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.

Silent Invasion volume 1: Red Shadows


By Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-174-1

The 1980s were an immensely fertile time for English-language comics-creators. In America a fresh wave of creativity had started with the birth of dedicated comics shops and, as innovation-geared specialist retailers sprung up all over the country, operated by fans for fans, new publishers began to experiment with format and content, whilst eager readers celebrated the happy coincidence that everybody seemed to have a bit of extra cash to play with.

Consequently, those new publishers were soon aggressively competing for the attention and cash of punters who had grown resigned to getting their on-going picture stories from DC, Marvel, Archie and/or Harvey Comics. European and Japanese material began creeping in and by 1983 a host of young companies such as WaRP Graphics, Pacific, Eclipse, Capital, Now, Comico, Dark Horse, First and many others had established themselves and were making impressive inroads.

New talent, established stars and fresh ideas all found a thriving forum to try something a little different both in terms of content and format. Even shoestring companies and foreign outfits had a fair shot at the big time and much great material came – and almost universally, just as quickly went – without getting the attention or success they warranted.

By avoiding the traditional family sales points such as newsstands, more mature material could be produced: not just increasingly violent and with nudity but also far more political and intellectually challenging too.

Moreover, much of the “brain-rotting trash” or “silly kid’s stuff” stigma had finally dissipated and America was catching up to the rest of the world in acknowledging sequential narrative as a for-real, actual Art-Form, so the door was wide open for gosh-darned foreigners to make a few waves too…

One of the most critically acclaimed and just plain enjoyable features came from semi-Canadian outfit Renegade Press. They had spun out by a torturous and litigious process from Dave Sim’s Canadian Aardvark-Vanaheim enterprise, and set up shop in the USA before beginning to publish at the very start of the black and white comics bubble in 1984.

Renegade quickly established a reputation for excellence, picking up amongst others a surprisingly strong line of creator-based properties and some genuinely remarkable and impressive series such as Ms. Tree, Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire, Normalman, Flaming Carrot, the first iteration of Al Davison’s stunning Spiral Cage autobiography and a compulsive, stylish Cold War, flying-saucer paranoia-driven thriller series entitled The Silent Invasion.

This last was a stunningly stylish retro-Red Scare saga bolting 1950s homeland terrors (invasion by Commies; invasion by aliens; invasion by new ideas…) onto Film Noir chic and employing 20-20 hindsight to produce a truly fresh and enticing concept in the Reagan-era Eighties.

The series was eventually collected as four superbly oversized monochrome tomes (a whopping 298 x 2058 mm), re-presenting the lead story from the first dozen issues of The Silent Invasion wherein co-creators Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock concocted a delightful confection combining all the coolest genre elements of classic cult sci-fi, horror, spy, conspiracy theory, crime, romance and even comedy yarns…

Now, after far too long a wait – and with America once again enduring internecine struggle amongst the citizenry, corruption, collusion and cover-ups at every level of government and the press under attack from the people and traditions it seeks to inform and safeguard – the first two volumes have been re-released in a more manageable paperback size (or fully adjustable eBook format) with the expressed intention of catching up and finally completing the tensely compelling epic.

The 1950s in American were a hugely iconic and paradoxical time. Incredible scientific and cultural advancements, great wealth and desperate, intoxicating optimism inexplicably arose amidst an atmosphere of immense social, cultural, racial, sexual and political repression with an increasingly paranoid populace seeing conspiracy and subversive attacks in every shadow and corner of the rest of the world.

Such an insular melting pot couldn’t help but be fertile soil for imaginative outsiders to craft truly incisive and evocative tales dripping with convoluted mystery and taut tension, especially when wedded to the nation’s fantastic – and then-ongoing – obsessions with rogue science, flying saucers, gangsterism and espionage…

They were also obsessed with hot babes and bust sizes, but more of that elsewhere…

This first volume gathers prior collections Secret Affairs and Red Shadows and opens with Max Allan Collins’ expansive Introduction ‘Dick Tracy, Tintin and Serious Comics’, this titanic tale kicks off in April 1952 with ‘Chapter One: Atomic Spies’ within a dark desert landscape 22 miles outside Union City, USA.

Private eye Dick Mallet sees a strange light in the skies and in the morning the cops find his crashed car. There’s no sign of the infamous and distinguished Dick…

A month later reporter Matt Sinkage is still unhappy with his piece on “The Truth Behind Flying Saucers” but his mutterings and musings are interrupted by a hot blonde banging on the door of his foreign-sounding neighbour Ivan Kalashnikov.

Arriving at his desk on The Sentinel, Sinkage can’t believe the audacity of the Air Force’s official line about “marsh gas” and starts screaming at his Editor Frank Costello. The irascible bossman just bawls him out – again – and sends him off to cover real news…

Instead Sinkage heads out to the site of the latest sighting and starts interviewing local yokels. That night fiancée Peggy cooks him a meal but his mind is elsewhere, on that night six months back in Albany when he saw a UFO and impetuously chased after it: a night everyone but him remembers…

Later, in a bar, Matt continues badgering Frank until the booze gets to him. Eventually Sinkage slinks back to his apartment. Ivan’s door is open and a quick glance reveals the foreigner and others in front of a huge, weird machine and Matt realises they must be Reds! Atomic spies!

Before the reporter can react, Kalashnikov pulls a really strange gun and shoots. Next morning Sinkage awakes with another sore head and more fuzzy memories…

Days later Matt again collides with Mr K’s pretty friend Gloria Amber, but fails to get another look inside his neighbour’s place. Undeterred, he resorts to asking her out to lunch which somehow provokes the old guy into taking a sudden trip out of town. Things get even stranger when Gloria comes running to him, being chased by what she claims are Red agents…

Spiriting her away and stashing her somewhere safe, Matt doesn’t hear the pursuers accosting his landlord, claiming to be Federal Men…

‘Chapter Two: Secrets and Insidious Machinations’ finds the fugitives deep in the suburbs with Matt’s sedate brother Walter. The weary reporter is still seeing flying saucers and can’t understand why everybody else thinks they’re just jets. Meanwhile back in Union City, Frank is getting a grilling from FBI Agent Housley.

They’re old acquaintances. The G-Man regularly pops by to suppress one news item or another…

This time though the Feds want the vanished Sinkage and are not happy that Costello has no idea of the gadfly’s current location.

Back in suburbia, things are none too comfortable either. Stuck-up sister-in-law Katie is convinced Matt and his new floozy are up to no good and wants them out. At least she doesn’t know the FBI are scouring the city for them. Enigmatic Gloria, however, is more concerned that Sinkage is sleepwalking and having strange nightmares… just like Kalashnikov feared he might…

Matt and Gloria are just heading out in Walter’s borrowed car when Peggy pops by. She can’t understand why her man is with a flashy trollop and pointedly won’t talk to her. Gloria told Matt the real Reds are after Kalashnikov’s memoirs and convinced him to drive her to a quiet town in the desert where a “contact” will protect them both.

Mr K meanwhile has called in his own heavies to chase the couple, unaware that the FBI have visited Walter and Katie. A net is closing around Sinkage and the mystery woman he implicitly trusts… but really shouldn’t.…

The tension mounts in ‘Chapter Three: The Stubbinsville Connection’ as a mysterious Council of shadowy men convenes to discuss the Sinkage problem. As Housley’s report continues, when it becomes clear the reporter was also involved in the Albany event near-panic ensues…

In a cheap motel Matt’s suspicions are back. Gloria vanished from their room for a while during the night and hasn’t mentioned it…

They’re confirmed some time later when she helps Kalashnikov’s hoods Zanini and Koldst abduct her and rough him up. Back at Walter’s house the FBI turn up to interview them about Matt. They claim they’re the only Feds working on the case and no other government officials have been there before them…

Katie has had enough and spills all she knows. The agents instantly go into overdrive and organise all their forces to head for sleepy, remote Stubbinsville. Matt, meanwhile, has recovered and called the only guy he still trusts, his researcher Dan Maloney. That worthy warns him of the confusing profusion of agents all claiming to be working for the government, before sharing the same info with Frank Costello…

As Housley’s team fly in, Matt has decided to go on, hitchhiking to the rendezvous with a quirkily affable farmer who happily joins him in “pranking” the cops who have just arrested Zanini, Koldst and Gloria…

Reunited with his oddly-compliant mystery amour, Matt hurtles on to Stubbinsville in a stolen car, but with less than 100 miles to go Gloria falls ill. She makes him promise to get her there at all costs…

As the assorted pursuers converge, she directs Matt to a lonely wilderness area, but the forces of law and order have spotted them and follow. As the net closes a fantastic and terrifying lightshow ignites the dark skies. By the time Housley reaches the specified target area, all he finds is a comatose Sinkage.

As days pass, Matt finds himself free with all charges dropped, but he’s oddly content. Despite another blatant cover-up and no clue as to who all the various parties hounding him actually were, he knows what he knows and wonders when Gloria will be back…

By the time of ‘Chapter Four: A Pink Slip for a Pinko’ a little time has passed. It’s June 1952 and Matt Sinkage is tormented by nightmares of lights in the sky, Housley hunting him and Gloria beseeching him to join her kind…

His life has gone rapidly downhill. Stories of his being a “Commie” are everywhere, FBI agents shadow his every move and the oppressive tension is becoming overwhelming. When he gets a phone call from long-missing Dick Mallet, Matt arranges to meet the PI, and consequently notices that sister-in-law Katie is always listening recently and has become very chummy with his ominously ever-present G-Man surveillance detail…

First, though, Matt has to get the last of his belongings since the “Red” smear has allowed his landlord to terminate his lease. Aided by faithful fiancée Peggy and ever-friendly custodian Mr. Schneider, Sinkage collects his things and has an uncomfortable meeting with Kalashnikov. Almost in passing, Matt notices that he now has a different team of “Feds” dogging him.

When he finally meets Mallet, the gumshoe shows him an incredible set of photos: interior and exteriors shots of the flying saucers taken by the aliens…

At the Sentinel, Dan Maloney has made progress investigating Kalashnikov and Gloria but wants to finish his research before sharing. Sinkage has bigger problems though. His fellow workers have sent him to Coventry and the paper’s owner wants the “Commie” fired.

Costello is fighting back though. He suspects Housley is behind the disinformation and smear tactics targeting Matt.

Staying with Walter and Katie isn’t helping Matt’s mental state. As visions of the Albany event haunt him, his life takes another plunge when he finds Mallet murdered. Housley is there but frankly admits he knows Sinkage is innocent and (probably) the patsy of a cunningly contrived frame-up.

That doesn’t stop him trying to pump Matt for further information – just as his Council bosses ordered him to…

When Matt is finally fired and Maloney is killed in a freak accident the harried journalist knows is a case of Murder-By-Aliens, Sinkage feels the walls closing in and makes a run for it…

‘Chapter Five: Identity Crisis’ opens one night in July 1952 with Matt holed up in Maloney’s old hunting shack. He’s been utterly alone for weeks but is still seeing flying saucers in the night skies. He’s also reliving past events, helplessly mixing memories of Gloria with other moments. He’s so confused that when Peggy suddenly turns up, he mistakes her for his missing blonde mystery-woman…

Peggy visits him every night, offering food and company. She seems so different; warm and vivacious, but is always gone when he blearily wakes up in the morning.

Back in Union City, Housley and his secretary Meredith Monroe are reviewing the verifiable facts and reach a disturbing conclusion. Somebody on Phil’s team has their own agenda. He fears it’s his own boss – and Council stooge – Buzz Brennan but can’t find reasons to ignore their orders. Both his official employers and the secret ones above them want Sinkage found at all costs…

In the wilderness, Matt is starting to crack. Anonymously buying a gun from a local store he travels back to the city for Dan’s funeral and sees Housley and Brennan clash with Costello. He then sneaks back to his old building and breaks into Kalashnikov’s apartment. Sinkage finds a cache of files and as he reads them experiences a horrifying flashback: he’s strapped into some sort of brainwashing machine in a spaceship…

Matt is roused from the memories by Ivan’s return and bolts, leaving the scattered files behind. He then visits Peggy’s house where her mother’s hostile reception confirms a suspicion that has been growing in his mind…

His intended is waiting in the truck he borrowed, and as they furtively drive out to the country Matt drops his bombshell. He now believes he’s an alien consciousness improperly overlaid on a human mind and he knows Peggy is too: the same mental invader he used to know as Gloria Amber…

‘Chapter Six: What We Really Know about Flying Saucers’ pushes the drama into overdrive as Peggy frantically tries to dissuade Matt. He is adamant and, as Peggy storms off, Matt goes to Costello. They compare notes, unaware that the Council is mobilising all its covert assets in Housley’s FBI team to get Sinkage at all costs…

It might have worked had not Matt surprised everybody by turning himself in to share what he saw in Kalashnikov’s files with Housley and Meredith. Sadly, as he’s being taken to a safe-house Zanini and Koldst kidnap Sinkage and drag him back to Ivan… and Peggy!

By the time Housley realises what’s occurred and rushed to the apartment, it’s too late. The files are gone, but no one can determine whether they were cleared out by the foreigners or simply lost in the fire set by the Council’s inside man…

Matt has a different story. He survived the conflagration by rushing to the roof where he saw a saucer pick up one of his abductors, coldly leaving the rest to perish. It is a story he sticks to, even after he is committed…

To Be Continued…

Potently evocative, impeccably tailored and fabulously cool, The Silent Invasion remains a unique, boldly imagined and cunningly crafted adventure. Rendered in a style then considered revolutionary and even today still spectacularly expressionistic, this is a classic epic long-overdue for a modern revival: an unforgettable gateway to an eerily familiar yet comfortably exotic era of innocent joy and a million “top secrets” which no fan of fantastic thriller fiction should ignore.
© 1986, 1987, 2018 Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock. Introduction © 1988, 2018 Max Allan Collins. All rights reserved.

Silent Invasion: Red Shadows will be published on September 25th 2018 and is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

The Adventures of John Blake volume 1: Mystery of the Ghost Ship


By Phillip Pullman & Fred Fordham (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-91098-929-6 (HB)                    978-1-78845-059-1 (PB)

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

The potent periodical is rapidly approaching the 300th issue and showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, the company is expanding its output through a range of graphic novels and a new imprint of cartoon and strip illustrated biographies highlighting historical and contemporary groundbreakers and Earthshakers. Keep your eyes peeled for our reviews – and more importantly the actual books – bearing the legend First Names

Today however, it’s the turn of another kind of landmark, one from that aforementioned growing library of graphic novels for young people, and heralding the advent of a new juvenile hero in the grand tradition of Jim Hawkins and Alex Rider

Prestigious and multi award-winning author Philip Pullman (The Haunted Storm, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, His Dark Materials) is a bit of a comics fan and – joined here by artist and painter Fred Fordham (Nightfall, Aces High, The Phoenix) – in 2017 introduced a bold new hero in beguiling and gripping sea yarn of mystery, imagination and literally timeless adventure.

Now available in a mass market paperback edition, Mystery of the Ghost Ship blends maritime swashbuckling, contemporary corporate skulduggery, sci fi bravado and high-octane espionage derring-do in a mesmerising rollercoaster ride of action and intrigue…

The eternal oceans obscure and contain many secrets, but none more baffling than the enigmatic Mary Alice: a roving phantom schooner perpetually wreathed in fog and mired in doom-laden prophecy and legend.

Seagoing folk have spoken of its comings and goings for decades – possibly centuries – and dread catching the attention of the red-shirted boy who gazes out from her silent, vaporous bow. The old adage says that those who look him in the eyes will be dead in a month…

In some ultra-modern quarters, the legends are taken extremely seriously. Tech-billionaire Carlos Dahlberg has been devoting precious time and immense amounts of his cutting-edge resources to tracking the Mary Alice, compiling sightings going back as far as 1614 Anno Domini.

He has to. Although notionally the most powerful man on Earth, his entire empire could be shattered by the appalling event he instigated one night in 1973 San Francisco: one witnessed and recorded by the ship’s youngest crewman…

Also obsessed with plotting the ship’s course and history is oceanographer Danielle Quayle Reid. So effective is she that her endeavours make her another target for Dahlberg’s ruthless and omnipresent organisation…

A third interested party is hyper-efficient British intelligence operative Commander Roger Blake. He and his superiors at the Admiralty have also been piecing together the myths surrounding the Mary Alice. They have a slight advantage in that they already know when, where and why the 1929 Einstein-Carmichael Expedition concealed an early high energy particle experiment that abruptly ended in a bizarre and uncanny accident.

What nobody knows yet is how that trip resulted in the luckless schooner being lost in the mists of time or what has happened to it since…

Someone with far more hands-on experience of the vessel is Australian schoolgirl Serena Henderson. When her woefully-inexperienced dad abruptly decided to sail his family around the world in 2017, Serena was promptly lost at sea somewhere in the South Pacific.

Tossed about in a huge storm she is plucked from a watery fate by an intense boy named John Blake and becomes the latest addition to a crew of seemingly-doomed seamen rescued by the ghostly crimson mist-runner.

As the boy tries to explain the strange meanderings of the ship, Serena gets to know the resolute, unflappable Captain Quayle and Davy Johnson, last survivors of the original 1929 crew and learns that all of the mariners are temporary travellers.

The ship perpetually (and apparently aimlessly) sails from age to age, epoch to epoch. Whenever the Mary Alice stops there is the chance of being attacked, picking up another sailor, and very occasionally visiting a port and time that allows a voyager to return to approximately their home era.

Serena’s current shipmates include Chinese trader Sammy Wu (picked up in the 1890s), British deckhand Charlie Banks (1790), 17th century Devon fisherman – and escaped slave of Barbary pirates – Dick Merryfield and Marcus Tullius Pallas, a Roman engineer hailing from the end of the 2nd century AD. They are all rather in awe of John, who seems to exert some control over the ship’s wanderings and is the only one to understand the arcane workings of the engine that moves them all.

As they progress about the sea through time and space, Serena is deemed to be far luckier than all of them as her initial outing looks to be her last. The schooner is heading for Fiji and remains – or has returned to – 2017…

In a world of satellites and instantaneous communications her return is suddenly big news and Danielle Quayle Reid is soon heading there too. She only makes it because Roger Blake intercepts and forcefully deals with the merciless mercenaries Dahlberg set on her trail…

When John brings Serena back to her family, more of the billionaire’s thugs are waiting to capture him, but the valiant kids double back, eluding them after a frantic high-speed chase culminating in their return to the swiftly-fading schooner…

Revealing close family ties to members of the ghost crew, Roger and Danielle compare notes and decide to go after Dahlberg even as, aboard the ship, John and Serena discuss their plight and the tech-entrepreneur’s reasons for hunting them.

John knows he is close to fixing the ship’s randomness and swears Mary Alice is both alive and helping him. After a chilling encounter with a true enigma of the deep, the schooner “fortuitously” approaches present-day San Francisco and a truly explosive showdown with Dahlberg, unaware that the missing piece of the puzzle rests with Roger and Danielle who are also closing in on the monied murder-fiend…

Also offering a full rundown on ‘The Crew’, this debut outing blends blockbuster action and superspy chic with eerie mystery and enchanting fantasy to entice and enthral readers who would love to see Horatio Hornblower, Dan Dare and James Bond team up to battle bad guys and trounce villainy in extreme HD and cosmic SurroundSound.

A non-stop joy from start to finish with the promise of more and even better to come…
Text © Philip Pullman 2017 and illustrations © Fred Fordham 2017. All rights reserved.

The Adventures of John Blake volume 1: Mystery of the Ghost Ship paperback edition will be released on 7th June 2018 and is available for pre-order now.

Showcase Presents the Losers Volume 1

By Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath, Joe Kubert, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, John Severin, Ken Barr & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3437-9-8

Team-ups are a valuable standby of comics, and war stories have always thrived by mixing strange bedfellows together. None more so than this splendid composite: another woefully neglected series in today’s modern print/digital graphic novels marketplace.

The Losers were an elite unit of American soldiers formed by amalgamating three old war series together. Gunner and Sarge (later supplemented by the Fighting Devil Dog Pooch) were Pacific-based Marines; debuting in All-American Men of War #67, (March1959) and running for fifty issues in Our Fighting Forces (#45-94, May 1959-August 1965), whilst Captain Johnny Cloud was a native American fighter pilot who shot down his first bogie in All-American Men of War #82.

The “Navaho Ace” flew solo until issue #115, (1966) and entered a brief limbo until the final component of the Land/Air/Sea team was filled by Captain Storm, a disabled PT Boat skipper who fought on despite his wooden left leg in his own eponymous 18-issue series from 1964 to 1967. All three series were created by comicbook warlord Robert Kanigher.

The characters had all pretty much passed their individual use-by dates when they were teamed-up as guest-stars in a Haunted Tank tale in 1969 (G.I. Combat #138 October), but these “Losers” found a new resonance together in the relevant, disillusioned, cynical Vietnam years and their somewhat nihilistic, doom-laden group anti-hero adventures took the lead spot in Our Fighting Forces #123 for a run of blistering yarns written by Kanigher and illustrated by such giants as Ken Barr, Russ Heath, Sam Glanzman, John Severin and Joe Kubert.

With the tag-line “even when they win, they lose” the team saw action all over the globe, winning critical acclaim and a far-too-small but passionate following. This magnificent monochrome tome collects that introductory tale from the October 1969 G.I. Combat and the complete formative run of suicidal missions from Our Fighting Forces #123-150 (January /February 1970-August/September 1974), after which comicbook messiah Jack Kirby took over the series for a couple of years and made it, as always, uniquely his own. For that seminal set you must see Jack Kirby’s The Losers Omnibus (no really, you must. That’s an order, Soljer…)

Kanigher often used his stories as a testing ground for new series ideas, and G.I. Combat #138 (October 1969) introduced one of his most successful. ‘The Losers!’, illustrated by the magnificent hyper-realist Russ Heath, saw the Armoured Cavalry heroes of the Haunted Tank encounter a sailor, two marines and grounded pilot Johnny Cloud, each individually and utterly demoralised after negligently losing all the men under their respective commands.

Guilt-ridden and broken, the battered relics were inspired by tank commander Jeb Stuart who fanned their sense of duty and desire for vengeance until the crushed survivors regained a measure of respect and fighting spirit by uniting in a combined suicide-mission to destroy a Nazi Radar tower…

By the end of 1969 Dirty Dozen knock-off Hunter’s Hellcats had long outlived their shelf-life in Our Fighting Forces and with #123 (January/February 1970) evacuated in the epilogue ‘Exit Laughing’ which segued directly into ‘No Medals No Graves’, illustrated by Scottish artist Ken Barr (whose stunning work in paint and line has graced everything from Commando Picture Library covers, through Marvel, DC and Warren, to film, book and TV work) and picked up the tale as Storm, Cloud, Gunner and Sarge sat in enforced, forgotten idleness until the aforementioned Lieutenant Hunter recommended them for a dirty, dangerous job no sane military men would touch…

It appears Storm was a dead ringer for a British agent – even down to the wooden leg – and the Brass needed the washed-up sailor to impersonate their vital human resource. The only problem is that they wanted him to be captured, withstand Nazi torture for 48 hours and then break, delivering damaging disinformation about a vast commando raid that wouldn’t be happening…

The agent would do it himself but he was actually dead…

And there was even work for his despondent companions as a disposable diversionary tactic added to corroborate the secrets Storm should hopefully betray after two agonising days…

Overcoming all expectation the “Born Losers” triumphed and even got away intact, after which Ross Andru & Mike Esposito became the regular art team in #124 when ‘Losers Take All’ showed how even good luck was bad, after a mission to liberate the hostage king of a Nazi-subjugated nation saw them doing all the spectacular hard work before losing their prize to Johnny-come-lately regular soldiers…

‘Daughters of Death’ in #125 found the suicide squad initially fail to rescue a scientist’s children only to blisteringly return and rectify their mistakes, Of course, by then the nervous tension had cracked the Professor’s mind, rendering him useless to the Allied cause…

‘A Lost Town’ opened with The Losers undergoing a Court Martial for desertion. Reviled for allowing the obliteration of a French village, they faced execution until an old blind man and his two grandkids revealed what really happened in the hellish conflagration of Perdu, whilst in ‘Angels Over Hell’s Corner’ a brief encounter with a pretty WREN (Women’s Royal Navy Service) in Blitz-beleaguered Britain drew the unit into a star-crossed love affair that even death itself could not thwart…

In a portmanteau tale which disclosed more details of the events which created The Losers, Our Fighting Forces #128 described the ‘7 11 War’ wherein a hot streak during a casual game of craps presaged disastrous calamity for any unlucky bystander near to the Hard Luck Heroes, after which ‘Ride the Nightmare’ saw Cloud endure horrifying visions and crack up on a mission to liberate a captive rocket scientist, before the team again became a living diversion in #130’s ‘Nameless Target’. However, by getting lost and hitting the wrong target, The Losers gifted the Allies with their greatest victory to date…

John Severin inked Andru in OFF #131, in preparation to taking over the full art chores on the series, and ‘Half a Man’ hinted at darker, grittier tales to come when Captain Storm’s disability and guilty demons began to overwhelm him. Considering himself a jinx, the sea dog attempted to sacrifice himself on a mission to Norway but had not counted on his own brutal will to survive…

Back in London, Gunner & Sarge were temporarily reunited with ‘Pooch: the Winner’ (#132 by Kanigher & Severin), prompting a fond if perilous recollection of an exploit against the Japanese in the distant Pacific. However, fearing their luck was contagious, the soldiers sadly decided the beloved “Fighting Devil Dog” was better off without them…

Dispatched to India in #133’s ‘Heads or Tails’, The Losers were ordered to assassinate the “the Unholy Three” – Japanese Generals responsible for untold slaughter amongst the British and native populations. In sweltering lethal jungles, they only succeeded thanks to the determined persistence and sacrifice of a Sikh child hiding a terrible secret.

Our Fighting Forces #134 saw them brutally fighting from shelled house to hedgerow in Europe until Gunner cracked. When even his partners couldn’t get him to pick up a gun again it took the heroic example of indomitable wounded soldiers to show him who ‘The Real Losers’ were…

Issue #135 began a superb extended epic which radically shook up the team after ‘Death Picks a Loser’. Following an ill-considered fortune telling incident in London, the squad shipped out to Norway to organise a resistance cell, despite efforts to again sideline the one-legged Storm. They rendezvoused with Pastor Tornsen and his daughter Ona and began by mining the entire village of Helgren, determined to deny the Nazis a stable base of operations.

Even after the Pastor sacrificed himself to allow the villagers and Americans time to escape, the plan stumbled when the explosives failed to detonate and Storm, convinced he was a liability, detonated the bombs by hand…

Finding only his wooden leg in the flattened rubble, The Losers were further stunned when the vengeful orphan Ona volunteered to take the tragic sailor’s place in the squad of Doomed Men…

The ice-bound retreat from Helgren stalled in #136 when she offered herself as a ‘Decoy for Death’ leading German tanks into a lethal ambush, after which Cloud soloed in a mission to the Pacific where he found himself inspiring natives to resist the Japanese as a resurrected ‘God of the Losers’

Reunited in OFF #138, the Bad Luck Brigade became ‘The Targets’ when sent to uncover the secret of a new Nazi naval weapon sinking Allied shipping. Once more using Ona as bait they succeed in stunning fashion, but also pick up enigmatic intel regarding a crazy one-eyed, peg-legged marauder attacking both Enemy and Allied vessels off Norway…

Our Fighting Forces #139 introduced ‘The Pirate’, when a band of deadly reivers attacked a convoy ship carrying The Losers and supplies to the Norwegian resistance. Barely escaping with their lives the Squad was then sent to steal a sample of a top secret jet fuel but discovered the Sea Devil had beaten them to it.

Forced to bargain with the merciless mercenary for the prototype, they found themselves in financial and combat competition with an equally determined band of German troops who simply wouldn’t take no for an answer…

‘Lost… One Loser’ revealed that Ona had been with Storm at the end and was now plagued by a survivor’s guilty nightmares. Almost convincing her comrades that he still lived, she led the team on another mission into Norway, the beautiful traumatised girl again used herself as a honey trap to get close to a German bigwig and found incontrovertible proof that Storm was dead when she picked up his battered, burned dog-tag…

Still troubled, she commandeered a plane and flew back to her home to assassinate her Quisling uncle in #141’s ‘The Bad Penny’, only to be betrayed to the town’s German garrison and saved by the pirate who picked that moment to raid the occupied village for loot.

Even with the other Losers in attendance the Pirate’s rapacious rogues were ultimately triumphant but when the crippled corsair snatched Ona’s most treasured possession, the dingy dog-tag unlocked many suppressed memories and Storm (this is comics: who else could it be?) remembered everything…

Answers to his impossible survival came briskly in OFF #142 and ‘½ a Man’ concentrated on the Captain’s struggle to be reinstated. Shipping out to the Far East on a commercial vessel, he was followed by his concerned comrades and stumbled into an Arabian insurrection with three war-weary guardian angels discreetly dogging his heel.

Back with The Losers again in #143, Storm was soon involved in another continued saga as ‘Diamonds are for Never!’ found the Fatalistic Five sent to Africa to stop an SS unit from hijacking industrial diamonds for their failing war effort. However, even after liberating a captured mine from the enemy, the gems eluded the team as a pack of monkeys made off with the glittering prizes…

Hot on their trail in ‘The Lost Mission’ the pursuers stumble onto a Nazi ambush of British soldiers and determine to take on their task – demolishing an impregnable riverside fortress…

Despite being successful the Squad are driven inland and become lost in the desert where they stumble into a French Foreign Legion outpost and join its last survivor in defending ‘A Flag for Losers’ from a merciless German horde and French traitor

Still lost in the trackless wastes they survived ‘The Forever Walk!’ in #146, battling equally-parched Nazis for the last precious drops of water and losing one of their own to a terrifying sandstorm…

In ‘The Glory Road!’ the sun-baked survivors encountered the last survivor of a German ambush, but British Major Cavendish seemed unable to differentiate between his early days as a star of patriotic films and grim reality and when a German patrol captures them all the mockery proves too much for the troubled martinet…

Again lost and without water, in #148 ‘The Last Charge’ saw The Losers save a desert princess and give her warrior father a chance to fulfil a prophecy and die in glorious battle against the Nazi invaders, whilst #149 briefly reunited the squad with their long-missing member before tragically separating again in ‘A Bullet for a Traitor!’

This volume concludes with ‘Mark our Graves’ in #150 as The Losers linked up with members of The Jewish Brigade (a special British Army unit) who all paid a steep price to uncover a secret Nazi supply dump…

Although a superbly action-packed and moving tale, it was an inauspicious end to the run and one which held no hint of the creative culture-shock which would explode in the pages of the next instant issue when the God of American Comicbooks blasted in to create a unique string of “Kirby Klassics”…

With covers by Joe Kubert, Frank Thorne and Neal Adams, this grimly efficient, superbly understated and beautifully rendered collection is a brilliant example of how war comics changed forever in the 1970s and proves that these stories still pack a TNT punch few other forms of entertainment can hope to match.
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dennis O’Neil, Roy Thomas, John Severin, Joe Sinnott, Don Heck, Howard Purcell, Ogden Whitney, John Buscema, Joe Sinnott, Jim Steranko & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2686-7 (HB)

Veteran war-hero and superspy Nick Fury debuted in Fantastic Four #21 (cover-dated December 1963): a grizzled, world-weary and cunning CIA Colonel at the periphery of the really big adventures in a fast-changing world.

What was odd about that? Well, the gruff, crudely capable combat everyman was already the star of the minor publisher’s only war comic, set twenty years earlier in (depending on whether you were American or European…) the beginning or middle of World War II.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos was an improbable, decidedly over-the-top and raucous combat comics series, similar in tone to later movies such as The Wild Bunch or The Dirty Dozen and had launched in May of that year.

Nevertheless, Fury’s latter-day self soon emerged as a big-name star once espionage yarns went global in the wake of popular TV sensations like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the elder iteration was given a second series beginning in Strange Tales #135 (cover-dated August 1965).

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions with sinister schemes of World Conquest by a subversive, all-encompassing, hidden enemy organisation. The unfolding saga came with captivating Kirby-designed super-science gadgetry and – eventually – iconic and game-changing imagineering from Jim Steranko, whose visually groundbreaking graphic narratives took the comics art form to a whole new level…

For those few brief years with Steranko in charge, the S.H.I.E.L.D. series was one of the best strips in America – if not the world – but when the writer/artist left just as the global spy-fad was fading, the whole concept faded into the background architecture of the Marvel Universe…

This astounding full-colour compendium (available in hardcover and digital editions) deals with the outrageous, groundbreaking, but still notionally wedded-to-mundane-reality iteration which set the scene.

Here Jack Kirby’s genius for graphic wizardry and gift for dramatic staging mixed with Stan Lee’s manic melodrama to create a tough and tense series which the new writers and veteran artists that followed turned into a non-stop riot of action and suspense, with Steranko’s late arrival only hinting at the magic to come…

These epic early days of spycraft encompass Strange Tales #135-153 and Tales of Suspense #78, collectively covering August 1965 to February 1967 and guaranteeing timeless thrills for lovers of adventure and intrigue.

Following a little history lesson from Kirby scholar John Morrow in his Introduction, the main event starts with ST #135 as the Human Torch solo feature is summarily replaced by Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. – which back then stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division

In the rocket-paced first episode, Fury is asked to volunteer for the most dangerous job in the world: leading a new counter-intelligence agency dedicated to stopping secretive subversive super-science organisation Hydra. With assassins dogging his every move, the Take-Charge Guy with the Can-Do Attitude quickly proves he is ‘The Man for the Job!’ in a potent twelve-page thriller from Lee, Kirby & Dick Ayers.

Even an artist and plotter of Kirby’s calibre couldn’t handle another strip at that busiest of times, so from the next issue “The King” cut back to laying out episodes, allowing a variety of superb draughtsmen to flesh out the adventures. Even so, there’s probably a stunning invention or cool concept on almost every page that follows…

‘Find Fury or Die!’ brought veteran draughtsman John Severin back to the company; pencilling and inking Kirby’s blueprints as the new Director becomes the target of incessant assassination attempts and we are introduced to masked maniac the Supreme Hydra

The tension ramps up for the next instalment as a number of contenders are introduced – any of whom might be the obscured overlord of evil – even as S.H.I.E.L.D. strives mightily but fails to stop Hydra launching its deadly Betatron Bomb in ‘The Prize is… Earth!’

Despite the restrictions of the Comics Code, these early S.H.I.E.L.D. stories were stark and grim and frequently carried a heavy body count. Four valiant agents died in quick succession in #137 and the next issue underscored the point in ‘Sometimes the Good Guys Lose!’ with further revelations of Hydra’s inner workings.

Fury and fellow Howling Commando war heroes Dum-Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones meanwhile played catch-up after Hydra assassins invade S.H.I.E.L.D.: almost eliminating Fury and munitions genius Tony Stark – the only man capable of destroying the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over the world. Although Nick saves the inventor, he is captured in the process…

Tortured by Hydra in #139’s ‘The Brave Die Hard!’ (with Joe Sinnott replacing Severin as finisher), Fury finds an unlikely ally in Laura Brown: Supreme Hydra’s daughter and a young woman bitterly opposed to her father’s megalomaniacal madness.

Even with only half a comicbook per month to tell a tale, creators didn’t hang around in those halcyon days and #140 promised ‘The End of Hydra!’ (by Don Heck & Sinnott over Kirby) as a S.H.I.E.L.D. squad invades the enemy’s inner sanctum to rescue the already-free-and-making-mayhem Fury. In the meantime, Stark travels into space to remove the Betratron Bomb with his robotic Braino-Saur system. The end result leaves Hydra temporarily headless…

Strange Tales #141 has Kirby return to full pencils (inked by Frank Giacoia pseudonymously moonlighting as Frank Ray) for the mop-up before ‘Operation: Brain Blast!’ introduces Mentallo – a renegade from S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ESP division – who joins with technological savant the Fixer to attack the organisation as the first step in an ambitious scheme to rule the world.

The momentous raid begins in ‘Who Strikes at… S.H.I.E.L.D.?’ (illustrated by Kirby with Mike Demeo – AKA Esposito) with the deadly rogues hitting hard and fast: seizing and mind-controlling Fury before strapping him to a mini-H-bomb. With Howard Purcell & Esposito embellishing Kirby’s layouts, Dugan and the boys come blasting in ‘To Free a Brain Slave’ in #143…

A new and deadly threat emerges in #144 as ‘The Day of the Druid!’ as a mystic charlatan targets Fury and his agents with murderous flying techno-ovoids. Happily, new S.H.I.E.L.D. recruit Jasper Sitwell is on hand to augment the triumphant fightback in ‘Lo! The Eggs Shall Hatch!’ (finished by Heck & Esposito).

As Marvel continuity grew evermore interlinked, ‘Them!’ details a Captain America team-up for Fury in the first of the Star-Spangled Avenger’s many adventures as a (more-or-less) Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Taken from Tales of Suspense #78 (June 1966): scripted by Lee with Kirby full pencils and Giacoia inks, the story depicts the WWII wonders battling an artificial assassin with incredible chemical capabilities, after which Nick seeks the creature’s mysterious makers in Strange Tales #146, ‘When the Unliving Strike!’ (Kirby, Heck & Esposito).

Proclaiming themselves a technological Special Interests group, Advanced Idea Mechanics courts S.H.I.E.L.D.’s governmental and military masters, promising potent and incredible new weapons if only they sacked that barbaric slob Fury, but the surly supremo is getting close to exposing A.I.M.’s connection to “Them” and an old enemy thought long gone…

A concerted whispering campaign and “briefing-against” seemingly sees Fury ousted in ‘The Enemy Within!’ and put on trial in ‘Death Before Dishonor!’ (scripted by Kirby with Heck & Esposito finishing his layouts), but it’s all part of a cunning counter-plan which delivers a shattering conclusion and ‘The End of A.I.M.!’ in #149 (scripted by Denny O’Neil, with art by Kirby & Ogden Whitney).

Then, revealed by Lee, Kirby, John Buscema & Giacoia, a malign and devilishly subtle plan is finally exposed in Strange Tales #150 as Fury’s team puts together clues from all the year’s past clashes to come to one terrifying conclusion: ‘Hydra Lives!’

The shocking secret also hints at great events to come as newcomer Steranko assumes the finisher’s role over Lee & Kirby for ‘Overkill!’ with Fury targeted by the new Supreme Hydra who devises a cunning scheme to infiltrate America’s top security agency and use his enemy as the means of triggering global Armageddon…

Although the Good Guys seemingly thwart that scheme, ‘The Power of S.H.I.E.L.D.!’ is actually helpless to discern the villain’s real intent as this initial dossier of doom ends on a cliffhanger after ‘The Hiding Place!’ (ST #153 and scripted by Roy Thomas) closes with the arch villain comfortably ensconced in Fury’s inner circle and ready to destroy the organisation from within…

To Be Continued…

Although the S.H.I.E.L.D. saga stops here, there’s an added bonus still to enjoy: the aforementioned FF #21. This revealed Fury as a wily CIA agent seeking the team’s aid against a sinister demagogue called ‘The Hate-Monger’ (Lee & Kirby, inked by comics veteran George Roussos, under the protective nom-de-plume George Bell) just as the 1960s espionage vogue was taking off, inspired by James Bond films and TV shows like Danger Man.

Here Fury craftily manipulates Marvel’s First Family into invading a sovereign nation reeling in the throes of revolution in a yarn crackling with tension and action…

Fast, furious and fantastically entertaining, these high-octane vintage yarns are a superb snapshot of early Marvel Comics at their creative peak and should be part of every fanboy’s shelf of beloved favourites.

Don’t Yield! Back S.H.I.E.L.D.!
© 1965, 1966, 1967, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

James Bond™ volume 2: Eidolon


By Warren Ellis, Jason Masters, Guy Major & Simon Bowland (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-5241-0272-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Stunning Blockbuster Fun… 9/10

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 masterful creation – your own vision of what he looks like and what he does. This is one of the better ones and as much worthy of your attention as any movie, game or novel.

There are also some exceedingly enjoyable comicbook and newspaper strip versions detailing the further exploits of Agent 007 which have never really found the appreciation they rightly deserve. This collection is just one of the most recent, compiling the second six issues of the James Bond comicbook series from licensing specialists Dynamite Entertainment.

Thanks to uber-action scribe Warren Ellis, it’s one of the best Bond adventures ever seen…

Dumping decades of gaudy paraphernalia that’s grown around the brand, Ellis, illustrator Jason Masters, colourist Guy Major and letterer Simon Bowland have opted for a stripped-down, pared-back, no-nonsense iteration that means nothing but business.

The shocking saga opens with Britain’s Powers-that-Be still working to close the Double-O department, and labouring under a Home Office ruling depriving Bond and other agents of their weapons whilst on British soil.

Despite fighting hard, M is losing this battle…

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Bond’s latest mission is interrupted by old comrade Felix Leiter.

The CIA operative has a friendly warning for his old pal. The supposedly-routine mission to extract a mole whose cover has been blown has acquired hidden ramifications…

Later, as Bond scoops up blithely unaware Cadence Birdwhistle, enraged Turkish security forces are only seconds behind and a savage battle ensues. Barely getting out alive, Bond notices the heavies are sporting CIA-issue guns…

Cadence is baffled. Her field is forensic accounting and whatever the cloaked financial pipeline she recently uncovered in the Turkish Consulate’s finances is, it should not justify the murderous response she and Bond have barely survived. It’s just some illegal money transfers to an account in Britain. An account dubbed “Eidolon”…

After a brief period of lying low, Bond and Birdwhistle head for LAX only to be attacked by a CIA hit team. By the time the refugees reach Britain, the bodies have been discovered and Bond is in trouble with the boss. Again…

When another band of assassins attack before they even exit Heathrow Airport carpark, it’s clear that whatever Cadence uncovered is something far from conventional and by no means inconsequential…

The clear-up afterwards confirms it. Thus far the unknown assailants have involved three countries and utilised agents, tactics and weapons from the Turkish Secret Police, CIA and now the British SAS and SBS. The conspiracy – whatever it is – has its claws in the very heart of the international security community…

As MI5 officiously insert themselves into MI6’s investigation and claim jurisdiction, Bond and M realise there is no one they can trust, even as Birdwhistle uses Q branch’s technology and computer specialists to crack the dark money trail. The breadcrumbs lead to a secret, subterranean arms dump long believed to be a secret service myth and yet another cataclysmic shooting war…

Illegally armed by Q, Bond’s investigation deep beneath British soil suddenly exposes an uncanny and unexpected secret army of the disenfranchised at the heart of the nation’s ruling elite, sponsored by SPECTRE to rise if the covert organisation ever fell. Now long-dormant terror cells have embarked on a horrific “Death or Glory” mission to excise the British intelligence hierarchy and strike a shattering blow against the seat of democracy…

The end when it inevitably comes is deadly, up close and extremely personal…

With a gallery of gripping covers by Dom Reardon, this sleekly sinister paranoid plot is fast, furious, brutally bellicose and potently ferocious: another witty, superbly smart and impeccably stylish perfect James Bond thriller.

Bond Will Return and you should be ready…
© 2017 Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. James Bond and 007 are ™ Danjaq LLC, used under license by Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. All rights reserved.