most evocative moments in comics history… so far…

Illustrated by Ruben Moreira, it all began with ‘Prisoners of 100 Million BC’: a novel-length introductory exploit which saw the daredevil physicist, engineer Jeff, adoring Bonnie and little Corky travel back to the Mesozoic era, utterly unaware that they were carrying two criminal stowaways.

Once there, the thugs hi-jacked the Time Sphere, holding it hostage until the explorers help them stock up with rare and precious minerals. Reduced to the status of mere castaways, Rip and Co. became ‘The Modern-Day Cavemen’ until an erupting volcano caused ‘The Great Beast Stampede’ which enabled the time travellers to finally turn the tables on their abductors…

Miller was always careful to use the best research available but never timid in blending historical fact with bold fantasy for Hunter’s escapades, and epic follow-up ‘The Secret of the Lost Continent’ (Showcase#21, July/August, 1959 and illustrated by Mike Sekowsky & Joe Giella) saw the Time Masters jump progressively further back in time in search of fabled Atlantis.

A dramatic meeting with Alexander the Great in 331 BCE led our temporal voyagers on a trail of clues back centuries to ‘The Forbidden Island’ of Aeaea in 700 BCE, uncovering the truth about legendary witch Circe before finally reaching 14,000 BCE and ‘The Doomed Continent’. Only on arrival do they see that the legendary pinnacle of early human achievement was actually a colony of stranded extraterrestrial refugees…

Rip Hunter appeared twice more in Showcase before winning his own series, and those succeeding months would see the Silver Age of superheroes kick into frantic High Gear with classic launches coming thick and fast.

Even so, the Time Masters continued slowly building their own faithful audience, happy to explore the traditionally fantastic. Nearly a year after the initial run they returned in Showcase #25 (March/April 1960 and spectacularly illustrated by Joe Kubert) as ‘Captives of the Medieval Sorcerer’ due to Rip’s old college professor requesting passage for a scholarly colleague to the kingdom of Ritanni a thousand years in the past.

Unfortunately, the studious Dr. Senn is a charlatan in search of mystic power and his machinations almost lead the time team to doom in ‘The Valley of the Monsters’ before Rip discovers the hoax and ends ‘The Sorcerer’s Siege’

Kubert stuck around to reveal ‘The Aliens from 2000 B.C.’ (Showcase #26, May/June 1960) as Rip and the gang voyage to ancient Egypt to verify recently unearthed pottery shards only to clash with extraterrestrial criminals planning on playing god with the natives. After a daring ‘Escape from the Doomed Village’, the lads link up with space cops to crush the baddies and their incredible pet monsters in time to win ‘The War of the Gods’

Ironically, time moved rather slowly for new titles in those days and Rip Hunter… Time Master only finally launched a year later, sporting a March/April 1961 cover-date.

With Ross Andru & Mike Esposito in the drawing seats, Miller hit the ground running: ‘The Thousand-year-Old Curse’ captivatingly traces an ancestral doom afflicting the Craig family which brings Rip firstly to New England in pioneer times before further backtracking to Switzerland in 1360 A.D. to uncover ‘The Secret of the Volcano Creature’. One final jaunt to feudal Europe is required to reveal the truth after a climactic clash with ‘The Wizard of the 10th Century’

Two months later, #2 began with a sightseeing trip to Greece spoiled when a giant monster escapes from a hidden cave. Ever-curious, Rip traces the evidence and takes the team back to meet ‘The Alien Beasts of 500 B.C.’, becoming embroiled in an undocumented civil war.

Deposed dictator Demades has gained control of cosmic animals originally captured by stranded alien Big-Game hunter Nytok, intending to use them to reassert his rule over Greece… until the Time Masters intervene and instigate ‘The Battle of the Alien Beasts’. That debacle almost leads to ‘Rip Hunter’s Last Stand’ but of course the ingenious future-man has a trick or two up his sleeve…

In #3, an old coin with Corky’s face on it draws the chrononauts to Scandinavia in 800 A.D. and into a royal power struggle for ‘The Throne of Doom’. As Corky is a doppelganger for incumbent young King Rollo, all manner of deadly confusions occur, especially once the future boy is targeted by wicked usurper Svend ‘The Duke with Creature Powers’. Luckily, modern know-how exposes the truth about the beasts under the villain’s control before ‘The Battle of the Warriors’ eventually sees Right and Justice restored…

Nick Cardy assumed art duties with #4 as a time-lost avian Vornian arrives in the modern world and the Temporal troubleshooters offer to return him to his home amongst ‘The Bird-Men of 2000 B.C.’ Of course, the adventurers are soon involved in a war between legendary King Hammurabi and Vornian rebels where ‘The Ancient Air Raid’ of the insurgents inevitably causes to a clash with ‘The Avenging God of Gilgamesh’… or does it?

In #5, ‘The Secret of the Saxon Traitor’ finds the team trying to rewrite established history and clear the name of a long-reviled traitor, but the books never mentioned invading spacemen or ‘The Creatures of Doom Valley’. At least the spectacular finale of ‘The Ancients vs. The Aliens’ proves that sometimes history gets it right all along…

The sensational Alex Toth then came aboard for two issues, beginning with ‘The Secret of the Ancient Seer’ in #5, as a convocation of contemporary scientists request that Rip investigate an 8th century Baghdad prophet who predicted Columbus’ discovery of America and, more worryingly, imminent doom from a fireball due to strike Earth in one week’s time. On arrival in Asia, the team discover the prophecy actually originates in ‘The Doomed City’ of Herculaneum, just before the eruption of Vesuvius…

With no solution in the past, Rip returns to the present and devises his own astounding solution to ‘The Menace of the Meteorite’

This astonishing yarn is followed in RHTM #7 by ‘The Lost Wanderers in Time’, with the futurist foursome embarking upon a desperate chase through unrecorded history. They are seeking a cure for a disease devastating South American Indians but their spasmodic quest eventually takes them back a million years to clash with ‘The Last Dinosaur’ before a remedy for ‘The Green Death’ is found in the least likely place…

With #8 veteran illustrator Bill Ely won the role of regular artist, limning almost every story until the series ended. His first venture was ‘The Thieves Who Stole a Genie’, wherein the explorers follow gangsters who had stolen their spare Time Sphere to secure Aladdin’s magic lamp. The trail leads to 14th century Baghdad where ‘The Battle of the Genies’ is only finally interrupted by an invasion. Of course, canny Rip has the perfect answer for ‘The Attack of the Ommayads’

When an archaeologist digs up a rocket-ship, he subsequently asks the team to travel back and track down ‘The Alien King of 1,000 B.C.’: a breathtaking romp which finds Corky and Rip almost expiring after ‘The Adventure on Planet Zark’, whilst Bonnie and Jeff remain Earthbound and down until a ‘One-Man Alien Army’ saves them and the ancient world from conquest and death.

In issue #10 ‘The Execution of Rip Hunter’ begins after a research trip to the 3rd century A.D. led to Bonnie’s abduction. Whilst Roman soldiers tackle the boys, a hypnotic spell transforms her into ‘Bonnie – Queen of Palmyra’ and controller of an impossibly powerful beast her abductors need to fend off Imperial invasion in ‘All Hail the Conquering Creature’

A classic science fiction gem surfaces in #11 where ‘The Secret of Mount Olympus’ is exposed when the team visit 2nd century B.C. Greece. After meeting a witch, Jeff is changed into a griffin and supreme god Zeus demands Rip perform a small task to save him; resulting in a ‘Dead End on Calypso Island’ before the true nature of the pantheon is revealed. ‘The Invasion of Mount Olympus’ results in the team’s escape and the gods’ Earthly departure…

Veteran Legion of Super-Heroes fans might recognise this tale as the basis for a major plot stream concerning the Durlan member Chameleon Boy

For #12, a threat to modern Earth is revealed after a burning meteor erupts from beneath Stonehenge. ‘The 2,200-Year-Old Doom’ first leads to the building of the monument before at long last our heroes travel into their own future to learn how the fallen star will destroy mankind.

Then, after popping back to when the meteor first hit and seeing the destruction of ‘The Impossible Beasts of One Million B.C.’ Rip finally devises ‘Earth’s Last Chance’ to save Today and all our Tomorrows…

In #13 ‘The Menace of the Mongol Magician’ sees Rip working with a renowned scientist on a magic Chinese tapestry, but their trip to the time of Kublai Khan is only a devious scam to warp history. Once there, the villainous “Professor” plans to supply the Khan’s enemies with modern weapons in return for magical secrets. However, after making off with ‘The Hijacked Time Sphere’ he is promptly betrayed by his ally. Luckily, Rip and Jeff have their own answer to ‘The Mongol Ambush’ and everything turns out as it should…

‘The Captive Time-Travellers’ in #14 results from Rip and a group of scientists examining an invulnerable artefact purported to have been devised by Leonardo Da Vinci. Further discussion with the great man himself reveals that the container holds the world’s most destructive explosive…

When one of the 20th century technicians swipes the bomb and a Time Sphere, ‘The Future Fugitive’ heads for 2550 A.D. to sell the weapon to a dictator, so Rip and Co. give chase only to become ‘The Prisoners of Time’.

…And that’s when the bomb’s actual builders turn up…

The cleverly captivating fantasy frolics conclude for now with issue #15 and ‘The Earthlings of 5,000,000 B.C.’ wherein a rampaging alien monster in modern-day America proves to be an Earthling of astonishingly ancient vintage.

When Rip and the gang search out the answer to the mystery, they find an entire unsuspected civilisation and become ‘The Experimental Creatures’ of that society’s scientists. Barely escaping the cosmic calamity of ‘The Day the Earth Died’, the Chronal Centurians return safely with the knowledge of what happened to the last tragic survivor’s species…

These stories from a uniquely variegated moment in funnybook history were the last vestiges of a different kind of comic tale and never really affected the greater push towards a cohesive, integrated DC Universe. They are, though, splendidly accessible and thoroughly enjoyable adventure tales which should be cherished by every frenzied fan and casual reader. If only some bold editorial soul at DC felt the same and sanctioned new archival editions of this long-lost saga…
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Beyond Mars – The Complete Series 1952-1955


By Jack Williamson & Lee Elias (IDW Publishing)
ISBNs: 978-1-631404-35-1 (HB)

The 1950s was the last great flourish of the American newspaper strip. Invented and always used as a way to boost circulation and encourage consumer loyalty, the inexorable rise of television and spiralling costs of publishing gradually ate away at all but the most popular cartoon features as the decade ended, but the earlier years saw a final, valiant, burst of creativity and variety as syndicates looked for ways to recapture popular attention whilst editors increasingly sought ways to maximise every fraction of a page-inch for paying ads, not fritter the space away with expensive cost-centres. No matter how well produced, imaginative or entertaining, if strips couldn’t increase sales, they weren’t welcome…

The decade also saw a fantastic social change as a commercial boom and technological progress created a new type of visionary consumer – one fired up by the realization that America was Top Dog in the world.

The optimistic escapism offered by the stars above led to a reawakening in the moribund science fiction genre, with a basic introduction for the hoi-polloi offered by the burgeoning television industry through such pioneering (if clunky) programmes as Tom Corbett, Space Cadet or Captain Video and movies from visionaries like Robert Wise (Day the Earth Stood Still) and George Pal (Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide, War of the Worlds and others).

For kids of all ages, conceptual fancies were being tickled by a host of fantastic comicbooks ranging from the blackly satirical Weird Science Fantasy to the affably welcoming and openly enthusiastic Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space. In the inexorably expiring pulp magazines, master imagineers such as Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, Clarke, Sturgeon, Dick, Bester and Farmer were transforming the genre from youthful melodrama into a highly philosophical art form…

With Flying Saucers in the skies, Reds under every Bed and refreshing adventure in mind, the multifarious Worlds of Tomorrow were common currency and newspaper strips wanted in on the phenomenon. Established features such as Buck Rogers, Brick Bradford and Flash Gordon were no longer enough and editors demanded bold new visions to draw in a wider public, not just those steady fans who already bought papers for their favourite futurian.

John Stewart “Jack” Williamson was one of the first superstars of American science fiction writing, a rurally raised, self-taught author with more than 50 books, 18 short story collections and even volumes of criticism and non-fiction to his much-lauded name. Born in Arizona in 1908, he was raised in Texas and in 1928 sold his first story to Amazing Stories.

Williamson created a number of legendary serials such as the Legion of Space, The Humanoids and the Legion of Time. He is credited by the OED with inventing the terms and concepts of “terraforming” and “genetic engineering.” He was one of the first literary investigators of anti-matter with his Seetee novels.

“See Tee” or “Contra Terrene Matter” is also at the heart of the strip under discussion here, completely collected in this magnificent full colour volume and available in positive matter Hardback and the ethereal pulses technique we dub digital publication.

Following a damning newspaper review of Seetee Ship, Williamson’s second novel in that sequence – which claimed the book was only marginally better than a comic strip – the editor of a rival paper was moved to engage Williamson and artist Lee Elias to produce a Sunday page based in the same universe as the books.

Leopold Elias was born in England in 1920, but grew up in the USA after his family emigrated in 1926. He studied at the Cooper Union and Art Students League of New York before beginning his professional comics illustration career at Fiction House in 1943. He worked on Captain Wings and latterly western strip Firehair. His sleek, Milton-Caniff-inspired art was soon highly prized by numerous publishers, and Elias contributed to the lustre of The Flash, Green Lantern, Sub-Mariner, Terry and the Pirates and, most notably, the glamourous Black Cat strip for Harvey Comics.

Elias briefly left the funnybook arena in the early 1950s after his art was singled out by anti-comicbook zealot Dr. Fredric Wertham. He traded up to the more prestigious newspaper strips, ghosting Al Capp’s Li’l Abner before landing the job of bringing Beyond Mars to life.

He returned to comicbooks after the strip’s demise, becoming a mainstay at DC in the 1960s, Marvel in the 1970s and Warren in the 1980s. He died in 1998, having spent his final years teaching at the School of Visual Arts and the Kubert School.

The glorious meeting of the minds is preceded here by an effusive and informative Introduction from Bruce Canwell – ‘When “Retro” Was Followed by “Rocket”’ – packed with cover illustrations, original art pages and illustrations that set the scene and share lost secrets of the strips genesis and ultimate Armageddon.

With Dick Tracy strip maestro Chester Gould as adviser for the early days, Beyond Mars ran exclusively and in full colour in the New York Daily News every Sunday from 17th February 1952 to May 13th 1955: a gloriously high-tech, high-adventure romp based around Brooklyn Rock in 2191 AD.

This bastion was a commercial space station bored into one of the rocky chunks drifting in the asteroid belt “Beyond Mars” – the ideal rough-and-tumble story venue on the ultimate frontier of human experience.

Although as the series progressed a progression of sexy women and inspired extraterrestrial sidekicks increasingly stole the show, the notional star is Spatial Engineer Mike Flint, an independent charter-pilot based on the rock, and the first tale begins with Flint selling his services to plucky Becky Starke who has come to the furthest edge of civilisation in search of her missing father. A student of human nature, she cloaks that motivation as a quest for a city-sized, solid diamond asteroid floating in the deadly “Meteor Drift”…

Soon Mike and his lisping ophidian Venusian partner Tham Thmith are contending with Brooklyn Rock’s crime boss Frosty Karth, a fantastic raider dubbed the Black Martian, a super-criminal named Cobra and even more unearthly menaces in a stirring tale of interplanetary drug dealers, lost cities, dead civilisations…

There’s even a fantastic mutation in the resilient form of a semi-feral Terran boy who can breathe vacuum and rides deep space on a meteor!

With that tale barely concluded the crew, including the rambunctious space boy Jimikin, fell deep into another mystery – Brooklyn Rock has gone missing!

However, Flint has no time to grieve for the family and friends left behind as he intercepts an inbound star-liner and discovers both an old flame and a smooth-talking thug bound for the now-missing space station. One of them knows where it went…

Unknown to even this mastermind, the Rock, stolen by pirates, is out of control and drifting to ultimate destruction in a debris field, but no sooner is that crisis averted than the heroes are entangled in a “First Contact” situation with an ancient alien from beyond Known Space. Perhaps that might actually be more correctly deemed becoming snared by the devilish devices he/she/it left running…

Ultimately, Mike, Tham, Jimikin and curvaceous Xeno-archeologist Victoria Snow narrowly escape alien vivisection from robotic relics before the tragic, inevitable conclusion…

Snow’s brother Blackie is a fast-talking ne’er-do-well, and when he shows up, old enemy Karth takes the opportunity to try and settle some old scores, leading Flint into a deadly trap on Ceres and a slick saga of genetic manipulation, eugenic supermen and bonanza wealth…

Meanwhile on an interplanetary liner, a new cast member “resurfaces” in the shape of crusty old coot – and Mercurian ore prospector – Fireproof Jones, just in time to help Flint and Sam mine their newfound riches.

As ever, Karth is looking to make trouble for the heroes but he wins some for himself when his young daughter suddenly turns up on the Rock, accompanied by gold-digging Pamela Prim. Suddenly, the murderous raider Black Martian returns to plague the honest pioneers of the Brooklyn frontier…

Glamour model Trish O’Keefe causes a completely different kind of trouble when she lands, looking for her fiancé. Naturally, Tack McTeak isn’t the humble space-doctor he claims to be but is a cerebrally augmented criminal mastermind, and his plans to snatch the biggest prize in space lead to a sequence of stunning thrills and astonishing action.

The scene switches to Earth as the cast visit “civilisation” and find it far from hospitable, so the chance to battle manufactured monsters and the mysterious Dr. Moray on his private tropical island is something of a welcome – if mixed – blessing.

By this time, the writing must have been on the wall, as the strip had been reduced to a half page per week. Even so, the creators clearly decided to go out in style. The sheer bravura spectacle was magnificently ramped up and all the tools of the science fiction trade were utilized to ensure the strip ended with a bang. Moray’s plans are catastrophically realised when the villain employs an anti-gravity bomb to steal Manhattan; turning it into a deadly Sword of Damocles in the sky…

The series abruptly ended when the New York Daily News changed its editorial policy: dropping all comics from its pages. The decision was clearly unexpected, as the saga finished satisfactorily but quite abruptly on Sunday 13th March 1955.

Beyond Mars is a breathtaking lost gem from two master craftsmen that successfully blended the wonders of science and the rollicking thrills of Westerns with broad, light-hearted humour to produce a mind-boggling, eye-popping, exuberantly wholesome family space-opera the likes of which wouldn’t be seen again until Star Wars put the fun back into futuristic fiction.

Thankfully, after years of frustrated agitation by fans, the entire saga has been collected into a this beautiful oversized (244 x 307 mm) hardback edition that no lover of futuristic fun and frolics can afford to be without.
© 2015 Tribune Content Agency LLC. All rights reserved. Introduction © 2015 Bruce Canwell.

The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer: The Yellow “M”


By Edgar P. Jacobs, translated by Clarence E. Holland (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-21-2

Master storyteller Edgar P. Jacobs pitted his distinguished duo of Scientific Adventurers Captain Francis Blake and Professor Philip Mortimer against a wide variety of perils and menaces in stunning action thrillers which merged science fiction, detective mysteries and supernatural thrillers in the same timeless and universally engaging Ligne Claire style which had done so much to make intrepid boy reporter Tintin a global sensation.

The strip debuted in Le Journal de Tintin #1 (26th September 1946): an anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland. The new anthology was edited by Hergé, with his eponymous star ably supplemented by a host of new heroes and features…

Le Marque Jaune was the third astounding exploit of the peerless pair, originally serialised from August 6th 1953 to November 3rd 1954, before being collected as the sixth drama-drenched album in 1956.

This moody stand-alone extravaganza was the first in the modern Cinebook sequence with the True Brits for once on home soil as they struggle to solve an eerie mystery and capture an apparently superhuman criminal…

The tale begins a few days before Christmas on a night raining cats and dogs. The guards at the Tower of London are dutifully going about their appointed tasks when a sudden power cut douses all the lights.

By the time Beefeaters and Yeomen can find alternative lighting the damage is done. The Jewel Room is ransacked, the Imperial Crown missing and the wall is defaced: emblazoned with a large letter M in a bold circle of yellow chalk.

The shocking travesty is but the latest in an outrageous series of incredible crimes by a mysterious malefactor the newspapers have taken to calling The Yellow M

Incensed and humiliated by the latest outrage, the Home Office assigns MI6 to the case and their top man Blake is seconded to assist Chief Inspector Glenn Kendall of Scotland Yard. So serious is the matter that Blake instantly cables his old comrade Professor Mortimer, dragging the bellicose boffin back from a well-deserved vacation in Scotland.

London is ablaze with rumour and speculation about the super-bandit. The crafty old warhorses adjourn to the Centaur Club in Piccadilly to discuss events, but as they settle in for a chinwag, Mortimer gets a fleeting impression that they are being spied upon…

Suddenly they are interrupted by four fellow members also hotly debating the case. Sir Hugh Calvin is a judge at the Central Criminal Court; Leslie Macomber edits the Daily Mail and Professor Robert Vernay is a prominent figure in the British Medical Association. They are all hotly disputing Dr Jonathan Septimus – of the Psychiatric Institute – who propounds a theory that the phantom felon is a prime example of his pet theory of “The Evil Influence of Cellular Development”…

The enlarged group continues the verbal back-and-forth into the small hours, and when they finally break up Vernay follows his habit of walking home. He does not make it. The police find only his hat and a chalked letter in a circle…

The flamboyant rogue seems to be everywhere. When Blake and Mortimer interview Macomber, Calvin and the terrified Septimus next day, the invisible enigma somehow gets close enough to leave his mark on the MI6 officer’s coat, before sending a mocking cable warning the Mail’s Editor that more and worse is coming…

That night Macomber is abducted from his office in plain view of his staff and Kendall is found in a dazed state after failing to protect Judge Calvin from a mystery intruder…

Septimus concludes that he is next and convinces Blake to get him out of London. The pair board a train for Suffolk with a complement of detectives, but even these precautions are not enough. The psychiatrist is impossibly plucked from the Express before it is wrecked in a horrific collision with another train.

In London, cerebral Mortimer has been researching another angle with the assistance of Daily Mail archivist Mr. Stone. The veteran investigator has found a decades-old link between the missing men…

It all revolves around a controversial medical text entitled “The Mega Wave” and a scandalous court case, but when the Professor tries to secure a copy of the incredibly rare volume from the British Museum Library, he is confounded by the Yellow M who invisibly purloins the last known copy in existence…

That evening Mortimer shares his thoughts with the returned Blake, unaware that his house has been bugged. Hours later, a mysterious cloaked intruder breaks in but has a fit after passing some of Mortimer’s Egyptian souvenirs. The noise arouses the household and the masked burglar is confronted by Blake, Mortimer and burly manservant Nasir. Incredibly, the villain defeats them all with incredible strength and electrical shocks, even shrugging off bullets when they shoot him…

Exploding through a second story window, the M laughs maniacally as they continue futilely firing before running off into the London night. In their shock the adventurers return to the drawing room and trip over the intruder’s listening devices…

Later, the recovered Kendall visits just as a package arrives. It contains an anonymous note from someone wishing to share information and directs Blake to a late-night rendezvous at Limehouse Dock. The message also contains a desperate note from the missing Septimus begging Blake to comply…

Well aware that it’s a trap and over Mortimer’s strenuous protests, Blake and Kendall lay plans to turn the meeting to their advantage. Left at home, the Professor is surprised by a late visit from Stone. The remarkably efficient researcher has found a copy of The Mega Wave and rushed over to show Mortimer.

As Blake manfully braves the foggy waterfront and walks into deadly danger, Mortimer is reading the tome, deducing who is behind the plot and perhaps even how the malign miracles are pulled off…

In Limehouse, the empty commercial buildings become a spectacular battleground as Blake and the police confront the masked man. The villain easily holds them all at bay with incredible feats of speed and strength, before breaking out of the supposedly impenetrable blue cordon and escaping.

However, in his destructive flight he tumbles into the frantic Mortimer who is dashing to warn his old friend. Changing tack, the boffin gives chase, doggedly following the superhuman enigma through parks and sewers. Eventually the pursuit leads underground and he finds himself in a hidden basement laboratory being assaulted by mind-control devices devised by the sinister mastermind actually behind the entire campaign of vengeance and terror…

As the smirking villain gives an exultant speech of explanation, triumph and justification, Mortimer sees the fate of the abducted men and meets the human guinea pig who has been terrorising London at the behest of a madman. It is the very last person he ever expected to see again, but even as he reels in shock, Blake and Kendall are on his trail, thanks to the efforts of an avaricious cabbie with a good memory for faces…

As Christmas Day dawns, Blake and Kendall lead a raid on the hidden citadel to rescue Mortimer, but the wily savant has already taken dramatic steps to secure his own release and defeat his insane, implacable opponent…

Fast-paced, action-packed, wry and magnificently eerie, this fabulously retro weird science thriller is an intoxicating moody mystery and a sheer delight for lovers of fantastic fiction. Blake & Mortimer are the graphic personification of the Bulldog Spirit and worthy successors to the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain, Professor Challenger, Richard Hannay and all the other valiant stalwarts of lost Albion: All valiant champions with direct connections to and allegiance beyond shallow national boundaries…

In 1986 this story was reformatted and repackaged in a super-sized English translation, the last of six volumes with additional material (mostly covers from the weekly Tintin added to the story as eye-catching splash pages): part of a European push to win some of the lucrative Tintin and Asterix market here. They failed to find an audience and there were no more translations until January 2007 when Cinebook released this tome to far greater approval and much success. We’re now at 25 translated volumes and counting…

Gripping and fantastic in the truest tradition of pulp sci-fi and Boy’s Own Adventures, Blake and Mortimer are the very epitome of dogged heroic determination; always delivering grand, old-fashioned Blood-&-Thunder thrills and spills in timeless fashion and with astonishing visual punch. Any kid able to suspend modern mores and cultural disbelief (call it alternate earth history or bakelite-punk if you want) will experience the adventure of their lives… and so will their children.

This Cinebook edition – available in paperback album and digital formats – also includes a selection of colour cover sketches and roughs, plus a biographical feature and chronological publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts.
Original editions © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) 1987 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.

Adventures of Tintin: Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon



By Hergé, Bob De Moors and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-815-4 (HB Destination) 978-1-40520-627-3 (TPB Destination)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-816-1 (HB Explorers) 978-1-40520-628-0 (TPB Explorers)
As Tintin’s Moon Adventure (Magnet/Methuen) ISBN: 978-0-41696-710-4 (TPB)
Forthcoming – Tintin on the Moon (Egmont) ISBN: 978-1405295901 (HB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created an incontrovertible masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates.

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the select Hergé Studio, he created 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

On leaving school in 1925, he worked for the conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-esque editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A devoted boy-scout, a year later Remi produced his first strip series The Adventures of Totor for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine, and by 1928 was in charge of producing the contents of the newspaper’s weekly children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter when Wallez asked Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

Some of that history is quite dark: During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Vingtiéme Siécle was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move his popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, and thus appropriated and controlled by the Nazis).

He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even being a Nazi sympathiser. It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which Leblanc published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands and allowed the artist and his team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by and unwillingly added to ideologically shade the war time adventures as well as generally improving and updating great tales that were about to become a global phenomenon.

With World War II over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure.

In 1949 he returned to unfinished yarn Tintin au pays de l’or noir; abandoned when the Nazis invaded Belgium. The story had been commissioned by Le Vingtiéme Siécle, running from 28th September 1939 until 8th May 1940 when the paper was closed down. Set on the eve of a European war, the plot revolved around Tintin hunting seditionists and saboteurs sabotaging oil supplies in the Middle East. Before being convinced to update and complete the tale as Land of Black Gold, Hergé briefly toyed with the notion of taking his cast into space…

Collected albums Objectif Lune and On a marché sur la Lune were huge hits after the initial serialisation in Le Journal de Tintin from 30th March 1950 to 7th September 1950 and – after what must have been an intolerable wait for readers – from 29th October 1952 to 29th December 1953.

The tale was produced after discussions between Hergé and his friends Bernard Heuvelmans (scientist, author and father of pseudo-science Cryptozoology) and Jacques Van Melkebeke (AKA George Jacquet: strip scripter, painter, journalist and a frequent if unacknowledged contributor to the Tintin canon). The sci fi epic that became a 2-volume masterpiece first made the leap to English in 1959.

On a personal note: I first read Destination Moon in 1964, in a huge hardcover album edition (as they all were in the 1960s) and was blown completely away. I’m happy to say that except for the smaller pages – and there’s never a substitute for “Big-ness” – this taut thriller and its magnificent, mind-boggling sequel are still in a class of their own in the annals of science fiction comic strips…

Moreover, during the 1980s the entire tale was (repeatedly) released in a combined tome as Tintin’s Moon Adventure: an utterly inescapable piece of publishing common sense that is finally being repeated this summer in a new hardback album from Methuen…

Our tale begins with our indomitable boy reporter and Captain Haddock returning to ancestral pile Marlinspike Hall only to discover that brilliant but “difficult” savant Professor Cuthbert Calculus has disappeared. When an enigmatic telegram arrives, the puzzled pair are off once again to Syldavia (as seen in King Ottokar’s Sceptre) and a rendezvous with the missing boffin…

Although suspicious, Tintin soon finds that the secrecy is for sound reasons. In Syldavia, Calculus and an international team of researchers and technologists are completing a grand project to put a man on the Moon! In a turbulent race against time and amidst a huge and all-encompassing security clampdown, the scheme nears completion, but Tintin and Haddock’s arrival coincides with a worrying increase in espionage activity.

An enemy nation or agency is determined to steal the secrets of Calculus’s groundbreaking atomic motor at any cost, and it takes all Tintin’s ingenuity to keep ahead of the villains. The arrival of detectives Thompson and Thomson adds nothing to the aura of anxiety but their bumbling investigations and Calculus’ brief bout of concussion-induced amnesia do provide some of the funniest moments in comics history…

As devious incidents and occurrences of sabotage increase in intensity and frequency, it becomes clear that there may be a traitor inside the project itself, but at last the moment arrives and Tintin, Haddock, Calculus, technologist Dr. Frank Wolff – and Snowy – blast off for the Moon!

Cold, clinical and superbly underplayed, Destination Moon is completely unlike the flash-and-dazzle razzamatazz of British and American tales from that period – or since. It is as if the burgeoning Cold War mentality of the era has infected even Tintin’s bright clean world. Once again, the pressure of work and Hergé’s troubled private life resulted in a breakdown and a hiatus in the strip – but this time some of that darkness transferred to the material – although it only seems to have added to the overall effect of claustrophobia and paranoia. Even the comedy set-pieces are more manic and explosive: This is possibly the most mature of all Tintin’s exploits…

Presumably to offset the pressures of creation to weekly deadlines, the master founded Studio Hergé on 6th April 1950: a public company to produce the adventures of Tintin as well other features, with Bob De Moor enthroned as chief apprentice.

He became a vital component of Tintin’s gradual domination of the book market, frequently despatched on visual fact-finding missions. De Moor revised the backgrounds of The Black Island for a British edition, and repeated the task for the definitive 1971 release of Land of Black Gold. An invaluable and permanent addition to the production team, De Moor supervised while filling in backgrounds and, most notably, rendering the unforgettable eerie and magnificent Lunar landscapes that feature here.

If the first book is an exercise in tension and suspense, Explorers on the Moon is sheer bravura spectacle. En route to Luna the explorers discover that the idiot detectives have accidentally stowed away, and along with Captain Haddock’s illicit whisky and the effects of freefall, provide brilliant comedy routines to balance the eerie isolation and dramatic dangers of the journey.

Against all odds the lunanauts land and make astounding scientific discoveries, but must cut short their adventures due to the imminent threat of suffocation caused by the introduction of the extra passengers on the fantastic atomic moon rocket…

Moreover, lurking in the shadows, there is still the very real threat of a murderous traitor to be dealt with…

This so-modern yarn is a high point in the series, blending heroism and drama with genuine moments of irresistible emotion and side-splitting comedy. The absolute best of the bunch in my humble opinion, and still one of the most realistic and accurately depicted space comics ever produced. If you only ever read one Hergé saga it simply must be this translunar Adventure of Tintin.
Destination Moon: artwork © 1953, 1959, 1981 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1959 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved. Explorers on the Moon: artwork © 1954, 1959, 1982 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1959 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

A new combined compilation – Tintin on the Moon – will be released on June 27th 2019 and is available for pre-order now

Showcase Presents Tales of the Unexpected volume 1


By Otto Binder, France E. Herron, Jack Miller, Dave Wood, Bernard Baily, Bob Brown, Nick Cardy, Bill Ely, Bill Draut, Jack Kirby, Mort Meskin, Sheldon Moldoff, Jim Mooney, Ruben Moreira, George Papp, John Prentice, George Roussos, Leonard Starr & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3520-8

American comicbooks started rather slowly until the invention of superheroes unleashed a torrent of creative imitation and established a new entertainment genre. Implacably vested in World War Two, the Overman swept all before him (occasionally her or it) until the troops came home and the more traditional themes and heroes resurfaced and eventually supplanted the Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd.

Whilst a new generation of kids began buying and collecting, many of the first fans also retained their four-colour habit but increasingly sought older themes in the reading matter. The war years had irrevocably altered the psychological landscape of the readership, and as a more world-weary, cynical young public came to see that all the fighting and dying hadn’t really changed anything, their chosen forms of entertainment (film and prose as well as comics) increasingly reflected this.

As well as Western, War and Crime comics, celebrity tie-ins, madcap escapist comedy and anthropomorphic funny animal features were immediately resurgent, but gradually another of those cyclical revivals of spiritualism and a public fascination with the arcane led to a wave of impressive, evocative and shockingly addictive horror comics.

There had been grisly, gory and supernatural stars before, including a pantheon of ghosts, monsters and wizards draped in mystery-man garb and trappings (the Spectre, Mr. Justice, Frankenstein, The Heap, Zatara, Dr. Fate and dozens of others), but these had been victims of circumstance: The Unknown as a power source for super-heroics. Now the focus shifted to ordinary mortals thrown into a world beyond their ken with the intention of unsettling, not vicariously empowering, the reader.

Almost every publisher jumped on an increasingly popular bandwagon, with B & I (which became magical one-man-band Richard E. Hughes’ American Comics Group) launching the first regularly published horror comic in the Autumn of 1948. Technically speaking, however, Adventures Into the Unknown was pipped at the post by Avon who had released an impressive single issue entitled Eerie in January 1947; later reviving the title by launching a regular series in 1951. All the meanwhile, parents’ favourite Classics Illustrated had long been milking the literary end of the genre with adaptations of the Headless Horseman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (both 1943), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1944) and Frankenstein (1945) among others.

As long as we’re keeping score, this was also the period in which Joe Simon & Jack Kirby identified another “mature market” gap and invented Romance comics (Young Romance #1, September 1947) but they too saw the sales potential for spooky material, resulting in the seminal Black Magic (1950) and boldly obscure psychological drama anthology Strange World of Your Dreams (1952).

The wholesome family company that would become DC Comics bowed to the inevitable and launched a comparatively straight-laced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles with the December 1951/January 1952 launch of The House of Mystery. Its success led to a raft of such creature-filled fantasy compendiums in the years that followed such as Sensation Mystery, My Greatest Adventure, House of Secrets and, in 1956 – during a boom in B-Movie science fiction thrillers – Tales of the Unexpected

A hysterical censorship scandal which led to witch-hunting hearings (check out Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, April-June 1954 on your search engine of choice) was derailed by the industry adopting a castrating straitjacket of draconian self-regulatory rules. Horror titles produced under the aegis and emblem of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, even though the market’s appetite for suspense and the uncanny was still high. Stories were dialled back into marvellously illustrated, rationalistic, fantasy-adventure vehicles which dominated until the 1960s when super-heroes (which had begun to creep back after Julius Schwartz reintroduced the Flash in Showcase #4, 1956) finally overtook them.

This mammoth monochrome compilation (still tragically unavailable in colour or in digital editions) offers a stunning voyage to the fantastic outer limits of 1950s imagination, collecting the first 20 issues of the charmingly enthralling anthology – produced under the watchful eyes of the Comics Code Authority – which spans cover dates February/March 1956 to December 1957 and starts with a quartet of intriguing, beautifully rendered pocket thrillers.

Sadly for me and you, records are spotty and many of the authors remain unsung (although possible candidates include Dave Wood, Bill Finger, Ed Herron, Joe Samachson, George Kashdan, Jack Miller and Otto Binder and I’ll just guess whenever I’m more than half-certain) but the pictorial pioneers at least can be deservedly celebrated…

Behind a captivating cover by Bill Ely, Tales of the Unexpected #1 opens our uncanny excursions with ‘The Out-of-The-World Club’, drawn by the astoundingly precise John Prentice, detailing the unearthly secret of a night-spot offering truly original groovy sounds, whilst ‘The Dream Lamp’, limned by Leonard Starr, takes a bucolic glance at a device which seems able to perform impossible feats.

Jack Miller, Howard Purcell & Charles Paris then ironically reveal ‘The Secret of Cell Sixteen’ which fools yet one more prisoner in the Bastille, after which the debut issue ends with a bleak alien invasion fable in ‘The Cartoon that Came to Life’ by Otto Binder & Bill Ely.

Issue #2 offered the uncredited conundrum of ‘The Magic Hats of M’sieu La Farge’ (art by Ruben Moreira) involving ordinary folk impelled to perform extraordinary feats when wearing the titfers of famous dead folk, whilst ‘The Fastest Man Alive’ (drawn by Bill Draut & Mort Meskin) discloses how an obsessive rivalry brings destruction upon a man forever relegated to second best behind his exceptional greatest friend…

‘The Record of Doom’ (Ely art) apparently drives listeners to suicide until a canny cop uncovers the truth, but ‘The Gorilla who Saved the World’ (Starr) is as incredible and alien as you’d expect in a tale of sharp sci-fi suspense…

Issue #3 opened with Purcell’s ‘The Highway to Tomorrow’ wherein a motorway through Native American sacred lands almost results in a new uprising, after which Meskin’s ‘The Man Nobody Could See’ revisits the old plot of an invisible criminal. ‘I Lost My Past’ (art by Mort Drucker) recounts an implausibly complex scheme to cure an amnesiac before ‘The Man with 100 Wigs’ (Miller & Prentice), provides a genuinely compelling mystery about a petty thief who steals a sorcerer’s chest filled with hairpieces that impart bizarre powers to the wearer…

The mix of cop stories, aliens and the arcane acts clearly struck a popular chord as, with Tales of the Unexpected #4, the comic was promoted to monthly. ‘Seven Steps to the Unknown’ (Ely) continued the eclectic winning formula through a perilous puzzle regarding a group of complete strangers inexplicably linked and targeted for murder, whilst ‘The Day I Broke All Records’ – illustrated by Sheldon Moldoff – follows a top athlete who gains something “extra” after finding an elixir once favoured by unbeatable Roman gladiator Apulius

Then a murderer is brought to justice after becoming obsessed with ‘The Flowers of Sorcery’ (Starr) whilst ‘The House Where Dreams Come True’ (Prentice) offers a far kinder tale of human generosity to melt the heart of the most jaded reader.

In #5 ‘The Man Who Laughed at Locks’ (Moreira) discloses the inevitable fate of a cheat when rival inventors clash; ‘I Was Bewitched for a Day’ (Ely) reveals how easily domestic reality can be overturned, and Moldoff portrays the bewilderment of an Art Investigator faced with ‘The Living Paintings’ before Miller & Prentice again triumph with the tale of an actor literally possessed by his role in ‘The Second Life of Geoffrey Hawkes’

TotU #6 opens with ‘The Telecast from the Future’ (drawn by George Papp) wherein a technician foolishly convinces himself that his gear hasn’t really opened a peephole into tomorrow, whilst Ely’s ‘Dial M for Magic’ focusses on a prestidigitator’s club that auditions an amazing applicant who doesn’t just do “tricks”…

‘The Forbidden Flowers’ (Moldoff) then exposes a killer who thinks himself safe, after which Moreira’s ‘The Girl in the Bottle’ leads an unsuspecting oceanographer into fantastic peril… and another incredible criminal scam.

Golden Age great Bernard Baily joins the rotating art crew with #7 as ‘The Pen that Never Lied’ visits a number of people, dispensing justice through unvarnished truth, after which ‘Beware, I Can Read your Mind!’ (Moldoff) depicts a telepath discovering the overwhelming cost of his gift.

When a miner finds a talking talisman, it promises anything except ‘The Forbidden Wish’ (George Roussos). Tragically it was the only thing the weak-minded man wanted…

The issue closes with the art debut of the astounding Nick Cardy who lovingly detailed the fate of a murderous thug who refused to listen to the sage advice of ‘The Face in the Clock!’

Tales of the Unexpected #8 opens with fantastic fantasy as ‘The Man Who Stole a Genie’ (Meskin) slowly succumbs to greed and mania, whilst ‘The Secret of the Elephant’s Tusk’ (Ely art) follows the trail of death resulting after a poacher kills a sacred pachyderm. Roussos’ ‘The Four Seeds of Destiny’ chillingly reveals the doom that comes to a TV reporter who stole relics from a Pharaoh’s tomb before ‘The Camera that Could Rob’ (Starr) proves that, even for a thief with an unbeatable gimmick, mistreating a cat never ends well…

In issue #9 ‘The Amazing Cube’ (possibly scripted by George Kashdan and definitely limned by Baily) sees an unscrupulous gambler falling foul of his own handmade dice, whilst a killer conman gets his comeuppance courtesy of ‘The Carbon Copy Man’ (Papp). ‘The Day Nobody Died’ by Roussos is a classic of moody mystery wherein a doctor pursues a dark stranger and regrets catching him, after which a little lad saves the world from alien invasion and know-it-all adults in Starr’s ‘The Man Who Ate Fire’.

The tone of the time was gradually turning and oppressive occultism was slowly succumbing to the Space Age lure of weird science as TotU #10 proved with ‘The Strangest Show on Earth’ (art by Jim Mooney) wherein a bankrupt showman stumbles over a Martian circus. Sadly, the bizarre performers had their own agenda to adhere to…

‘The Phantom Mariner’ (Moldoff) follows an obsessed sea captain to his inescapable fate, before a scientist faces a deadly dilemma after creating ‘The Duplicate Man’ (Ely) and Meskin reveals how an antique collector’s compulsion endangers his life in ‘I Was Slave to the Wizard’s Lamp’

A criminal inventor pays the ultimate price for his venality in the Baily-limned ‘Who Am I?’ which opened Tales of the Unexpected #11, whilst ‘I Was a Man from the Future’ (Cardy) sees an American mountaineer stumble through a time-warp into adventure and romance in 15th century France and ‘The Ghost of Hollywood’ (Ely) confounds a special effects designer determined to debunk it.

Starr then closed out the issue with ‘The Man Who Hated Green’, as an artist embarks on an extraordinary campaign of terror…

Issue #12 began with Cardy’s tale of a quartet of escaped convicts terrorising three little old ladies and subsequently cursed by ‘The Four Threads of Doom’, after which ‘The Witch’s Statues’ (Meskin) proves to be more scurrilous scam than sinister sorcery.

Following a downturn in the industry, Jack Kirby briefly returned to National/DC at this time: producing a mini-bonanza of mystery tales and drawing Green Arrow, all whilst preparing his newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force.

He also re-packaged for Showcase an original team concept kicking around in his head since he and Joe Simon had closed the innovative but unfortunate Mainline Comics. Blending explosive adventure with the precepts of mystery comics, Challengers of the Unknown became the template for the entire Silver Age superhero resurgence…

After years of working for others, Simon & Kirby had established their own publishing company, producing comics for a more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by the aforementioned anti-comic pogrom of US Senator Estes Kefauver and psychologist Dr. Fredric Wertham.

Simon quit the business for advertising, but Kirby soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to a number of safer, if less experimental, companies. Here his run of short fantastic suspense tales commences with ‘The All-Seeing Eye’ (possibly scripted by Dave Wood?) wherein a journalist responsible for many impossible scoops realises that the ancient artefact he employs is more dangerous than beneficial…

The issue ends with Ely’s rousing thriller ‘The Indestructible Man’ wherein a stuntman with innate invulnerability decides to get rich quick, no matter who gets hurt…

In #13, an amnesiac retraces his lost past by seeking out ‘Weapons of Destiny’ (perhaps Binder with Ely art), whilst Meskin’s ‘The Thing from the Skies’ initially proves a boon but ultimately the downfall for a murdering conman. A ghostly ‘Second Warning’ (Papp) saves a tourist when he visits battlefields of WWII, after which France E. Herron & Cardy’s ‘I Was a Prisoner of the Supernatural’ reveals how an actor escapes a deal with the devil before Herron & Kirby steal the show with a grippingly devious crime-caper in ‘The Face Behind the Mask’

Tales of the Unexpected #14 starts with Meskin’s ‘The Forbidden Game’ as an embezzler plays fast and loose with a wagering wizard, and is followed by ‘Cry, Clown, Cry’ (Baily) which sees a baffled son ignore his father’s injunction not to follow the family tradition to be a gag-man…

Papp pictures the fate of a swindler who wants folk to believe he is ‘The Man Who Owned King Arthur’s Sword’ and Moldoff finishes up proceedings as a crook is haunted by ‘The Green Gorilla’ manifested by his misdeeds.

Kirby led off in #15, his ‘Three Wishes to Doom’ proving that even with a genie’s lamp crime does not pay, after which ‘The Sinister Cannon’ (Baily) employed by an insidious alien infiltrator proves far more than it appears. ‘The Rainbow Man’ (Roussos) is a scientific bandit who overestimates the efficacy of his camouflage discovery and ‘The City of Three Dooms’ – by Meskin – wraps up things with a mesmerising time-travel romp featuring Nazi submariners on a voyage to infinity…

There’s an inexplicable frisson in Kirby’s ‘The Magic Hammer’ which opens #16 as the King of Comics here relates how a prospector finds a mallet capable of creating storms and goes into the rainmaking business… until the original owner turns up…

That superb vignette is augmented by ‘I Was a Spy for Them’ (Meskin) as a canny physicist turns the tables on the star men who captured him, a crooked archaeologist gains unbeatable power from an ancient ring but becomes ‘The Exile from Earth’ (Dave Wood & Moldoff), and Moreira illustrates ‘The Interplanetary Line-Up’, wherein an actual Man from Mars gatecrashes a science fiction writer’s fancy dress party…

In #17 ‘Who is Mr. Ashtar?’ (Kirby) chillingly follows a hotel detective who just knows there’s something off about the new guest in Room 605, whilst ‘Beware the Thinking Cap’ (Ely) describes the rise and fall of a crook who finds the device which inspired all the geniuses of history. Baily illustrates how a lifer in jail uses a unique method of escape in ‘The Bullet Man’, and the issue ends on ‘The Impossible Voyage’ (Mooney) as a couple of alien pranksters take earth suckers for a ride on what only looks like a fairground attraction…

Mooney takes lead spot in #18 as ‘The Man Without a World’ rejects Earth only to learn that a life in space is no life at all, after which Meskin’s ‘The Riddle of the Glass Bubble’ threatens to end all life until a little kid finds an unlikely solution. Cardy opens ‘The Amazing Swap Shop’, where humans trade “junk” for impossibly useful gadgets before Kirby shows how a clever human saves us all by outwitting ‘The Man Who Collected Planets’.

By now thoroughly gripped in UFO fever, Tales of the Unexpected #19 began with ‘The Man from Two Worlds’ (Cardy) wherein nasty Neptunians attempt to abduct an Earth scientist by guile, whereas ‘D-Day on Planet Vulcan’ (Mooney) envisages embattled ETs begging our help to end a world-crushing crisis, after which a meteor turns a hapless technician into ‘The Human Lie Detector’ (Ely) and a dotty old eccentric surprises everybody by ending ‘The Menace of the Fireball’ (with art by Bob Brown).

This terrific tome concludes with issue #20 where ‘The Earth Gladiator’ (Cardy) struggles to save his life and prove Earth worthy of continued existence, an engineer scuppers ‘The Remarkable Mr. Multiplier’ (Ely) before his invention wrecks civilisation and Baily illustrates that not every alien incursion is malign or dangerous in ‘I Was Marooned on Planet Earth’

Moreira then brings the cosmic catalogue to a close with ‘You Stole Our Planet’ wherein gigantic space creatures arrive with a strong claim of prior ownership…

Although certainly dated and definitely formulaic, these complex yet uncomplicated suspenseful adventures are drenched in charm, gilded in ingenuity and still sparkle with innocent wit and wonder. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste nowadays, these fantastic exploits are nevertheless an all-ages buffet of fun, thrills and action no fan should miss.
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