The Clockwork Girl


By Sean O’Reilly & Kevin Hanna, illustrated by Mike Thomas, Grant Bond, Karen Krinbrink, Mirana Reveier & others (Arcana Studio)
ISBN: 978-0-9809204-1-3 (TPB Arcana) 978-0-06208-039-4 (HB Harper Design) 978-0062091291 (PB film edition)

The literary concept of autonomous automatons has been with us a long time now: my first exposure was wind-up warrior Tik-Tok from L. Frank Baum’s Ozma of Oz in 1907 (that’s when the book was published, not when my parents read it to me), but even he wasn’t the first. You could try tracking down 1868’s “Huge Hunter” AKA The Steam Man of the Prairies (by Edward S. Ellis) or dip into mythology for Talos, the bronze construct who defended Europa in ancient Crete to see how wedded we are to the notion of constructed comrades and champions.

“Mechanical Men” are one of those rare confabulations that existed in people’s heads long before we actually discovered, built or confirmed them – just like teleportation, the Higgs Boson or equal pay for women. It’s a rare person who doesn’t have some inner conception of what a robot should be…

As such a chimeric concept, hand-made beings fit almost anywhere in storytelling, as seen here in this modern fairy tale, crafted with the intention of becoming a film classic for kids of all ages. The 5-issue miniseries came out in 2008 and was collected as a graphic novel the same year, with the movie finally released in 2014…

In the fantastic city of Harfang, a metropolis both ancient and futuristic, wise men and savants, enquiring minds and inventors enjoy lives of wondrous creativity and hold regular contests to determine who is the most brilliant and inspired among them. Here Dendrus the Grafter specialises in resurrections, radical surgery and biological blending whilst his old friend and greatest rival Wilhelm the Tinkerer has devoted his life to mastering physics, engineering and all mechanical disciplines…

One night, just before the Haraway Fair that would determine this year’s greatest intellectual achievement, the Tinkerer finally succeeds in creating true life from cold metal, cogs and springs. Unlike his soulless, lumbering previous attempt T-Bolt, this latest effort is a sublime creature of wonder and delight who will show the world what genius is…

Dendrus, meanwhile, is having problems with a previous triumph. Last year Huxley was a sensation: a masterpiece of biological cross-pollination and reconstructive surgery, but lately the lad has been living up to his daunting appearance and – undeserved – reputation, increasingly becoming an unruly handful and headache for his “father”…

Leaving the “monster boy” to check out the usual parade of insane experiments on display (by the usual scientific suspects), Dendrus is there when the Tinkerer unveils his metal marvel: a beautiful, beguiling Clockwork Girl who is truly alive. He proudly awards Wilhelm first prize, but is too distracted by the chaos of the Botanist’s exhibit escaping to notice the effect the gleaming gamin has on awestruck Huxley…

Utterly enraptured, the beast boy can talk of nothing else to best pal Maddox, and soon they are trailing the victor’s carriage back to the Tinkerer’s castle and risking their lives to get in and meet her. Persistence overcomes all odds and soon they are in her tower chamber, chatting with the charming innocent. Huxley is astonished to discover she has no name. At his insistence she christens herself, plucking the name “Tesla” out of thin air and her imagination…

Before they leave, Huxley agrees to meet with her again tomorrow, and show her the world her neglectful, fame-besotted father has brought her into…

Meanwhile, Wilhelm broods, remembering the fiasco of T-Bolt’s debut at last year’s fair; how Dendrus betrayed him and his abominable monster-boy denied him of his glorious due – a rather one-sided and inaccurate summation of what actually happened…

Next day, in the wilds around the castle, Huxley is amazed at Tesla’s joyous response to each new observation and experience, but wonder turns to terror as a sudden rain shower sparks pain and terror in the mechanical maid. Saving her day-old life through prompt action, he shares his unique origins with her as they shelter whilst she – literally – opens her heart to him, inadvertently proving how alike they truly are…

It’s an innocent moment presaging heartbreak, as when the kids return to their respective homes, their perpetually meddling parents forbid any further contact. It’s a recipe for disaster…

Unable to stay apart, the kids disobey and in the melee that follows, Maddox is grievously injured and Huxley driven off, with Tesla rushing out into the deadly rain to somehow make things right.

As Dendrus and Wilhelm recover their wits and finally reconcile, it may be too late to save the children that have brought them back together. Thankfully, science and cooperation will provide the solution…

An enchanting pastiche of Romeo and Juliet, The Clockwork Girl blends whimsy, humour and the drama of first love in a charming romp with a happy ending, and comes with a bonus section that includes ‘Origins’ of the project, ‘Story Concepts’ and sketches by Sean O’Reilly & Kevin Hanna, plus Pin-Ups from illustrators and guest artists Sean “Cheeks” Galloway, Mirana Reveier, Jose Lopez & Aron Lusen, Barnaby Ward, Paul Adam, Vincent Perea, Hanna, Javier Giangiacomo, Royden Lepp and Bengal.

A wonderful confection proving the power of diversity and confirming the rewards of inclusion, this is a timeless treat long overdue for a revisit and some serious acclaim.
© 2008 Arcana Studio, Inc. All rights reserved.

SAM volume 1: After Man


By Richard Marazano & Shang Xiao, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-218-8 (Album PB)

Wow. People really love stories about robots. Well then, here’s another you might want to peruse…

Robots are a beloved theme of fiction, and many stories seem to work on the dichotomy of their innately innocent yet potentially deadly double nature. With elements of Terminator and A Boy and His Dog, here’s one that’s a cut above from French polymath (artist, critic, historian, astrophysicist, politician, and comics author) Richard Marazano (The Chimpanzee Complex; Cuervos; Zarathustra and much more) and Chinese artist, illustrator and animator Shang Xiao (Midsummer Park).

Told in four volumes, Après l’Homme details a heady tale of trust and survival between apparent natural enemies…

It’s just been the End of the World as We Know It, and in the scattered, shattered rubble of our technological advancements gangs of desperate kids forage for food, vitamins and ordnance to help them fend off the robots that have all but eradicated biological life.

Terse flashbacks reveal the armed rebellion of the mechanised realm and how the mostly subterranean youngsters scavenge and scrounge, with roaming mechs hunting them day and night. Tensions are high and emotions fraught, so if someone is a little bit different, negligent or disobedient – like dreamer Ian – it’s a problem for everybody…

Ella looks out for him as much as possible but Ian is destined for doom unless he shapes up…

Sadly, he instead takes a step in the other direction after one dusk raid to the surface sees him instants from annihilation when cornered by a towering killer robot.

Thankfully Russ disables it with his bazooka, but just for a moment there, Ian was sure he had experienced an emotional connection with the droid. It was like it chose not to kill him…

Increasingly obsessed, Ian cannot let the notion go and eventually breaks security to sneak out and examine the remains. They will be easy to find, with the letters SAM boldly painted on the carapace…

When he comes back, it’s all Ella can do to stop the others killing him. Ultimately, though, tempers subside, but Ian has not learned his lesson. After sharing his earliest memories of his father, fleeing and the lucky escape that saved him, the troubled boy seems to buckle down to the basics of survival, but he’s still gripped by crazy notions, like abandoning their tunnels and heading out to the fabled suburbs…

With defiance growing and rebellion brewing, the kids head out on another daylight hunt, but again Ian goes looking for “his” robot. When Ella catches him and starts yelling, they are both targeted by a roving mech, but inexplicably saved by another killer machine: “SAM”!

The victorious monster is badly damaged and as Ella watches in horror, Ian starts repairing it…

When the others find them, more arguing results in Ian getting a deadline: if he can’t make SAM fully operable in two days, he must let them destroy it. The frantic boy stives for the entire time and succeeds, only to pass out at the end. When he wakes and races to the site, the robot has vanished. Bereft and furious, Ian allows Ella to drag him away, but both are unaware that coldly-calculating optic systems are watching them from hiding…

Beguiling and powerfully engaging, this vivid take on an old plot is surprisingly compelling and promises a big payoff in volumes to come.
© Dargaud Paris 2011 by Marazano & Shang. All rights reserved. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.

Blake and Mortimer: Professor Satō’s Three Formulae Parts One (Mortimer in Tokyo) & Two (Mortimer versus Mortimer)


By Edgar P. Jacobs and Bob De Moor: with colours by Paul-Serge Marssignac, translated by Jerome Saincantin(Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-292-8 (Album PB Pt 1) 978-1-84918-303-1(Album PB Pt 2)

Pre-eminent fantasy raconteur Edgar P. Jacobs devised one of the greatest heroic double acts in pulp fiction: pitting his distinguished scientific adventurers Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake against a daunting variety of perils and menaces in a sequence of stellar action-thrillers which blended science fiction scope, detective mystery suspense and supernatural thrills. The magic was made perfect through his stunning illustrations, rendered in the timeless Ligne Claire style which had made intrepid boy-reporter Tintin a global sensation.

The Doughty Duo debuted in September 1946; gracing the pages of the very first issue of Le Journal de Tintin: an ambitious international anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland. It was edited by Hergé, with his eponymous, world-famous star ably supplemented by a host of new heroes and features for the rapidly-changing post-war world. Bon anniversaire, Chaps!…

Les 3 formules du professeur Satō was a tragically extended affair and Jacob’s last hurrah. What became the 11th album was originally serialised between September 1971 and May 1972 in LJdT, after which the author abandoned his story due to failing health and personal issues.

Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs died on February 20th 1987 and soon after, Bob de Moor was commissioned by the family and estate to complete the final tale from Jacob’s pencil roughs and script notes. The concluding album was finally released in March 1990. This led to a republishing of all the earlier exploits and eventually fresh adventures from a variety of creative teams…

Mortimer in Tokyo opens at Haneda Airport, where Air Traffic Controllers experience a unique problem when a UFO disrupts their carefully plotted flight courses. With disaster imminent, jets are scrambled to pursue the meteoric anomaly. Just before they perish, the pilots radio back that they are being attacked by a dragon…

As the news filters around the world, renowned cyberneticist Professor Akira Satō argues with assistant Dr. Kim, deeply remorseful that his latest breakthrough has been the cause of such tragedy. Kim only barely dissuades his Sensei from turning himself in to the authorities but is utterly unable to convince or prevent Satō from involving visiting colleague Philip Mortimer in his crisis of conscience…

The British scholar is in Kyoto attending a succession of scientific conferences, and when an ominous outsider overhears Satō’s intentions through hidden surveillance methods, the reaction is both explosive and potentially murderous…

The first Mortimer knows of the problem is when a gang of gunmen attempt to kidnap him off the streets, but after fighting them off and escaping, the old warrior returns to his hotel and finds a telegram waiting for him…

An urgent request to join old friend Satō immediately seems impossible due to stringencies of train timetabling, but an accommodating journalist overhears and offers a speedy compromise. Mortimer is suspicious of the happy accident… but not suspicious enough…

Surviving another assassination attempt by sheer force of will, the professor is then lost in the wilds of Japan before eventually battling his way to Satō’s lab outside Tokyo where he witnesses a series of astonishing sights.

His host has worked miracles in the fields of robotics – including the dragon which so recently and horrifically malfunctioned – but is at a loss to explain how his incredible creations have gone wrong at such a late stage. Worldly-wise Mortimer soon deduces the causes: espionage and sabotage…

As the British boffin sends for doughty comrade-in-arms Captain Blake, Satō is comforted by the fact that the key formulae for producing his mechanical marvels have been divided and deposited at three different banks in Tokyo. The Sensei breathes even easier after arranging that only Mortimer can retrieve them, but this only prompts their hidden enemy to accelerate his plans and reveal himself as one of Mortimer’s greatest foes…

Unable to induce or force Mortimer to retrieve the scientific goldmine, the mastermind has an android double constructed to fool the banks, but the rush-job breaks down before the task is completed. Now the vile villain has only more card to play before the formidable Blake arrives…

This edition – available as always in paperback album and digital formats – concludes with excerpts from other B & M albums, plus a short biographical feature and publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts to whet the appetite for further treats in store…

Cunning and convoluted, this devilishly devious tale unfolds with potent authenticity and ever-escalating tension, building to an explosive conclusion which eventually took eighteen years to conclude. At least we don’t have to wait that near-lifetime for the epic denouement…

Part 2: Mortimer versus Mortimer
Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs (March 30th 1904-February 20th 1987) is deservedly considered a founding father of the Continental comics industry. Although his output was relatively modest compared to many of his contemporaries, Jacobs’ landmark serialised epic formed the backbone of the modern action-adventure comic in Europe.

His splendidly adroit, roguish, thoroughly British stars were conceived for the premier issue of Le Journal de Tintin, and quickly became a crucial staple of life for post-war European kids – in exactly the same way Dan Dare was for 1950s Britain.

Jacobs was Brussels-born: a precocious child perpetually drawing, but even more obsessed with music and performing arts – especially opera. He attended a commercial school but loathed the idea of office work, avidly pursuing arts and drama jobs after graduation in 1919.

A succession of such at opera-houses (scene-painting, set decoration and even performing as both an acting and singing extra) supplemented his private performance studies, and in 1929 Jacobs won an award from the Government for classical singing. His dreamed-of operatic career was thwarted by the Great Depression. When arts funding suffered massive cutbacks following the global stock market crash, he was compelled to pick up whatever dramatic work was going, although this did include more singing and performing.

In 1940, Jacobs switched to commercial illustration, winning regular work in the magazine Bravo, as well as illustrating short stories and novels. He famously took over the syndicated Flash Gordon strip after the occupying German authorities banned Alex Raymond’s quintessentially All-American Hero and the publishers desperately sought someone to satisfactorily complete the saga.

Jacobs’ ‘Stormer Gordon’ lasted less than a month before being similarly embargoed by the Occupation fun-police, after which the man of many talents simply created his own epic science-fantasy feature in the legendary Le Rayon U: a milestone in both Belgian comics and science fiction adventure.

During this period Jacobs and Tintin creator Hergé got together, and whilst creating the weekly U Ray strip, the younger man began assisting on Tintin, colouring the original black and white strips of The Shooting Star (originally published in newspaper Le Soir) for an upcoming album collection.

By 1944 Jacobs was performing similar duties on Tintin in the Congo, Tintin in America, King Ottokar’s Sceptre and The Blue Lotus. He was also contributing to the drawing too, working on extended epic we know as The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun.

After the war and Europe was liberated, publisher Raymond Leblanc convinced Hergé, Jacobs and a few other comic strip stars to work for his proposed new venture. Founding publishing house Le Lombard, Leblanc also commissioned Le Journal de Tintin, an anthology comic with simultaneous editions in Belgium, France and Holland to be edited by Hergé and starring the intrepid boy reporter and a host of new heroes.

Beside Hergé, Jacobs and writer Jacques van Melkebeke, Le Journal de Tintin featured Paul Cuvelier’s Corentin and Jacques Laudy’s Legend of the Four Aymon Brothers.

As revealed in an enticing, photo-packed essay closing this Cinebook volume, Blake and Mortimer were a lucky compromise. Jacobs had wanted to create a period historical drama entitled Roland the Bold but changed genres due to an overabundance of such strips…

Laudy had been a friend of Jacobs since their time together on Bravo, and the first instalment of the epic thriller serial Le secret de l’Espadon starred a bluff, gruff British scientist and an English Military Intelligence officer closely modelled on Laudy himself…

The initial storyline ran from issue #1 (26th September 1946 to September 8th 1949): cementing Jacobs’ status as a star in his own right.

In 1950, with the first 18 pages slightly redrawn, The Secret of the Swordfish became Le Lombard’s first album release, with the concluding volume published three years later. The albums were reprinted nine more times between 1955 and 1982, in addition to a single omnibus edition released in 1964.

Hergé and Jacobs purportedly suffered a split in 1947 when the former refused to grant the latter a by-line on new Tintin material they had collaborated on, but since the two remained friends for life and Jacobs continued to produce Blake et Mortimer for the weekly, I think it’s fair to assume that if such was the case it was a pretty minor spat. I rather suspect that the Eccentric Englishmen were simply taking up more and more of the diligent artist’s time and attention…

Cinebook have made the Gentleman Heroes a bankable proposition, releasing the 29-and-counting albums, but suffice to say that the concluding instalment of Professor Satō’s Three Formulae was a long time coming …

Les 3 formules du professeur SatōMortimer contre Mortimer was a tragically extended affair and only credited Jacobs as writer and layout artist. The 11th album had been serialised between September 1971 and May 1972, after which the author simply dropped the story.

He died on February 20th 1987 and as cited veteran cartoonist Bob de Moor (Bart de Scheepsjongen, Monsieur Tric, Cori le Moussaillon, Balthazar, Barelli and so many others) was commissioned to complete his final tale from pencils and notes.

The concluding album was released in March 1990, sparking a republishing renaissance and new adventures from a variety of creative teams…

As previously described, boisterous boffin Mortimer is in Japan when contacted by robotics pioneer and cyberneticist supreme Professor Akira Satō. The savant has performed miracles in mass-production of highly specialised mechanoids and androids, but his discoveries – parsed down into three crucial processes and deposited in three separate banks – are targeted by a ruthless gang led by Blake and Mortimer’s greatest enemy.

The villains infiltrated Satō’s home and laboratory, tried to murder Mortimer numerous times and unleashed a robot duplicate of the scientist, but have been unable to stop a summons for help going out to his Secret Service ally. Now, with Blake imminently expected, the gang radically accelerate their timetable…

Blake is watched from the moment he disembarks at Haneda Airport and hidden enemies are already in place at his hotel. The MI5 chief has a suite next to Mortimer’s, and although his comrade is missing, finds plenty of clues as to what has happened to him. The diligent search also uncovers the video surveillance gear infesting both rooms and sets his watchers running for the exits in panic…

A hasty pursuit only leads to his own capture but, with fortune ever favouring the brave, Blake turns the tables on his foes in a deadly clash at the hotel garages, before sending them all fleeing for their lives.

By the time he has connected with Police Superintendent Hasumi and briefed Colonel Mitsu of the Japanese Public Security Intelligence Agency, the assailants have vanished, but Blake is building a picture of what is going on. To end the Englishman’s threat forever, a diabolical and desperate scheme is devised and a second Mortimer robot is built to assassinate Blake…

Turncoat assistant Kim is nervous. Although happy to use Satō’s incredible inventions to detain Mortimer and his former employer, the traitor is not conversant enough with production procedures to guarantee success. Nevertheless, a deadly doppelganger of the Professor is soon despatched to kill Blake…

The real Mortimer has not been idle. With Satōs aid he has escaped the lab prison, rushing to intercept the android assassin, but unaware that behind him, unqualified hands have meddled with the duplication processes and a legion of horrific misfit mechanoids are tumbling off the conveyor belts…

What follows is a succession of spectacular chases, frantic battles and a final shattering showdown between Blake, Mortimer and the man who has bedevilled them since the Swordfish case – a fitting end to their exploits and, thanks to the graphic efforts of De Moor, a perfect, revitalising stepping stone for other creators to continue the feature…

Rocket-paced, suspenseful and cathartically action-packed, this is an enthralling changing-of-the-guard, building to an explosive conclusion and satisfying final flourish: another superbly stylish blockbuster to delight every adventure addict and Jacobs purist.

As well as the aforementioned historical overview – ‘Jacobs: 1946, the Swordfish, starting point of a masterful work’ – this Cinebook edition also includes excerpts from two other albums, a short biographical feature and publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts.
Vol 1: Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1977 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.
Vol. 2: Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard s. a.) 1990 by E.P. Jacobs & Bob De Moor. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Mega Robo Bros: Power Up and Mega Robo Bros: Double Threat



By Neill Cameron with Abby Bulmer & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBNs: 978-1-78845-200-7 (Power Up PB) and 978-1-78845-232-8 (Double Threat PB)

Just like The Beano, Dandy and other perennial childhood treasures, weekly comic The Phoenix masterfully mixes hilarious comedy with enthralling adventure serials… sometimes in the same scintillating strip. Such I the case here, with the synthetic stars of these superbly remastered compilations: mega-magnificent sci fi frolics packed into full-colour volumes of high-octane comedy-action, with added activity pages to complete your entertainment experience. Everybody strapped in?

Plunging straight into the enchanting immersive experience, we open in a futuristic London on a Monday morning. Alexand his younger brother Freddie have missed the airbus for school and dad has to take them. It’s a uniquely Sharma-family catastrophe…

In most ways the boys are typical: boisterous, fractious kids, always arguing, but devoted to each other and not too bothered that they’re adopted. It’s also no big deal to them that they were created by the mysterious Dr. Roboticus before he vanished and are considered by those in the know as the most powerful robots on Earth.

For now, it’s enough that Mum and Dad love them, even though the Robo Bros are a bit more of a handful than most kids. They live as normal a life as possible; going to school, making friends, putting up with bullies and hating homework: it’s all part of their Mega Robo routine…

This week, though, things are a bit different. On Wednesday the lads meet Baroness Farooq of covert agency R.A.I.D. (Robotics Analysis Intelligence and Defence) who – despite being initially unimpressed – changes her mind after seeing what the lads do to her platoon of Destroyer Mechs – all while between singing rude songs, reading comics and squabbling with each other.

Thursday is even better. As a treat, the entire family goes to Robo World where Freddy rescues a trio of malfunctioning exhibits. The baby triceratops with dog-programming is ok, but the French-speaking deranged ape and gloomily existentialist penguin might be a handful in days to come. …and all because Mum was trying to explain how her sons’ sentience makes them different from other mechanoids…

Friday wasn’t so good. Alex had another one of his nightmares, of the time before they came to live with the Sharmas…

With the scene exquisitely set, the drama kicks into overdrive when a school visit to the museum offers a hidden menace constantly watching the boys an opportunity to create chaos by hacking all the exhibits. Even though Freddy and Alex use all their super-powers to set things right, it takes all of the Baroness’ astounding influence to hush up the incident. They are supposed to be getting as normal a childhood as possible, with friends and family aware that they’re artificial and sentient, but not that they are unstoppable weapons systems. Now some malign force seems determined to “out” the Robo Bros for unspecified but undoubtedly sinister purposes…

Even greater cloaking measures are necessary when the hidden enemy causes a sky-train crash. The boys very publicly prevent a disaster, but even they are starting to realise something big is up. It also confirms that and Mum is a bit extraordinary herself, even before Freddy overhears some disturbing news about another one of Dr. Roboticus’ other creations…

The crisis erupts after Gran takes Alex and Freddy to a Royal Street Party outside Buckingham Palace. When the hidden enemy hacks the giant robot guards and sets them loose on the Queen and her family, the wonder-bots have to save them on live TV beamed around the world. The secret is out…

With the entire world camped outside their quiet little house, Mum has R.A.I.D. restore the Mega Robo Status Quo by building a super-secret tunnel system in the cellar. It’s a big day all around: Farooq is finally convinced that Alex is at last ready to join the agency… after school and on weekends, of course…

Freddy is extremely peeved that that he’s not invited. The Baroness still considers him too young and immature. He soon proves it when Alex becomes a Mega Robo Secret Agent, compelling Freddy to at last confide in dad the real reason he’s acting up. He then has opportunity to redeem himself and save the day when their nemesis makes his move and Alex finds himself completely out of his depth. Then only Freddy can save the day… if anyone can…

Crafted by Neill Cameron (Tamsin of the Deep, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea), this is an astonishingly engaging tale that rockets along, blending outrageous comedy with warmth, wit and incredible verve. This volume also includes copious files on all the characters and activity features ‘How to Draw Alex’ and ‘How to Draw Freddy’ plus hilarious strip-within-a-strip ‘The World According to Freddy!’.

Alex and Freddy are utterly authentic boys, irrespective of their artificial origins, and their exploits strike exactly the right balance of future shock, family fun and bombastic superhero action to capture readers’ hearts and minds. With the right budget and producer what a movie this would make!

 

With additional colouring by Abby Bulmer & Lisa Murphy, second volume Mega Robo Bros: Double Threat sees the marvellous metal (and plastic) paladins return to share more of their awesome adventures and growing pains!

It’s still the Future!

In a London much cooler than ours, boisterous, fractious, argumentative, more-or-less typical kids Alex and Freddie are still devoted to each other and not much bothered that they’re adopted, recently became super-secret agents and that almost the entire world knows…

When occasion demands, they undertake missions for Baroness Farooq. They think it’s because they are infinitely smarter and more powerful than the Destroyer Mechs and other man-made minions she employs…

Moreover, Dad might be just be an average old guy, but Mum is a bit extraordinary too…

Life in the Sharma household is pretty normal. Freddie is insufferably exuberant and over-confident whilst Alex is approaching the age when self-doubt and anxiety start kicking in, but mostly it’s their parents’ other robot rescues that are a bit of a trial.

Baby triceratops Trikey with his dog-programming is ok, but French-speaking loony ape Monsieur Gorilla can be mighty confusing. Gloomily annoying, existentialist aquatic fowl Stupid Philosophy Penguin constantly quotes dead philosophers and makes people rapidly consider self-harm or manic mayhem …

Alex is getting a hard time from classmates Mira and Taia. They used to be best friends, but with all his extra-curricular activities, the girls are feeling neglected. Alex’s guilt turns to something far worse on Monday after a heated football match leads bully Jamal to make a startling accusation. But actually, how do we know if Alex is a Boy or a Girl…?

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

Alex and Freddie are then called in by the Baroness, before jetting over to Aldgate Tube Station to battle a colossal driller-droid. Further investigation leads the lads and a R.A.I.D. science team deep, deep, deep into the abandoned transport tunnels beneath the city….

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

Freddie experiences Mum’s stern side when she takes him – kicking and screaming – clothes shopping, after which shameful incident, further mortification and emotional distress arrives as the price of fame is fully paid when Prettiest Girl in School Jamila finally notices Alex.

With his shiny head all turned around, he’s in no mood for Freddie’s jealous response: candid home videos posted on VuTube. The elder sibling’s even less chuffed when those postings go mega-viral, drawing some cruel comfort when Freddie’s celebrity bubble inevitably implodes in a most unfortunate manner…

Wrapping up with a spectacular big finish, the kids – and their surprisingly famous mum – are star guests at the massive London Robo Expo. After taking down obnoxious, fame-craving mech-makers Team Robotix in a gladiatorial contest, the lads understandably think the action portion of the entertainment has ended, only to see the Caretaker’s darkest secret burst in with mass-murder in mind…

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

Augmented by more character info-files on the players involved; activity features (an extended) ‘How to Draw Freddy’and ‘How to Draw Stupid Philosophy Penguin’ plus even-more outrageous ‘The World According to Freddy!’ strips, this is another exceedingly engaging romp which rockets along like an anti-gravity rollercoaster, blending mirth with warmth, wit and incredible verve. These books offer unmissable excitement for kids of all ages and vintage, and are true “must-have” items.
Text and illustrations © Neill Cameron 2021. All rights reserved.

Both Mega Robo Bros collections will be released on August 5th 2021 and are available for pre-order now.

Yoko Tsuno volume 10: Message for Eternity


By Roger Leloup translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-251-5 (Album PB)

The uncannily edgy yet excessively accessible exploits of Japanese scientific adventurer Yoko Tsuno first graced the pages of Le Journal de Spirou in September 1970 and are still going strong, with 29th album Anges et Faucons (Angels and Falcons) released in 2019.

The eye-popping, expansively globe-girdling multi-award-winning series is the brainchild of Roger Leloup, another hugely talented Belgian who worked as a studio assistant on Herge’s Adventures of Tintin before striking out on his own. Compellingly told, astoundingly imaginative yet always grounded in hyper-realistic settings whilst sporting utterly authentic and unshakably believable technology, these illustrated epics were at the vanguard of a wave of comics featuring competent, clever and brave female protagonists that revolutionised Continental comics from the last third of the 20th century onwards and are as potently empowering now as they ever were.

The initial Spirou stories ‘Hold-up en hi-fi’, ‘La belle et la bête’ and ‘Cap 351’ were short introductory vignettes prior to the superbly capable Miss Tsuno and her always awestruck and overwhelmed male comrades Pol and Vic truly hitting their stride with premier extended saga Le trio de l’étrange (which began serialisation with the May 13th 1971 issue).

That epic of extraterrestrial intrigue was the first of many European albums, with the one here first serialised in LJdS #1882-1905 (from 9th May-17 October 17th 1974) and released a year later as Message pour l’éternité. A skilfully crafted suspenseful mystery thriller, the chronologically fifth album over there reaches us as Cinebook’s 10th translated chronicle.

It all begins as Yoko perfects her skills in a new hobby. Gliding high above Brittany. she fortuitously sets down in a field near a vast telecommunications complex. Offered a tour of the space-probing facility, she learns from one of the scientists of a fantastic “ghost message” recently picked up by their satellites: a Morse code signal from a British plane lost in 1933. Moreover, the signal is still being regularly broadcast…

As Yoko tries to arrange for her glider to be collected, a mysterious Englishman offers her a lift in his private helicopter but he has an ulterior motive. He works for the company which insured the lost flight and is looking for someone with certain exacting qualifications to trace the downed flight and recover a fortune in jewels from it. Her fee will be £20,000…

His firm has known where the plane went down for quite some time, but geographical and logistical difficulties have prevented them from undertaking a recovery mission until now. Moreover, although they have now started the process, the petite engineer is physically superior to the candidates the company are currently working with…

Cautiously accepting the commission, Yoko starts planning but even before Pol and Vic can join her the following day, strange accidents and incidents impact and imperil her life…

The boys are understandably reluctant but that attitude turns to sheer frustration and terror after someone tries to shoot Yoko down as she practises in her glider. This only makes her more determined to complete the job at all costs…

Two weeks later the trio are heading to the daunting Swiss fortress the company uses as a base, when another spectacular murder attempt almost ends their lives. Yoko remains undaunted but not so Vic and Pol, especially after overhearing that two of her fellow trainees recently died in similar “accidents” in the mountains…

Carrying on regardless, she assesses the technologically sophisticated glider-&-launch system which will take her to the previously unattainable crash site and perfects her landing technique in a fantastic training simulator. Eventually more details are provided and the real story unfolds.

In November 1933, the Handley-Page transport they are hunting was conveying diplomatic mail from Karachi to London before vanishing in a storm over Afghanistan. Decades later, a satellite somehow picked up a broken radio message stating it had landed…

Somewhere…

The businessman the trio call “Milord” identifies himself as Major Dundee – a spymaster from Britain’s Ministry of Defence – who explains how a shady American former U2 pilot approached the British government, claiming to have spotted the downed ship during a clandestine overflight of Soviet territories.

He provided purloined photos showing the plane in the centre of a vast circular crater on the Russo-Chinese border, but subsequent reconnaissance flights revealed nothing in the hole so the decision was taken to make a physical assessment, even though the already inaccessible site was deep in hostile enemy territory. Since then, it has become clear that some unidentified agent or group is acting against the recovery project, presumably intent on retrieving the ship’s mysterious but valuable cargo for a foreign power.

Events spiral out of control when a traitor in the training team attempts to kill Yoko and “Operation Albatross” is rushed to commencement before the unknown enemy can try again…

Within a day she is transported in a speedy manner around the world before her space-age glider prototype is secretly deployed over the enigmatic crater…

Narrowly avoiding patrolling Soviet jets, Yoko deftly manoeuvres into the mist-covered chasm and plunges into one of the most uncanny experiences of her life.

The old plane is certainly gone. The floor of the crater is strangely  cracked and at the centre stands a burned and blackened monolith; there are uncharacteristic animal bones everywhere and at one end of the vast cavity is a primitive but large graveyard…

When the astounded girl goes exploring, she is ambushed by her treacherous fellow trainee who has raced after her by conventional means before parachuting into the bizarre basin. However, his original plans have changed drastically since arrival, and despite the machine gun he wields, he needs Yoko’s help. He’s already located the Handley-Page – somehow manually dragged under an unsuspected overhang in the crater – but is mortally afraid of what he describes as the “tiny people” infesting the terrifying impact bowl…

As the unlikely allies head towards the eerily preserved plane, the truth about the terrifying homunculi is shockingly revealed and they encounter the last human survivor of the downed Diplomatic Flight, discovering to their cost the uncanny and ultimately deadly atmospheric anomaly which has kept the plane a secret for decades and turned the crater into a vast geological radio set…

When the dust settles, Yoko realises she is trapped in the subterranean anomaly. With all her escape plans rendered useless she must align herself with the bizarre sole survivor and his bestial, rebellious servants, but she also refuses to give up on the recovery mission. Of course, that doesn’t mean that she has to trust anything the old relic in the hole or Major Dundee has said. With that in mind she lays her own plans to settle matters…

As ever, the most potent asset of these breathtaking dramas is the astonishingly authentic and staggeringly detailed draughtsmanship and storytelling, which benefits from Leloup’s diligent research and meticulous attention to detail, honed through years of working on Tintin.

With this sleekly beguiling tale Yoko proved that she was a truly multi-faceted adventurer, equally at home in all manner of dramatic milieux and able to hold her own against the likes of James Bond, Modesty Blaise, Tintin or any other genre-busting super-star: as triumphantly capable thwarting spies and crooks as alien invaders, weird science effects or unchecked forces of nature…

This is a splendidly frenetic, tense thriller which will appeal to any fan of blockbuster action fantasy or devious espionage exploit.
Original edition © Dupuis, 1973, 1979 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2015 © Cinebook Ltd.

Batman Year 100 and Other Tales Deluxe Edition


By Paul Pope, with José Villarrubia, Ted McKeever, James Jean & others (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5807-8 (HB)

Paul Pope is one of the most individualistic comics creators in the business, both in his writing and the superbly moody drawing which usually resembles a blend of manga and European modern realism.

He was born in 1970 and straddles a lot of seemingly disparate arenas. The multi award-winning raconteur began making waves in 1995 with self-published Sci-Fi caper THB, simultaneously working for Japan’s Kodansha on the serial feature Supertrouble.

Pope is dedicated to innovation and inquiry: taking fresh looks at accepted genres with works such as One-Trick Ripoff, 100%, Escapo, Heavy Liquid, Sin Titulo or his Young Adult OGN franchise Battling Boy. He’s worked on a few DC projects over the years but none quite as high-profile or well-received as his 2006 prestige mini-series Batman: Year 100.

This collection – available in hardback and digital formats – gathers the entire saga whilst also representing a few other pertinent titbits for your delectation and delight…

In Gotham City 2039AD there’s a conspiracy brewing. It’s a dystopian, authoritarian world where the Federal Government is oppressive, ruthless and corrupt, but from out of the shadows a long-vanished threat to that iron-fisted control has resurfaced. In spite of all odds and technologies of the ultimate surveillance society, a masked vigilante is once again taking the law into his own hands…

Eschewing our contemporary obsession with spoon-fed explanations and origin stories, Pope leaps head-first into the action for this dark political thriller. We don’t need a backstory. There’s a ‘Bat-Man of Gotham’ dispensing justice with grim effectiveness. There’s a good but world-wearied cop named Gordon, helpless but undaunted in the face of a bloated and happily red-handed bureaucracy. There’s a plot to frame this mysterious vigilante for the murder of a federal agent. Ready, steady, Go!

Fast paced, gripping, eerie and passionate, this stripped-down version of the iconic Batman concept taps into the primal energy of the character seldom seen since those early days of Bob Kane, Bill Finger & Jerry Robinson. Once more, a special man who – at the end – is only human fights for good against all obstacles, and uncaring of any objections… especially the police.

For me, Guys with Suits and a Plan have always been scarier than nutters in spandex and it’s clear I’m not alone in that anxiety, as Pope’s smug, officious civil servant antagonists callously and continually cut a swathe of destruction through the city and populace they’re apparently protecting. Like so many previous Administrations in US history, the objectives seem to have obscured the intentions in Gotham 2039. With such sound-bite gems as “To save the village, we had to destroy the village” echoing in your head, follow the projected Caped Crusader and his dedicated band of associates as they clean house in the dirtiest city in a dirty world.

Following that clarion call to liberty are a small selection of graphic gems beginning with Pope’s first ever Bat tale from 1997. Accompanied by a commentary, ‘Berlin Batman’ (originally published in The Batman Chronicles #11) sees Pope and colourist Ted McKeever relate the career of a German Jewish costumed avenger plaguing the ascendant Third Reich in the dark days of 1939.

Winning the 2006 Eisner Award for Best Short Story, ‘Teenage Sidekick’, from Solo #3, sees first Robin Dick Graysonescape a chilling fate and learn a chilling lesson at the hands of both his masked mentor and the Joker, before Batman: Gotham Knights #3 (May 2000) provides a black & white memory as a neophyte Dark Knight ponders the repercussions of his first ever ‘Broken Nose’ and takes a rather petty revenge on the perpetrator…

Also included here are ancillary text pages to supplement the main story, delivered as ‘Batman: Year 100 News Archives’and as plus notes, design sketches and unused artwork

All science fiction is commentary on the present, not prognostication of tomorrows. The Heroic Ideal is about wish-fulfilment as much as aspiration and escapism. Batman: Year 100 is a moody yet gloriously madcap story honouring the history and conventions of the primal Batman by speaking to modern audiences in the same terms as the 1939 prototype did. This is a book for the generations.
© 1998, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Metropolis


By Thea von Harbou, illustrated by Michael W. Kaluta (Donning/Starblaze)
ISBN: 0-89865-519-6 (HB)

People who work in comics adore their earliest influences, and will spout for hours about them. Not only did they initially fire the young imagination and spark the drive to create but they always provide the creative yardstick by which a writer or artist measures their own achievements and worth. Books, comics, posters, even gum cards (which mysteriously mutated into “Trading Cards” in the 1990s) all fed the colossal hungry Art-sponge which was the developing brain of the kids who make comics.

But by the 1970s an odd phenomenon was increasingly apparent. It became clear that new talent coming into the industry was increasingly aware only of comic-books as a source of pictorial fuel. The great illustrators and storytellers who had inspired the likes of Howard Chaykin, Bernie Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, P. Craig Russell, Charles Vess, Mike Grell, and a host of other top professionals were virtually unknown to many youngsters and aspirants. I suspect the reason for this was the decline of illustrated fiction in magazines – and general magazines in general.

Photographs became a cheaper option than artwork in the late 1960s and, as a broad rule, populations read less and less each year from that time onwards.

In the late 1980s, publisher Donning created a line of oversized deluxe editions reprinting “lost” prose classics of fantasy, illustrated by major comics talents who felt an affinity for the selected texts. Charles Vess illustrated Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, P. Craig Russell created magic for The Thief of Bagdad and Mike Grell revisited Pyle’s take on the world’s greatest archer in The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire.

Arch period stylist Mike Kaluta lucked in to something a little more exotic; illustrating the original film scenario (a broad shooting script used by movie-makers in the days before dialogue) written by Thea von Harbou after her husband returned from a trip to America.

Herr “von Harbou” was German expressionist genius Fritz Lang, and his account of his fevered impressions, responses and reminiscences became the ultimate social futurist fiction film Metropolis – possibly the most stirring, visually rich and influential movie of the silent era – and officially the most expensive film ever made during the pre-Talkies era.

If you haven’t seen the film… Do. Go now, a new re-re-restored version was released in 2010 – the most complete yet. I’ll wait…

The plot – in simple terms – concerns the battle between proletarian workers and the rich, educated elite of a colossal city where workers toil in hellish, conformist subterranean regiments to provide a paradise for the bosses and managers who live like gods in the lofty clouds above.

It would be the perfect life for Freder, son of the grand architect Joh Fredersen, except for the fact that he has become besotted with Maria, an activist girl from the depths. The boy will move Heaven and Earth to have her love him. He even abandons his luxuries to become a worker near her…

Distraught Fredersen renews his tempestuous relationship with the crazed science-wizard Rotwang, once an ally and rival for the love of the seductive woman Hel.

Rotwang offers his aid but it is a double-edged sword. He kidnaps Maria and constructs an incredible robotic replacement of her, to derail her passive crusade and exact his own long-deferred revenge…

This “novelisation” – for want of a better term – is as engrossing as the film in many ways, but the story is elevated by the incredible illustrations produced by Kaluta: 5 full page artworks in evocative chalk-and-pastel colour, two incredible double-page spreads in black line plus 32 assorted monochrome half-frames and full pages rendered in black & white line, grey-tones, charcoal, chalk monotones and pastel tints – an absolute banquet for lovers of art deco in particular and immaculate drawing in general.

Whilst no substitute for the actual filmic experience, this magnificent book is a spectacular combination of art and story that is the perfect companion to that so-influential fantasy masterpiece beloved by generations of youngsters. Well overdue for refit, recovery and revival…
© 1988 by the Donning Company/publishers. Art © 1988 Michael W. Kaluta. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Metal Men volume 2


By Robert Kanigher, Otto Binder, Mike Sekowsky, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Gil Kane & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1559-0 (TPB)

The metamorphic Metal Men first appeared in four consecutive issues of National-DC’s prestigious try-out vehicle Showcase. Legendarily the concept and first issue script were created over a weekend by veteran author/editor Robert Kanigher after the intended feature blew its press deadline, then rapidly-but-inspirationally rendered by the iconic art-team of Ross Andru & Mike Esposito.

This last-minute filler attracted a large, avid readership’s eager attention and within months of their fourth and final exploit, the gleaming gladiatorial gadgets were stars of their own title.

This iteration of the sterling squad is sadly neglected these days and their earliest adventures are egregiously unavailable in modern collections or digital formats but can be re-enjoyed of discovered in a previous collection and this follow-up mammoth monochrome tome. It collects the solid gold stories from Metal Men #16-35 and the second of their nine guest appearances in Brave and the Bold (#66).

Once upon a time, brilliant young polymath Will Magnus constructed a doomsday-duelling suicide squad of self-regulating, intelligent automatons, governed by astounding microcomputers dubbed “Responsometers”. These miracles of nano-engineering not only simulate – or perhaps originate – thought processes and emotional character for the robots, but also constantly reprogram their basic forms – allowing them to instantaneously change shapes.

Magnus patterned his handmade heroes on pure metals, with regal leading-man Gold commanding a tight knit team of Iron, Lead, Mercury, Platinum and Tin warriors. Thanks to their responsometers, each robot specialised in physical changes based on its elemental properties, but due to some quirk of programming the robots developed personality traits mimicking the metaphorical attributes of their base metal.

This compendium takes the manmade myrmidons through the best and worst of the 1960s “Camp Craze” and solidly into the bizarrely experimental phase that presaged a temporary decline of costumed heroes and rise of mystery and supernatural comics: a fascinating period of social and emotional experimentation that allowed comics to finally start “growing up”…

Metal Men #16 (October/November 1966) opens proceedings as Kanigher, Andru & Esposito pull out all the stops for the spectacularly whacky ‘Robots for Sale!’

Platinum or “Tina” believes herself passionately in love with Magnus and his constant rebuffs regularly drive her crazy. Here, his latest rejection makes her so mad she flees into space. When the Metal Men chase her, everyone ends up doll-sized on a derelict planet where ravenous mechanical termites have almost eradicated native wooden robots living there…

Issue #17 depicts Tina’s worst nightmare as Magnus and his motley metal crew investigate cosmic cobwebs fallen across Earth. The inventor is bizarrely bewitched by a horrifying mechanical Black Widow in ‘I Married a Robot!’, before the team tackle a terrifying technological tyrannosaur in #18’s ‘The Dinosaur Who Stayed for Dinner!’

‘The Man-Horse of Hades!’ features a mythic menace who has waited centuries for his true love to return, and promptly mistakes Tina for his missing “centaurette”, after which the Alloyed Avengers meet Metamorpho, the Element Man in Brave and the Bold #66 (June/July 1966).

‘Wreck the Renegade Robots’ (by Bob Haney & Mike Sekowsky) sees the reluctant heroic freak beg Magnus to remedy his unwelcome elemental condition, just as utterly mad scientist Kurt Borian resurfaces from years of self-imposed obscurity. He’s got his own Metal Men, and is extremely distressed that somebody else has already patented his idea. Tragically, the only way to stop Borian’s rampage involves reversing Metamorpho’s cure…

‘Birthday Cake for a Cannibal Robot!’ offers a second appearance for Kanigher’s craziest – not to say incredibly racist – creation. Egg Fu is a colossal, ovoid Chinese Communist constructed robot programmed to “Destloy Amelica” (I know, I know: deeply unsuitable but tolerated under the “different times” rule, OK?).

The mechanical mastermind had first battled Wonder Woman, but resurfaces here to crush the West’s greatest homemade heroes with a giant automaton of his own, after which ‘The Metal Men vs the Plastic Perils!’ plays it all slightly more seriously in a guest-star-stuffed romp (Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman and Flash) pitting the team against criminal genius Professor Bravo and his synthetic stalwarts Ethylene, Styrene, Polythene, Silicone and Methacrylate

Soviet scientist Professor Snakelocks then unleashes an unpredictable synthetic life-form against the heroes in #22’s ‘Attack of the Sizzler!’ before launching an invasion of America. Although the canny constructs can handle hordes of mechanical Cossacks, they are completely outgunned when the sparkling synthezoid transforms Magnus into a robot and the Metal Men into flesh and blood humans…

Issue #23 sees the robots restored, but Doc still steel-shod as they face ‘The Rage of the Lizard!’ – another sinister spy attacking the Free World – but before the inevitable end, Magnus too, regains mortal form. Unfortunately, now Tina and Sizzler are rivals for his non-existent affections…

Metal Men #24 pits the expanded team against a monstrous marauding inflatable alien in ‘The Balloon Man Hangs High!’ after which the ‘Return of Chemo…the Chemical Menace!’ sees tragedy strike as Sizzler is destroyed and Doc grievously injured just before the toxic terror attacks. Mercifully, the Shiny Sentinels prove equal to the task even without their mentor-inventor and it’s back to tried-and-true zaniness for #26’s ‘Menace of the Metal Mods!’ wherein mechanical fashion icons go on a robbing rampage. ‘The Startling Origin of the Metal Men!’ rehashes their first mission as a modern Mongol Genghis Khan launches an anti-American assault.

‘You Can’t Trust a Robot!’ finds a fugitive gang-boss taking control of the Metal Men’s spare bodies, resulting in a spectacular “evil-twin” battle between good and bad mechanoids, before it’s back into outer space to battle ‘The Robot Eater of Metalas 5!’ and his resource-hungry masters: a staggeringly spectacular romp marking an end to Kanigher, Andru & Esposito’s connection with the series.

Metal Men #30 (February/March 1968) featured the first of 2 fill-in issues by Otto Binder and Gil Kane – with Esposito hanging on to provide inks – after which a highly radical retooling began.

Following a laboratory accident that leaves Magnus in a coma, ‘Terrors of the Forbidden Dimension!’ finds metal marvels exploring other realms in search of a cure. No sooner do they defeat a host of hazards to fix him than he insults them by building another team! Issue #31’s ‘The Amazing School for Robots!’ introduces Silver, Cobalt, Osmium, Gallium, Zincand Iridium – although she prefers “Iridia”…

It’s all barely manageable until disembodied alien intelligence Darzz the Dictator possesses the newcomers and civil war breaks out…

By1968, superhero comics were in steep and rapid decline. Panicked publishers sought new ways to keep audiences as tastes changed. Back then, the entire industry depended on newsstand sales, so if you weren’t mass-popular, you died.

Editors Jack Miller and George Kashdan tapped veteran Mike Sekowsky to stop the metal fatigue, and he had a radical solution: the same nuts and bolts overhaul he was also helming with Denny O’Neil on the de-powered Diana Prince: Wonder Woman.

The enchantingly eccentric art of Sekowsky was a DC mainstay for decades and his unique take on the Justice League of America had cemented its overwhelming success. He had also scored big with Gold Key’s Man from Uncle and Tower Comics’ T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and Fight the Enemy!

Now he was creatively stretching himself with a number of experimental, youth-targeted projects; tapping into the teen zeitgeist with the Easy Rider-inspired drama Jason’s Quest, sci-fi reboot Manhunter 2070, the (at that time) hopelessly moribund Amazon and eventually Supergirl.

Sekowsky began conservatively enough in MM #32 as illustrator, with Binder scripting ‘The Metal Women Blues!’wherein Doc builds counterparts and companions for his valiant crew – with disastrous results – after which the boldly innovative “relevancy” direction kicked in with The New Hunted Metal Men #33 (cover-dated August/September 1968).

Kanigher resumes as scripter with Sekowsky & George Roussos crafting a darkly paranoic tone for ‘Recipe to Kill a Robot!’ wherein the once-celebrated team go on the run from humanity. The problems start when Magnus increases their power-levels exponentially, causing them to constantly endanger the very people they are trying to help. The tension is compounded after their creator is injured: plunged into yet another coma.

Pilloried by an unforgiving public and only stopping briefly to defeat an invasion by voracious giant alien insects, the misunderstood mechanoids flee, finding sanctuary with Doc’s brother David – a high-ranking military spook.

Issue #33’s ‘Death Comes Calling!’ sees them encountering a ghastly extraterrestrial force which murderously animates America’s shop mannequins after Tina rejects its amorous advances. The concomitant carnage and highly visible collateral damage are exacerbated in #35 – the last tale in this rousing tome – which adds to humanity’s collective woes when a vast, love-starved Volcano Man joins the chase in ‘Danger… Doom Dummies!’

Kanigher’s unmatched ability to dream up outlandish visual situations and bizarre emotive twists might have dropped out of vogue, but this simply opened the door for more evocative and viscerally emotive content more in keeping with the series’ now teen-aged audience, and the best was still to come…

It’s long past time we saw those tales – as well as these lost comics classics – again in suitable archival editions and all modern formats: ASAP, please!
© 1965-1969, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Malinky Robot – Collected Stories and Other Bits


By Sonny Liew & various (Image)
ISBN: 978-1-60706-406-0 (TPB)

The concept of man-made servants and their subsequent moral and spiritual plight has been with us for centuries, long before Czech playwright Karel Čapek coined the term “robot” in his drama R.U.R. (Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti). Automata, clockwork toys and mechanoids have fascinated humans both for their connotations of childlike innocence and the terrifying potential they harbour. For many, robots also insights into what it means to be human…

Sonny Liew (The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye; Godshaper; Wonderland; Liquid City; Marvel Adventures Spider-Man; Re-Gifters; Flight and more) was born in Malaysia, educated in Singapore and at Clare College, Cambridge where he took Philosophy. In 2001, he studied illustration under David Mazzucchelli at Rhode Island School of Design, but had already been a comics pro since 1995: crafting the strip Frankie and Poo for Singapore’s The New Paper. From Rhode Island he moved to DC’s Vertigo imprint working with Mike Carey & Marc Hempel on My Faith in Frankie. Since then, he’s become a celebrated, award-winning global force of comics wonder.

In 2011, he released this selection of charm-drenched tales featuring tough street kids just getting by. As revealed in the author’s Introduction, the lads and their world had been around for a decade or so, popping up in various publications and al over Europe before finally settling in here in a fancy trade paperback/digital edition…

Very much a love letter to bustling, vibrant Southeast Asian urban life, the tales are set in San’ya city: a sprawling, semi-derelict, intensely inhabited – if not overpopulated – metropolis of the future with shabby survivors Oliver and Atariintroducing themselves and their lives as in ‘Stinky Fish Blues’ as the city is suddenly saturated with an odour that cannot be ignored.

A little investigation reveals a crucial part of the waste-processing infrastructure has gone extinct – except perhaps for the singular specimen of Foetidus Piscis the boys have lucked into… and are keen to sell…

Another day and another fresh hope dawns as Atari and Oliver “borrow” a ‘Bicycle’ or two and voyage all the way to Sanreo to see old pal Misha. As well as lethal traffic and noxious fumes, they find a world of placid wonder and green joy which expands as Misha buys them lunch and shares a kaleidoscope of miracles from the Sunday Funnies section of the newspaper and Oliver dreams of a career in cartooning…

This delicious pastiche features a welter of parodies to delight – or maybe outrage – fans of Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side and many others. Sadly, the consequences of their earlier velocipede liberations are drawing closer…

The gritty, Dickensian whimsy continues with ‘Karakuri’ as the cheery chancers help old Mr. Nabisco move to a new apartment. While carting boxes they strike up a relationship with his battered old, home-made robot, sparking a furious discussion of just what makes a real mechanoid…

Liew’s superb imagination is highlighted in a wealth of ‘Sketches’, including Mr. Bon Bon, Atari, Dakota & Friends, the Bums of San’ya and lots more, after which the strip fun resumes with bittersweet vignette ‘New Year’s Day’ as Nabisco’s makeshift metal man makes his desolate and lonely way home after being left in a bar. Thankfully, people are mostly kind with directions and fuel top-ups…

‘Dead Soul’s Day Out’ – with fonts by Blambot.com – flashes back to the day the boys were begging and found beaucoup bucks – a large denomination bill! – in a junk pile. It was the day Misha left town for Sanreo and their splurge of excesses was tinged with sadness and joy…

Wrapping up proceedings is a glorious and evocative ‘Guest Gallery’, with delightful contributions from Gene Yang, Roger Langridge, Koh Hong Teng, Nancy Zhang, Aaron McConnell, Bannister, Evan Larson, Skottie Young, F.S.C., Tony Sandoval, Mike Allred, Gary Choo, Nick Jainschigg and Robb Mommaerts.

Witty, moving, contemplative and beguiling, these tales of kids surviving the “hard-knocks life” are a lovely counterpoint to colossal combat, sexualised terror and weaponized angst: a true discourse on folks – artificial or otherwise – becoming heroes by just getting by and being friends.

Go. Do. Enjoy!
™ & © 2011 Sonny Liew. All rights reserved.

Superman: Brainiac


By Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Jon Sibal & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-230-1 (TPB)

Since his first appearance in Action Comics #242 (July 1958), robotic alien reaver Brainiac has been a perennial favourite foe of the Man of Steel, and has remained so even through being subsequently “retooled” many times. Brilliant and relentless, the one thing he/it has never been is really scary – until this latest re-imagining from Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.

In post-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity the raider was a computerised intellect from planet Colu who inhabited and transformed the body of showbiz mentalist Milton Fine, until it grew beyond physical limits to become a time-travelling ball of malignant computer code, constructing or co-opting ever-more formidable physical forms in its self-appointed mission to eradicate Superman.

However, in this slim but evocative tome – collecting Action Comics #886-870 and Superman: New Krypton Special #1 – the truth is finally revealed… or if you prefer, edited into a sensible scenario combining the best of dozens of previous plot strands.

Long ago, an alien invader attacked Krypton: merciless and relentless robotic berserkers slaughtered hundreds of citizens before physically removing the entire city of Kandor. Decades later, one of those robots lands on Earth only to promptly fall before the Man of Tomorrow’s shattering fists.

This ‘First Contact’ leads to a revelatory conversation with Supergirl – a fortunate survivor of the Kandor Incident, as seen in ‘Hide and Seek’. Now we know every Brainiac Superman has ever faced has only been a pale shadow of the true villain: autonomous automatic probes and programming ghosts of a malevolent entity that has stalked the universe for centuries, stealing representative cities before destroying the redundant worlds they once thrived upon. Most importantly, the real Brainiac has found Earth…

What nobody realises is that the Cosmic Kidnapper has been scouring the cosmos ever since Krypton died. He actually wants to possess every last son and daughter of that long-dead world and neither time nor distance will hinder him…

Superman rockets into space to confront the monster, unaware that the marauder is already en route to Earth, and as the Metropolis Marvel confronts his old foe for the very first time in a titanic, horrific clash, ‘Greetings’ sees Supergirl lead the defence of embattled planet Earth against the monster’s diabolical mechanical marauders.

The war on two fronts continues in ‘Mind Over Matter’, concluding in an overwhelming moment of ‘Triumph and Tragedy’ as Superman defeats Brainiac and frees an entire city of fellow Kryptonians he never knew still existed, only to lose one of the most important people in his life, ending on an uncharacteristically sombre, low key note in ‘Epilogue’.

Geoff Johns was then at the forefront of the creative movement to restore and rationalize DC’s Pre-Crisis mythology, and by combining a modern sensibility with the visual flavour of Ridley Scott’s Alien movies here added a tangible aura of terror to the wide-eyed imagination and wonder of those old and much-loved tales. The visceral, gloriously hyper-realistic art of Gary Franks & John Sibal adds to the unease, and their deft touch with the welcome tension-breaking comedic breaks is a sheer delight.

Available in both print and digital formats, this is a Superman yarn anybody can pick up, irrespective of their familiarity – or lack of – with the character: fast, thrilling, spooky and deeply moving, for all that it’s also the introduction to major event New Krypton – but that’s a tale and review for another time…
© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.