Showcase Presents Strange Adventures volume 2


By John Broome, Otto Binder, Gardner Fox, Edmond Hamilton, France E. Herron, Dave Wood, Ed Jurist, Joe Millard, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Sid Greene, Jerry Grandenetti, Howard Sherman, Frank Giacoia, Manny Stallman & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3846-9

Do you know what I miss? Compilations of classics anthological genre adventures.

Marvel finally wised up and recently began releasing gloriously evocative collections of their pre-superhero horror, sci fi and even war yarns but since DC stopped producing their cheap and cheerful compendia of similar material, something fabulous has been missing from our lives. Now with so many kinds of eBooks editions, it’s a crying shame that these whimsical, moody early fantasy romps are unavailable to readers of all ages and vintage. Let’s see why with this splendid and still enticing monochrome paperback tome

As the 1940s closed, masked mystery-men dwindled in popularity and the American comicbook industry found new heroes. Classic pulp fiction genre titles flourished; anthologies dedicated to crime, war, westerns, humour and horror were augmented by newer fads like funny animal, romance and most especially science fiction. In 1950, National Periodicals/DC finally escaped that last genre’s glorious thud-&-blunder/ray guns/bikini babes in giant fishbowl helmets magazine roots (as perfectly epitomised in the uniquely wonderful Golden Age icon Planet Comics) with Julius Schwartz’s introduction of Strange Adventures.

Packed with short adventures from jobbing SF writers and a plethora of new heroes such as Chris KL99, Captain Comet, Atomic Knights and others, the magnificent monthly compendium (supplemented a year later with sister-title Mystery in Space) introduced wide-eyed youngsters to a fantastical yet intrinsically rationalist universe and all its possible/probable wonders …

On a thematic note: a general but by no means concrete rule of thumb was that Strange Adventures generally took place on Earth or were at least Earth-adjacent whilst as the name suggests Mystery in Space offered readers the run of the rest of the universe…

Reprinting Strange Adventures #74-93 (November 1956 to June 1958), this second compelling collection features stories from the dawn of the Silver Age, offering fantastic fantasy plots and spectacular scenarios as an industry-wide resurgence of confidence and creativity gathered momentum and superheroes began to successfully reappear.

These stellar sagas would continually inform and shape DC’s slowly growing heroic adventure revival, whilst proving over and again that Weird Science and cosmic disaster were no match for the infallibility of human intellect and ingenuity. During this period many of the plots, gimmicks, MacGuffins, cover designs and even interior art were recycled for the more technologically-based, emergent costumed champions creeping back into public favour…

This mind-blowing, physics-challenging monochrome colossus opens with four classic vignettes, beginning with a terse thriller by John Broome & Carmine Infantino wherein a writer gains the power to see beyond the normal range and is the only human who can combat ‘The Invisible Invader from Dimension X!’, after which ‘The Metal Spy from Space!’ (Gardner Fox, Sid Greene & John Giunta) is similarly exposed and defeated by fictive pulp fictioneer “Edmond Hamilford”…

Fox, Greene & Bernard Sachs then reveal the vested interest of an investigator who obsessively seeks out ‘Earth’s Secret Visitors!’ before Edmond Hamilton, Gil Kane & Joe Giella detail how a notoriously hapless DIY dabbler finds himself in possession of the ‘Build-it-Yourself Spaceship!’

During this period editors were baffled by but still exploited a bizarre truism: every issue of any title which featured gorillas on the cover always showed increased sales. Little wonder then that so many DC comics had hairy headliners…

Strange Adventures #75 led with ‘Secret of the Man-Ape!’ by Otto Binder, Infantino & Giella, wherein a scientist intent on evolving apes into men accidentally acquires a test subject who just happens to be the vanguard of an invading alien anthropoid army, whilst ‘The 2nd Deluge of Earth!’ (Ed Jurist, Greene & Giella) sees a blind scientist save the world from Martians intent on taking over our water-rich world…

A meddlesome technologist happily makes amends and saves an imperilled alien civilisation after curiously poking his nose into the ‘Mystery of the Box from Space!’ (Binder, Kane & Sachs) before ‘This is Timearama!’ (Hamilton, Greene & Sachs) wittily and scathingly relates what happens when an honest researcher trusts businessmen with the secrets of his televisual time probe…

In issue #76 Broome, Infantino & Sachs explored the mission of a galactic saviour handicapped by fate as he strives to save humanity in ‘The Tallest Man on Earth!’, after which ‘The Flying Saucers that Saved the World!’ (Binder, Greene & Giella) reveals how a professional UFO debunker uses all he’s learned about hoaxes to counter an actual invasion by sinister subterraneans.

Although a short story anthology title, over the run of years Strange Adventures featured a number of memorable returning characters and concepts such as Star Hawkins or Space Museum. Darwin Jones of the Department of Scientific Investigation debuted in the very first issue, solving fringe or outright weird science dilemmas for the Federal Government.

A genius-level scientific detective, he made thirteen appearances over as many years and here resurfaces to foil the insidious schemes of ‘The Robot from Atlantis!’ (Binder, Kane & Giella), which feigns benevolent friendship whilst actually trying to eradicate mankind. The issue then concludes with the struggle of a geologist to get rid of ‘The Hungry Meteorite!’ (Dave Wood, Greene & Sachs) which threatens to absorb all the metal on Earth…

Another Darwin Jones thriller – by Broome, Infantino & Sachs – opened issue #77 when a Death Row convict is given superhuman intellectual abilities by desperate trans-dimension beings facing extinction. However, “Lobo” Torrence is prepared to let two worlds die to save himself, forcing the Science Detective to gamble everything on a last-ditch plan…

Hamilton, Greene & Giella then detail how ‘The Incredible Eyes of Arthur Gail!’ – damaged by a chemical accident and unable to detect non-organic materials – uncover a cruel criminal plot; Binder, Kane & Sachs expose the tragic secret of ‘The Paul Revere of Time!’ whose anonymous warnings prevent colossal loss of life and ‘The Mental Star-Rover!’ (Binder, Greene & Giella) reveals an uncanny connection between an Earth author and a piratical alien marauder…

Broome, Greene & Sachs opened Strange Adventures #78 with a spirited mash-up of Arthurian legend and The Prisoner of Zenda as mechanic Bruce Walker pinch-hits for an alien emperor in ‘The Secret of the Tom-Thumb Spacemen!’ after which Fox, Kane & Giella chillingly explore how existence depends on meteors when aliens attempt to steal ‘The Life Battery!’ which sustains our bio-sphere…

Binder & Infantino pose a classic quandary of ingenuity and survival after a prospector is stranded on a primitive island with a dead alien and a matter-transmuting device he believes is ‘The Magic Horn of Space!’ Immediately following, a test pilot is abducted into another dimension to become a guinea pig for inhuman predators as ‘The Prisoner of Space X!’ (France E. Herron, Greene & Sachs).

Issue #79 offered chilly seasonal fare with ‘Invaders from the Ice World!’ by Fox, Infantino & Sachs. When energy beings from Pluto possess snowmen in advance of an invasion it takes all of Darwin Jones’ deductive abilities to fathom their only weakness, after which ‘Around the Universe in 1 Billion Years!’ (Herron, Greene & Giella) follows a band of explorers who return to Terra after an eternity in space to discover a new race has supplanted them.

‘A Switch in Time!’ (Fox, Kane & Giella) then examines the fate of a conman who thinks himself the lucky recipient of the greatest deal in history before Hamilton, Jerry Grandenetti & Giella expose the incredible secret of ‘The Living Automobile!’ which kidnaps its driver…

Binder handled most of the writing in #80, beginning with a smart take on intellectual property as the Kane & Giella illustrated ‘Mind Robbers of Venus!’ depicts alien crooks stashing their loot in the brain of electronics engineer Ian Caldwell before Greene & Giella take over for ‘The Worlds That Switched Places!’ wherein an astronaut makes a terrible mistake that almost dooms two different dimensions.

Fox & Infantino demonstrated the duplicitous saga of Plutonian Jul Van and ‘The Anti-Invasion Machine!’ which almost destroyed Earth before Binder returns with artist Howard Sherman to seal the fate of an avaricious inventor who believes himself ‘The Man who Cheated Time!’

Strange Adventures #81 featured a subatomic would-be tyrant kidnapping convict brothers to be his tools in an ambitious plot, but the deranged alien has no idea of the ‘Secret of the Shrinking Twins!’ (Broome, Infantino & Sachs) and consequently pays a heavy price, after which Binder, Greene & Giella pit an Earth naturalist against a potential world conqueror in ‘The Spaceman of 1,000 Disguises!’

‘The Friendly Enemies of Space!’ (Herron, Kane & Sachs) details a series of natural disasters which ruin Earth’s first contact with benevolent extra-solar life before Fox, Grandenetti & Frank Giacoia examined the fallout of a lost artefact from a higher dimension when ‘The Magic Box from Nowhere!’ drops into the hands of ordinary, greedy humans…

In #82, Herron, Infantino & Sachs’s bellicose and awesome ‘Giants of the Cosmic Ray!’ meet their match in a humble earth scientist, whilst a gobsmacked youth is astounded to discover his adoptive parents were aliens when he becomes ‘The Man Who Inherited Mars!’ (Binder, Greene & Giella)…

A lack of communication would have led to disaster had science fiction writer Owen Bently not deduced the incredible ‘Secret of the Silent Spaceman!’ (Binder, Giacoia & Giella) after which a researcher saves Earth from invaders by turning their technology against them on ‘The Day Science Went Wild!’ (Binder, Greene & Giella).

Strange Adventures #83 sees a simple college Professor revealed as an amnesiac chrononaut who has to rediscover and complete his ‘Assignment in Eternity!’ before time runs out (Binder, Greene & Giella again), whilst actor Mark Gordon finds himself hunting fans-turned-spree criminals as the ‘Private Eye of Venus!’ (Fox & Infantino) when his hit TV show inadvertently becomes the sensation of the telepathic inhabitants of our sister planet…

Herron, Greene & Giella detail a misunderstanding which reduces gigantic Good Samaritan ‘The Volcanic Man!’ to the status of an invading monster after which an accident leads to brain injury for an ordinary mortal. As crafted by Herron, Kane & Sachs, his wounds are repaired by passing aliens, but the victim develops uncanny precognitive abilities in ‘The Future Mind of Roger Davis!’

Ray Jenkins is a wealthy man who brings unearned fame and prestige in SA #84, but the glory-hound meets his fate when he encounters the ‘Prisoners of the Atom Universe!’ (Broome, Infantino & Sachs) whilst a harried scientist prevents ‘The Radioactive Invasion of Earth!’ (Fox, Greene & Sachs) when he realises Martians also can’t abide his kids’ Rock ‘n’ Roll music…

Darwin Jones returns to solve the ‘Riddle of the Walking Robots!’ (Herron, Infantino & Giella) which ceaselessly roam Earth sowing alien seeds, after which schoolboy Tommy Ward’s “Electronic Brain” kit becomes ‘The Toy that Saved the World!’ (Binder, Greene & Giella)… once he stops scrupulously following the instructions…

John Broome scripted the first half of issue #85, leading with artists Greene & Sachs’ ‘The Amazing Human Race!’, wherein a scientist uncovers a plot by Praying Mantises to conquer humanity before a colour-blind student finds affirmation when his disability saves an alien civilisation from destruction in ‘The Colorless World of Peter Brandt!’ (Infantino & Giella).

Binder closed the issue with a brace of tales: ‘The Riddle of Spaceman X!’ (Greene & Giella) with human scientists trying to deduce the form of an alien from examining his “abandoned” ship whilst ‘Thieves of Thought!’ (Infantino & Sy Barry) follows a speleologist who unearths a city of robots telepathically appropriating human inventions for the purposes of conquest…

In SA #86, ‘The Dog That Saved the Earth!’ (Broome, Infantino & Sachs) discloses how alien energy transforms an ordinary mutt into a telepathic genius in time to prevent a cosmic catastrophe after which Binder, Infantino & Giella reveal how an ordinary chemist ends an ‘Interplanetary Space-Feud!’ threatening to devastate the world.

Gardner Fox then finished off the issue with two intriguing enigmas. Spelunker Bill Jackson stumbles onto an alien ship and discovers only he can stop ‘The One-Hour Invasion of Earth!’ (art by Giacoia), whilst Greene & Giella reveal how schoolboy John Haldane is saved by a mysterious stranger in payment for a similar service performed two decades hence during ‘The Weather War of 1977!’

Strange Adventures #87 begins with Herron, Infantino & Giella’s ingenious ‘New Faces for Old!’, wherein the ultimate plastic surgery craze is nothing but a crafty scheme by aliens to ferret out freedom fighters hiding amidst teeming humanity whilst ‘Mystery Language from Space!’ (Fox, Greene & Sachs) shows how a warning of planetary doom is nearly wasted as nobody can read the messages…

Fox, Infantino & Giella then detail how a freshly graduated Air Force pilot is abruptly seconded to the red planet to combat the ‘Meteor Menace of Mars!’ before Binder, Greene & Giella describe how an ingenious writer is tapped by aliens in dire distress to be ‘The Interplanetary Problem-Solver!’

Simian allure informed issue #88 as Herron, Infantino & Giella depicted Darwin Jones thwarting ‘The Gorilla War against Earth!’ and uncovering another alien invasion scheme whilst ‘The Warning Out of Time!’ (Binder, Greene & Sachs) reveals how a lost Da Vinci masterpiece conceals prophetic warnings of future disasters.

A mysterious and diligent ‘Bodyguard from Space!’ (Fox, Infantino & Sachs) attaches himself to cameraman Jim Carson because the human’s brain contains knowledge to save a dying civilisation, after which Binder, Greene & Giella pose a classic survival conundrum as Earth scientists struggled to discern ‘The Secret of the Sleeping Spaceman!’

When Saturnians raided our world in issue #89, one scientist advises neither capitulation nor resistance but instead suggests offering ‘Earth for Sale’ (Herron, Infantino & Sachs) to save humanity, after which a professor vanishes from view to find himself a ‘Prisoner of the Rainbow!’ (Binder, Greene & Giella).

A pilot on a mercy mission takes an accidental ‘Detour in Time!’ and saves future humanity in a chiller by Fox, Grandenetti & Giella before Binder, Greene & Giella’s ‘Mystery of the Unknown Invention!’ sees a nosy neighbour’s prying accidentally saving a world… but not his own…

Issue #90 opens with ‘The Day I Became a Martian!’ (Binder, Infantino & Sachs), revealing how prospective invaders periodically transform a sci fi writer to see if Earth can sustain them after which Fox, Greene & Giunta recount how a bookshop owner endures regular clandestine visits from an extraterrestrial seeking ‘The 100,000 Year Old Weapon!’

Binder also scripted the final brace of astounding yarns as an ‘Amazing Gift from Space!’ (illustrated by Infantino & Sachs) sees human suspicion nearly spurn an incredible opportunity and doom two civilisations, whilst the Greene & Giella limned ‘Mystery of Meteor Crater!’ offers a thrilling battle between Jovian invaders and ordinary Earthmen for the most powerful element in creation…

In #91 ‘The Midget Earthman of Jupiter!’ (Broome, Greene & Sachs) portrays how an Olympic decathlete assists Brobdingnagian aliens in a struggle for democratic freedom whilst Binder, Greene & Giunta’s ‘Warning to Earth!’ features an oceanographer afflicted with a mental block attempting to circumvent his psychic gag and alert the surface-world to impending undersea invasion…

Fox, Manny Stallman & Giella then detail a shipwrecked extraterrestrial swindler’s scheme to trick Earth into building his ride home after discovering ‘The Amazing Tree of Knowledge!’, before ‘Prisoner of the Space Satellite!’ (Binder, Infantino & Sachs) reveals how an isolated astronomer solves a mathematical mystery and saves the last survivor of Atlantis from death in space…

SA #92 offered a more literal tale from Joe Millard, Infantino & Sachs as ‘The Amazing Ray of Knowledge!’ boosts the intellect of children just as a sidereal phenomenon threatens to destroy the solar system. Sadly, the effect was only temporary and when the kids revert to normal their solution is beyond the ken of their parents…

When an alien impostor dies in an accident the authorities uncover a plot to end humanity. ‘Earth – Planetary Bomb!’ by Fox & Giunta sees Jeff Morgan impersonate his own doppelganger to infiltrate the doom-ring and save the world, after which Fox, Stallman & Giella reveal how a magazine artist encounters ‘Models from Saturn’ and becomes embroiled in an interplanetary revolution.

‘The Ice-Age Message!’ by Binder & Greene then sees a TV weatherman deliver a forecast of meteorological Armageddon after clashing with aliens seeking to steal Earth’s carbon dioxide…

Strange Adventures #93 wraps up the nostalgic future-watching, beginning with extra-length thriller ‘Heart of the Solar System!’ (Millard, Infantino & Giella) wherein a space-traffic patrolman strives to protect the artificial organ which regulates the laws of physics in our sector of space from stellar marauders, after which Fox, Stallman & Sachs expose temporal meddlers whose experiments drop the first volume of a cosmic dictionary in the lap of a contemporary quiz show contestant.

Sadly as ‘The Wizard of A!’, Joe Bentley’s brief moment of fame almost eradicates the time continuum…

The final tale in this titanic tome is one last Darwin Jones romp as Fox & Giunta’s ‘Space Rescue by Proxy!’ describes the Science Sleuth’s dealings with a telepathic alien sent to warn Earth of impending doom. Tragically, the saviour himself falls into deadly danger and has to be rescued by Jones’ ingenuity…

Couched in the grand tradition of legendary pulp sci-fi editor John Campbell, with human ingenuity and decency generally solving the assorted crises of cosmic interaction, these yarns and sagas are a timeless highpoint of all-ages comics entertainment.

If you dream in steel and plastic and are still wondering why you don’t yet own a personal jet-pack or live on food-pills, this volume might go some way to assuaging that unquenchable fire for the stars…
© 1956, 1957, 1958, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.…

Trish Trash Rollergirl of Mars: The Collected Edition


By Jessica Abel, with Lydia Roberts & Walter various (Super Genius/Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-5458-0167-3 (TPB)               978-1-5458-0166-6 (HB)

Our fascination with Mars has never faltered and now that we seem within touching distance, the Red Planet’s allure and presence in our fiction has never been more broad-based and healthily imaginative. Amidst all the recent TV, movie and literary product, one of the most engaging treatments has been a comics serial detailing the life of an extraordinary young woman in exceedingly trying times.

After Earth collapsed in an ecological and economic meltdown, the recently arrived first settlers on Mars became trapped under an increasingly burdensome fixed economic structure and oppressive corporate plutocracy. Two hundred years later, an entire class of indentured servants eke out a fraught existence, harvesting water and food with machines rented from Arex (“we’re the air that you breathe”). The air they don’t breathe is meagre, toxic, dust-filled and slightly radioactive…

On Mars, everything belongs to the company, and people usually go from cradle to grave in crippling debt. There is, ostensibly, a chance to escape: mandatory offworld mining missions to the asteroid belt. These Temporary Labor Assignments, however, are looked on as a quick ticket to certain death…

All tyrannies need bread and circuses though. On Mars that’s Hoverderby.

Based on the ancient Earth entertainment, teams of women race around a hover track in flying boots, scoring points by beating each other up. It’s the planet’s most popular spectator sport and Arex own that too…

Trish Nupindu is seven-and-a-half (on Mars: in Earth terms that’s 15), a smart, recently-orphaned kid who’s really good with engines and mechanical systems. Stuck on her aunt’s water farm, she dreams of becoming a Hoverderby star and is utterly discontented with the state of her existence…

All “Martys” reel from the force of crushing, inescapable poverty and Trish believes her only chance of getting out from under a system stacked from the get-go against ordinary people is to become a media star of the great sport.

Bold and impatient, she sneaks off to join the local team and is suckered into a binding intern’s contract, even though she’s under-age…

Trish doesn’t even get to play: the team manager wants her because she’s good at repairing the hoverboots continually malfunctioning due to the all-pervasive dust…

The world turns upside down after she and her avowed-revolutionary pal Marq discover a native Martian. Recalled from near-death, the mythical creature opens their eyes to a whole new world and “her” secrets will change forever not just the way Hoverderby is played but the very economic balance of power on the Red Planet… if the ruthless upper echelons of Arex don’t stop them first…

The inspirational drama is backed up by extensive supplemental features delivered in the manner of wiki pages such as the rules of Hoverderby; Derby Gear: Then and Now; illustrated specifications for Radsuits; fact-features on The Homestead Debate, Native Martians, Ares Collective Statement of Debt (ACSOD), TLAs, Asteroid Mining and legendary water miner Ismail Khan, faux kids’ comics “True Tales of the Early Colonists” and a complete Timeline of Mars Colonization.

Jessica Abel has been wowing readers and winning prizes since 1997 when she took both the Harvey and Lulu awards for Best New Talent. Her previous graphic delights include the fabulous Artbabe, Growing Gills, Life Sucks, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, collections Soundtrack and Mirror, Window plus the Harvey-winning La Perdida.

Trish Trash has been gradually unfolding since 2016: a sublime blend of subversive human drama and hard science fiction thriller with a supremely human and believable lead taking charge and changing the world. After three previous album releases, the entire saga is now available in oversized (218 x 284 mm) hardback, paperback and eBook editions, at least one of which you really must see ASAP.
© Jessica Abel and Dargaud. All rights reserved. All other editorial material © 2018 by Super Genius.

Trish Trash Rollergirl of Mars: The Collected Edition will be released January 22nd 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

Flash Gordon Volume 1


By Alex Raymond with Don Moore (Checker BPG)
ISBN: 978-0-97416-643-8 (HB)

By many lights Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) as an answer to the revolutionary, inspirational, but clunky Buck Rogers of Philip Nolan & Dick Calkins (which also began on January 7th but in 1929), a new element was added to the wonderment: Classical Lyricism.

Where Rogers had traditional adventures and high science concepts, the new feature reinterpreted Fairy Tale, Heroic Epics and Mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for trusty swords and lances – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for Galleons, Chariots and Magic Carpets.

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for concise, elegant detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip that all young artists swiped from.

When all-original comic books began a few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean lined Romanticism of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Most of the others went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (which also began in 1934 – and he’ll get his go another day).

Thankfully there are a few collections knocking about, but I’m plumping here for the 2003 Checker hardcover which combines quality reproduction with affordability…

The very first tale begins with a rogue planet about to smash into the Earth. As panic grips the planet, polo player Flash and fellow passenger Dale Arden narrowly escape disaster when a meteor fragment downs the airplane they are on. They land on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov, who imprisons them on the rocket-ship he has built. His plan? To fly the ship directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it!

And that’s just in the first, 13-panel episode. ‘On the Planet Mongo’ ran every Sunday until April 15th 1934, when, according to this wonderful full-colour book, second adventure ‘Monsters of Mongo’ began, promptly followed by ‘Tournaments…’ and ‘Caverns of Mongo’.

To the readers back then, of course, there were no such artificial divisions. There was just one continuous, unmissable Sunday appointment with sheer wonderment.

The machinations of the utterly evil but magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet; Flash’s battles and alliances with all the myriad exotic races subject to the Emperor’s will and the gradual victory over oppression captivated America, and the World, in tales that seemed a direct contrast to the increasingly darker reality in the days before World War II.

In short order the Earthlings become firm friends – and in the case of Flash and Dale, much more – as they encounter beautiful, cruel Princess Aura, the Red Monkey Men, Lion Men, Shark Men, Dwarf Men, King Vultan and the Hawkmen.

The rebellion against Ming begins with the awesome ‘Tournaments of Mongo’, a sequence spanning November 25th to February 24th 1935 – and where Raymond seemed to simply explode with confidence.

It was here that the true magic began, with every episode more spectacular than the last. Without breaking step Raymond moved on, and the next tale, which leaves this book on something of a cliffhanger, sees our hero enter ‘The Caverns of Mongo’.

Don Moore “assisted” Raymond with the writing, beginning soon after the strip first gained popularity, and Moore remained after Raymond departed. The artist joined the Marines in February 1944, and the last page he worked on was published on April 30th of that year. Mercifully, that still leaves a decade’s worth of spectacular, majestic adventure for us to enjoy. Why don’t you join me?
© 2003 King Features Syndicate Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc.

Merry Christmas, Boys and Girls!

In keeping with my self-imposed Holiday tradition here’s another pick of British Annuals selected not just for nostalgia’s sake but because it’s my house and my rules…

After decades when only American comics and memorabilia were considered collectable or worthy, the resurgence of interest in home-grown material means there’s lots more of this stuff available and if you’re lucky enough to stumble across a vintage volume or modern facsimile, I hope my words convince you to expand your comfort zone and try something old yet new…

Still topping my Xmas wish-list is further collections from fans and publishers who have begun to rescue this magical material from print limbo in (affordable) new collections…

Great writing and art is rotting in boxes and attics or the archives of publishing houses, when it needs to be back in the hands of readers once again. As the tastes of the reading public have never been broader and since a selective sampling of our popular heritage will always appeal to some part of the mass consumer base, let’s all continue rewarding publishers for their efforts and prove that there’s money to be made from these glorious examples of our communal childhood.

The Dandy Monster Comic (Dandy Annual 1939 Special Facsimile Edition)

By Many and various (DC Thomson & Co/Aurum Press)
ISBN: 978-1- 84513-217-0

This one’s actually older than me – at least in its original incarnation…

Until it folded and was reborn as a digital publication on 4th December 2012, The Dandy was the third longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937).

Premiering on December 4th 1937, The Dandy broke the mould of traditional British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under the sequential picture frames.

A colossal success, it was followed eight months later (on July 30th 1938) by The Beano and together they completely revolutionised the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read.

Over the decades the “terrible twins” spawned a bevy of unforgettable and beloved household names who delighted generations of avid and devoted readers, and the end of year celebrations were graced with bumper bonanzas of the comics’ weekly stars in extended stories in magnificent bumper hardback annuals.

As WWII progressed, rationing of paper and ink forced the “children’s papers” into an alternating fortnightly schedule: on September 6th 1941 only The Dandy was published. A week later just The Beano appeared. They only returned to normal weekly editions on 30th July 1949…

As of this grand festive feast however that’s all in the future. Here, masterfully restored, is a treasure trove of joyous pranks and all-ages adventure to delight and enthral. It should be noted however, that all this buffoonery and jolly japery was crafted at a time socially far-removed from our own, and there are some terms and racial depictions that wouldn’t be given houseroom in today’s world. That was then, this is now, and that’s another thing you can be grateful for…

It all opens in classis DCT manner with the entire cast chowing down to a monumental feast – a staple reward of those leaner, impoverished times – before James Crichton’s ‘Korky the Cat’ kicks things off with spot of calamitous dockside fishing after which ‘Jimmy and his Grockle’ – a kind of Doberman dragon – foils a dognapping ring. Illustrated by James Clark, the strip was recycled from prose “Boys Paper” The Rover (where it was “Jimmy Johnson’s Grockle” in 1932).

Most pages come with riddles, jokes or single panel gags and many of the strips are delivered in the signature two colour process that typifies British Annuals and as usual none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists are credited. As always, I’ve offered a best guess as to whom we should thank, and of course I would be so very happy if anybody could confirm or deny my suppositions…

The prolific Allan Morley then details how ‘Keyhole Kate’ falls foul of a burglar and cowboy superman ‘Desperate Dan’ – by indisputable key man Dudley D. Watkins – braves harsh winter clime, before Morley’s ‘Freddy the Fearless Fly’ thwarts a human bully and thrashes a predatory spider.

These colossal tomes were all about variety and value for money and next up is a heavily-illustrated prose story enthrallingly detailing the feudal adventure of young shepherd-boy Gingan’s dragon-slaying quest with magical weapon ‘The Sword of Crad’ after which wandering tramp ‘Barney Boko’ comes a-cropper after defacing public property in a wordless strip from John R. Mason.

As depicted by the superb Eric Roberts, ‘Podge’s Frame-Up’ sees the junior entrepreneur confusing art galleries with glaziers whilst nattily-dressed ‘Archie the Ape’ deals with a hungry lion and ‘Smarty Grandpa’ (by Watkins and a double for strip veteran Pa Broon) has a racially-charged moment at a minstrel show before anthropomorphic tortoise ‘Dan the Night-watchman’ confronts a gang of thieving rats…

‘The Boy that Beat the Band’ is another prose drama (illustrated by Fred Sturrock?) with a young orphan acrobat saving a disabled boy and rewarded with his heart’s desire – a job – after which Jack Glass’ text-block and pic strip ‘The Daring Deeds of Buck Wilson’ sees the singing cowboy battle kidnappers before the animal antics in ‘Bamboo Town’ see daring duo Bongo and Pongo organise a therapeutic gymnasium in a typically busy romp limned by Charlie Gordon.

Sam Fair’s ‘Wig and Wam the Skookum Kids’ were prank-playing Red Indian lads who here trick the Big Chief into baiting a bear before ‘Flippy the Sea Serpent’ – by Frank Minnitt – settles the hash of a snooty octopus whilst Smarty Grandpa fails to steal a pie…

Boneless Bill was a long-running but sadly anonymous strip starring an affable contortionist. Here he astounds an army recruiting officer before ‘Marmaduke Mean the Miser’ pays painfully for stealing a little lad’s Dandy comic before ‘Hungry Horace’ (Morley) finds his appetite briefly diminished after illicitly tapping the wrong barrel and a cunning old codger prevents a mugging in ‘Old Beaver’s Brainwaves’.

‘Wee Tusky’ was long-running prose feature and here the baby elephant’s propensity for trouble leads to deadly danger but secures him a human friend in the end, after which Roberts’ ‘Helpful Henry’ adjusts seating arrangements despite his history of calamitous consequences just as pompous (idiot) detective ‘Trackem Down’ botches another “case”…

Korky the Cat masters the fundamentals of golf whilst Jimmy and his Grockle find fun – and bananas – at the docks, after which Keyhole Kate’s snooping drenches a helpful bystander and Desperate Dan proves that building sites can be dangerous places… at least for other people…

After another get-rich-quick scheme from Podge, sausage-snaffling ‘Dipper the Dodger’ falls foul of the law. Probably drawn by James Jewell, Dipper is a dead ringer for Beano and The People’s Journal cartoon stalwart Wee Peem (“He’s a Proper Scream”), so there might have been some cross-pollination back then.

Freddy the Fearless Fly turns arsonist to escape a spider’s trap before Helpful Henry learns the perils of electricity, after which Jimmy Denton tries rodeo riding to save the ranch with the invaluable assistance of ‘White Star’s Star Turn’ in a prose thriller that leads seamlessly to Podge setting up his own postal service before ‘Bobby, the Boy Scout’ goes too far in his scheme to help a hobo…

Boneless Bill artfully apprehends a thief and Archie the Ape find busking hazardous to health, whilst Hungry Horace loses his lunch to a quick-witted sprinter, but savvy navies ‘Nick & Nack’ find a smart way to keep the cops from confiscating their grub.

Interfering busybodies Bobby, the Boy Scout and Helpful Henry both get it wrong again, after which we head west to see Wig and Wam the Skookum Kids prank their dad yet again even as Desperate Dan falls asleep in the park but still causes chaos

‘Willing Willie and his Pa’ experience decorating woes before we revisit the days of the Raj in prose thriller ‘Pam the Peace-Maker’ wherein a little girl prevents an outbreak of war after which Helpful Henry confuses radio and electric irons and Korky triumphs over a tiger when he goes on safari.

Jimmy and his Grockle clash violently with shopkeepers and Old Beaver’s Brainwaves sees the gamey geezer getting back at the thug who pinched his job after which itinerant Barney Boko pays through the nose for watching football without a ticket.

Dipper the Dodger meets a theatrical strongman and the Bamboo-Town boys convene a swimming class that would certainly have benefitted ‘Sandy Starfish, the Shipwrecked Sailor’ before Fred Sturrock illustrates a prose battle of wits between stubborn old men in ‘The House that Jack the Joker Built’.

More musical mayhem from Archie the Ape precedes Hungry Horace outwitting municipal bylaws in search of a big scoff, even as Podge dupes another crowd of sensation hungry oafs and Helpful Henry wrecks a house before it’s even built: a trick even Desperate Dan can’t match, even if he wasn’t so thirsty…

Mini vignettes for Podge, Barney Boko and Boneless Bill lead into a riotous schoolboy romp in prose – probably illustrated by George Ramsbottom – that I want you to be grown up about. ‘Invisible Dick Spoofs the Spoofer’ is a smart tale from a venerable feature that ran in The Rover for years and when he turns the tables on a cruel stage magician humiliating his school chums you should be proud and not titter or snigger…

A rapid-fire tranche of cartoon antics, starring Bobby the Boy Scout, Podge, Marmaduke Mean the Miser, Flippy the Sea Serpent, Boneless Bill and Willing Willie and his Pa, lead us to another text tale as animal-raised orphan ‘Buffalo Boy’ discovers toffee and begins his slow march back to civilisation…

From here it’s cartoon strip all the way with Korky, Keyhole Kate, Freddy the Fearless Fly, Helpful Henry, Wig and Wam the Skookum Kids, Smarty Grandpa and Dipper the Dodger all doing what they do best before Bamboo-Town brings down the curtain as Bongo and Pongo build an all-animal skating rink…

A marvel of nostalgia and timeless comics wonder, the true magic of this facsimile edition is the brilliant art and stories by a host of talents that have literally made Britons who they are today, and bravo to DC Thomson for letting them out for a half-day to run amok once again.

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

Valiant Annual 1968

By Many & various (Fleetway)
No ISBN

From the late 1950s and increasingly through the 1960s, Scotland’s DC Thomson steadily overtook their London-based competitors – monolithic comics publishing giant Amalgamated Press.

Created by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the twentieth century, AP perpetually sought to regain lost ground, and the sheer variety of material the southerners unleashed as commercial countermeasures offered incredible vistas in adventure and – thanks to the defection of Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid to the enemy – eventually found a wealth of anarchic comedy material to challenge the likes of the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and their unruly ilk.

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

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

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

Valiant was conceived as a “Boys’ Paper” in 1962 as the indigenous comics industry struggled to cope with a sudden importation of brash, flashy, full-colour comics from America. A weekly anthology concentrating on adventure features and offering a constantly changing arena of action, the magazine was the company’s most successful title for over a decade: absorbing many less successful periodicals between its launch and eventual amalgamation into new-styled, hugely popular Battle Picture Weekly in 1976.

There were 21 Annuals between 1964 to 1985, combining original strips with prose stories; sports, science and general interest features; short humour strips and – increasingly from the 1970s onwards – reformatted reprints from IPC/Fleetway’s vast back catalogue.

From their creative heyday (this book would have been on sale from the autumn of 1967) and sporting a gripping Don Lawrence cover, the all-boys excitement begins with a frontispiece spread of medal-winning British hero war heroes: a typical illustrated historical feature of the era.

The drama continues with a fictionalised full-colour tale of smugglers and the development of the customs men in ‘Contraband’ before ‘Kelly’s Eye’ – sublimely painted by Carlos Cruz (I think) – sees the indestructible adventurer saving beleaguered Coroba from revolutionaries and radioactive doom.

Kelly’s Eye featured ordinary, thoroughly decent chap Tim Kelly who came into possession of the mystical “Eye of Zoltec”: a fist-sized gem that kept him free from all harm… as long as held on to it.

You won’t be surprised to discover that, due to the demands of weekly boys’ adventures, Tim lost, dropped, misplaced and was nefariously deprived of that infernal talisman pretty darned often – and always at the most inopportune moment…

The moody and compelling artwork of Argentinean Francisco Solano Lopez was the prime asset of this series, with Tom Tully and Scott Goodall the usual scripters for this little gem of a series.

Resorting to economical monochrome, we come to ‘The House of Dolmann’. The weekly strip was a curious and inexplicably absorbing blend of super-spy and crime-buster strip from Tully and utterly wonderful master illustrator Eric Bradbury. Dolman’s cover was as a shabby ventriloquist (I digress, but an awful lot of “our” heroes were tatty and unkempt – we had “Grunge” down pat decades before the Americans made a profit out of it!) who designed and constructed an army of specialised robots which he disguised as his puppets.

Using these as his shock-troops, the enigmatic Dolman waged a dark and crazy war against the forces of evil…

Here, he and his hand-crafted squad hunted a scientific maniac pulling satellites out of the sky with a super-magnet.

The first photo/fact feature of the book is a thinly-disguised infomercial for a popular outdoor activity charity, propounding readers get ‘Outward Bound – to Adventure’ after which ‘The Steel Claw’ battles a madman and his gang determined to destroy Britain’s navy (illustrated, it seems to me, by Massimo Belardinelli).

One of the most fondly-remembered British strips of all time, the Steel Claw, ran from 1962- 1973 with Jesús Blasco and his small family studio enthralling the nation’s children through the breakneck adventures of scientist, adventurer, spy and even costumed superhero Louis Crandell. Initially written by novelist Ken Bulmer, the majority of the character’s career was scripted by Tully. Crandall had an artificial hand packed with gimmicks and possessed the disquieting ability to turn invisible whenever he was electrocuted…

‘The Astounding Jason Hyde’ was a series that ran in prose form, written by Barrington J. Bayley with spot illos from Bradbury. Hyde was a blind telepath with an “X-Ray mind” who here tracks missing potholers to an unsuspected cave civilisation populated by brutes and monsters…

After all that action and suspense it’s past time for some light relief and a brace of comedy capers follows: frenetic trend-chasers and backyard inventors ‘The Nutts’ cause carnage with their climate-challenging antics in a superb extended yarn from Spanish cartoonist Ángel Nadal whilst the astoundingly slick and wonderful ‘Sporty’ by Reg (Sporting Sam) Wootton learns a lesson about truth in advertising…

Appalling racist by today’s standards, ‘Captain Hurricane’ was a hugely popular strip for its entire decades-long run. Written by Scott Goodall or Jon Rose, he was originally drawn by R. Charles Roylance, but I think it’s either Jack Pamby or Fred T. Holmes limning this bizarre yarn as – thanks to skiving batman Maggot Malone – the marines are forced to fight their way through Japanese-controlled Malayan jungles to Singapore, armed with nothing but cricket equipment……

Brilliant Reg Parlett’s ‘The Crows’ see the youngest corvid cavorting with bats before – in scintillating pink duo-tones – ‘The Wild Wonders’ (Mike Western and probably Tully on script) offer comedic drama capers. Here Rick and Charlie Wilde and their long-suffering guardian Mike Flynn face ski-slope thrills with a side-order of kidnap and skulduggery… Shipwrecked on remote Worrag Island in the Hebrides, two toddlers were raised by animals and survived to become almost superhuman specimens. When rescued by Olympic swimmer Mike they became sporting sensations able to out-compete most adult athletes in any discipline. They could also talk to animals…

‘Tatty-Mane, King of the Jungle’ offers raucous animal antics as the regal rogue seeks to update his look, but the artist remains a mystery to me. Likely candidates include Nadal or Martz Schmidt (suggested by Steve Holland – you really should read his Bear Alley blog)…

A ‘Sporting Roundabout’ of facts lead into a prose tale of exploration and treasure hunting – illustrated by Weston – with the good guys using an ambulatory super-jeep dubbed ‘The Jungle Walker’ after which venerable schoolboy comedy property ‘Billy Bunter’ quits school and heads out to sea, encountering spies in a quirky yarn possibly illustrated by Parlett but it seems reminiscent of Frank Minnitt to me…

‘Legge’s Eleven’ was a typical example of the humorous freak-show football strip. Lanky player-manager Ted Legge took over failing Rockley Rangers and fields a team of misfits and individualists he struggles to make work together. Here the lads are trapped in a spiral of superstition and missing mascots in the run-up to a crucial international second leg…

Following ‘The Crows’ fowling up a wildlife film, ‘Operation “Rescue”’ (by Mike White?) recreates the 1957 efforts to save Royal Army Air Servicemen lost in the jungles outside Kuala Lumpur before a double dose of ‘“Horse” Laughs’ gags segues into a photo-packed footballing essay on ‘Great Moments with Great Clubs’.

Back in comics, ‘Captain Hurricane’ and crew are in the Western Desert in 1940, battling Italian infantry even as Maggot Malone spreads disorder with his latest fad: weightlifting…

‘Sporty’ disastrously discovers Squash and ‘The Nutts’ cause carnage on a film set before ‘Billy Bunter’s enforced diet creates carnage for the entire county after which another ‘Sporting Roundabout’ leads to a prose thriller about a multi-talented circus performer battling crooks attempting to fix his championship boxing match in ‘The Flying Fighter’.

‘Gabby McGlew – his yarns aren’t true’ is an example of recycled Buster strip Barney Bluffer by Nadal with boastful braggart channelling his inner Baran Munchausen after which photo-history feature ‘A Champion Champion’ details the career and achievements of Henry Cooper before everything wraps up with what I’m sure is another re-tread, even if I can’t find out where.

‘No. 13 Grimm Street’ sees Fleet Street reporter “Hack” Mackenzie struggling to solve a spree of daring art robberies and a house that seems to vanish at will: the answer to both mysteries leads to madness and death…

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

Star Trek Annual 1976

By John David Warner, Allan Moniz, Alberto Giolitti & various (World Distributors)
SBN: 7235-0325-7

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

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

This book was produced in a non-standard UK format, with limited but full-colour for both the American comics reprints and the remainder: brief prose pieces, puzzles, games and fact-features on related themes. As for the writers and artists of the originated material your guess is, sadly, as good as or better than mine, but almost certainly generated by the wonderful Mick Anglo’s publishing/packaging company Gower Studios (these yearly slices of screen-to-page magic were an intrinsic part of growing up in Britain for generations and still occur every year with only the stars/celebrity/shows changing, not the package.

Star Trek launched in the USA on September 8th 1966, running until June 3rd 1969: three seasons comprising 79 episodes. A moderate success, the show only really achieved its stellar popularity after going into syndication; appearing in all American local TV regions perpetually throughout the 1970s and beyond.

It was also sold all over the world, popping up seemingly everywhere and developing a fanatically devoted fanbase.

Comicbook franchising specialist Gold Key produced a series which ran for almost a decade beyond the show’s cancellation. Initially these were controversially quite dissimilar from the screen iteration, but by the time of the tales in this sturdy Holidays hardback (reprinting Gold Key’s Star Trek issues #27and #30 from November 1974 and May 1975), quibbling fans had little to moan about and a great deal to cheer as the series was the only source of new adventures starring the beloved crew of the Starship Enterprise.

John David Warner scripted ‘Ice Journey’ and it was illustrated by the ever-amazing Alberto Giolitti. Here the Enterprise is conducting a highly-suspect population survey on sub-arctic world Floe I which soon drops Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and evolutionary specialist Dr. Krisp into the middle of a eugenics-fuelled race war…

Dividing the tale are a brace of UK generated features a compendium of ‘Star Facts’ offering seven salient snippets of astronomical amazement and a ‘Cosmic Crossword’ to challenge your knowledge of the infinite unknown.

Following the conclusion of ‘Ice Journey’, there’s a board game to play at ‘Warp Factor Eight’ before a second serving of ‘Star Facts’ ushers in another comics adventure.

Bisected by an illustrated glossary of ‘Space Age Vocabulary’, Death of a Star’ (by Allan Moniz & Giolitti) comes from Star Trek #30 and finds Enterprise on site to observe a star going nova. The ship is subsequently catapulted into calamity as sensors pick up a planet full of life-readings where none should be. Moving swiftly to evacuate the endangered beings, the crew are astonished to discover only one creature: an old woman who claims to be the dying sun…

Thanks to the vagaries of image licensing, one thing you won’t find herein is a single photograph of any cast member, but there are plenty of nostalgia-tinged, all-ages sci fi thrills and dashing derring-do to delight not just TV devotees and comics fans but also any reader in search of a pictorially powerful grand adventure.
© MCMLX, MCMLXI, MCMLXXII, MCMLXXV Paramount Pictures Corporation.
(These days Star Trek and related marks are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc.) All Rights Reserve

Retrograde Orbit


By Kristyna Baczynski (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-42-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sublime Speculative Social Fiction… 9/10

Great storytelling never goes out of style and the basis of all drama is examination of the human condition (albeit sometimes in extraordinary circumstances). Somehow that’s even more true when your characters aren’t human at all.

Author and illustrator Kristyna Baczynski hails from the Pennines of Yorkshire, by way of the Carpathians of the Ukraine. That’s not at all germane here but it does sound incredibly romantic; conjuring up all manner of deep-seated preconceptions about windy moors and bleak moody peaks. Preconceptions, aspirations, dreams and that old devil hope are what this book is about…

In a faraway star system, a little girl grows up as a refugee and immigrant. Flint finds it hard to adapt to life on mining colony world Tisa and, even though she has no real memories of the place, she feels the call of her homeworld Doma – long-abandoned due to a geological – or maybe industrial – toxic detonation. No one at school cares or understands and her mother and grandmother never want to talk about it…

Years pass but those feelings of something missing don’t. Days pass, Flint acts out like any teen and then inevitably graduates into a mining job, but the something-missing still plagues her. She collects memoirs and mementoes of her lost world and grows increasingly colder and duller. And then a message is received from the supposedly dead, barren planet…

Flint now has a purpose and a goal, and nothing will stand in her way…

This lyrical and uplifting colour paperback offers a beautifully understated and moving glimpse at the power of place in our lives, using science fiction themes and trappings to pick apart the most primitive and fundamental longings to which humans are subject. It also reminds us that there’s always hope…

Sadly, this glorious celebration is not available digitally yet, but that just means you can give physical copies to all your friends, suitably gift-wrapped, ready to be properly appreciated by all the tactile senses and certain to be a physical touchstone for every lovers of great stories.
© Kristyna Baczynski 2018. All rights reserved.

90th Anniversary Double Feature!! Two reviews to celebrate a cartooning milestone

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse in Color

By Geoffrey Blum, Thomas Andrae, Floyd Gottfredson, Carl Barks & various: produced by Another Rainbow Publishing Inc. (Pantheon Books 1988)
ISBN: 978-0-39457-519-3 (HB)

Created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, Mickey Mouse was first seen – if not heard – in the silent cartoon Plane Crazy. The animated short fared poorly in a May 1928 test screening and was promptly shelved.

That’s why most people cite Steamboat Willie – the fourth Mickey feature to be completed – as the debut of the mascot mouse and his co-star and paramour Minnie Mouse. It was the first to be nationally distributed, as well as the first animated feature with synchronised sound.

The film’s astounding success led to the subsequent rapid release of its fully completed predecessors Plane Crazy, The Gallopin’ Gaucho and The Barn Dance, once they too had been given new-fangled soundtracks.

From those timid beginnings grew an immense fantasy empire, but film was not the only way Disney conquered hearts and minds. With Mickey a certified solid gold sensation, the mighty mouse was considered a hot property and soon moved in on America’s most powerful and pervasive entertainment medium: comic strips…

Floyd Gottfredson was a cartooning pathfinder who started out as just another warm body in the Disney Studio animation factory who slipped sideways into graphic narrative and evolved into a pictorial narrative ground-breaker as influential as George Herriman, Winsor McCay or Elzie Segar. Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse entertained millions of eagerly enthralled readers and shaped the very way comics worked.

He took a wild and anarchic animated rodent from slap-stick beginnings, via some of the earliest adventure continuities in comics history: transforming a feisty everyman underdog – or rather mouse – into a crimebusting detective, explorer, lover, aviator or cowboy: the quintessential two-fisted hero whenever necessity demanded.

In later years, as tastes – and syndicate policy – changed, Gottfredson steered that self-same wandering warrior into a more sedate, gently suburbanised lifestyle via crafty sitcom gags suited to a newly middle-class America: a fifty-year career generating some of the most engrossing continuities the comics industry has ever enjoyed.

Arthur Floyd Gottfredson was born in 1905 in Kaysville, Utah, one of eight siblings born to a Mormon family of Danish extraction. Injured in a youthful hunting accident, Floyd whiled away a long recuperation drawing and studying cartoon correspondence courses, and by the 1920s had turned professional, selling cartoons and commercial art to local trade magazines and Big City newspaper the Salt Lake City Telegram.

In 1928 he and his wife moved to California and, after a shaky start, found work in April 1929 as an in-betweener at the burgeoning Walt Disney Studios.

Just as the Great Depression hit, he was personally asked by Disney to take over newborn but ailing newspaper strip Mickey Mouse.

Gottfredson would plot, draw and frequently script the strip for the next five decades: an incredible accomplishment by of one of comics’ most gifted exponents.

Veteran animator Ub Iwerks had initiated the print feature with Disney himself contributing, before artist Win Smith was brought in. The nascent strip was plagued with problems and young Gottfredson was only supposed to pitch in until a regular creator could be found.

His first effort saw print on May 5th 1930 (Floyd’s 25th birthday) and just kept going; an uninterrupted run over the next half century.

On January 17th 1932, Gottfredson created the first colour Sunday page, which he also handled until his retirement. In the beginning he did everything, but in 1934 Gottfredson relinquished the scripting, preferring plotting and illustrating the adventures to playing about with dialogue.

His eventual collaborating wordsmiths included Ted Osborne, Merrill De Maris, Dick Shaw, Bill Walsh, Roy Williams and Del Connell. At the start and in the manner of a filmic studio system Floyd briefly used inkers such as Ted Thwaites, Earl Duvall and Al Taliaferro, but by 1943 had taken on full art chores.

Mickey Mouse in Color is a lavish hardback compendium reprinting some of the most noteworthy early strips with fascinating text and feature articles – including interviews with Gottfredson – but the real gold is the glorious strips.

A mix of Sunday page yarns comprising ‘Rumplewatt the Giant (1934)’, ‘Dr. Oofgay’s Secret Serum (1934)’, the magnificent and mesmerising ‘Case of the Vanishing Coats (1935)’ and a whimsical ‘Robin Hood Adventure (1936)’ are, although superlative, mere appetisers.

The best stories and biggest laughs come with the rollickin’ comedy thrill-ride serials ‘Blaggard Castle (1932)’, ‘Pluto and the Dogcatcher (1933)’, ‘The Mail Pilot (1933)’ and the astoundingly entertaining and legendary ‘Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot (1939)’.

Consistency is as rare as longevity in today’s comic market-place, and the sheer volume of quality work produced by Gottfredson remained unseen and unsung for generations until Fantagraphics released a complete library of the Mouse’s US-crafted strip adventures. We’ll be covering those in greater detail over the months to come but until then, books like this comprehensive primer (still readily available through online retailers), should be welcomed, cherished, and most importantly, shared.
© 1988 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse in The World of Tomorrow – Gladstone Comic Album #17

By Floyd Gottfredson, Bill Walsh & Dick Moores (Gladstone
ISBN: 978-0-94459-917-4

Floyd Gottfredson’s influence on graphic narrative is inestimable: he was one of the very first to move from daily gags to continuity and extend adventures, created Mickey’s nephews, pioneered team-ups and invented some of the first “super-villains” in the business.

In 1955 – by which time Mickey and his fellow pantheon stablemates were mainstays of comics in dozens of countries – Disney killed the continuities; dictating that henceforth strips would only contain one-off gag strips. Gottfredson adapted easily, working on until retirement in 1975. His last daily appeared on November 15th and the final Sunday on September 19th 1976.

In this still-easy-to-find oversized paperback album from the 1980s, Gottfredson’s middle period of cartoon brilliance comes to the fore and opens with an uplifting and supremely funny saga originally running from July 31st to November 11th 1944 and designed to counteract the woes of a war-weary world…

After D-Day and the Allied push into Occupied Europe, the home-front morale machine began pumping out conceptions of what the liberated happy future would be like. A strip as popular as Mickey Mouse couldn’t help but join the melee and new scripter Bill Walsh produced a delightfully surreal, tongue-in-cheek parable in ‘The World of Tomorrow’: full of brilliant, incisive sight-gags and startling whimsy whilst pitting the Mouse against arch-enemy Peg Leg Pete, who was in extreme danger of conquering the entire planet, using the double-edged advances in modern science!

Walsh, Gottfredson & inker Dick Moores also produced the remainder of this delightful book for kids of all ages, which comprise a dozen one-off gag dailies from 1944 and 1945, plus a cracking sea yarn ‘The Pirate Ghost Ship’ (first serialised from April 17th to July 15th 1944) which found Mickey and faithful hound Pluto searching for treasure, defying black magic and battling sinister buccaneers in a rollicking rollercoaster of fun and frights.

Walsh (September 30th 1913 – January 27th 1975) loved working on the strip and scripted it until 1964 when his increasingly successful film career forced him to give it up.

Like all Disney comics creators these stalwarts worked in utter anonymity, but thanks to the efforts of devout fans efforts were eventually revealed and due acclaim accorded. Gottfredson died in July 1986 and Walsh did achieve a modicum of fame in his lifetime as producer of Disney’s Davy Crockett movies, and as writer/producer of The (original) Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, That Darn Cat!, The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and many others.

He was Oscar™ nominated for his Mary Poppins screenplay.

Even in these modern, accepting times anthropomorphic comics are still often derided as kids’ stuff – and indeed there’s nothing here a child wouldn’t adore – but these magical works were produced for consumers of ALL AGES and the sheer quality of Gottfredson and Walsh’s work is astounding to behold.

That so much of it has remained unseen and unsung is a genuine scandal. Thankfully most of the Gladstone Mickey Mouse albums are still readily available and we now have the scholarly and comprehensive Gottfredson Mickey Mouse Archives so you have no reason not to indulge in some of the greatest comic tails of all time.
© 1989, 1945, 1944 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor volume 2: The Weeping Angels of Mons


By Robbie Morrison, Daniel Indro, Eleonora Carlini, Slamet Mujiono, Hi-Fi & Comicraft (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-175-4 (HC)                    978-1-78276-657-5 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Wonders… 8/10

Doctor Who first materialised through our black-&-white television screens on November 23rd 1963 in the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’. Less than a year later his decades-long run in TV Comic began with issue #674 and the premier instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

Throughout the later Sixties and early 1970’s strips appeared in Countdown (later retitled TV Action) before shuttling back to TV Comic.

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th) Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly, which became a monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) and has been with us under various names ever since.

All of which only goes to prove that the Time Lord is a comic hero with an impressive pedigree…

In recent years the strip portion of the Whovian mega-franchise has roamed far and wide and currently rests with British publisher Titan Comics who have sagely opted to run parallel series starring the Ninth, Tenth, and later incarnations of the tricky and tumultuous Time Lord.

This volume collects Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor issues #6-10 of the monthly comicbook, set between the conclusion of the Fourth Season starring David Tennant and the start of the Fifth, spanning November 2014 through May 2015.

Scripted by the ever-excellent Robbie Morrison (White Death, assorted 2000 AD series, Batman, Spider-Man and more) this second volume leads with a moving and memorable centenary tribute to a landmark moment from the Great War.

Illustrated by Daniel Indro and coloured by Slamet Mujiono (with letters from Richards Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt), ‘The Weeping Angels of Mons’ finds the Doctor and new companion Gabby Gonzalez confronting a pack of time-devouring Weeping Angels haunting the muddy trenches and blossoming graveyards of the shattered Belgian countryside in August 1914.

In case you’re not au fait, Angels are chronovores, living off the energy of stolen lifespans. Their victims are exiled from their true place in time to live out their lives in some distant past. Angels look like statues and can only move when you’re not looking…

This is a deeply moving tale packed with solid supporting characters all drawn from decent Scots volunteers from Paisley and put through all kinds of hell in both 1916 and the many final destinations of the victims. The saga bubbles over with loss and tragedy to balance the breakneck action and stunning examples of do-or-die valour of the ordinary heroes. That’s all the exposition you get: I’m not going to spoil it for you.

Suffice to say the Doctor is at his trenchantly wily best, observing Man’s continued follies and glorious better nature, dealing with the horrendous ETs in suitably flashy manner, and coming up with snappy solutions in the blink of an eye…

An utter change of pace comes next with ‘Echo’ (art by Eleonora Carlini and colours from Hi-Fi).

Gabby arrives back home in picturesque Sunset Park, Brooklyn, just in time for the arrival of the sonic life form known as Echoes. The poor persecuted star-wandering creatures are being hunted to extinction by the thoroughly nasty Shreekers and the resultant cacophony is shattering even New Yorker ears.

The Shreekers might have Galactic Law on their side but the Doctor and Gabby know when something needs to be done for a greater good…

This wonderfully worthy package – available in hard cover, paperback and digital editions – also offers another vast gallery of Gallifreyan alternate and variant covers (photographic, digitally manipulated, painted and/or drawn) by the likes of Tommy Lee Edwards, AJ, Verity Glass, Mariano Laclaustra, Boo Cook and more, making this a splendid and timely serving of comics magic starring an incontestable bulwark of British Fantasy.

If you’re a fan of only one form, this book might make you an addict to both. It’s a fabulous treat for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for devotees of the TV show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics a proper go…
BBC, Doctor Who (word marks, logos and devices) and Tardis are trade marks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. BBC logo © BBC 1996. Doctor Who logo © BBC 2009. Tardis image © BBC 1963. First edition August 2015.

Misty Volume 2: featuring The Sentinels & End of the Line


By Malcolm Shaw, Mario Capaldi, John Richardson & various (Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-600-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sinister Thrills and Treats for Every Stocking… 9/10

Like most of my comics contemporaries I harbour a secret shame. Growing up, I was well aware of the weeklies produced for girls but would never admit to reading them. My loss: I now know that they were packed with some great strips by astounding artists and writers, many of them personal favourites when they were drawing stalwart soldiers, marauding monsters, evil aliens or strange superheroes (all British superheroes were weird and off-kilter…).

I actually think – in terms of quality and respect for the readership’s intelligence, experience and development – girls’ periodicals were far more in tune with the sensibilities of the target audience, and I wish I’d paid more attention to Misty back then…

Thus, I’m delighted to share another peek at superb comics fare from a British publication every bit as iconoclastic and groundbreaking as its contemporary stablemate 2000AD, albeit not as long-lasting…

Despite never living up to expectations – for all the traditional editorial reasons that have scuppered bold new visions since the days of Caxton – Misty was nothing like any other comic in the British marketplace.

Girls’ comics always had a history of addressing modern social ills and issues but this Girls’ Juvenile Periodical viewed events and characters through a lens of urban horror, science fiction, moody historical mysteries and tense suspenseful dramas. It was also one of the best drawn comics ever seen and featured stunningly beguiling covers by unsung legend Shirley Bellwood, a veteran illustrator who ought to be a household name because we’ve all admired her work in comics and books since the 1950s – even if we’ve never been privileged to see her by-line…

Unlike most weeklies, Misty was created with specific themes in mind – fantasy, horror and mystery – and over its too-short existence specialised in a string of usually self-contained features serialised like modern graphic novels, rather than ever-unfolding, continuing adventures of star characters.

Although adulterated from comics legend Pat Mill’s original grand design, Misty launched on February 4th 1978 and ran until January 1980 whereupon it merged with the division’s lead title Tammy, extending its lifeline until 1984. As was often the case, the brand lived on through Annuals and Specials, which ran from 1979 until 1986…

Another in the unmissable series working under the umbrella of The Treasury of British Comics, this second compact monochrome softcover compilation offers two more complete part-work novellas from the comic’s canon of nearly 70 strip sagas, starting off with the time-bending, socially aware saga The Sentinels.

Scripted by Malcolm Shaw (Misty’s Editor and writer of dozens of strips in Britain and Europe) and illustrated by the wonderful and much travelled Mario Capaldi (Care Bears, James Bond Junior, Zorro, Thundercats, The Famous Five, A Christmas Carol and dozens of strips for Misty, Tammy, Hurricane, Eagle, Jinty, TV Action, Roy of the Rovers and others), The Sentinels leads off here.

The eerie tale of privation, intolerance, family discord and alternate universes originally ran between February 4th and April 22nd 1978 and revealed how in Birdwood on a post-war estate stood two identical tower blocks.

At least, once upon a time they were. Now whilst one is still a gleaming modern tribute to high rise modernism, somehow its twin sister had devolved into squalor and misuse: a sky-high slum tenants fled from and where apparently people vanished never to be seen again. The council had been under pressure to demolish the failing tower for years…

One day as Jan Richards comes home she learns that her family have been evicted from home. After exhausting all avenues, her mum and dad refuse to let the family be broken up and the kids put into care so they break into the evil block and begin squatting in one of the flats…

Almost immediately bizarre things start happening: Jan meets her dad in places he can’t be, she sees visions out of the windows that can’t possibly be true – and aren’t when she goes outside to check – and then her beloved dog Tiger attacks her…

The uncanny experiences continue as the squatters make the most of their new lives but Jan’s anxiety only increases. When at last she discovers the incredible secret of the ramshackle Sentinel sister, the result is the loss of her father, valiant, noble Tiger and best friend Sally and finding herself trapped in a Britain where evil reigns triumphant…

Potent, suspenseful and wickedly edgy, The Sentinels seamlessly blends powerful social commentary with traditional themes of loss and female agency whilst telling a chilling tale of parallel world peril. How this was never made into a film or Kids thriller series in the vein of Timeslip, Chocky or Children of the Stones is utterly beyond me – and it’s still not too late, as the tale’s themes are more relevant today than they’ve ever been…

From the same year (but serialised between August 12th and November 18th) and illustrated by the great John Richardson, End of the Line is a more traditional yarn of paranoia and loss, again scripted by the taken far too early Malcolm Shaw and once more presenting a story with plenty of contemporary parallels.

Richardson was a highly gifted artist with a light touch blending Brian Lewis with Frank Bellamy: a veteran visual storyteller who worked practically everywhere in Britain from 2000AD (Mean Arena, The V.C.s) to DC Thomson (Pussy Muldoon) to Marvel UK, as well as national newspapers (Amanda) and for specialist magazines such as Custom Car, Super Bike and Citizen’s Band. Here, his deft touch provides a smooth transition between slick modernity and Victorian moodiness in the saga of Ann Summerton.

The teenager and her mum are still coming to terms with the loss of breadwinner Andrew Summerton, even though he’s been gone two years now. He was one of seven men who perished in the construction of super-deep new London subway The Windsor Line.

Mum has moved on enough to be considering marriage to the deeply unpleasant “Uncle” Neville Chandler, but Ann just doesn’t like him…

Today the family are guests at the grand opening of the line, and invited to ride on the first scheduled journey along the Windsor. It’s a PR disaster however as Ann collapses in hysterical panic. She claims to have seen her dad and the other lost engineers slaving in a tunnel off the main route…

Despite the ministrations of doctors and the chiding abuse of Neville, Ann can’t get the image out of her mind. Despite the very real threat of psychological incarceration she returns to the tube again and again and uncovers evidence of a much earlier attempt to build a railway tunnel on the same route. The Prince Albert line also suffered a catastrophic collapse and was abandoned in Victorian times…

Ann eventually convinces a local reporter there might be something in the story, but when he goes missing – one amongst a slowly growing tide of disappearances – she decides to take action herself and is soon propelled into a world of nightmare and the private fiefdom of an ancient madman who has created a kingdom of the damned beneath the streets of the modern metropolis…

Evocative and dripping tension, End of the Line is a classic horror-mystery to delight anyone with a love of gothic mood and historical adventure…

Augmenting the strip thrills and chills is a reconditioned text feature appendix revealing how ‘…Your Face is Your Fortune…’ with an extended exploration of the prognosticatory clues a person’s feature reveal about them…

This engaging and tremendously compelling tome is another glorious celebration of a uniquely compelling phenomenon of British comics and one that has stood the test of time. Don’t miss this fresh chance to get in on something truly special and splendidly entertaining…
The Sentinels and End of the Line are © 1978 & 2017 Rebellion Publishing, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Misty is ™ Rebellion Publishing, Ltd. and © Rebellion Publishing, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The Funniest Book Ever! (Proven with Science!)


By Jaimie Smart, James Turner, Laura Ellen Anderson, Jess Bradley, Gary Northfield, James Stayte & various (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-013-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Silly, Sensational, Unmissable… 9/10

Nearly Christmas Again! Soon the kids will be on holiday and perpetually underfoot. Moreover, parents and extended family will be looking for presents they can afford and actually comprehend.

What about a book? A really, Really Funny Book?

Very much in the manner of classic Christmas Annuals, The Funniest Book Ever! is another wonderful compendium of captivating comics from the fabulous weekly Phoenix, designed to incapacitate your unruly young ’uns with cartoon japery and adventure. Moreover, as it proudly boasts on the cover it’s all done with SCIENCE! So, it’s even scholastically advantageous.

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of fun and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated and growing legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

Jam-packed within these glossy, full-colour pages are more exploits culled from the periodical pages, starring a pantheon of firm favourites, all curated by a team of junior boffins endeavouring to ascertain and confirm their theory that the universe is held together by fundamental forces best described as “The Seven Laughs”…

Acting as a proof of each are seven of the magazine’s most memorable features, as the highly technical treatise begins with Belly Rumble, an argument defined here by more arcadian action from twin stars locked in a spiralling orbit of mutually assured distraction as the execute an ongoing vendetta between implacable woodland warriors…

Concocted with feverishly glee by Jamie Smart, Bunny vs. Monkey has been a Phoenix fixture from the first issue: recounting a madcap war of nerves and ideologies between animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia which masquerades as a more-or-less mundane English Wood.

The tail-biting tension and rural war of wits and wonder-weapons began when an obnoxious simian intruder popped up after a disastrous space shot went awry. Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – a scant few miles from his blast-off site – Monkey believes himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite the continual efforts of sensibly reasonable Bunny to convince him otherwise.

For all his patience, propriety and poise, the laid-back long-ears simply cannot contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who is a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating troublemaker. Things soon escalated once the simian interloper teamed up with an utterly mad scientist skunk who is master of many malign sciences and technologies…

In this tranche of turbulent tiny terrors Monkey manifests mayhem and endures great pain after declaring ‘Down with Spring’ before weaponizing Angling in a ‘Fish Off’ with Bunny and abusing history with a wooden Trojan trap in ‘There’s a Moose Loose!’

‘Leaf it Alone!’ finds the hyperactive simian turning simple garden chores into a mini-apocalypse whilst his on-going partnership with the skunk leads to an invisible bovine in the snows. However, their ‘Ca-Moo-Flaaj’ is as nothing compared to Bunny’s natural advantages…

After perverting a simple carrot with chemistry, Skunky anticipates ‘The Biggest, Mostest Enormousest Explosion in the World!’ but has not reckoned on sometime guinea pig Action Beaver’s unique appetites. A true contender for that honour arrives when Humanz chase astoundingly gifted birds into the woods and barely escape ‘The Kakapo Poo Kaboom!’ with their lives…

Even so, the nosy bipedal interlopers stick around causing problems until the critters unite to remove them using ‘A Bear Bum!’

A hunt for ‘Worms!’ then leads to a cacophonous din after which a dragon incursion leads to a need for knight service in ‘Arise, Lord Wuffywuff!’

The abrupt menacing return of ‘Skunky!’ only provides disappointment and confusion, but his crazed influence remains once he unleashes his devastating, colossal De-Forester 9000, resulting in the unthinkable as Bunny and Monkey declare ‘The Truce!’ that leads to the mega-munching machine’s demise.

By the time Action Beaver becomes ‘The Messenger!’ for Skunky’s poison letters, all bets are off again and it’s every critter for himself, leading to a doomed summit meeting at a hot spring in ‘Time to Get Along!’

The sinister scientist then proves you can have too much of a good thing after his Multiplyer accidentally creates a tidal wave of ‘Doughnuts!’ before a special event proclaims ‘An Exclusive Bunny Vs Monkey Detective Story: The Curious Case of the Pig in the Night Time’ with our entire outré cast going through their Sherlock Holmesian motions…

‘The Order of the Moose!’ is a secret woodland society sworn to protect nature at all costs and after we see them spectacularly underperform this section concludes with Monkey and Skunky testing their nine-megaton ‘Explosive Sweets!’

The next component of the larger debate is the Cosmic Chuckle and that means a heaping helping of Star Cat: one of the wildest rides in the wondrous weekly anthology as crafted by the astoundingly clever James Turner (Super Animal Adventure Squad, The Unfeasible Adventures of Beaver and Steve).

The strip began in issue #0 and has been synchronising orbits irregularly ever since…

The premise is timeless and instantly engaging, revealing the far-out endeavours of a bunch of spacefaring nincompoops in the classic mock-heroic manner. There’s so very far-from-dauntless Captain Spaceington, extremely dim amoeboid Science Officer Plixx, inarticulate and barely housebroken beastie The Pilot and Robot One, who quite arrogantly and erroneously believes himself one of the smartest thinkers in the cosmos.

The colossal, formidable void-busting vessel they traverse the universe in looks like a gigantic ginger tom because that is what it is: half-cat, half-spaceship. What more do you need to know?

Hypothesised here are a brace of extended exploits beginning with ‘Just Deserts’ as the intrepid band crash on to super Saharan sand world and suffer the agonies of the damned – sort of – before ‘Computational Capers’ finds them back in space and battling a tyrannical computer with ideas above his (work) station…

Evil Cackle cites Evil Emperor Penguin as proof of concept. The strip was conceived and created by children’s book illustrator/author Laura Ellen Anderson (Kittens, Snow Babies) and stars a bad – brilliant but Bad – bird who lurks in a colossal fortress beneath the Antarctic, where he strives tirelessly towards his stated goal of absolute global domination.

His only assistance – if you can call it that – comes in the form of an army of hench-minions: most notably stylish, erudite administrative lackey Number 8 and cute, diminutive, fuzzy, loyal, utterly inventive abominable snowman clone Eugene.

Evil Emperor Penguin had originally whipped up a batch of 250, but none of the others are anything like Eugene…

EEP then appointed the fluffy, bizarrely inventive tyke his Top Minion but somehow never managed to instil within him the proper degree of ruthless evilness. The hairy halfwit is, however, a dab-hand with engineering, building stuff and cooking spaghetti hoops, so it’s not a total loss…

The polar pirate starts this particular campaign of terror by attempting to crash a sporty party for the world’s top brass in ‘Human Nature’ parts I & 2. To assist his gatecrashing the Annual World Leader Olympics, the bad bird has to wear a human-shaped robot suit and that’s never a good thing, is it?

Everybody loves cute kittens, which is what Debra is counting on when she uses soppy Eugene to infiltrate the fortress and steal all the Spaghetti Hoops in ‘What’s New Pussy Cat’. She’s the cousin of Evil Cat (EEP’s insidious rival in the Word Domination stakes) and with the team – and even Evil Cat – helplessly trapped, they must all surrender all pride and dignity and call on jolly unicorn Keith to save them in ‘Rainbows to the Rescue’

The nefarious nonsense recommences with 2-part thriller-chiller ‘I Will Crèche You’ wherein EEP’s incredible De-Agefying Youth Juice causes havoc after Evil Cat breaks into the citadel and everybody gets a rejuvenating soaking…

The ice escapades conclude with ‘Eugene’s Day Off’: an unremitting stream of great experiences for the faithful servitor, but, for the Penguin Potentate – having to make do with substandard substitute Neill – a string of catastrophic, humiliating and painful disasters…

Wild Card calculation Squid Fits leads us inexorably to Jess Bradley’s diverting digressions Squid Bits! A proof of Laugh #4: that features gags, absurd Things To Do and odd innovations ranging from Monster Fashion to Red Panda’s Insult Guide and Cut ‘n’ Keep Characters to Official Words for Everyday Sounds!

These Fishy fascinations precede the arrival of next stellar party particle star turn as Critter Titter invites a closer inspection of Gary’s Garden.

This marvellous minibeast comedy-adventure is crafted by Gary Northfield (Beano’s Derek the Sheep, The Terrible Tales of the Teeytinysaurs) and explores human nature through the fauna and flora unnoticed at our feet.

Human laggard Gary, like most of us, doesn’t do as much as he should in his back yard – and the assorted birds, beasts and bugs despise him for it – but at least it means they can all live their lives in relative peace and quiet…

The occasional series began in The Phoenix #2, and this seditious sampling opens with an army of brassed-off birds raiding the lazy lump’s kitchen cupboards, after which nocturnal raiders reveal the basics of bin-raiding whilst at the treeline an ambitious bug steals a golden acorn and dissolves into ego mania as a six-limbed Sith lord…

As Larry Ladybird hunts for his beloved Elaine and dreads her elopement with Dracula, in the pond a tadpole is daydreaming with amazing consequences and an art class is being disrupted by a most intransigent slug.

When Stunt Slug’s attention-grabbing scheme goes awry, a motley band of beasts, birds and bugs occupy themselves by entering the Great Garden Bake Off – in a festive extra-long episode before the examples end with the debut of a chitinous band of merrie “men” and a new Ladybird Robin Hood…

Barbarian Celebrity Chef Gorebrah! crushes evil whilst concocting outrageous recipes and tasty treats so he’s the ideal exemplar of the Gastronomic Guffaw: offering a selection of dishes and disasters including prehistoric demonic biscuits embedded in glacial ice, princess-flavoured milkshakes, monopolised by cloud-dwelling giants, smoky sausage bats and a duel with a rival gustatory wild man.

Later mirth -&-mayhem packed menus include the gnomish origins of pasta salad and the creepiest dish in the world, saved from an alien invader deep inside an Antarctic culinary school…

Th scientific arguments crash to a halt with the Uncontrollable Giggle as Looshkin – the Adventures of the Maddest Cat in the World!! – seals the thesis with a sleek sheen of feline frenzy and surreal Shock and Awe.

Devised by Jamie Smart (yeah, the guy who invented Bunny vs. Monkey, Corporate Skull and bunches of other brilliant strips for Beano, Dandy and others) this is a brilliantly bonkers addition to the vast feline pantheon of truly horrifying hairballs infesting the graphic universe.

This anarchic kitty is just like yours: cute, innocently malign and able to twist the bounds of credibility and laws of physics whenever the whim takes him…

Quite naturally, the epic begins with an origin of sorts as Mrs Alice Johnson brings home a kitten from the pet shop. Not one of the adorable little beauties at the front of the store, though, but the odd, creepy, lonely little fuzzy hidden at the back of the store…

The Johnsons are not your average family. Firstborn son Edwin watches too many horror films and keeps a book of spells in his room whilst Dad is a brilliant inventor who needs peace and quiet to complete his fart-powered jet-pack or potato-powered tractor. It’s not long before those days are gone for good…

The sweet little daughter isn’t all she seems either: when kitten Looshkin is subjected to an innocent tea party in the garden, her toys all secretly warn the cat of the horrors in store. All too soon teddy bear Bear is subjected to a hideous cake-arson assault.

Surprisingly, Looshkin takes it all in stride and even escalates the carnage and chaos whenever and however he can. It seems he has found his natural home… or is it all in his be-whiskered little head?

The selection opens with ‘How to Make Friends and Annoy Bears’ as the cat’s nocturnal pranks result in cacophonous calamity after which ‘ThbthbtThhhhhhhhhhhHonk!’ reveals the lengths some folk will go to in executing the perfect raspberry…

‘Danger Sausage’ might not be everyone’s ideal superhero but Looshkin thinks he’s the business, after which a frog glove-puppet claims ‘I’m Not to Blame’ when a bulldozer destroys the garden…

‘Wooooooo – cough – oooooooh!!’ proves that even ghosts know when they’re outclassed in the scaring stakes after which ‘Meanwhile in Croydon’ finds the frenetic feline getting a job in marketing and ‘Nee-Naw! Nee-Naw! Nee-Naw! Neeeee-Nawww!’ sees the transition to a nursing career after almost fatally injuring Mr. Johnson.

Science then goes Boink! and reality gets temporarily inverted with the mind-bending ‘Big Silly Blue Cat Who Are You and What are you Doing in my House? before consistency, if not normality, are restored in ‘With Great Power Comes Giant Lasers’ as a certain cat becomes US president and leader of the Free World. Don’t scoff; stranger things have happened…

‘Due to an Incident involving Angry Clowns There Now Follows a Change in our Usual Programming’ see the madcap mouser drawn into the mesmerising power of old sitcoms whilst ‘Doorbell Ding Dong!!’ opens a war of postal one-upmanship between cat and Bear…

The brain-blasting advent of the cat’s mercurial Great Uncle Olaf begins with ‘Loooshkin! Oh Looshkin, Where Are You? You’ve Been Missing for Ages’ but is soon sidelined when Edwin’s magical library is used to call up something dreadful by ‘The Lump Whisperer’

When Looshkin indulges in some prognostication the outcome is never in doubt especially for ‘Pig!’, but the cat is back on terrifying form in ‘Ooooh!! I’m Bustin’!’ when an outbreak of gastric unhappiness coincides with the sudden sabotage of every toilet in town…

There’s a big surprise for all concerned when Looshkin invents a vicious new game in ‘A New Challenger Appears!’ before everything wraps up in seasonal spirit with a bizarre trip to the twilight zone of yule tide with ‘A Christmas Special!!’

Arguments thus presented, (see what I did there?) this bonanza tome – packed with fun, thrills and the type of bizarre, nonsensical wonderment kids love but can’t explain to anyone over 21 – leaves it to you to judge the veracity of the science. That’s best done by reading and rereading The Funniest Book Ever: a superb package of British-style children’s humour and adventure any parent should be proud to own. Christmas is Saved!
Text and illustrations © 2018 Jaimie Smart, James Turner, Laura Ellen Anderson, Jess Bradley, Gary Northfield, James Stayte as appropriate. All rights reserved.

Alien: The Illustrated Story


By Archie Goodwin & Walter Simonson, from a screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and a story by Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett (Heavy Metal/Futura)
ISBN: 978-0-93036-842-5                  978-1-78116-595-9 (Titan Books Facsimile 2012)

Alien was released in 1979 and utterly redefined the science fiction cinema genre. It pretty much did the same for horror stories too.

Creeping in on the back of the jolly adventuring romps of the Star Wars phenomenon and its shiny, happy, Valerian rip-offs “homages”, Dan O’Bannon’s dark tale and Ridley Scott’s grimly meticulous vision reintroduced the vital element of apocalyptic terror that had been absent from the medium since the headiest, most utterly paranoiac days of 1950s B-Movies.

You know the plot: a bunch of interstellar miners are diverted by their untrustworthy bosses to a lost planet where they find an extraterrestrial shipwreck. One of the humans is infected by something uncanny and beyond the explorers’ meagre imaginings and brings aboard a ghastly killer that grows and hides and changes. Picking off the crew one by one, it cannot be stopped, escaped from or killed…

Lots of films have had comics adaptations: good bad or indifferent. Very few have ever come as close to capturing the stunning, senses-overloading feel – rather than the plot or look or detail – of the source material, although all of those too are well-catered for in this slim but superb graphic extravaganza from the award-winning creative team of Archie Goodwin & Walt Simonson (see Manhunter: The Special Edition for perhaps their ultimate moment of comics collaboration).

Spectacular, engrossing, visually innovative (in both storytelling and lettering/calligraphic effects) and absolutely absorbing, this hard-to-find gem – either in the original US edition from Heavy Metal Productions, this mass-market UK edition from Futura, or any of the later reissues in a variety of formats and sizes – is a true landmark of comics, long overdue for a definitive release with plenty of bonus features and preferably only in the original large, square European Album format please…
© 1979 by Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.