The Wolf of Baghdad


By Carol Isaacs/The Surreal McCoy (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-912408-55-9 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-912408-71-9

Contemporary history is a priceless resource in creating modern narratives. It has the benefits of immediacy and relevance – even if only on a generational level – whilst combining notional familiarity (could you tell the difference between a stone axe and a rock?) with a sense of distance and exoticism. In comics, we’re currently blessed with a wealth of superb material exploring the recent past and none better than this enchanting trawl through a tragic time most of us never knew of…

Carol Isaacs is a successful musician (just ask the Indigo Girls, Sinead O’Connor or the London Klezmer Quartet) and – as The Surreal McCoy – a cartoonist whose graphic gifts are regularly on show in The New Yorker, Spectator, Private Eye, Sunday Times and The Inking Woman: 250 Years of Women Cartoon and Comic Artists in Britain. She found her latest inspiration in a two-thousand-year old secret history that’s she been party to for most of her life…

British-born of Iraqi-Jewish parents, Isaacs grew up hearing tales of her ancestors’ lives in Baghdad: part of a thriving multicultural society which had welcomed – or at least tolerated – Jews in Persia since 597 BCE.

How 150,000 Hebraic Baghdadians (a third of the city’s population in 1940) was reduced by 2016 to just 5 is revealed and eulogised in this potently evocative memoir, told in lyrical pictures and the curated words of her own family and their émigré friends, as related to her over her growing years in their comfortably suburban London home.

Those quotes and portraits spark an elegiac dream-state excursion to the wrecked, abandoned sites and places of a socially integrated and vibrantly cohesive metropolis she knows intimately and pines for ferociously, even though she has never set a single foot there…

As well as this enthralling pictorial experience, the art and narrative have been incorporated into a melancholy motion comic (slideshow with original musical accompaniment) that also demands your rapt attention.

The moving experience is supplemented by an Afterword comprising illustrate text piece ‘Deep Home’ (first seen in ‘Origin Stories’ from the anthology Strumpet) which details those childhood sessions listening to the remembrances of adult guests and family elders and is followed by ‘The Making of The Wolf of Baghdad’ which explains not only the book and show’s origins, but also clarifies the thematic premise of ‘The Wolf Myth’ which permeates the city’s intermingled cultures.

‘Other Iraqis’ then reveals some interactions with interested parties culled from Isaacs’ blog whilst crafting this book, whilst the comprehensive ‘Timeline of the Jews in Iraq’ outlines the little-known history of Persian Jews and how and why it all changed, before ‘A Carpet’s Story’ details 1950’s Operations Ezra and Nehemiah which saw 120,000 Jews airlifted to Israel.

Wrapping up the show is a page of Acknowledgements and Suggested Reading.

Simultaneously timeless and topical, The Wolf of Baghdad is less a history lesson than a lament for a lost homeland and way of life: a wistful deliberation on why bad things happen and on how words pictures and music can turn back the years and make the longed for momentarily real and true.
© Carol Isaacs (The Surreal McCoy) 2020. All rights reserved.

The Wolf of Baghdad will be published on January 30th 2020 and is available for pre-order now. Isaacs will be touring the motion-comic throughout 2020 at various venues and festivals around England. For more information please check her blog.

Countdown Annual 1972


By Many & various, edited by Dennis Hooper (Polystyle Publications)
SBN: 85096-018-5

As the 1960s ended, comics editors realised their readership was becoming increasingly sophisticated and sought to keep their attention with upscale rebrandings and style changes. Venerable old TV Comic and even TV21 were no longer dynamic enough and one answer to the situation – from licensing specialist Polystyle – was Countdown.

Running for a mere 58 weeks (beginning 20th February 1971) as a glossy, high end periodical, before its first dramatic makeover – which saw it relaunched on April 1st 1972 as TV Action + Countdown and ultimately TV Action – it subsisted until August 1973 when it was rolled up into TV Comic.

The magazine boasted a rich creative throughput, but the majority of the television-fuelled drama strips were written by editor Dennis Hooper, with additional material from Robin Hillborn, Allan Fennell and possible Angus Allen. However, as the company had access to TV 21’s archive and used reprint material, I could just be misremembering…

This is the only official Annual. The following year it became Countdown Annual… for TV Action, but don’t let that put you off: whether you’re a telly addict or comics fanboy, this book is stuffed with superb entertainment.

The action opens with a full-colour UFO thriller ‘The Circus’ illustrated by Jon Davis. The saga of a predatory alien body-snatcher used as a cash-cow by a failing Irish carnival show is interrupted (like an advert break?) by photo/fact feature ‘The Defenders’, wherein the secrets of Gerry Anderson’s covert anti-extraterrestrial force SHADO (Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defences Organisation) are outlined, but the story finale remains explosive and satisfying.

Rendered in black-&-red on white paper, 2-page gag strip ‘Dastardly and Muttley’ (by Peter Ford?) sees the cartoon clowns still hunting that infernal pigeon, after which a ‘Countdown Quiz’ tests your knowledge of the Space Race.

Staying in the Wild Black Yonder, Don Harley limns tense Thunderbirds thriller ‘Terror at Torreba’ with a crashed meteor bringing madness and destruction to Africa…

Arnold Kingston was the chief writer of extremely contemporary science fact features for the Countdown comic so it’s safe to assume he’s responsible for the ‘Think Tank! News from the Frontiers of Science’ photo noticeboard here, and another ‘Countdown Quiz’ as well as later features in the book.

Dastardly and Muttley then return, afflicted with dreams of cinematic stardom, after which Martin Asbury paints a full-colour ‘Captain Scarlet’ tale as the Mysterons suborn a giant killer robot and let it run amok…

Board game ‘Countdown Rescue Mission’ dovetails into dystopian prose sci fi short story ‘Countdown: Dangerous Friend’ – magnificently illustrated by John M. Burns – whilst ‘Rockets’ provides a potted photo-history of the real march into space.

Abortive Gerry Anderson Property ‘The Secret Service’ (Peter Ford again) finds priest and part-time secret agent Father Unwin leading the charge back into restricted colour as he and his partner Matthew use their Minimiser shrinking ray to steal back microdots from a hostile embassy

Photo feature ‘A Day with Dr. Who’ visits the locations used whilst filming The Daemons, before ‘U.F.O.s in history’offers a more evidential lesson on extraterrestrial encounters, whilst a colour ‘Jon Pertwee pinup’ brings us to a cracking Time Lord tale as Dr. Who battles floral doom in ‘The Plant Master’, brilliantly illustrated by Jim Baikie.

Slim but potent, this box of delight then ends with prose yarn ‘Joe 90 Resigns’ as the 9-year-old breaks the rules to rescue his father from an alpine emergency.

Closing with the ‘Answers’ to all those quiz questions and a stunning UFO photo section, this is a powerful and evocative treat you’d be crazy to miss…
© Polystyle Publications 1971.

Supercar Annual


By Alan Fennel, G. Wood and H.J. Cauldwell (Wm. Collins and Sons)
No ISBN:

For its entire existence British Comics have tapped into and exploited other entertainment icons such as stage, film and radio stars. As television became commonplace in the 1950s and exploded during the late 1960s – especially in the range and variety of children’s shows and cartoons – those programmes increasingly became a staple source for cheap weeklies but especially the Seasonal Annual market, not just for celebrities such as Arthur Askey or Abbott & Costello but increasingly the shows themselves: adding extra episodes to little aficionados’ finite canon.

Moreover, in an era before home recordings of any sort, these were exploits that could be enjoyed over and over again…

During that critical developmental period, Gerry Anderson’s innovative and increasingly high-tech puppet-show dramas revolutionised kids’ TV, and their comics tie-ins did exactly the same for our pictorial reading habits.

TV Century 21 (the unwieldy “Century” was eventually dropped) was patterned on a newspaper – albeit from 100 years into the future – and this shared conceit carried the avid readers into a multimedia wonderland as television and reading matter fed off each other. The incredible graphic adventures were supplemented with stills taken from the TV shows (and later, films), and a plenitude of photos also graced the text features and fillers which added to the unity of one of the industry’s first “Shared Universe” products,

Number #1 launched on January 23rd 1965, instantly capturing the hearts and minds of millions of children, and further proving to our comics editors the unfailingly profitable relationship between television shows and healthy sales.

Filled with high quality art and features, printed in gleaming photogravure, TV21 featured previous shows in strips such as Fireball XL5, Supercar and Stingray to supplement currently airing big draw Thunderbirds. In a bizarre attempt to be topical, the allegorically Soviet state of Bereznik constantly plotted against the World Government (for which read “The West”) in a futuristic Cold War to augment the aliens, aquatic civilisations and common crooks and disasters that threatened the general well-being of the populace. Even the BBC’s TV “tomorrows” were represented by a full-colour strip starring The Daleks.

Before all that, however, there were far simpler and more inclusive epics for kids at Christmas from the Anderson stable: such as this charming tome, credited to future Anderson staff writer Alan Fennel with cartoon art, strips, puzzles and illustrations by G. Wood and H. J. Cauldwell.

Supercar was Anderson’s (in conjunction with designer Reg Hill and scriptwriters Hugh and Martin Woodhouse) second marionette series, following on from comedy western Four-Feather Falls. Soundly science fictional, it was the first to be internationally syndicated and detailed the exploits of a futuristic flying car, as piloted by dashing test pilot Mike Mercury. His adventure prone entourage included batty boffins Professor Rudolph Popkiss and Dr. Horatio Beaker – who invented and built the mechanical beast – as well as boy sidekick Jimmy Gibson and his mischievous pet Mitch who was a monkey…

Located in a desert base at Black Rock, Nevada, the team had daring adventures all over the world (seen in the 39 episodes recorded between 1961-1962), and frequently faced wicked enemy agent Masterspy and his henchman Zarrin.

Broadcasts began in January 1962 and were eagerly awaited by millions of fans who found solace when the show closed by buying TV Comic for further exploits.

There were three annuals released, of which this is the last, offering an unconventional experience since all the strips and prose adventures comprise one large complete saga.

Following an enthralling painted double-page frontispiece of the wonder vehicle at the bottom of the sea, the action opens with Cauldwell’s full-colour strip ‘Killer Whale’ as the action-ready team save ocean-going scientist Doctor Bombay from one of his own maddened experiments. In the aftermath, they learn the savant has been recently been restored to his previous role as Maharajah of Subahn and agree to escort him home to take up the reins of power…

Before they can set off, however, a fresh emergency occurs, and Supercar is needed to fix a sabotaged trestle in Wood’s 2-colour strip ‘Bridge of Danger’ and their base is plundered of secrets in prose mystery yarn ‘The Workshop Robbery’. Thankfully, Mike is as adept at crimefighting and counterespionage as he is at flying…

Following puzzle page ‘World Flight’, monochrome strip ‘Close-Up on Danger’ finally sees the journey to Subahn begin, but during a stopover in London deposed former dictator Randah Singh deploys a hired assassin to kill Bombay in front of a live studio audience…

Plot foiled, the voyagers resume their flight, leaving us to enjoy a puzzle-maze in ‘S-O-S’ before a flashback prose tale details how Beaker and Popkiss discovered ‘The Treasure of Mesa Verde’ despite the larcenous efforts of Masterspy and Zarrin…

Another full-colour section begins with activity pages ‘What is Wrong with this Picture?’ and ‘Memory Game: Exploring Space’, before ‘Sahara Inferno’ finds Supercar diverted again to help extinguish a blazing natural gas well. General knowledge teaser ‘Nevada Quiz’ then segues into a new restricted colour section foe Wood’s ‘Kidnapped’ wherein Randah Singh hires Masterspy and Zarrin to ensure Maharajah Bombay never takes up his throne…

Rebus page ‘The Lost Diplomatic Plane’ leads to another prose flashback for ‘Mission to Destroy’; revealing how Supercar was instrumental in eradicating an illegal weapons cache in Malaya, after which a return to the present sees Bombay’s triumphal accession procession interrupted by the ‘Eruption!’ of the local volcano…

Memories evoked, a prose tale follows of a time in Switzerland when a souped-up mechanical doll triggered ‘The Avalanche’ before the extended saga concludes in full-colour with ‘The Triumphant Procession’ as Randah Singh plays his last murderous ace…

Blending charm with action and exoticism with big laughs, this is a splendid example of simpler times and all-ages storytelling that no nostalgia-afflicted baby boomer could possibly resist.
© 1963, A.P. FILMS and A.T.V. Ltd. All rights reserved.

Smash! Annual 1975


By many and various (IPC Magazines, Ltd)
SBN: 85037-166-X

Smash! launched with a cover-date of February 5th 1966: an ordinary Odhams anthology weekly which was quickly re-badged as a Power Comic at the end of the year; combining home-grown funnies and British originated thrillers with resized US strips to capitalise on the American superhero bubble created by the Batman TV series.

Power Comics was a sub-brand used by Odhams to differentiate those periodicals which contained reprinted American superhero material from the company’s regular blend of sports, war, western, adventure and humour comics – such as Buster, Valiant, Lion or Tiger.

During the Swinging Sixties the Power weeklies did much to popularise the budding Marvel universe characters in this country, which was still poorly served by distribution of the original American imports.

The increasingly expensive American reprints were dropped in 1969 and Smash! was radically retooled with the traditional mix of action, sport and humour strips. Undergoing a full redesign, it was relaunched on March 15th 1969 with all-British material and finally disappeared into Valiant in April 1971 after 257 issues.

However, the Seasonal specials remained a draw until October 1975 when Smash Annual 1976 properly ended the era. From then on, the Fleetway brand had no room for the old guard – except as re-conditioned reprints in cooler, more modern books…

As I’ve monotonously repeated, Christmas Annuals were forward-dated so this monumental mix of shock, awe and haw-haw was probably being put together between spring and September 1974, combining new strip or prose stories of old favourites with remastered reprints from other Fleetway-owned comics and a wealth of general interest fact features.

Here then, following a contents page/cast pin-up double page spread of the Swots and Blots, the festive fun kicks off with a promise of trouble to come – and a modicum of editorial fourth wall-busting – from ‘Bad Penny’ with what today seems a rather uncomfortable photo spread featuring chimps in human dress entitled ‘Monkey Music Tricks’

Devised by Barrie Mitchell and unbelievably popular, ‘His Sporting Lordship’ was a light-hearted everyman comedy drama and one of the most popular strips of the era. Debuting in Smash!, in 1969 Henry Nobbins survived the merger with Valiant and only retired just before the comic itself did.

Cover-featured Nobbins was only a common labourer when he unexpectedly inherited £5,000,000 and the title Earl of Ranworth. Unfortunately, he couldn’t touch the cash until he restored the family’s sporting reputation… by winning all the championships, prizes and awards that his forebears had held in times past…

Further complicating the issue was rival claimant Parkinson who, with henchman Fred Bloggs, constantly tried to sabotage his attempts. Luckily the new Earl was ably assisted by canny, cunning butler Jarvis…

With art (possibly?) by Douglas Maxted, this red-&-black-hued romp is his last ever appearance as the unlikely toff and his capable manservant attempt a sporting double – in ballooning and knitting – despite the scurrilous efforts of the skulking nemeses…

The first of a series of puzzle pages is next as ‘Smash Quiz No. 1’ asks questions on sporting subjects after which a prose tale of ‘Master of the Marsh’ (illustrated by the Solano Lopez studio) sees enigmatic hermit/P.E. teacher Patchman taking his pack of hooligans and rabble-rousers on an exchange trip to America, after which gags return in a perilous sub-sea lark for the crew of ‘Ghost Ship’ (by Sid Burgon?) and a nasty dose of civic pride causes carnage amidst the ongoing class war on Reg Parlett’s ‘Consternation Street’.

Also splitting sides and tickling ribs is Leo Baxendale’s ‘The Swots and the Blots’ – with a cataclysmic snowy guest shot from minxish Penny – whilst Fool who Fell to Earth ‘Monty Muddle’ (originally Milkiway – The Man from Mars in Buster) explores Earthlings’ obsession with digging holes.

Prose fact-feature ‘Fishing Can be Fun’ – illustrated by Ted Andrews and with photos – leads to history vignette ‘Pursuit in the Snow’ detailing an alpine pursuit during WWII before we enjoy a true gem of British comics suspense.

Written by Scott Goodall with Ken Mennell and Chris Lowder, ‘Cursitor Doom’ is the unquestioned masterpiece of Eric Bradbury – one of our greatest ever stylists. The strip is a darkly brooding Gothic thriller quite unlike anything else in comics then or since. If pushed, I’ll liken it most to William Hope Hodgson’s Karnacki the Ghost Breaker novelettes – although that’s more for flavour than anything else and even that doesn’t really cover it.

Doom is a fat, bald, foul-tempered, cape-wearing know-it-all who is also humanity’s last-ditch defence against the forces of darkness. With his strapping and rugged young assistant Angus McCraggan and Scarab, a trained raven (or is it, perhaps, something more?), Doom crushes without mercy any threat to humanity’s wellbeing. Here, that’s the sudden rising of ancient pagan gods animating the nations flora and imbuing it with a taste for blood…

Refreshing ourselves with more laughs, a brace of animal antics in Stan McMurtry’s ‘Percy’s Pets’ segues neatly into chilling chuckles in Leo Baxendale’s ‘The Haunts of Headless Harry’

Globe trotting journalist/adventurer Simon Test barely survives the diabolical ‘Revenge!’ of mad millionaire boffin Jabez Coppenger: a breathtaking thriller courtesy of Angus Allen & Bradbury, after which ‘Smash Hits’ doles out a double helping of single-panel gags and ‘Wacker’ (originally Elmer when first seen in Buster) finds the oaf trying out the job of lorry driver in a riotous romp from Roy Wilson, before we pause once more for intellectual stimulation as ‘Smash Quiz No. 2’ tests our affinity ‘For Motorcars’

A full-colour section begins and ends with a brace of strips starring smug know-it-all ‘Big ’Ead’ (another Buster ex-pat, limned by Nadal), bookending a lengthy photo-feature on model railways dubbed ‘Weeny Wonders’ before monochrome returns with ‘Smash Quiz No. 3 (For Animals)’ and another Baxendale (or maybe the legendary Mike Brown? You should look him up…) clash between ‘The Swots and the Blots’: a seasonal shocker as the kids perform a panto…

Another historical photo-feature on the British NRA and the shooting range at ‘Bisley’ follows, after which the spooks of the ‘Ghost Ship’ clash with a seagoing saurian and ‘Sam’s Spook’ gets his adopted mortal into more trouble before ‘Storm Hero’ tantalises in text with the tale of a daring cliff rescue.

‘Percy’s Pets’ (McMurtry or possibly Cyril Price) sees a skunk save the day before ‘Giants of Sport’ offers a roundup of contemporary legends and triumphs and ‘The Swots and the Blots’ indulge again in their own class war and thus won’t join us for ‘Smash Quiz No. 4 – For Soldiers’

Returning to full-colour, Victorian escapologist and showman ‘Janus Stark’ involves himself in a police hunt for a fantastic band of thieves only to discover all is not as it seems…

Stark was a fantastically innovative and successful strip. Created by Jack Legrand, and written by Tom Tully for the 1969 relaunch of Smash!, the majority of the art was from Francisco Solano Lopez’s Argentinean studio (including stints by Francisco Fuentes-Man, Juan García Quirós and Tom Kerr). The eerie moodiness well-suited the saga of a foundling who grew up in a grim orphanage to become the greatest escapologist of the Steam Age.

The Man with Rubber Bones also had his own ideas about Justice, and would joyously sort out scoundrels the Law couldn’t or wouldn’t touch. A number of creators worked on this feature, which survived until the downsizing of Fleetway’s comics division in 1975 – and even beyond – as Stark escaped oblivion when the series was continued in France – even unto Stark’s eventual death and succession by his son!

Back in black & white for the final stages, ‘Smash Quiz No. 5’ tests For Hobbies, ‘Big ’Ead’ goes skiing and photo-essay‘Clowning Around’ clues us in on everything we need to know about making kids laugh and some adults scream.

‘The World-Wide Wanderers’ were a literally international team of footballers drawn from many different countries – talk about prophetic! – who here star in prose yarn ‘Five-A-Side’ as acrimony and resentment between attack and defence divides the team, with unexpected benefits for a local charity before everything ends with ‘It’s Bad Penny Again’ as the tiny terror learns a painful lesson…

As my knowledge of British creators from this time is so woefully inadequate, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve misattributed and besmirched the good names of Leo Baxendale, Gordon Hogg, Stan McMurtry, Graham Allen, Mike Lacey, Terry Bave, Artie Jackson and numerous international artists anonymously utilised throughout this period. Even more so the unsung authors responsible for much of the joy in my early life – and certainly the childhoods of millions of others…

Christmas simply wasn’t right without a heaping helping of these garish, wonder-stuffed compendia offering a vast variety of stories and scenarios. Today’s celebrity, TV and media tie-in packages simply can’t compete, so why not track down a selection of brand-old delights with proven track record and guaranteed staying power…?
© IPC Magazines, Ltd. 1974.

On a Sunbeam


By Tillie Walden (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-37-0 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic and Groundbreaking Space Saga… 10/10

Just for a change, here’s a short review and recommendation for a lengthy but unmissable treat. You could just buy it now and not bother with what follows…

No matter its trappings or content, Science Fiction is about human relationships. The genre is the perfect vehicle to explore them and test the limits of what it means to be human – often to the point of destruction, beyond and even back again.

That said, it’s truly heartening to see that even after more than a century of categorisable SF in prose, comics, film and other art forms it’s still possible to say something fresh in a distinct and moving way.

After all, once you accept the premise that technology is not what it’s all about, you can ask some truly searching questions…

Tillie Walden is a relative newcomer – albeit a prolific one – who has garnered heaps of acclaim and awards. Whether through her fiction or autobiographical works, she always presents a feeling of absolute wonder, combined with a fresh incisive view and measured, compelling delivery in terms of both story and character. Her artwork is a sheer delight.

After turning heads with shorter pieces such as The End of Summer, I Love This Part, A City Inside and Spinning, in 2018 her webcomic On a Sunbeam made the jump to print in a massive and monumental tome that might well be one of the most intriguing and engaging sci fi yarns I have ever read.

Vast and complex but easily accessible, it tells of pensive outsider Mia, who roams the stars with a collective of artisans, repairing dilapidated homes, buildings, space stations and other magnificent structures as a kind of celebration of communal past glories. Each of the workers has their own occluded backstory, but Mia’s is the one we share through a series of flashbacks detailing her time at an intergalactic boarding school.

A girl tainted with rebellion and destined for trouble, her life turned around after meeting exotic new student Grace: an actual princess from a fabled and troubled lost interstellar kingdom known as The Staircase…

Now, years after their slowly-developing relationship was abruptly curtailed by cruel fate, Grace returns to Mia’s life, compelling her and her comrades to undertake a hazardous rescue mission to a terrifying and uncanny forbidden planet…

Blending romance, soul-searching, the innate hunger to see what’s over the next horizon and drive to belong into a miraculous voyage filled with wonders and imagination, On a Sunbeam is a warm, sensitive, funny and ultimately gratifying excursion, mercifully free of pointless action and manufactured conflict, that will delight any mature reader whose sense of longing has remained somehow unfulfilled, even after all these years…
© Tillie Walden 2018. All rights reserved.

Lala Albert: Seasonal Shift – Comics 2013-2019


By Lala Albert (Breakdown Press/The Library of Contemporary Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-911081-09-8 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Not All Beautiful Things are Pretty… 9/10

All right-thinking people know that graphic narrative is the most expressive and expansive medium to work in, right? The range of themes explored, stories told and varieties of delivery are pretty near infinite if created by an inspired artisan.

The act of stringing pictures and/or words together is something almost everybody has done at some stage of their lives. It’s a key step in the cognitive path of children and, for an increasing number of us, that compulsive, absorbing euphoria never goes away.

Whilst many millions acquiesce to the crushing weight of a world which stifles the liberation of creativity, turning a preponderance of makers into consumers, a privileged, determined few carry on: drawing, exploring, and in some cases, with technology’s help, producing and sharing.

That emotional and creative volatility has never been better realised than in the modern crop of storymakers, many of whom are being rightly-celebrated in collections of minicomics and collections such as this compilation of works by Brooklyn-based Lala Albert as part of the Library of Contemporary Comics, which is collecting shorter works by the best cartoonists currently working in the medium right now.

Opening with a forthright ‘Interview’ conducted by Michael DeForge, this sequence of tales, vignettes and self-publications addresses body issues, human relationships, and most especially interactions with society and the ever more imperilled environment through terse short stories, generally framed in science fictional, fantasy and horror terms of reference.

Gathered from Albert’s last six years, the raw, primitivist, questing revelations begin with ‘Morning Dew’: a self-published moment of luxurious hedonism in natural circumstances from 2019 that lapses into a glimpse at the inevitable, if improbable, consequence of plastic saturation, first seen in Future Shock #7 (2014), before ‘Starlight Local’ – part of Alien Invasion volume 3, 2013 – details the disturbing outcome of a casual hook-up during an interstellar commute…

Consumerism and self-determination get a handy heads-up when a girl orders a ‘nu device’ (Trapper Keeper volume 4, 2016) after which a new kind of surveillance society dystopia is explored and overturned in ‘R.A.T.’ (crafted for Latvia’s Kuš Comics in 2015).

These tales are delivered in a range of styles and palettes, but for me, pure stark monochrome is always a blessing, so the ferocious attitude of ‘Brainbuzz’ (Weird Magazine volume 5, 2014) only intensifies the disturbing exploration of bodily invasion undertaken here…

Masks and the mutability of personas are thoroughly, forensically questioned in kJanus’’:a voyage of intense personal discovery first released by Breakdown Press UK in 2014, before a distressing fascination of what lurks under our skins is displayed in ‘Flower Pot’! courtesy of Marécage, Revue Lagon, France, 2019.

An epic of ecological combat and fairy survival is revealed in multi-chapter saga of survival ‘Wet Earth’ (Sonatina, 2017), pitting ethereal pixies against the lower ends of an uncaring food chain, before a modicum of sanity – but never safety or true security – returns via comforting self-assessment in ‘Pinhole’ (Over the Line, Sidekick Books UK, 2015). After everything, it’s always good to check back in with your own skin…

Dark but never hopeless, and always avoiding slick, glib professional sheen, these tales bore right in to the heart, asking questions we all have. Whether you find any answers truly depends on you…
All work © Lala Albert 2019. This edition © Breakdown Press 2019. All rights reserved.

Jack Kirby’s Silver Star


By Jack Kirby, with Mike Royer, D. Bruce Berry, Janice Cohen, Erik Larsen & Eric Stephenson (Image)
ISBN: 978-1-58240-764-7 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Monumental Marvel Magic for Fun Seekers… 8/10

Jack Kirby was – and remains – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are millions of words about what the man has done and meant, and you should read those if you are at all interested in our medium.

Of course I’m going to add my own two-bobs’-worth, pointing out what you probably already know: Kirby was a man of vast imagination who translated big concepts into astoundingly potent and accessible symbols for generations of fantasy fans. If you were exposed to Kirby as an impressionable kid you were his for life. To be honest, the same probably applies whatever age you jump aboard the “Kirby Express”…

For those of us who grew up with Jack, his are the images which furnish our interior mindsets. Close your eyes and think “robot” and the first thing that pops up is a Kirby creation. Every fantastic, futuristic city in our heads is crammed with his chunky, towering spires. Because of Jack, we all know what the bodies beneath those stony-head statues on Easter Island look like, we are all viscerally aware that you can never trust great big aliens parading around in their underpants and, most importantly, we know how cavemen dressed and carnosaurs clashed…

Kirby’s creations are magical: they all inspire successive generations of creators to pick up the ball and keep running with it…

In the late 1930s, it took a remarkably short time for Kirby and his creative partner Joe Simon to become the wonder-kid dream-team of the new-born comic book industry. Together they produced a year’s worth of pioneering influential monthly Blue Bolt, rushed out Captain Marvel Adventures (#1) for overstretched Fawcett and, after Martin Goodman appointed Simon editor at Timely Comics, co-created a host of iconic characters such as Red Raven, the original Marvel Boy, Mercury, Hurricane, The Vision, Young Allies and of course million-selling mega-hit Captain America.

When Goodman failed to make good on his financial obligations, Simon & Kirby were snapped up by National/DC, who welcomed them with open arms and a fat chequebook. Bursting with ideas the staid company were never really comfortable with, the pair were initially an uneasy fit, and were given two moribund strips to play with until they found their creative feet: Sandman and Manhunter.

They turned both around virtually overnight and, once established and left to their own devices, switched to the “Kid Gang” genre they had pioneered at Timely. Joe and Jack created wartime sales sensation Boy Commandos and a Homefront iteration dubbed the Newsboy Legion before being called up to serve in the war they had been fighting on comicbook pages since 1940.

Once demobbed, they returned to a very different funnybook business and soon left National to create their own little empire…

Simon & Kirby heralded and ushered in the first American age of mature comics – not just by inventing the Romance genre, but with all manner of challenging modern material about real people in extraordinary situations – before seeing it all disappear again in less than eight years.

Their small stable of magazines – generated for the association of companies known as Prize, Crestwood, Pines, Essenkay and/or Mainline Comics – blossomed and as quickly wilted when the industry abruptly contracted throughout the 1950s.

After years of working for others, Simon & Kirby had finally established their own publishing house, producing comics for a far more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by an anti-comicbook pogrom.

Hysterical censorship-fever spearheaded by US Senator Estes Kefauver and opportunistic pop psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham led to witch-hunting Senate hearings. Caving in, publishers adopted 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. Crime comics vanished and mature themes challenging an increasingly stratified and oppressive society were suppressed…

Simon quit the business for advertising, but Jack soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to a number of safer, if less experimental, companies. As the panic abated, Kirby returned briefly to DC Comics where he worked on mystery tales and Green Arrow (at that time a mere back-up, page-filler in Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics) whilst concentrating on his long-dreamed-of newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force.

During that period Kirby also re-packaged an original super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and Joe Simon had closed their innovative, ill-timed ventures. At the end of 1956 Showcase #6 premiered the Challengers of the Unknown

After three more test issues the “Challs” won their own title with Kirby in command for the first eight issues. Then a legal dispute with Editor Jack Schiff exploded and the King was gone…

He found fresh fields and an equally hungry-for-change new partner in Stan Lee at ailing Atlas Comics (which had once been mighty Timely) and there created a revolution in superhero comics storytelling…

After just over a decade of never-ending innovation and crowd-pleasing wonderment, Kirby felt increasingly stifled. His efforts had transformed the little publisher into industry-pioneer Marvel but now felt trapped in a rut. Thus, he moved back to DC for another burst of sheer imagination and pure invention.

Kirby always understood the fundamentals of pleasing his audience and strived diligently to combat the appalling state of prejudice about the comics medium – especially from industry insiders and professionals who despised the “kiddies’ world” they felt trapped in.

After his controversial, grandiose Fourth World titles were cancelled, Kirby looked for other concepts which would stimulate his own vast creativity yet still appeal to a market growing evermore fickle. His follow-ups included science fiction themed heroes Kamandi and OMAC, supernatural star The Demon, a run of war stories starring The Losers, and even a new Sandman co-created with old Joe Simon, but although the ideas kept coming (Atlas, Kobra, Dingbats of Danger Street), yet again editorial disputes ended up with him leaving for promises of more creative freedom elsewhere…

Jack Kirby’s return to Marvel in 1976 was much hyped at the time but again turned out to be controversial. His new works and creations (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man) found friends rapidly, but his return to earlier creations Captain America and Black Panther divided the fanbase.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity, and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on titles as another “Day One”: a policy increasing at odds with the close-continuity demanded by a strident faction of the readership…

They were apparently blind to the unfettered, joyous freedom of imagination run wild, the majesty of pulse-pounding thrills and galvanising BIG ART channelling BIG IDEAS!

The end of the 1970s saw Kirby drift into animation: designing characters and scenarios for shows such as Turbo-Teen, Thundarr the Barbarian and even The New Fantastic Four. His comics efforts included graphic novel The Hunger Dogs and Super Powers for DC, and an adaptation of movie The Black Hole for syndicated strip Walt Disney’s Treasury of Classic Tales.

However, his most memorable move was to validate the newly-minted Independent Comics/Direct Sale Market sector where he launched bombastic sci fi shocker Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers for distributor-turned-publisher Pacific Comics.

For Eclipse, he co-created with Steve Gerber the industry-excoriating symbol of creative rebellion Destroyer Duck (part of a grass-roots campaign that ultimately destroyed the iniquitous work-for-hire business model that had made creators little more than indentured servants for decades).

Also for Pacific at that time, Kirby crafted a 6-issue miniseries returning to his cherished themes of human advancement and perfection. The lure of these projects was that after decades of toil and unleashed genius, now Jack owned his stuff and had complete editorial control…

That’s paid off here in this deluxe hardback and digital edition celebrating the sheer power and exuberance of The King’s gifts. Kirby never threw away a notion or design, and from his copious “Maybe Later/Maybe One Day” file in 1983, he crafted this frantic, frenetic superhero/espionage/doomsday thriller based on an unsuccessful screenplay he and then-assistant Steve Sherman had put together in the 1970s.

Accompanied by an early concept drawing, the origins and impact of the original Silver Star miniseries – which ran from February 1983 to January 1984 – are discussed by Pacific’s editorial director Dave Scroggy in his Introduction before we meet Morgan Miller: Homo Geneticus! in premiere outing ‘Silver Star is here!!’ as, via a communal psychic network, the next stage in human evolution reveals his secrets…

Morgan’s incredible powers come from prenatal genetic tampering by his father Dr. Bradford Miller, who was seeking to offset the repercussions of prospective atomic war, and the son is apparently not the only one of this “Next Breed”.

He soon might be though, since earlier prototype Darius Drumm is methodically and ruthlessly exterminating them whenever he tracks them down…

Morgan’s powers manifest when he comes under heavy fire as a good soldier fighting in another American overseas war. After such a public debut, he’s quickly co-opted by Secret Service agent Floyd Custer to protect America, but Drumm’s campaign of terror against ‘The Others’ continues, not just with uncanny powers in the all-too-frail physical world, but also in torment-fuelled sorties into the communal astral plane where Morgan seeks to preserve the life and sanity of mysterious gamin Tracy Coleman

Sadly, the hero’s success rate is pretty abysmal, and Drumm’s twisted religious mania gives him an advantage in the war, as seen in ‘The Super-Normals: Are they God’s or Satan’s Children?’  It seems the tireless demagogue is also charismatic leader of a vast, anti-happiness and wellbeing cult…

The first four issues were inked & lettered by Mike Royer with colours from Janice Cohen, but the remaining two chapters (which coincided in the 1980s with Pacific moving to more experimental print processes and paper stock, with a noticeable loss of reproduction quality) are graced with the pens and brushes of D. Bruce Berry. They have been re-coloured for this edition by Erik Larsen & Eric Stephenson, who usher in a climactic showdown and moment of global revelation as ‘The World According to Drumm!’ finds hard-pressed hero Silver Star and his surviving species-mates zeroing in on the killer, who has expanded his remit to encompass all Earth, forcing the hero to battle a science-spawned ‘Angel of Death!’

Peppered with concept and developmental sketches, unused artwork and covers, plus pin-ups and designs inked by the likes of Jim Lee and Joe Sinnott, Kirby’s self-described and long-awaited Visual Novel also offers a lavishly illustrated look at his and Steve Sherman’s Silver Star Original Screenplay.

Jack Kirby’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment, combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill always makes for a captivating read. His comics should be compulsory for all and found in every home…
© 2007 the Jack Kirby Estate. All rights reserved.

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom Archives volume 1


By Paul S. Newman, Matt Murphy, Bob Fujitani, Frank Bolle & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-285-8 (HB) 978-1-59582-586-5 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic Atom Age Adventure… 9/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All this and much more can be found far more clearly explained by the wonderful Mark Evanier in this hardback or trade paperback collection’s Foreword – ‘The Golden Years’ – as well as a fond critical appraisal of the superb comics yarn-spinning that follows…

As a publisher, Gold Key never really “got” the melodramatic, breast-beating, often-mock-heroic Sturm und Drang of the 1960s superhero boom – although for many of us, the understated functionality of Silver Age classics like Magnus, Robot Fighter or the remarkably radical concepts of atomic crusader Nukla and crime-fighting iterations of classic movie monsters Dracula, Frankenstein and Werewolf were utterly irresistible. The sheer off-the-wall lunacy of features like Neutro or Dr. Spektor I will save for a future occasion…

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

Crafted by writers Paul S. Newman & Matt Murphy with art by Bob Fujitani, the 2-part origin ‘Solar’s Secret’ and ‘An Atomic Inferno’ detailed how a campaign of sabotage at research base Atom Valley culminates in the death of Dr. Bentley and the accidental transmutation of his lab partner Doctor Solar into a (no longer) human atomic pile with incredible, impossible and apparently unlimited powers and abilities. Of course, his very presence is lethal to all around him…

The espionage and murder are at the instigation mysterious Bad Actor Nuro, who wants the monopoly on atomic science and when his operative targets Solar’s girlfriend Gail Sanders, the reluctant hero – still learning his potential and limitations – is forced to act fast…

Powers painted a second rousing cover (before handing the job over to Gold Key mainstay George Wilson for the rest of this collections inclusions) and #2 (December) opens with Nuro’s latest plot: using radio implants to turn Gail into ‘The Remote-Control Traitor’ before unwise atomic testing triggers tectonic terror for the entire region on ‘The Night of the Volcano’…

By the time of Dr. Solar, Man of the Atom #3 (March 1963), a solid pattern was in place. Solar continued his researches aided by his two confidantes, Gail and project leader Dr. Clarkson, facing a wide variety of nefarious challenges and unnatural disasters at a rate of two stories per issue.

In ‘The Hidden Hands’ the science hero becomes a clandestine globetrotter to foil a plundering terrorist with the power of invisibility, whilst Atom Valley’s own prototype weather satellite triggers atmospheric conditions which split the hero into polar opposites in ‘Solar’s Deadly Double’.

June 1963 brought #4 atomic contamination to the Atlantic as Solar scuppers a certain mystery mastermind’s gold extraction engine in ‘The Deadly Sea’ before ‘The Treacherous Trap’ finds the Atomic Man – who must regularly absorb lethal amounts of radiation to live – accidentally imperilled by fellow scientist Thor Neilsen’s radical rad poisoning cure. The good-looking swine has also turned poor Gail’s head with romantic notions…

A big change came with #5 in September as the until-now top-secret activities of Solar are first exposed to a ruthless thief trying to steal the Atomic Ace’s latest elemental discovery in ‘The Crystallized Killers’. This, and his advancing mutation, leads to ‘The New Man of the Atom’ as Solar adopts a public masked persona and finally dons a costume: all whilst stopping an incipient atom war…

With #6 (November 1963) illustrator Frank Bolle joins Newman & Murphy to detail Solar’s stories, beginning with ‘The Impostor’ wherein Nuro despatches a face-shifting automaton to infiltrate Atom Valley and discover the masked hero’s true identity: a saga which concludes in spectacular nuclear combat in ‘Android Against the Atom’…

This volume’s action concludes with #7 (March 1964), beginning with a drastic drop in sea levels. Upon investigation Solar discovers malevolent extraterrestrials are behind the ‘Vanishing Oceans’ but no sooner does he deal with them than ‘The Guided Comet’ covertly controlled by Nuro, simultaneously threatens human existence and acts as an almost-foolproof deathtrap for the Man of the Atom. Almost…

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

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

Adventures of Tintin: Flight 714 to Sydney


By Hergé, Bob De Moor, Roger Leloup and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK/Methuen/Little Brown Books)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-821-5 (HB) 978-0-31635-837-8 (Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Great British Tradition of Belgian Origin. Gotta Get ‘Em All… 10/10

Georges Prosper Remi, AKA Hergé, created an eternal masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor, Roger Leloup and other supreme stylists of the Hergé Studio, he created 23 timeless yarns (initially serialised in instalments for a variety of newspaper periodicals) which have since grown beyond their pop culture roots to attain the status of High Art and international cultural icons.

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

While he was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette – written by the staff sports reporter – Wallez required his compliant creative cash-cow to concoct a new and contemporary 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 supremely 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 of 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 through words and deeds.

Leblanc provided cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a huge weekly circulation, allowing Remi and his studio team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by the Fascist invaders to ideologically shade the wartime adventures. These modernising post-war exercises also generally improved and updated the great tales, just in time for Tintin to become a global phenomenon, both in books and as an early star of animated TV adventure.

With the war 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, if not his personal demons and declining health…

The greatest sign of this was not substantially in the comics tales – although Hergé continued to tinker with the form of his efforts – but rather in how long the gaps were between new exploits. The last romp had finished serialisation in September 1962 and been collected as an album in 1963. Vol 714 pour Sydney began its weekly run in Le Journal de Tintin #936 – 27th September 1966 – and concluded in #997, cover-dated November 28th 1967. The inevitable book collection came in May 1968.

Flight 714 To Sydney appears to be a return to classic adventure, but conceals some ironic modernist twists, opening with our heroes hurriedly en route to Australia. During an intrigue-redolent stopover at Djakarta, Tintin, Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus are inveigled (almost duped) into joining unconventional and somewhat unpleasant aviation tycoon Laszlo Carreidas on his personal supersonic prototype. The petty-minded multi-millionaire obviously has some ulterior design but cannot be dissuaded.

However, due to the type of coincidence that plagues our heroes, that plane has been targeted by the villainous outlaw Rastapopoulos whose gang hijack the aircraft and land it on a desolate Pacific island. The former criminal mastermind has a crazy scheme to siphon off Carreidas’ fortune but has lost a lot of his old sinister efficiency…

After many ploys and countermoves between the opposing forces, and with danger a constant companion, the prisoners escape the villain’s clutches only to discover that the Island is volcanic and conceals a fantastic ancient secret that dwarfs the threat of mere death and penury before escalating to a spectacular climax no reader will ever forget…

Although full of Hergé’s trademark slapstick humour, there is also a sly undercurrent of self-examination that highlights the intrinsic futility of the criminals’ acts. As time has passed, the murderous human monsters have all been exposed as foolish, posturing and largely ineffectual.

Nevertheless, the yarn is primarily an extremely effective, suspenseful action thriller with science fiction roots as the author plays with the multifarious strands of international research then in vogue which led to Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods and other lesser known tracts of cod science.

Once more the supernormal plays a large part in proceedings – but not as a malign force – and this time science and rationality, not the supernatural, are the basis of the wonderment. Flight 714 To Sydney is slick, compelling and astoundingly engaging: a true epic escapade no fan of fun could fail to adore.
Flight 714 To Sydney: artwork © 1968 Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1968 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest


By Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill, with Ben Dimagmaliw, Todd Klein, Charles Barnard, Christian LeBlanc, Joe Brown & various (Top Shelf/Knockabout)
ISBN: 978-0-86166-282-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Fantastical Celebration of All That’s Profoundly Us… 10/10

The Victorian era saw the birth of both popular and populist publishing, particularly the genres of fantasy and adventure fiction. Writers of varying skill unleashed unbounded imaginations, expounding personal concepts of honour and heroism, wedded unflinchingly to the innate belief in English Superiority. In all worlds – and even beyond them – the British Gentleman took on all comers for Right and Decency, viewing danger as a game and showing “Johnny Foreigner” just how that game should be played.

For all the problems this raises with modern sensibilities, many of the stories remain uncontested classics of literature and form the roadmap for all modern fictional heroes. Open as they are to charges of racism, sexism (even misogyny), class bias and cultural imperialism, the cream of them remain the greatest of all yarns.

In 1999, an august selection of just such intrepid prototypes were seconded by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill for a miniseries saying as much about our world as that long-gone one; craftily relating a captivating tale as compelling as any of its antecedents.

In short succession there was an inevitable sequel, once more pressing into service vampire-tainted Wilhelmina Murray, aged Great White Hunter Allan Quatermain, Invisible Man Hawley Griffin, the charismatic piratical genius Captain Nemo and both cultured Dr. Henry Jekyll and his bombastic alter-ego Mister Hyde. As the concept grew – seemingly of its own volition – it eventually encompassed the best and brightest of the planet’s fictive print pantheon from drama, books and comics.

The idea of combining shared cultural brands is not new: Philip Jose Farmer in particular spun many a yarn teaming such worthies as Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, Tarzan and their like; Warren Ellis succumbed to similar temptation in Planetary and Jasper Fforde worked literary miracles with the device in his Thursday Next novels, but the sheer impetus of Moore & O’Neill’s para-steampunk revisionism, rush of ideas (and the stunning, startling visuals that carry them) make this book (and all the previous ones) form an irresistible experience and absolute necessity for every fiction fan, let alone comic collector.

Now, after two decades and numerous further sequels and iterations – dotted like stations of the cross through periods of history both utterly imaginary and consensually real – the saga closes with a final chronicle pulling together all the strings of plot and parodies involving these beloved immortal characters, rendered in a startling array of styles from slapstick bigfoot cartoons to realistically-rendered girl’s comics to OTT, hyperkinetic Sci Fi pastiches, the doomed 1960s UK superhero boom and more. There’s even room – and necessity – for sections rendered in 3D (glasses included, kids!) and Fumetti photo stories. Oh, the debilitating force of that nostalgia!

This last volume focuses most ardently on the British comics canon, memorialising past monuments of mirth and mayhem through deftly managed pastiche and homage whilst also incorporating film and TV’s greatest icons as it draws its ever-fluctuating cast into a vast time-bending crisis designed by devious villains to end and remake all existences…

You don’t want me to spoil the deliriously crafted intricacies of this yarn but just let me throw some other names at you: Jerry Cornelius; Captain Universe; Ayesha; Justin – or is it Mark? – Tyme; Tommy Walls; Jason King; James Bond (all of them); the Purple Hood; Quatermass and a leather-clad 1960s daredevil dubbed Emma something, all interacting with subtly altered (curse you, intellectual properties laws) characters you know but can’t mention aloud…

As previously stated, each chapter (first released as six oversized comicbooks) is framed in the style of a bygone British periodical and begins with ‘Illustrated Masterpieces: The Tempest’ laying the trail as the wonders of the Earth are systematically destroyed, forcing a band of protagonists (no actual heroes here!) to undertake a fantastic voyage to stranger places and times in hope of averting impending Armageddon…

Further intrigue unfolds in ‘TV Tempest 2010: Adventures in the Present Century’ as forces malign and benign gather whilst ‘Mina – for Young Ladies’ further stirs the pot as pasts and futures collide with a most fragile present…

A rambunctious paean to Albion’s comedy capers comes via ‘Tempest – incorporating Thud! Gurgle! and Whimper!’, and our cheesy knockoff reprint era is channelled in ‘Blazing Worlds’ before trans-cosmic catastrophe is averted(ish) for earthlets and other sentients in Thrill-throbbing conclusion ‘2010 A.D.’

Since each chapter celebrates an era of homegrown tomfoolery, there’s opportunity for a well-drafted balancing of historical scales. Bringing a tear of injustice to most eyes is a linked prose series of potted biographies memorialising and championing some of our greatest creators.

Leo Baxendale, Frank Bellamy, Marie Duval, Ken Reid, Denis McLoughlin and Ron Turner were all uniformly and deliberately used, abused and written out of history in the name of corporate dominance, and here Al & Kev strike a blow in their name. After looking them up online, you can read the less studious impartial (and therefore more accurate and honest) appreciation of their talents, achievements and fates here…

Celebrating our long-cherished love affair with comic cuts, this epic wheeze treats us to a tantalising taste of gloriously cheap, tawdry and irresistibly wonderful pop entertainment, intended for momentary juvenile diversion, but which locked us all into our own childhoods forever.

An undeserved but so welcome treat for a lost generation of British comics apologists who can now hold their heads a little higher as all the weird, cheap, shamefully knocked off, knocked out yet secretly adored cartoon ephemera of childhood is granted a measure of validity and immortality.

It’s enough to make you join a library and read some other very interesting books…

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume 4: The Tempest © & ™ 2019 Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill. All Rights Reserved.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest will be released on November 28th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.
For more information and other great reads see Knockabout Comicsand Top Shelf Productions