Showcase Presents The Unknown Soldier volume 1


By Joe Kubert, Bob Haney, Robert Kanigher, Archie Goodwin, Frank Robbins, David Michelinie, Irv Novick, Dan Spiegle, Doug Wildey, Jack Sparling, Gerry Talaoc & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1090-2 (TPB)

Digital comics are a welcome miracle these days, but still painfully uninspired and under provided for as regards certain genres. I’m not sure if it’s the platforms or the publishers who are at fault, but I do know that an incredible wealth of superb comics material – most of it in proven genres such as war or humour – remains locked in paper when it could be reaching new audiences at the push of a button. Here’s an absolute gem from DC’s venerable combat annals that can still be readily acquired in its physical form at least…

After the death of EC Comics in the mid-1950’s and prior to the game-changing Blazing Combat, the only guaranteed place to find powerful, controversial, challenging and entertaining American war comics was DC. In fact, even whilst Archie Goodwin’s stunning but tragically mis-marketed quartet of classics were waking up a generation, the home of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman was a veritable cornucopia of gritty, intriguing and beautifully illustrated battle tales presenting war on a variety of fronts and from many differing points of view.

When the Vietnam War escalated, 1960’s America entered a home front death-struggle pitting deeply-ingrained establishment social attitudes against a youth-oriented generation with a radical new sensibility. In response DC’s (or rather National Periodical Publishing, as it then was) battle books became even more bold and innovative…

This stunning monochrome compendium – collecting the lead feature from issues #151-188 (June-July 1970 to June 1975) of the veteran Star-Spangled War Stories anthology features one of the very best concepts ever devised for a war comic: a faceless, nameless hero perpetually in the right place at the right time, ready, willing and oh, so able to turn the tide…

The Unknown Soldier was actually a spin-off: having first appeared as a one-off in a Sgt. Rock story in Our Army at War #168 (June 1966, by Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert).

In 1970, the artist had become editor of the company’s war division and was looking for a new (American) cover/lead character to follow the critically acclaimed “Enemy Ace” tales of a WWI German fighter pilot. Hans von Hammer had been summarily bounced to the back of the book after issue #150 and as Superheroes faded in popularity in favour of more traditional genres, Kubert wanted a striking new hero to front one of DC’s oldest war titles.

Written and drawn by Kubert ‘They Came Back from Shangri-La!’ introduced a faceless super-spy and master-of-disguise whose forebears had fought and died in every American conflict since the birth of the nation. Set in 1942 here, he took on the identity of B-25 pilot Capt. Shales as he participated in vital, morale-building retaliatory bombing raids on Japanese cities. When their plane is shot down over occupied China, “Shales” leads his crew through enemy-infested territory to the safety of the Chinese resistance…

From this no-nonsense start, the feature grew to be one of DC’s most popular and long-lived: with issue #205 Star-Spangled became The Unknown Soldier in 1977 and the comic only folded in 1982 with issue #268.

One intriguing factor in these tales is that there is very little internal chronology: the individual adventures take place anytime and anywhere between the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the surrender of Germany and Japan. This picaresque approach adds a powerful sense of both timelessness and infallible, unflinching continuity. The invisible man known only as The Unknown Soldier has always and will always be where he is most needed…

His second adventure ‘Instant Glory!’ finds a US patrol captured by the SS as they enter a German city in 1944. An excoriating examination of brutality, heroism and philosophy, this story sets the hard-bitten, bitter-edged tone for the rest of the series.

Always economy-conscious and clever with scissors and glue, DC reformatted a number of old stories at this time, particularly old westerns and mystery stories so it should be no surprise that they would try the same thing with their newest star.

‘Everybody Dies’ was retooled into a new offering via a framing sequence drawn by Kubert, but the body of the tale was originally seen as ‘A GI Passed Here’ (illustrated by Irv Novick in Star-Spangled War Stories #36). In its revamped form, the saga recounts a grim 24 hours in the life of anonymous Eddie Gray as he survives just one more day in the deserts of Nazi-held Africa.

The Unknown Soldier got a full origin in #154’s ‘I’ll Never Die!’, recounting how two inseparable brothers join up in the days before America was attacked and are posted to the Philippines just as the Japanese begin their seemingly unstoppable Pacific Campaign. Overwhelmed by a tidal wave of enemy soldiers, the brothers hold their jungle posts to the last and when relief comes only one has survived. His face is a tattered mess of raw flesh and bone…

As the US forces retreat from the islands, the indomitable survivor is evacuated to a stateside hospital. Refusing medals, honours and retirement, the recuperating warrior dedicates his remaining years to his lost brother Harry and determinedly retrains as a one man-army intelligence unit. His unsalvageable face swathed in bandages, the nameless fighter learns the arts of make-up, disguise and mimicry before offering himself to the State Department as an expendable resource that can go anywhere and do anything…

All DC’s titles were actively tackling the issue of race at this time and #155’s ‘Invasion Game!’ (written by Bob Haney) sees the Soldier parachuted into France in Spring 1944 to connect with the Underground’s mysterious leader “Chat Noir”. Sent to finalise the plans for D-Day, he is horrified to discover the enigmatic commander is a disgraced black US Army sergeant with a grudge against his old country. Chat Noir was too good a character to waste and became a semi-regular cast member…

Haney was on top form for the next epic too. ‘Assassination’ details the Immortal G.I.’s boldest mission and greatest failure as he impersonates but cannot destroy Hitler himself, after which that aforementioned Sgt. Rock classic by Kanigher & Kubert is recycled as an untitled but deeply moving yarn for Star-Spangled War Stories #157. Haney & Kubert then reunited for ‘Totentanz!’ as the faceless warrior breaks into a top security concentration camp to rescue a captured resistance leader.

General George S. Patton is the thinly-veiled subject of ‘Man of War’ as Unknown Soldier is dispatched to investigate a charismatic general who has pushed his own troops to the brink of mutiny, before ‘Blood is the Code!’ finds him captured and tortured by a Japanese Colonel until he snaps: revealing every secret America wants the enemy to know…

Doug Wildey illustrated Haney’s superb ‘The Long Jump’ as the Soldier infiltrates occupied Holland, only to meet more resistance from a stubborn, misguided Dutchman than all the Nazis hunting for the faceless spy, after which ‘Take My Coward’s Hand’ recycles 1960 Sgt. Rock story ‘No Answer from Sarge’ (by Kanigher & Kubert from Our Army at War #91) and ‘Kill the General!’ – by Haney & Dan Spiegle – pits the Man of a Thousand Faces against Nazi infiltrators determined to assassinate General Eisenhower at the height of the Battle of the Bulge.

‘Remittance Man!’ in #164 has the anonymous warrior replace a legendary spotter on an occupied Pacific island, directing Allied attacks on Japanese strongholds, after which Jack Sparling came aboard as artist in ‘Witness for a Coward’. Here, a US tank commander sentenced to death for desertion is saved by the testimony of a Nazi Officer – but only after he is abducted from his HQ by the Immortal G.I., after which a debt of honour has to be repaid…

Bill Mauldin’s legendary wartime dogfaces “Willie and Joe” (see assorted Up Front collections for further details) pay an unannounced visit in #166’s ‘The True Glory’ when the Unknown Soldier travels to Italy to find out what is holding up the advance in Haney’s last offering…

Archie Goodwin steps in to script ‘Three Targets for the Viper!’ wherein the faceless man hunts an assassin set on killing Churchill, Roosevelt and De Gaulle during a conference in 1943 Morocco. We jump to France in 1944 next, and a close encounter with an American officer determined to make a name for himself at any cost in ‘The Glory Hound!’

Goodwin’s tenure saw a stronger concentration on espionage drama, as with issue #169’s ‘Destroy the Devil’s Broomstick!’ which finds the Immortal G.I. infiltrating a compound where Hitler’s latest secret weapon is being built, after which the Soldier stands in for an irreplaceable Marine Major and captures an impregnable island fortress in ‘Legends Don’t Die!’

‘Appointment in Prague!’ offers a rare and tragic glimpse into the Unknown Soldier’s past as he follows the aged actor who taught him mastery of make-up and impersonation into Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to rescue a grandson thought long dead, after which scripter Frank Robbins took over, moving the action to the Eastern Front in ‘A Cocktail For Molotov!’ wherein Nazis pull out all the stops to destroy Russia’s charismatic foreign Minister before he concludes a treaty with the Allies.

Star-Spangled War Stories #173 finds the G.I. infiltrating a Japanese Submarine base disguised as a Nazi wrestler invited to an exhibition match against a Sumo master. ‘No Holds Barred!’ proves that,, although allies, Japanese and Germans weren’t exactly friends…

‘Operation Snafu!’ begins an extended storyline as it found him impersonating a German tank-commander and forced to sacrifice his own Resistance allies in order to complete a mission vital to the Allied advance, whilst ‘A Slow Burn… From Both Ends!’ offers him the chance to make amends and #176’s ‘Target: The Unknown Soldier!’ ramps up the tension as the Nazis discover a way to identify the faceless warrior no matter how he is disguised…

With Von Sturm – his deadly Nazi counterpart – on his trail, the Unknown Soldier stirs up ‘The Hornet’s Nest!’ and is hunted and hounded towards a concentration camp where inmates work as slaves to construct V1 rockets. Trapped, with the net closing around him, he replaces one of the jailers but Von Sturm is determined to deliver ‘The Sting of Death!’ in a spectacular climactic duel to the death…

Star-Spangled War Stories #179 focuses on the aftermath of his close escape when the Soldier stumbles into ‘A Town Called Hate!’ where racial tensions between white and black G.I.s has devolved into tit-for-tat murders. Unfortunately, whilst disguised as a member of an SS infiltration squad, he can only exacerbate the situation. With the Germans about to deliver a devastating counter-attack, it’s a good thing the long-missing Chat Noir is also on hand…

‘The Doomsday Heroes!’ despatches the anonymous agent to the Leyte Gulf where Japanese suicide attacks have halted the US advance. However, before he can begin his mission, he is shot down and forced to work with a failed Kamikaze pilot to survive the cruel Pacific seas…

After that tragedy of honour the mission continues with ‘One Guy in the Right Place…’ as the Soldier links up with natives fighting Japanese invaders. Disturbingly, they are led by an unseen American who sounds like the brother he lost in the first days of the war. Can Harry have survived all these years…?

Robbins and Sparling bowed out with a classy mini-classic in Star-Spangled War Stories #182. Set in Tunisia, ‘A Thirst for Death!’ sees the Soldier and a crew of veterans on the sandy trail of Rommel’s hidden petrol reserves, after which new kids David Michelinie & Gerry Talaoc herald a change of direction with ‘8,000 to One’.

The horror boom in comics was at its peak in 1974 and new editor Joe Orlando capitalised on that trend with a few startling changes – the most controversial being to regularly reveal the Unknown Soldier’s grotesque, scar-ravaged face – presumably to draw in monster-hungry fear fans…

The story itself harks back to the Immortal G.I.’s earliest days as an American agent; sent to Denmark to rescue a ship full of Danish Jews destined for Hitler’s death camps. Disguised as SS Captain Max Shreik, the Soldier is forced to make an unconscionable choice to safeguard his mission. The degree and manner of graphic violence also exponentially increases to accommodate a perceived more mature readership as the Soldier takes a very personal revenge…

‘A Sense of Obligation’ places the cold, remorseless warrior in France, tasked with infiltrating a Special Kommando Training Centre and destroying it from within. However, as with all undercover work, the risk of going too deep and making friends who you might have to kill later inevitably leads to another tragic life or death decision for the increasingly grim and soulless Soldier, whilst ‘The Hero’ finds the faceless man invading neutral Switzerland to kidnap a British scientist held by Nazis. This time, his lethal final judgement costs him no sleep at all…

In ‘Man of God… Man of War’ (#186) a Catholic Priest duped into working with the Nazis in Italy becomes the Soldier’s latest target, but the plan is forestalled and a shocking situation revealed and rectified after ‘A Death in the Chapel’.

This imposing, impressive and thoroughly entertaining first volume concludes with Star-Spangled War Stories #188 and ‘Encounter’ as the Unknown Soldier strives to prevent the scuttling of a hospital ship by Nazis, unaware that his only ally is in love with the enemy commander…

Dark, powerful, moving and overwhelmingly ingenious, The Unknown Soldier is a magnificent addition to the ranks of extraordinary mortal warriors in an industry far too heavy with implausible and incredible heroes. These tales will appeal to not just comics readers but all fans of action fiction, and one day will make it to TV or movies and blow us all away all over again…
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 2006 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics volume 4


By Wally Wood, Steve Skeates, Ralph Reese, Dan Adkins, Ogden Whitney, Chic Stone Mike Sekowsky, George Tuska, John Giunta, Frank Giacoia & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-084-1(TPB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-611-0

The meteoric lifespan and output of Tower Comics is one of the key creative moments in American comicbook history. The brief, bombastic saga of The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves was a benchmark of quality and sheer bravura fun for fans of both the then-still-reawakening superhero genre and that era’s spy-chic obsession.

In the early 1960s, the Bond movie franchise was going from strength to strength, with blazing action and heady glamour utterly transforming the formerly low-key espionage genre. The buzz was infectious: soon Men like Flint and Matt Helm were carving out their own piece of the action as television shanghaied the entire bandwagon with Danger Man and the irresistible Man from U.N.C.L.E. – premiering in September 1964 – bringing the whole shtick inescapably into living rooms across the planet.

Archie Comics editor Harry Shorten was commissioned to create a line of characters for a new distribution-chain funded publishing outfit – Tower Comics. He brought in creative maverick Wally Wood, who sensibly called on some of the biggest names in the industry to produce material in the broad range of genres the company demanded (there was magnificent anthology war-comic Fight the Enemy and wholesome youth-comedy Tippy Teen as well as T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and its spin-offs Undersea Agent, Dynamo and NoMan).

Samm Schwartz & Dan DeCarlo handled the funny stuff – which outlasted everything else – whilst Wood, Larry Ivie, Len Brown, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Russ Jones, Gil Kane and Ralph Reese contributed scripts for themselves and the industry’s other top talents to illustrate on the interlinked adventure series.

With a ravenous appetite for super-spies and costumed heroes growing in comic-book popularity and amongst the general public, the idea of blending the two concepts seemed inescapable…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 appeared with no fanfare or pre-publicity on newsstands in August 1965 (with a cover off-sale date of November). Better yet, all Tower titles were in the beloved-but-rarely-seen 80-page Giant format, offering a huge amount of irresistible action and drama in every issue.

All that being said, these tales would not be so revered if they hadn’t been so superbly crafted. As well as Wood, the art accompanying the compelling, subtly more mature stories was by some of the greatest talents in comics: Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Ayers, Joe Orlando, Frank Giacoia, John Giunta, Steve Ditko and others.

This fourth fabulous compilation compiles and collates T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #11, Dynamo #3 and includes both issues of second spin-off No-Man – all originally released between November 1966 and March 1967 – with the incomparably cool concept and characters going from strength to strength and a spirit of eccentric experimentation and raucous low comedy slipping in to sweeten the pot…

For those who came in late: When brilliant Professor Emil Jennings was attacked by the forces of the mysterious Warlord, the savant perished. Happily, UN troops salvaged some of his greatest inventions, including a belt that increased the density of the wearer’s body until it became as hard as steel, a cloak of invisibility and a brain-amplifier helmet…

The prototypes were divided between several agents to create a unit of super-operatives to counter increasingly bold attacks of multiple global terror threats such as the aforementioned Warlord.

First chosen was affable, honest but far from brilliant file clerk Len Brown who was, to everyone’s surprise, assigned the belt and codename Dynamo. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent NoMan was once decrepit Dr. Anthony Dunn who chose to have his mind transferred into an android body and was then gifted with the invisibility cape. If his artificial body was destroyed Dunn’s consciousness could transfer to another android body. As long as he had a spare ready, he could never die…

Indomitable operative Guy Gilbert of crack Mission: Impossible style T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad was asked to beta-test an experimental super-speed suit. As gung-ho Lightning, he was proud to do so, even if every activation of the hyper-acceleration gimmick shortened his life-span…

After the death of telepathic agent Menthor, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. bigwigs created a new – flying – agent. Worryingly, the only operative capable of piloting the heavily-armed aerial warsuit was unscrupulous former mercenary Craig Lawson. Although ruthlessly effective, his attitude continues to give cause for concern …

The super-science spookshow resumes – in both paperback and digital formats – with the November 1966 debut issue of a second spin-off title. NoMan #1 was another sterling selection of superspy sagas with most of the writer credits once again an unresolved secret lost to posterity…

However, we know Gil Kane & Paul Reinman tackled the art for ‘Fingers of Fate’ as a robbery spree seems to implicate famed personages and celebrities in crimes they could not have committed. The trail of the real culprits leads the android agent to India to scotch a scheme to discredit global fingerprinting databases…

John Giunta illustrates ‘Secret in the Sky’ as NoMan battles criminal genius The Gnome after the diminutive demon seizes control of the world’s weather, after which Lightning foils ‘The Warp Wizard’s Master Plan’ (scripted by Steve Skeates with art from Chic Stone), when the teleporting bandit devises a seemingly unbeatable new weapon…

Subtly entrancing art veteran Ogden Whitney limns NoMan as the android agent is ‘Trapped in the Past’ by aliens and remains to render the tragedy of ‘The Good Subterranean’ who tried to reform despite a wave of human intolerance…

Next up is T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #11 (March 1967) which opens with the team’s top agent in big trouble and replaced by a deadly duplicate. ‘The Death of Dynamo’ (art by Dan Adkins & Wood) sees criminal society S.P.I.D.E.R. almost succeed but for one crucial oversight…

Steve Skeates, Mike Sekowsky & Frank Giacoia the detail ‘Lightning vs The Vortex’, pitting T.H.U.N.D.E.R.’s super-speedster against a wily crook with the – stolen – power to create tornados before immortal android NoMan escapes ‘The Trap’ set by telepathic tyrant The King and saves Humanity from mental enslavement in a terse thriller by Skeates & Giunta.

Drama gives way to sly whimsy in ‘Understudy for Dynamo’ (illustrated by Stone) wherein T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Dan Atkins – AKA Dynamite – is tapped to wear the power-inducing Thunderbelt until Dynamo recovers from exhaustion and pneumonia. Sadly, the substitute is keen but not so able…

The anthological exploits conclude with another quirky outing for winged wonder Raven written and illustrated by legendary craftsman Manny Stallman. ‘The Case of Jacob Einhorn’ finds robot-obsessed Mayven the Poet hired to kill a celebrated Nazi-hunter before he can expose escaped war criminals to the UN. Determined to stop her is a former mercenary who can still learn a few things about being a hero…

A star from the get-go, Dynamo quickly won his own giant-sized solo title. With a March 1967 cover-date, issue #3 kicked off with the husky hero spectacularly battling an alien invasion inside T.H.U.N.D.E.R. HQ that quickly escalates to endanger the entire city. Illustrated by Stone, Wood & Adkins, ‘The Unseen Enemy’ is a potent blockbuster yarn that promises an unmissable return match…

Ralph Reese scripted hilarious romp ‘Bad Day for Leonard Brown’ for Stone to draw as the simplistic hunky he-man hero falls foul of regular girlfriend Alice, sultry fellow agents Diana Dawn and Kitten Kane as well as steely sex siren Iron Maiden all whilst diligently trying to keep a new laser weapon out of the hands of diabolical demagogue Demo

Stone sticks around to limn Dynamo’s battle against middle eastern despot Phyllis Tyne, as the strongman is forced to reprise ‘The Feats of Samson’ after which Paul Reinman renders a sham marriage to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Kitten which exposes S.P.I.D.E.R.’s high crimes in the oil industry and leads to ‘Honeymoon or High Noon?’

The issue ends with another lighthearted romp for Wally Wood’s cartoon alter ego as wily Agent William “Weed” Wylie tries to quell a South American revolution sponsored by rival cabals S.P.I.D.E.R. and Red Star. Drawn by George Tuska, ‘Weed Vs T.H.U.N.D.E.R.’ results in the scrawny pragmatist punching way above his weight when the villains co-opt the super-agents with mindbending gases…

This volume closes with the contents of NoMan #2 (March 1967) as Whitney illustrates ‘Dynamo vs NoMan’ – wherein Spider technologist Doctor Cyber usurps control of the Invisible Agent’s legion of android bodies – and follow-up thrill ‘The Weird Case of the Kiss of Death’ as a reincarnated Egyptian queen sustains her immortal life by consuming life force. Not, however, one enclosed in a plastic body…

Skeates & Stone then detail how battle-wounded Lightning loses his memory of a hidden S.P.I.D.E.R. stronghold in ‘The Web Tightens’ before Whitney returns for ‘Target NoMan’ as hidden organisation Reconquer schemes to resurrect the most evil man in history, before the espionage excitement pauses with Skeates & Whitney’s ‘A Quick Change of Mind’. Here a madman pillages scientists’ mentalities in pursuit of the ultimate weapon, only to fail thanks to the ultimate secret agent…

With stories all shaded in favour of fast pace, sparse dialogue, explosive action and big breathtaking visuals, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was decades ahead of its time and certainly informed everything in Fights ‘n’ Tights comics which came after it. These are truly timeless comic classics which improve with every reading, so do yourself a favour and add these landmark super-sagas to your collection.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics volume 4 © 2014 Radiant Assets, LLC. All rights reserved.

The James Bond Omnibus volume 001


By Ian Fleming adapted by Anthony Hern, Peter O’Donnell, Henry Gammidge & John McLusky (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-1-84856-364-3 (TPB)

It’s sad to admit but there are very few British newspaper strips to challenge the influence and impact of classic daily and Sunday “funnies” from America, especially in the field of adventure fiction.

The 1930’s and 1940’s were particularly rich in popular, not to say iconic, creations. You would be hard-pressed to come up with home-grown household names to rival Popeye, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, let alone Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon, or the likes of Little Lulu, Blondie, Li’l Abner, Little Orphan Annie or Popeye and yes, I know I said him twice, but Elzie Segars’s Thimble Theatre was funny as well as thrilling, constantly innovative, and really, really good.

What strips can you recall to equal simple popularity let alone longevity or quality in Britain? Rupert Bear? Absolutely. Giles? Technically, yes. Nipper? Jane? The Perishers? Garth? Judge Dredd?

I’d like to hope so, but I doubt it. The Empire didn’t quite get it until it wasn’t an empire any more. There were certainly very many wonderful strips being produced: well-written and beautifully drawn, but that stubborn British reserve plus a completely different editorial view of the marketplace (which just didn’t consider strips an infallible, readership-attracting magnet, as our American cousins did) never seemed to be in the business of creating household names… until the 1950’s.

Something happened in ‘50s Britain – but I’m not going to waste any space here discussing it. It just did.

In a new spirit that seemed to crave excitement and accept the previously disregarded, comics (as well as all “mere” entertainment media from radio serials to paperback novels) got carried along on the wave. Just like television, periodicals such as The Eagle, the regenerated Dandy and Beano and girls’ comics in general all shifted into creative high gear …and so at last did newspapers.

And that means that I can happily extol the virtues of a graphic collection with proven crossover appeal for a change. The first 007 novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 and was subsequently serialised – after much dithering and nervousness on behalf of author Fleming – as a strip in the Daily Express from 1958. It was the start of a beguiling run of novel and short story adaptations scripted by Anthony Hern, Henry Gammidge, Peter O’Donnell and Kingsley Amis before Jim Lawrence, a jobbing writer for American features (who had previously scripted the aforementioned Buck Rogers) came aboard on The Man With the Golden Gun to complete the transfer of the Fleming canon to strip format. Thereafter he was invited to create new adventures, which he did until the strip’s demise in 1983.

The art on the feature was always of the highest standard. Initially John McLusky handled the illustration until 1966’s conclusion of You Only Live Twice and, although perhaps lacking in flash or verve, the workmanlike clarity of his drawing easily handled an astonishing variety of locales, technical set-ups and sheer immensity of cast members, whilst satisfying the then-novel directive of advancing a plot daily whilst ending each episode on a cliff-hanging “hook” every time.

He was succeeded by Yaroslav Horak, who debuted on Man with the Golden Gun, offering a looser, edgier style, at once more cinematic and with a closer attention to camera angle and frenzied action that seemed to typify the high-octane 1960’s. Horak illustrated 26 complete adventures until 1977 when The Daily Express axed the Bond feature (with a still-running adventure suddenly switching to The Sunday Express from January 30th until conclusion on May 22nd).

Later adventures had no UK presence at all, only appearing in syndication in European papers. This state of affairs continued until 1981 when British paper The Daily Star revived the feature with ‘Doomcrack’.

Titan Books re-assembled those scarce-seen tales – a heady brew of adventure, sex, intrigue and death – into addictively accessible monochrome Omnibus Editions, (sadly not available digitally at the present) wherein a dedicated band of creators on top form prove how the world’s greatest agent never rests in his mission to keep us all free, safe, shaken, stirred and thoroughly entertained…

In this premier no-nonsense paperback gem adapting 11 of Fleming’s best, the frantic derring-do and dark, deadly diplomacy commences with ‘Casino Royale’ as British operative Bond is ordered to gamble with and bankrupt Le Chiffre, a communist agent who has insanely embezzled away his Soviet masters’ operating capital.

The moodily compelling tale of tension that results depicts torture and violent death as well as oppressively suspenseful scenes of graphic gambling: heady stuff for newspaper readers of 1958, when it first ran.

Without pausing for breath or a fresh martini the Bond briefing segues straight into ‘Live and Let Die’ which sees 007 and US agent Felix Leiter tackle Mr. Big, another scurrilous commie agent, a devious genius who rules the Harlem underworld through superstition, voodoo and brutal force before, ‘Moonraker’ details the attempt by ex-Nazi officer Hugo Drax to drop a guided missile on London: a task made far simpler since the maniac has infiltrated the British aristocracy…

These newspaper strips come from a period when dependable John McLusky was developing a less formal approach, before going on to produce some of his best work. ‘Casino Royale; was the opening strip in a near 25-year run, and the somewhat muted artwork shows an artist still not completely comfortable with his task.

It was adapted and scripted by Anthony Hern, who had won the author’s approval after writing condensed prose versions of the novels for the Daily Express. Live and Let Die and Moonraker were both adapted by Henry Gammidge.

As McLusky settled in for the long haul, he warmed to the potentialities of the job with cracking tales of Cold-War intrigue and fast, dangerous living set in a multitude of exotic locales, providing here a welcome return to public gaze of some of the most influential – and exciting – comic strips in British history.

The adaptation of ‘Diamonds are Forever’ pits Bond against an insidious gang of diamond smuggling criminals, in an explosive if uncomplicated all-action romp before shifting into terse, low-key thriller ‘From Russia With Love’ (both courtesy of Gammidge & McLusky). The artist hit a creative peak with ‘Dr No’ perhaps because of the sparkling script from Peter O’Donnell (before he sloped off to create the amazing Modesty Blaise) with Bond returning to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of two operatives and stumbling upon a plot to sabotage the American rocketry program.

These stories come from an age at once less jaded but more worldly; a place and time where the readers lived daily with the very real threat of instant annihilation. As such, the easy approachability of the material is a credit to the creators.

‘Goldfinger’ faithfully adapts Fleming’s novel of the world’s most ambitious bullion robbery, so if you’re only familiar with the film version there will be a few things you’ve not seen before. The action fairly rockets along and the tense suspense is high throughout this signature tale.

Following that is ‘Risico’ as 007 is tasked with stopping a heroin smuggling gang whose motive is not profit but social destabilisation. Next is ‘From a View to a Kill’, a traditional and low-key Cold War thriller with Bond on the trail of a gang who have been stealing state secrets by ambushing military dispatch riders…

In the Roger Moore film incarnation Risico was folded into ‘For Your Eyes Only’ but here you get the real deal with a faithful adaptation of Fleming’s short story, wherein Bond is given a mission of revenge and assassination. Set in Jamaica with Nazi war-criminal Von Hammerstein as culprit and target for the man with a licence to kill, it is a solid piece of dramatic fiction that once again bears little similarity to the celluloid adventure.

The volume concludes with the then-controversial ‘Thunderball’ adaptation. That particular tale was savagely censored and curtailed at the behest of Lord Beaverbrook, owner of the Daily Express. Five days of continuity were excised but what remains is still pretty engrossing comic fare and at least some effort was made to wrap up the storyline before the strip ended. In case you can’t recall: When Bond is sent on enforced medical leave, he stumbles into a deadly plot to steal nuclear weapons by a new subversive organisation calling itself Spectre

These grand stories are a must for not only aficionados of Bond but for all thriller fans, as an example of truly gripping adventure uncluttered by superficial razzamatazz. Get back to basics, and remember that classic style is never out of fashion.

All strips are © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1987. James Bond and 007 are ™Danjaq LLC used under license from Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.

James Bond: Hammerhead


By Andy Diggle, Luca Casalanguida & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-52410-322-4 (HB) 978-1-52410-713-0 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic Blockbuster Entertainment… 10/10

James Bond is the ultimate secret agent. You all know that and have – thanks to the multi-media empire that has grown up around Ian Fleming’s novel creation – your own vision of what he looks like and what he does. That’s what dictates how you respond to every new movie, game or novel.

Amongst those various iterations are some exceedingly enjoyable comicbook and newspaper strip versions detailing the further exploits of 007 which have never truly found the appreciation they rightly deserve. This collection – available in hardback trade paperback and digital iterations – is probably one of them. It originates from 2017, compiling a 6-issue miniseries from licensing specialists Dynamite Entertainment.

Their fabulously engaging take on the veteran antihero was originally redefined by Warren Ellis & illustrator Jason Masters, who jettisoned decades of gaudy paraphernalia that had accumulated around the ultimate franchise star, opting instead for a stripped-down, pared-back, no-nonsense agent who is all business. Successive creative teams have maintained that sleek, swift efficiency and at last Andy (The Losers, Green Arrow: Year One, Shadowland, Gamekeeper, Uncanny) Diggle: a British writer seemingly born to extend the adventures of 007.

Deftly and effectively handling the stunning visuals is Luca Casalanguida whose art – in combination with colourist Chris Blythe and letterer Simon Bowland – stirs wonderfully potent echoes of illustrator Yaroslav Horak who made the original newspaper strip such a heady delight.

This high-tech terrorism tale opens with Bond in Venezuela, bloodily failing his assignment to capture lethal hacker-for-hire Saxon and gather intel on enigmatic terrorist Kraken. Hauled – after the opening credits, of course – back to MI6 HQ in Vauxhall Cross, London, the agent is suitably carpeted by M before being fobbed off with a babysitting job.

His charge is Lord Bernard Hunt, a British Arms magnate currently upgrading the UK’s tired old Trident Nuclear arsenal. Hunt’s company is also a major exporter of cutting-edge weaponry, and Bond is to shadow him at an arms fair in Dubai…

Thankfully there’s compensation of a sort as the gunsmith’s luscious daughter Victoria is also the firm’s Vice President. A dedicated patriot and anglophile, “Tory” finds plenty of ways to amuse the bodyguard: everything from a guided tour of the company’s new super toy – a colossal rail gun dubbed Hammerhead – to drinking and games…

Tragically, Kraken is again one step ahead of Bond and the mission goes disastrously wrong…

Meanwhile back in Blighty, an attack on a Hunt helicopter in Scotland results in the loss of a mothballed Trident warhead…

With Tory’s help, Bond is soon on the track of the suspected perpetrators. After a great deal of research, battle and bloodshed, a trail leads to Yemeni smuggler Karim Malfakhar. However, despite being responsible for most of the bodycount, Bond is not content with how the mission is unfolding. Something is not right…

Black Crannog is Hunt’s Nuclear Reprocessing Facility: a sea platform in the Outer Hebrides where Tory welcomes M, Miss Moneypenny and Defence Secretary Simon Wallis to discuss the crisis. When Kraken springs a trap, not all of them survive…

Happily, in the interim, Bond has put all the piece together correctly and is heading for the rig in a Royal Navy Ballistic Missile Submarine with a full team of SBS (Special Boat Service) commandos. As Kraken proudly initiates the final stage of a plan to nuke London and usher in a new era of warfare, Bond makes another spectacular last-ditch assault to save the day and kill his latest foe.

Luckily, Black Crannog is literally packed with super weapons…

Offering all the traditional Bond set-pieces such as exotic locales, spectacular chases and astoundingly protracted fight sequences, this is a rousing mystery romp fans will adore, supported by a gallery of eye-catching variant covers by Francesco Francavilla, Robert Hack & Ron Salas, plus art features detailing Casalanguida’s process from layout to finished line art and character design sketches.

This riotous espionage episode is fast, furious and impeccably stylish: in short, another ideal James Bond thriller, that will leave you both shaken and stirred…
© 2017 Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. James Bond and 007 are ™ Danjaq LLC, used under license by Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Mata Hari


By Emma Beeby, Ariela Kristantina, with Pat Masioni & Sal Cipriano (Berger Books/Dark Horse)
ISBN: 987-1-50670-561-3(TPB) eISBN: 987-1-50670-590-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because History is Never Straightforward or Straitlaced… 9/10

Until relatively recently (some would argue that should read “hopefully soon”), History has never really treated women well or even fairly. When not obscured, sidelined or just written out, they have been cruelly misunderstood and misrepresented.

Moreover, we’re all painfully aware these days, a bold lie or convenient fabrication has far more veracity that simple, muddled, messy truth.

Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” MacLeod (née Zelle) was born on August 7th 1876 in Leeuwarden, in the Dutch Netherlands, to milliner and later industrialist Adam Zelle. She was the eldest of four children and raised in wealth until her father lost it. Her life became more troubled and remarkable after that, before she died on 15th October 1917 in front of a French Firing Squad.

In between, she had married, lived in the East Indies, had children she never really knew and remade herself as a rather scandalous dancer and performer. Margreet adopted the stage name Mata Hari (it means “eye of the dawn” in Malay) and her gifts led to her becoming a courtesan in the highest circles of privileged society, with princes, ambassadors, tycoons and generals all clamouring for her attention. She was also courted by some countries – including France and Great Britain – to act as an espionage operative…

After a chequered life during a period when European society welcomed strong independent women, she was accused on meagre evidence of spying for the Germans during the Great War, and convicted.

Deemed to have caused the death of 50,000 men, and the moral ruination of countless others, Mata Hari has become the purest and most enduring symbol of the deadly, cunning femme fatale…

In the last few decades, serious historical investigation has cast a rather different, and far fairer complexion on the mythical spy in film, song, ballet, books, musicals and all arenas of popular culture, none better than an imaginative 5-issue miniseries from Dark Horse’s Berger Books imprint, a collaboration of writer Emma Beeby (Judge Dredd, Doctor Who, Judge Anderson), artist Ariela Kristantina (Wolverine: The Logan Legacy, Deep State, Insexts), colourist Pat Masioni and letterer Sal Cipriano.

Blending hard fact with emotive supposition and informed extrapolation, the sorry episode unfolds in the flashbacks and daydreams of a prisoner held at the Saint-Lazare Prison for Prostitutes in Paris in October 1917. Opening chapter ‘Bare Faced’ introduces Margreet as she desperately struggles to complete a book that will tell her story in her own words…

Against a backdrop of political and military manipulation resolved to make an example of her, ‘Bare Breast’ details her disastrous, life changing marriage and its terrible consequences whilst ‘Bare Heart’ relates her fight back to independence and notoriety after which ‘Bare Teeth’ moves on to the war and the great love for a Russian soldier that leads to her ultimate downfall in ‘Bare All’…

Real life doesn’t work the way narrative would like and the people there aren’t actors. This contemplative tale (packed with documentary photos and available in paperback and digital formats) carefully acknowledges that frustrating complexity in an account scrupulously devoid of heroes and outright villains whilst exposing centuries of institutionalised injustice – in an extremely entertaining manner. It closes with a series of textual Codas (offering many more intimate photos of the woman and her times) with ‘Mata Hari’s Conviction’ relating the oddities and strange events regarding the disposal of her body and an authorial opinion by Beeby in ‘Was Mata Hari a Martyr?’…

In both word and imagery, Mata Hari is a potent, beguiling, evocative and uncompromising retelling of a murky and long-misconceived historical moment that any fan of history and lover of comics will adore…
Mata Hari text and illustrations © 2019 Emma Beeby and Ariela Kristantina. All rights reserved.

Orient Gateway


By Vittorio Giardino (Catalan Communications/NBM)
ISBN: 978-0-87416-041-3 (Catalan PB Album) 978-1-56163-184-1 (NBM PB Album)
Born on Christmas Eve 1946, Vittorio Giardino was an electrician who switched careers at age 30. He initially worked for a number of comics magazines before his first collection – Pax Romana – was released in 1978. Giardino has toiled, slowly but consistently, on both feature characters such as the detective Sam Pezzo, saucy Winsor McKay homage Little Ego and cold-war drama Jonas Fin, as well as general fiction tales, producing over 43 albums to date.

Way back in 1982 as the Cold War tottered to an end, he began the tale of a quiet, bearded fellow recalled by the Deuxieme Bureau (the French Secret Service) to investigate the slaughter of almost every agent in the cosmopolitan paradise of Budapest. The series ran in four parts in the magazine Orient Express before being collected as Rhapsodie Hongroise. It was Giardino’s 13th book and in no way unlucky for him. In it, reluctant yet competent spy Max Fridman (transliterated into Max Friedman for the English-speaking world), was dragged back into the “Great Game” in the years of uneasy peace just before the outbreak of World War II…

Within three years he returned to the subtly addictive pre-war drama with follow-up La Porta d’Oriente – Orient Gateway to you and me.

Summer 1938: All the espionage agencies in the world know war is coming and nothing can stop it. Frantically jockeying for the most favourable position, they’re all seeking every advantage for when the balloon goes up. Soviet engineer Mr. Stern has become just such a preferred asset of too many rival organisations, so he runs, losing himself in the teeming, mysterious city of Istanbul.

Once again diffident, canny operative Max is drawn into the murky miasma of spycraft, but now, beside exotic, bewitching Magda Witnitz, is he the only one to ask why so many dangerous people want to acquire Stern?

And why are they so willing to kill for him?

Subtle, entrancing and magnificently illustrated, this is an entrancing, slow-boil thriller with all the beguiling nostalgic panache of Casablanca and labyrinthine twists and turns of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy which no fan of the genre, let alone comics aficionado, can afford to miss.

Over the course of a decade, the masterful Italian graphic novelist crafted two further individual tales and in 1999 added a stunning triptych of albums. No Pasarán! detailed a key moment during the conflict in Republican Spain and dying days of the Civil War, revealing many clues into the life of the unassuming antihero. Two more volumes were added to the canon in 2002 and 2008, and I’m declaring they are all now long past due to be revived and revisited…

Giardino is a smart and confident writer who makes tone and nuance carry a tale and his art – a more representational derivation of Hergé’s ligne claire (clean line) – makes the lovingly rendered locations as much a character as any of the stylish operatives in a dark, doomed world on the brink of holocaust.

Although still largely an agent unknown in the English-speaking world, Max Friedman is one of espionage literature’s greatest characters, and Giardino’s work is like honey for the eyes and mind. This is another graphic novel every fan of comics or the Intelligence Game should know.
© 1986 Vittorio Giardino. All rights reserved.

Hungarian Rhapsody


By Vittorio Giardino (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 978-0-87416-033-8 (TPB Album)

Born on Christmas Eve 1946, Vittorio Giardino was an electrician who switched careers at age 30. He initially worked for a number of comics magazines before his first collection – Pax Romana – was released in 1978. Giardino has toiled, slowly but consistently, on both feature characters such as the detective Sam Pezzo, saucy Winsor McKay homage Little Ego and cold-war drama Jonas Fin, as well as general fiction tales, producing over 43 albums to date.

In 1982 he began the tale of a quiet, bearded fellow recalled by the Deuxieme Bureau (the French Secret Service) to investigate the slaughter of almost every agent in the cosmopolitan paradise of Budapest. The series ran in four parts in the magazine Orient Express before being collected as Rhapsodie Hongroise Giardino’s thirteenth book and in no way unlucky for him. Reluctant spy Max Fridman (transliterated into Max Friedman for the English-speaking world), was dragged back into the “Great Game” in the years of uneasy peace just before the outbreak of World War II: a metaphor for the nations of Europe…

Over the course of ten years, the masterful Italian graphic novelist crafted two more individual tales and in 1999 added a stunning triptych of albums. The three volumes of No Pasarán! detailed a key moment during the conflict in Republican Spain and the dying days of the Civil War which revealed many clues into the life of the diffident and unassuming hero. Two further volumes have been added to the canon in 2002 and 2008, and I’m declaring they are all now long past due to be revived and revisited…

In Hungarian Rhapsody, Friedman debuts as a troubled, cautious man with a daughter he adores and a nebulous past that somehow stems from undisclosed experiences in the Spanish Civil War where he fought as a Republican in the International Brigades against Franco’s Nationalists.

He is no ideologue or man of action, but still, somehow, is convinced – call it blackmailed – to leave his idyllic home in Switzerland to investigate the plague of assassinations for his devious French taskmasters….

Friedman is a hero in the mould of John le Carré’s George Smiley: a methodical thinker and the very antithesis of such combat supermen as James Bond, Napoleon Solo or Jason Bourne. Arriving in Budapest, Friedman gently prods and pokes about, swiftly becoming the target of not just the mysterious killers, but seemingly every rabid faction in a city crammed full of spies of every type and description, from Soviet agitators to Nazi plotters.

In a city of stunning, if decadent, beauty and cultural extremes where East meets West, Friedman finds that like the spy-game itself, nobody and nothing can be trusted…

Somebody somewhere has a master-plan but who it is and what it is..?

That’s a mystery that could get even the most cautious agent killed…

Giardino is a powerfully subtle writer who lets tone and shaded nuance carry a tale, and his captivating art – a semi-representational derivation of Hergé’s “Ligne Claire” style – makes the lovingly rendered locations as much a character in this smart, gripping drama as any of the stylishly familiar operatives of a dark, doomed world on the brink of holocaust.

Although largely an agent unknown in the English-speaking world, Max Friedman is one of espionage literature’s greatest characters. Giardino’s work is like honey for the eyes and mind. Hungarian Rhapsody is a graphic novel any fan of comics or the Intelligence Game should know.

© 1986 Vittorio Giardino. All rights reserved.

James Bond™ volume 3: Black Box


By Benjamin Percy, Rapha Lobosco, Chris O’Halloran, Simon Bowland & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-5241-0409-2

James Bond is the ultimate secret agent. You all know that and have – thanks to the multi-media empire that has grown up around Ian Fleming’s masterful creation – your own vision of what he looks like and what he does. That’s what dictates how you respond to the latest movie, game or novel.

Amongst those various iterations are some exceedingly enjoyable comicbook and newspaper strip versions detailing the further exploits of 007 which have never truly found the appreciation they rightly deserve. This collection is one of the most recent, compiling a 6-issue miniseries from licensing specialists Dynamite Entertainment. Their take was originally redefined by Warren Ellis & illustrator Jason Masters, who jettisoned decades of gaudy paraphernalia accumulating around the ultimate franchise hero, opting instead for a stripped-down, pared-back, no-nonsense iteration who is all business.

Benjamin Percy accepted the poisoned chalice of following on, and here blends the austere power of the reboot with his own tributes to the movie contributions of the Roger Moore era. Capably and effectively handling the visuals is Rapha Lobosco, with colours and letters supplied by Chris O’Halloran, and Bowland respectively.

It begins with Bond in the French Alps, stalking an assassin, but his licence to kill proves unnecessary as his target is lethally excised by another sharpshooter, who then escapes him in a rollercoaster ski race down the mountain slopes. Perhaps 007 was distracted by her skill or maybe her great – albeit slightly scarred – beauty…

Returning to MI6 HQ in Vauxhall Cross, Bond picks up his next assignment: eradicating the perpetrators of a hack which has captured vital Crown political information and recovering the stolen data.

The hack originated in Tokyo and soon Bond is executing Operation Black Box, supported and supplied by department armorer Boothroyd. The wily technician is also – unofficially – helping to ascertain the identity of the woman who bested Bond in the Alps…

The hacker’s trail leads to the nefarious Shinjuku District and a plush Yakuza gambling den, where the British agent meets and calamitously clashes with aging billionaire Saga Genji. The tech wizard is the proud culprit of the data grab and almost succeeds in gruesomely removing the interfering agent until the mysterious woman resurfaces to murderously intervene…

When CIA comrade Felix Leiter shows up, the terrifying global scope of Genji’s plans becomes apparent and a race to secure the Black Box (for the rulers of a host of greedily ambitious nations) turns allies into merciless competitors with the entire world’s dirty secrets as the prize.

Meanwhile, Genji has supplemented his loyal army of thugs with a barely human serial killer dubbed No Name: an unstoppable psychopath who takes faces for his keepsakes and is now utterly devoted to adding Bond and his annoying female accomplice to his tally at any cost…

With the clock ticking down to international information Armageddon and bloody death and destruction constantly dogging them, Bond and his enigmatic ally overcome all odds to invade Genji’s secret base and secure all the World’s dirty laundry, only to discover at the end that their aims are not entirely similar…

Packed with all the traditional set-pieces such as exotic locales, spectacular car chases and astoundingly protracted fight sequences, this is a rip-roaring romp fans will love, supported by Bonus Material including a gallery of covers by Dominic Reardon and a host of variants from John Cassaday, Jason Masters, Goni Montes, Moritat, Lobosco, Giovanni Valletta, Patrick Zircher and Matt Taylor; an interview with author Percy by Will Nevin first seen in the Oregonian and the full script for issue #1, accompanied by its equivalent line art.

This thrill-filled espionage episode is fast, furious and impeccably stylish: in short, another perfect James Bond thriller.

Try it and see for yourselves…
© 2017 Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. James Bond and 007 are ™ Danjaq LLC, used under license by Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Buck Danny volume 2: The Secrets of the Black Sea


By Francis Bergése & Jacques de Douhet; colours byFrédéric Bergése and translated byJerome Saincantin (Cinebooks)
ISBN: 987-1-84918-018-4 (TPB)

Premiere pilot Buck Danny premiered in Le journal de Spirou in January 1947 and continues soaring across the Wild Blue Yonder to this day. The strip details the improbably long but historically significant career of the eponymous Navy pilot and his wing-men Sonny Tuckson and JerryTumbler. It is one of the world’s last aviation strips and a series which has always closely wedded itself to current affairs such as The Korean War, Bosnia and latterly Gulf and Afghanistan.

The Naval Aviator was created by Georges Troisfontaines whilst he was director of the Belgian publisher World Press Agency, and initially depicted by Victor Hubinon before being handed to the multi-talented Jean-Michel Charlier, who was then working as a junior artist.

When Charlier, with fellow creative legends Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny, formed the Édifrance Agency to promote the specialised communication benefits of comics strips, he continued to script Buck Danny and did so until his death. From then on, his artistic collaborator Francis Bergése (who had replaced Hubinon in 1978) took complete charge of the adventures of the All-American Air Ace, occasionally working with other creators such as in this captivating political thriller scripted by Jacques de Douhet.

Like so many artists involved in stories about flight, Francis Bergése (born in 1941) started young with both drawing and flying. He qualified as a pilot whilst still a teenager, enlisted in the French Army and was a reconnaissance flyer by his twenties. At age 23 he began selling strips to L’Étoile and JT Jeunes (1963-1966), after which he produced his first aviation strip Jacques Renne for Zorro. This was soon followed byAmigo, Ajax, Cap 7, Les 3 Cascadeurs, Les 3 A, Michel dans la Course and many others.

Bergése worked as a jobbing artist on comedies, pastiches and WWII strips until 1983 when he was offered the plum job of illustrating the venerable and globally syndicated Buck Danny. A man with his head very much in the clouds, Bergése even found time in the 1990s to produce some tales for the European interpretation of Great British icon Biggles. He finally retired in 2008, passing on the reins to illustrator Fabrice Lamy & scripter Fred Zumbiehl.

Like all Danny tales this second Cinebook volume is astonishingly authentic in feel and fact: a suspenseful and compelling, politically-charged adventure yarn originally published in 1994 as Buck Danny #45: Les secrets de la mer Noire: blending mind-boggling detail and technical veracity with good old-fashioned blockbuster derring-do.

It’s 1991 and in the dying days of the Soviet Empire a submarine incident leads the American Chief of Naval Operations to dispatch Buck into the newly open Russia of “Glasnost and Perestroika” to ascertain the true state and character of the old Cold War foe. All but ordered to be a spy, Buck is further perturbed by his meeting with ambitious Senator Smight, the US dignitary who is supposed to be his contact and cover-story on the trip to heart of Communism.

Buck is an old target of the KGB and knows that no matter what the official Party Line might be, a lot of Soviet Cold Warriors have long and unforgiving memories…

No sooner does he make landfall than his greatest fears are realised. Shanghaied to a top secret Russian Naval super-vessel, Buck knows he’s living on borrowed time: but his death is apparently only a pleasant diversion for the KGB renegade in charge, whose ultimate plans involve turning back the clock and undoing every reform of the Gorbachev administration… and the key component to the scheme will be a conveniently dead American spy in the wrong place at the right time…

Of course, the ever-efficient US Navy swings into action, determined to rescue their pilot, clean up the mess and deny the Reds a political victory, but there’s only so much Tumbler and Tuckson can do from the wrong side of the re-drawn Iron Curtain. Luckily, Buck has some unsuspected friends amongst the renegades too…

Fast-paced, brimming with tension, packed with spectacular air and sea action and delivered like a top-class James Bond thriller, The Secrets of the Black Sea effortlessly plunges the reader into a delightfully dizzying riot of intrigue, mystery and suspense. This is a superb slice of old-fashioned razzle-dazzle that enthrals from the first page to the last panel and shows just why this brilliant strip has lasted for so long.

Suitable for older kids and boys of all ages and gender, the Adventures of Buck Danny is one long and enchanting tour of duty no comics fan or armchair adrenaline-junkie can afford to miss. Chocks Away…
© Dupuis, 1994 by Bergése& de Douhet. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The Steel Claw: The Vanishing Man

,”

By Ken Bulmer & Jesús Blasco (Titan Books)

ISBN: 978-1-84576-156-1 (HB)

So, I’ve just pulled an all-nighter to finish my latest book by deadline—an obsessive point of pride with me that will kill me someday soon—and I’m buzzing like a bucket of angry bees. So, too tired to sleep yet, I reach for one of my favourite books to mellow out and wonder again why the hell hasn’t this been rereleased or made available digitally. And why no follow-up releases? Surely, sheer quality must count for something?

One of the most fondlyremembered British strips of all time is the startlingly beautiful Steel Claw. From 1962 to 1973 the stunningly gifted Jesús Blasco and his small studio of family members thrilled the nation’s children, illustrating the breakneck adventures of scientist, adventurer, secret agent and even costumed superhero Louis Crandell.

Initially written by science fiction novelist Ken Bulmer, the majority of the character’s career was scripted by comic veteran Tom Tully.

Our eventual hero began as the assistant to the venerable Professor Barringer, working to create a germdestroying ray. Crandell is an embittered man, probably due to having lost his right hand, which has been replaced with a steel prosthetic. When the prof’s device explodes, Crandell receives a monumental electric shock which, rather than killing him, renders him invisible. Although he doesn’t stay unseen forever, this bodily transformation is permanent. Electric shocks cause all but his steel hand to disappear.

Kids, don’t try this at home!

Whether venal or simply deranged, Crandell goes on a rampage of terror against society,culminating in an attempt to blow up New York City before finally coming to his senses. The second adventure in this astounding oversized hardback volume pits the Claw against his therapist, who in an attempt to treat him is also exposed to Barringer’s ray, becoming a bestial ape-man who frames Crandell for a series of spectacular crimes.

Bulmer’s final tale begins our star’s shift from outlaw to hero as the recuperating Crandell becomes involved in a modernday pirate’s scheme to hijack an undersea weapons system

More than any other, the Steel Claw was a barometer for reading fashions. Starting out as a Quatermass style science fiction cautionary tale, the strip mimicked the trends of the greater world, becoming a James Bond-like super-spy strip with Crandall tricked out with outrageous gadgets, and latterly a masked and costumed super-doer when Batmania gripped the nation. When that bubble burst, he resorted to becoming a freelance adventurer,combating eerie menaces and vicious criminals.

The thrills of the writing are engrossing enough, but the real star of this feature is the artwork. Blasco’s classicist drawing, his moody staging and the sheer beauty of his subjects make this an absolute pleasure to look at. Buy it for the kids and read it too; this is a glorious book.

So, track it down and agitate for more of the same…

© 2005 IPC Media Ltd. All Rights Reserved.