Batman Beyond!


By Hilary J. Bader, Rich Burchett, Joe Staton, Terry Beatty & various (DC comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-604-0 (TPB)

The Batman Animated TV series masterminded by Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and others in the 1990s revolutionised The Dark Knight and led – with a tie-in monthly printed series – to some of the absolute best comic book tales in his 85-year publishing history. With the hero’s small screen credentials firmly re-established, follow-up series began (and are still coming), eventually feeding back into the overarching multiversal DCU continuity.

Following those award-winning animated sagas, in 1999 came a new incarnation set one generation into the future, following Bruce Wayne in the twilight of his life reluctantly mentoring a new teen hero picking up his eerily-scalloped mantle. In Britain the series was inspirationally re-titled Batman of the Future but for most of the impressed cognoscenti and awestruck kids worldwide it was Batman Beyond!

Again the show was augmented by a cool kids’ comic book. This inexplicably out-of-print collection re-presents the first 6-issue miniseries in a hip and trendy, immensely entertaining package suitable for fans and aficionados of all ages. Although not necessary to a reader’s enjoyment, passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience. All stories were written by Hilary J. Bader and we open with a 2-part adaptation of the pilot, illustrated by Rick Burchett & Terry Beatty.

‘Not On My Watch!’ serves up glimpses of the last days of Batman’s crusade against crime before age, infirmity and injury slowed him down to the point of compromising his principles and endangering the citizens he’d sworn to protect…

Years later, Gotham City in the mid-21st century (notionally accepted as 2039 AD – 100 years after the Dark Knight’s debut in Detective Comics #27) is a dystopian urban jungle where angry, rebellious schoolkid Terry McGinnis strikes a blow against pernicious pimped-up street punks The Jokerz and is chased out of town all the way to the gates of a ramshackle mansion. Meanwhile, his research scientist dad has discovered a little too much about how the company he works for operates.

Wayne-Powers used to be a decent place to work before old man Wayne became a recluse. Now Derek Powers runs the show and is ruthless enough to do anything to increase profits… Outside town, Terry is saved from a potentially fatal Jokerz encounter by a burly old man who then collapses. Helping aged Bruce Wayne inside the mansion, Terry discovers the long neglected Batcave before being chased away by the surly saviour. McGinnis but doesn’t really care… until he gets home to find his father has been murdered…

In a storm of emotion, he returns to Wayne Manor as concluding chapter ‘I Am Batman’ sees McGinnis attempting to force Wayne to act before giving up in frustration and stealing the hero’s greatest weapon: a cybernetic Bat-suit that enhances strength, speed, durability and perception. Alone, untrained and unaided, a new Batman sets to enact justice and exact revenge…

In the ensuing clash with Powers the unscrupulous entrepreneur is mutated into a radioactive monster – dubbed Blight – before Wayne and Terry negotiate a tenuous truce and grudging understanding. For now, Terry will continue to clean up Gotham City as an apprentice- and strictly probationary-hero…

With #3, Bader, Burchett & Beatty began crafting original stories of future Gotham, commencing with ‘Never Mix, Never Worry’ wherein Blight returns to steal a selection of man-made radioactive elements which can only be used to cause harm… or can they?

Joe Staton took over pencilling with #4 as a schoolboy nerd frees a devil from limbo and old man Wayne introduces the cocksure Terry to parapsychologist Jason Blood and his eldritch alter ego Etrigan the Demon in spooky shocker ‘Magic Is Everywhere’. That sentiment is repeated and reinforced when a school-trip to a museum unleashes ancient lovers to feed on the students’ life energy in delightfully comical tragedy ‘Mummy, Oh! and Juliet’…

This captivating compendium concludes in another compellingly edgy thriller as Terry stumbles into a return bout with a shapeshifting super-thief in ‘Permanent Inque Stains’, only to find there are worse crimes and far more evil villains haunting his city…

In 2000 Titan Books released a British edition re-titled Batman of the Future (to comply with the renamed UK TV series) and this version is a little easier to locate by those eager to enjoy the stories rather than own an artefact. Fun, thrilling and surprisingly moving, these tales are magnificent examples of comics that appeal to young and old alike and are well overdue for re-issue. They also prove the foundation concepts of Batman can travel far and riff wildly, but always deliver maximum wonderment.
© 1999 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Batman volume 1


By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Ed Herron, Bill Finger, Carmine Infantino, Bob Kane, Sheldon Moldoff, Joe Giella, Sid Greene & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1086-1 (TPB)

Although cover-dated May 1939, Detective Comics #27 was on sale from March 30th. Happy Anniversary, Dark Knight! Because we like being us, let’s look at a perennial comics incarnation too long overdue for re-evaluation and re-inclusion in the greater Batty-verse…

I’m assuming everybody here loves comics and that we’ve all had the same trying experience of attempting to justify that passion to somebody not genned up or tuned in. Excluding your partner (who is actually right – the living room floor is not the place to leave your D*&$£! funnybooks), many people STILL have an entrenched and erroneous view of narrative strip art, resulting in a frustrating and futile time as you seek to dissuade them from that opinion.

If so, this collection might be the book you want next time that confrontation occurs. Collected here in stark and stunning monochrome are tales which reshaped the Dynamic Duo and set them up for global Stardom – and subsequent fearful castigation from fans – as the template for the Batman TV show of the 1960s. It must be noted, however, that the canny producers and researchers of that landmark derived their creative impetus from stories and especially movie serials of the era preceding the “New Look Batman”, as well as the prevailing tone of those socially changeable times…

So what’s going on here?

By the end of 1963, editor Julius Schwartz had revived much of DC’s science fiction and fantasy line – and the entire industry – with his deft reinterpretation and modernization of the Superhero. He was then asked to work his magic with the creatively stalled, nigh-moribund Caped Crusader franchise of titles. Bringing his usual team of top-notch creators with him, Schwartz stripped down the core-concept, downplaying aliens, outlandish villains and daft transformation tales, to bring a cool modern take to the pursuit and capture of criminals, and even overseeing a streamlining rationalisation of the art style itself.

The most apparent change readers was a yellow circle around the Bat-symbol on his chest, but far more importantly, the stories also changed. A subtle aura of genuine menace re-entered the comfortable, absurdly abstract world of Gotham City….

This initial Showcase Presents Batman compendium collects all the Bat-Sagas (STILL the only place to find them reprinted in full and in chronological order) as seen in Detective Comics #327-342 and Batman #164-174: 38 stunning stories that reshaped a legend and spanning cover-dates May 1964 to September 1965. The revolution began with the lead yarn in Detective #327, written by John Broome and illustrated by Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella at the very peak of their creative powers and collaborative partnership, before the Big Change was fully formalised with two tales from Batman #164.

‘The Mystery of the Menacing Mask! was a cunning “Howdunnit?” long on action and peril, as hints of a criminal “underground railroad” led the Dynamic Duo to a common thug seemingly able to control the heroes with his thoughts. The venerable title was clearly refocusing on its descriptive, evocative title for the foreseeable future, and to ram the point home, a new back-up feature was introduced – “Stretchable Sleuth” The Elongated Man. This comic book was to be a suspenseful brain-teaser from now on…

In the eponymous Batman title, action and adventure became paramount. Two-Way Gem Caper!’ pitted Batman & Robin against slick criminal Dabblo, but the thief wasn’t the true star of this tale. Almost as an aside, a new Batcave and refashioned Wayne Manor were introduced, plus a sleek, compact new Batmobile – more sports-car than super-tank. This story was written by Ed “France” Herron and drawn by “Bob Kane”. Veteran inker Giella was tasked with finishing the contents of both Bat-books in a bid to generate uniformity in all stories. The inker would ultimately perform the same role when the Batman syndicated newspaper strip was revived, beginning on May 29th 1966…

A new semi-regular feature debuted in that issue. “The Mystery Analysts of Gotham City” was a private club of detectives, criminologists and crime-writers who met to discuss their cases. Somehow the meetings always resulted in an adventure such as ‘Batman’s Great Face-Saving Feat!’ (Herron & Kane), wherein eager applicant Hugh Rankin applied his Private Eye talents to discovering the Gotham Gangbuster’s true identity in an effort to win a seat at the sleuths’ table. Suffice it to say, he had to reapply…

‘Gotham Gang Line-Up!’ completed the transformation of Batman. Written by original co-creator Bill Finger and pencilled by Kane, this rather mediocre crime-caper from Detective #328 is most remarkable for the plot-twist wherein long-serving butler Alfred sacrificed his life to save the heroes, prompting Dick Grayson’s Aunt Harriet to move into Wayne Manor.

From this point, the process fell into a pattern of top-of-the-line tales punctuated by utterly exceptional occasional epics of drama, mystery and action. These would continue until the infamous TV show’s success became so great it actually began to inform – or taint – the style of story in the comics. And while I’m into editorial asides: whenever the credits read “Bob Kane” the artist usually doing the drawing was unsung hero Sheldon Moldoff.

Written by Broome and pencilled by Infantino, Detective #329’s ‘Castle with Wall-To-Wall Danger!’ was a captivating international thriller seeing the heroes braving deadly death-traps in Swinging England whilst pursuing a dastardly thief, before eerie science fiction saga ‘Man Who Quit the Human Race!’ (Gardner Fox, Kane & Giella) led in Batman #165 finding fantastic fantasy still had a place in the Gotham Guardian’s new world. A potential new love-interest debuted in back-up tale ‘The Dilemma of the Detective’s Daughter!’, courtesy of Herron & Kane, as student policewoman Patricia Powell left cop-college for the mean streets of the city.

Over in Detective #330, Broome & Kane detailed a new kind of crime in ‘The Fallen Idol of Gotham City!’, wherein a mysterious phenomenon turned ordinary citizens into blood-hungry mobs on command. In Batman #166, ‘Two-Way Deathtrap!’ sees a pair of petty thugs set up the perfect ambush after finding a pipeline into the Batcave whilst, ‘A Rendezvous with Robbery!’ pictured a return engagement for Pat Powell during a frantic crime caper with both tales by Herron & Kane. A rare full-length story in Detective #331 guest-starred Elongated Man as the ‘Museum of Mixed-Up Men’ (Broome & Infantino) united costumed sleuths against a super-scientific felon, after which a Rogues Gallery super-villain finally appeared in #332’s ‘The Joker’s Last Laugh’ (Broome & Kane), set on switching places with the Caped Crimebusters in his own manic manner…

In Batman #167 Finger & Kane declared ‘Zero Hour for Earth!’ as international espionage pulled the Titanic Team from Gotham into a global manhunt for secret society Hydra prior to Detective #333 pitting the heroes against a faux goddess and real telepaths in the ‘Hunters of the Elephants’ Graveyard!’, courtesy of Fox & Infantino. Then ‘The Fight That Jolted Gotham City!’ opened Batman #168 with a blockbusting battle between the Masked Manhunter and temporarily deranged circus strongman Mr. Muscles after which the Mystery Analysts resurfaced to close the book, explaining ‘How to Solve the Perfect Crime… in Reverse!’ (both tales by Herron & Moldoff).

The opening shot in an extended war against an incredible new foe dubbed The Outsider came with Detective #334 and the introduction of Grasshopper‘The Man Who Stole from Batman!’ (Fox & Moldoff), whilst Fox & Infantino’s ‘Trail of the Talking Mask!’ in #335 gave the Caped Crimebusters opportunity to reinforce their sci-fi credentials in a classy high-tech thriller guest starring PI Hugh Rankin.

Wily, bird-themed badman The Penguin popped up in Batman#169 (Herron & Moldoff), making the heroes his unwilling ‘Partners in Plunder!’, after which inker Sid Greene made his debut delineating ‘A Bad Day for Batman!’, wherein he overcomes many vicissitudes of cruel coincidence to nab a determined thief. Detective #336 (Fox, Moldoff & Giella) featured ‘Batman’s Bewitched Nightmare’ as a broom-riding crone attacks the Dynamic Duo at the Outsider’s behest. In later months the witch was revealed to be sultry sorceress Zatanna, but most comics cognoscenti agree this was not the original plan, but rather cannily back-written during the frantic months of “Batmania” that followed the debut of the TV show (for a fuller explanation see JLA: Zatanna’s Search).

An intriguing new foe made his modest mark in Batman #170 with highly professional thief Roy Reynolds running rings around the Gotham Gangbusters – at least initially – as the ‘Genius of the Getaway Gimmicks!’ (Fox & Moldoff) with Finger providing a captivating, human-scaled drama in ‘The Puzzle of the Perilous Prizes!’ enabling Giella to show off his pencilling as well as inking skills. ‘The Deep-Freeze Menace!’ (Detective #337, Fox & Infantino) focuses on captivating fantasy, pitting Batman against a super-powered caveman encased in ice for 50,000 years, before the caped crimebuster gains his own uncanny advantage in #338 as a chemical accident renders ‘Batman’s Power-Packed Punch!’ too dangerous to be near…

After an absence of decades, ‘Remarkable Ruse of The Riddler!’ reintroduced the Prince of Puzzlers in Batman # 171: a clever book-length mystery from Fox & Moldoff which did much to catapult the previously forgotten villain to the first rank of Bat-Baddies, after which DC’s inexplicable (but deeply cool) long-running love-affair with gorillas resulted in a cracking doom-fable as ‘Batman Battles the Living Beast-Bomb!’ (Fox & Infantino in Detective #339) highlighting the hero’s physical prowess in a duel of wits and muscles against a sinister super-intelligent simian. Broome came back to script the eerie conundrum drawn by Moldoff which opened Batman #172. ‘Attack of the Invisible Knights!’ proved to be wicked science not ancient magic, whilst Batman’s own technological advances played a major role part in backup ‘Robin’s Unassisted Triple Play!’ (Fox, Moldoff & Greene), giving the Boy Wonder plenty of scope to show his own skills against a gang of murderous bandits.

Detective #340 saw the war against Batman escalate when ‘The Outsider Strikes Again!’ (Fox & Moldoff), offering further clues to the hidden foe’s incredible abilities by animating everyday objects – and the Batmobile – to attack the Caped Champions, before Broome & Infantino detailed a cinema-inspired catastrophic campaign in #341’s ‘The Joker’s Comedy Capers!’ Criminal mastermind/blackmailer Mr. Incognito then offered ‘Secret Identities For Sale’ in Batman #173’s lead tale and Broome, Moldoff and inker Sid Greene depicted ‘Walk Batman – To Your Doom!’: a sinister psychological murder-plot years ahead of its time.

Broome & Moldoff’s ‘The Midnight Raid of the Robin Gang!’ (Detective #342) hinted at the burgeoning generational unrest of the 1960s as the faithful Boy Wonder seemingly sabotaged his mentor before signing up with costumed juvenile delinquents, before this collection of Caped Crusader Chronicles concludes with Fox & Moldoff’s Batman #174: a brace of blockbusters comprising a brutal story of street-fighting as the Gotham Guardian is ambushed and becomes The Human Punching Bag!’ before the Mystery Analysts find themselves the intended victims of a “Ten Little Indians” murder-scheme in ‘The Off-Again, On-Again Lightbulbs!’ (inked by Greene).

No matter how much we might squeal and foam about it, to a large portion of the world Batman will always be the “Zap! Biff! Pow!”, affably lovable, caped buffoon of that 1960s television show. It really was that popular. Whether you tend towards the anodyne light-heartedness of then, commercially acceptable psychopathy of the current day or actually just like the comic book character in all eras, if you sit down, shut up and actually read these wonderful adventures for all (reasonable) ages, you will find the old adage “Quality will out” still holds true. And if you’re actually a fan who hasn’t read this classic stuff, you have an absolute treat in store…
© 1964, 1965, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Steed & Mrs Peel: Golden Game


By Grant Morrison, Anne Caulfield, Ian Gibson, Ellie De Ville & various (Boom Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-60886-285-6 (TPB/Digital edition)

The (British) Avengers was an astoundingly stylish, globally adored TV show glamorously blending espionage with arch comedy and deadly danger with technological extrapolation, running from the Swinging Sixties through to the end of the decade. A phenomenal cult hit, it and sequel The New Avengers still summons up pangs of Cool Britannia style, cheeky action-adventure, kinky quirkiness, mad gadgetry, dashing heroics, bizarrely British fetish attire, surreal suspense and the wholly appropriate descriptive phrase “Spy Fi”….

Enormously popular everywhere, the light-hearted show evolved from 1961’s gritty crime drama Police Surgeon into a paragon of witty, thrillingly sophisticated espionage adventure lampoonery with suavely urbane British Agent John Steed and dazzlingly talented amateur sleuth Mrs. Emma Peel battling spies, robots, criminals, secret societies, monsters and even “aliens” with tongues very much in cheeks and always under the strictest determination to remain calm, dashingly composed and exceedingly eccentric…

As played by Patrick Macnee, Steed was a nigh-effete dandy and wry caricature of an English Gentleman-spy, counterbalanced by a succession of prodigiously competent woman as partners and foils. The format was pure gold, with second sidekick Peel (as played by Dame Diana Rigg) becoming the most popular right from her October 1965 debut. Rigg was hired to replace Honor Blackman – landmark character Dr. Cathy Gale – the first full-on, smartly decisive fighting female on British Television.

Blackman left to play the female lead in Bond movie Goldfinger – allowing her replacement to take the TV show to even greater heights of global success – as she became a style icon of the era. Her trademark Op art “Emmapeeler” catsuits and miniskirts (designed by series costumiers John Bates and Alun Hughes) were sold across the country and the world…

Emma Peel’s connection with viewers cemented into communal consciousness and the world’s psyche the feminist archetype of a powerful, clever, competent and always-stylishly-clad woman: largely banishing screaming, eye-candy girly-victims to the dustbin of popular fiction. Rigg left in 1967 – also for an 007 role (Tracy Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) – and was followed by Linda Thorson as Tara King: another potent woman who carried the series to its demise in 1969. Continued popularity in more than 90 countries led to a revival in the late 1970s as The New Avengers saw posh glamor-puss Purdey (Joanna Lumley) and manly Gambit (Gareth Hunt) as assistants to the apparently ageless, debonair and deadly Steed…

The show remains an enduring cult icon, with all the spin-off that entails. During its run and beyond, The Avengers spawned toys, games, collector models, a pop single and stage show, radio series, audio adventures, posters, books, a modish line of “Avengerswear” fashion apparel for women and all the other myriad merchandising strands that inevitably accompany a media sensation.

The one we care most about is comics and, naturally, the popular British Television program was no stranger there either. Following an introductory strip starring Steed & Dr. Gale in listings magazines Look Westward and The Viewer – plus The Manchester Evening News – (September 1963 to the end of 1964), legendary children’s staple TV Comic launched its own Avengers strip in #720 (October 2nd 1965) with Emma Peel firmly ensconced as co-lead. This series ran until #771 (September 24th 1966) with the dashing duo also appearing in TV Comic Holiday Special, whilst a series of young Emma Peel adventures featured in June & Schoolfriend, before transferring to DC Thomson’s Diana until 1968 whereupon it returned to TV Comic from #877, depicting Steed and Tara King until 1972 and #1077.

In 1966 Mick Anglo Studios produced a one-off, large-sized UK comic book, and two years later America’s Gold Key’s Four-Color series published their own try-out book utilising recycled UK material. It was called John Steed/Emma Peel since some outfit called Marvel had secured an American trademark for comics called “The Avengers”. There were of course wonderful, sturdily steadfast hardback annuals for the British Festive Season trade, starting with 1962’s TV Crimebusters Annual and thereafter pertinent TV Comic Annuals before a run of solo editions graced Christmas stockings from 1967 to 1969: later supplemented by a brace of New Avengers editions for 1977 and 1978.

Between 1990 and 1992 Eclipse Comics/ACME Press produced a trans-Atlantic prestige comic book miniseries. Steed & Mrs. Peel was crafted by Grant Morrison & Ian Gibson with a second exploit scripted by Anne Caulfield, and that entire affair was reprinted in 2012 by media-savvy publishers Boom! Studios as a soft pilot for their own iteration which you’ll find reviewed here.

The original 90s comics tales are whimsically playful and diabolically clever but perhaps require a little backstory. When Emma Peel joined the TV show, she was a new bride, recent widow and old acquaintance of Steed’s. The motivation for bereaved martial artist/genius level chemist Emma Knight’s call to action was that her brand new husband (dashing test pilot Peter Peel) had been lost over the Amazon jungles and his loss impelled her into a life of (secret) service. The amateur adventurer’s second career ended in-world when hubby was found alive and she returned to him and the Amazonian Leopard-People he had discovered, leaving Steed to muddle along with fully trained professional British agent Tara King…

Here that marital reunion informs Morrison (Animal Man, Zenith) & Ian Gibson’s ‘The Golden Game’: a 4-act chapterplay serially comprising ‘Crown & Anchor’, ‘Hare & Hounds’, ‘Fox & Geese’ and concluding instalment ‘Hangman’. It opens six months later with Mrs Peel’s abrupt recall to duty after Miss King goes missing whilst investigating leaks at the Admiralty and suspicious doings at elite games fraternity The Palamedes Club.

When the disappearance is linked to the truly baroque murder of puzzle-obsessed founding member and key military strategist Admiral “Foggy” Fanshawe, Steed’s handler “Mother” insists he investigate but trust no one, which the super-agent imputes to mean no one currently active in the agency…

With willing and able Emma Peel back from South America, he traces a string of excessively imaginative card and boardgame-themed slayings to an old school chum who really can carry a grudge and knows how to implement stolen nuclear launch codes to a wild and weird climax with Peel ultimately saving the day and the world…

Anne Caulfield scripted fantasy-fuelled follow-up ‘Deadly Rainbow’ as Mr and Mrs Peel reunite in the scenic English village of Pringle-on-Sea – where they had their honeymoon – only to find the laws of science and nature being warped by what appear to be the Leopard People Peter had befriended in the Amazon…

With minds clouded, telepathy and prophecy running riot, zombies marching and entire bodies (not just heads) being shrunken amidst scenes of bucolic domesticity, Peter soon goes missing again. When exploitative American resource plunderers who have been deforesting the tribe’s hidden home, it’s not long before Steed comes to Emma’s call…

The breezy satire, edgy social commentary and especially the pure peril-embedded nonsense of the original shows is perfectly captured by much-missed, recently departed pioneering 2000 AD stalwart Ian (Ballad of Halo Jones, Robo-Hunter) Gibson (February 20th 1946 – December 11th 2023) who especially goes to town on the weird events of the second saga and also contributes a variant cover gallery featuring 11 playfully suspenseful images.

Emma Peel may have been a style icon of the sixties, but she was also (and still is) a fierce, potent, overwhelming example and role model for girls. Her cool intellect, varied skills and accomplishments and smooth confidence inspired – as much as action contemporary Modesty Blaise – a host of fictive imitators whilst opening up new vistas and career paths for suppressed millions of prospective and downhearted future underpaid secretaries, nurses, shopgirls and teachers and frustrated wives. Peel’s influence even briefly reshaped the most powerful symbol of female empowerment in the world as her crimebusting detective troubleshooter alternate lifestyle became the model for sales-impoverished Wonder Woman who in the late 1960s ditched powers and costumes for bullets and boutiques…

Thrilling, funny, and eternally fabulous, Emma Peel is a woman to be reckoned with and these are tales you need to read…
© 2012 StudioCanal S.A. All Rights Reserved. The Avengers and Steed & Mrs Peel are trademarks of StudioCanal S.A. All Rights Reserved.

Steel: A Celebration of 30 Years


By Louise Simonson, Jon Bogdanove, Christopher Priest, Grant Morrison, Mark Schultz, Mateo Casali, Steve Lyons, Scholly Fisch, Matt Kindt, Chris Batista, Denys Cowan, Arnie Jorgensen, Doug Mahnke, Darryl Banks, Scott Cohn, Ed Benes, Rags Morales, Brad Walker, Patrick Zircher, June Brigman & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-2173-6 (HB/Digital edition)

All superhero sagas seek to forge fresh legends and mythologies for and around their protagonists and antagonists. A select few (like Thor, Wonder Woman, Hercules, Fables or Robin Hood) can shortcut the process by borrowing from already established communal story traditions. Steel always leaned into the latter: adapting and reiterating the folklore of actual historical personage John Henry: a 19th century African American Freedman known as the “steel-driving man” who worked building railroads and died proving human superiority and tenacity over technological innovation.

This epic compilation – part of a dedicated series reintroducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of DC icons – offers snapshots of a modern black Thomas Edison (or more accurately Tony Stark) who is equal parts impassioned justice seeker, dynamic defender and modern Hephaestus. Through groundbreaking appearances as part of the Superman Family, and standing on his own two jet-booted feet in the ever expanding DCU, it features material from Adventures of Superman #500, Superman: The Man of Steel #22, 100, 122, Steel (volume 1) #1, 34, JLA #17, Justice League Unlimited #35, Steel (volume 2) #1, Action Comics #4, Suicide Squad #24, and The Death of Superman 30th Anniversary Special #1, and like all these curated collections offers introductory essays preceding time-themed selections. We open with Part I: 1993-1998 – The Forging of a Hero by Steel co-creator Louise Simonson prior to her, Jon Bogdanove & Dennis Janke’s tantalising teaser ‘First Sighting’ as seen in Adventures of Superman #500. In the aftermath of catastrophe a new threat imperils the streets of Metropolis and a battered but mighty figure stirs from the rubble muttering “Doomsday”…

Steel’s story began with landmark publishing event The Death of Superman: a 3-pronged story-arc depicting the martyrdom, loss, replacement and resurrection of the World’s Greatest Superhero in a stellar saga which broke all records and proved that a jaded general public still cared about the venerable, veteran icon of Truth, Justice and the American Way. After a brutal rampage across Middle America, a mysterious marauding monster had only been stopped in the heart of Metropolis by an overwhelming and fatal effort on Superman’s part. Dying at the scene, the fallen hero’s body was subject of many legal battles before it was ostensibly laid to rest in a tomb in Metropolis’ Centennial Park. As Earth adjusted to a World Without a Superman, rumours began to circulate that, like Elvis, the Man of Tomorrow was not dead. The aforementioned ‘First Sightings’ revealed how across America four very different individuals appearing, saving lives and performing good deeds as only the departed defender could…

In Superman: The Man of Steel #22 (July 1993), Simonson, Bogdanove, Chris Batista & Rich Faber introduced construction worker Henry Johnson – who had been saved by Superman in the past – who felt compelled to carry on the hero’s mission. After witnessing first-hand street kids murdered by super weapons in the hands of “gangbangers” he built a high-tech suit of armour to facilitate his crusade as. Whilst outraged urban inventor attended disasters and began cleaning up the streets of Metropolis as ‘Steel’, he relentlessly searched for those who used deadly new “toastmasters”: a weapon Irons had designed in another life…

Tracking the munitions enabled him to save the life of a fortune-teller and brought him into savage conflict with White Rabbit – a new criminal major player in the city challenging the secret control of Lex Luthor – but his life only got more complicated the morning after, when Psychic Rosie went on TV claiming Steel was possessed by the unquiet soul of Superman…

To see how that  situation was resolved check out Reign of The Supermen collections but here – following the defeat of the Cyborg-Superman – our ironclad iconoclast underwent a partial refit in Steel (volume 1) #1, as writers Simonson & Bogdanove and artists Batista & Rich Fabee ‘Wrought Iron’ with Johnson resuming his previous identity as John Henry Irons and returning to his hometown and family in Washington D.C. ready to settle the problems he had originally fled from.

Welcomed back by niece Natasha, he and she are almost killed in another gang war and toastmaster crossfire, so John Henry begins a sustained and convoluted campaign against his former corporate employers Amertek, White Rabbit and the lying SOBs who allowed his junked superweapons program (AKA the BG60) to be sold to criminals. His first task is to upgrade and reforge his briefly retired armoured identity…

After an epic career as a reluctant superhero, John Henry and Natasha relocate to Jersey City as Christopher Priest, Denys Cowan & Tom Palmer reboot proceedings. In ‘Bang’ he reinvents himself as a maker of medical hardware and prosthetics working for a barely disguised supervillain. With all concerned leaning heavily into the perceived notion of Steel as a second-rate substitute, Priest consequently crafted one of the funniest and most thrilling superhero series of the decade and one long overdue to be featured in its own collection.

Steel was becoming increasingly popular and was rewarded with membership in the new sensation-series – the reconstituted Justice League. Here in his April 1998 induction from JLA #17, Grant Morrison, Arnie Jorgensen, David Meikis & Marl Pennington show ‘Prometheus Unbound’ as the ambitious neophyte supervillain attacks the entire League in their moon base Watchtower. As recent recruits Huntress, Plastic Man, fallen angel Zauriel and covert information resource Oracle join the regular team invite the world’s press to their lunar base, this unwise courtesy inadvertently allows the insidious seemingly unstoppable mastermind to infiltrate and almost destroy them.

The heroes – despite initially succumbing to Prometheus’ blitz-attack – strike back, aided by unlikely surprise guest-star Catwoman and the last-minute appearance of New Gods Orion and Big Barda proffering yet more hints of the greater threat to come. Although playing a significant part in the win, Steel is not really a star here but at least proves he can play well with the big dogs…

Priest then provides fascinating insight to his take on Dr. Irons and his tenure’s overt concentration of racism and comedy in an essay segueing neatly into Part II: 2000-2011 – Forging the Future prior to adventures in a new millennium.

In Superman: The Man of Steel #100 (May 2000), Mark Schultz, Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen offer a ‘Creation Story’ as John Henry and Natasha set up shop in Metropolis with their (she’s a SuperGenius too and ultimately also became an mecha-outfitted superhero) “Steelworks” facility, helping Superman reconstruct his Fortress of Solitude from recovered Kryptonian and Phantom Zone raw materials. The artificers are unaware that an old enemy is sending new menace Luna and her Cybermoths to plunder their achievements…

Despite their always being the best of friends, Superman: The Man of Steel #122 (March 2002) notionally succumbs to the inevitable in Superman v Steel’ by Schultz, Darryl Banks & Kevin Conrad as Irons battles crippling anxieties after accepting a potential trojan horse weapon – the Entropy Aegis – from Darkseid and using it as the basis of new armour. With monsters trying to reclaim it and Superman begging him not to use it, frayed tempers snap…

As well as an ill-received – and unjustly derided – cinema iteration (really! – check it out with more forgiving modern eyes), Steel made the jump to television numerous times. The best was his tenure in the Cartoon Network Justice League/Justice League Unlimited animated shows and the comic books they spawned. Next up here is Mateo Casali, Scott Cohn & Al Nickerson’s all-ages romp ‘The Cycle’ (Justice League Unlimited #35, September 2007), with John Henry and Natasha in the Watchtower before leading the team against reawakened elder gods The Millennium Giants

Having grown overlarge and unwieldy once more, DC took a draconian leap as its continuity was again pruned and repatterned. In October 2011, publishing event Flashpoint led to a “New 52”: radical yet mostly cosmetic changes that barely affected the properties reimagined. Just before that kicked off, John Henry got a stirring “hail and farewell” in Steel (volume 2, 2011) #1. ‘Reign of Doomsday, Part 1: Full Circle’ by Steve (Doctor Who) Lyons & Ed Benes opened a Superman Family mass-crossover as the marauding monster returned to crush all S-Sheild superstars, starting with John Henry before moving on to The Outsiders and others…

Concluding chapter Part III: 2012-Present – The First Black Superman opens with a treatise and career appraisal of “DC’s Iron Man” by Bogdanove, after which the techno-warrior is reimagined by Morrison, Rags Morales, Rick Bryant & Sean Parsons in Action Comics (volume 2) #4, January 2012. ‘Superman and the Men of Steel’ sees a young Man of Tomorrow starting out as a vigilante, pursued by Military Consultant Lex Luthor and losing to the latter’s Kryptonite fuelled cyborg Metallo until a technologist working on the Steel Soldier program dons the armour he’s building to save the embattled young hero…

From the same issue, ‘Hearts of Steel’ – by Scholly Fisch, Brad Walker & Jay David Ramos – concludes the 3-way war and provides insight into the valiant newcomer, before Suicide Squad #24 (volume 4, December 2013) taps into publishing event Forever Evil with ‘Excuse the Mess…’ by Matt Kindt, Patrick Zircher & Jason Keith. As Earth is infiltrated by invaders from an alternate reality, conscripts of Amanda Waller’s penal unit (Thinker, King Shark, Captain Boomerang, Deadshot and Harley Quinn) rebel when the world’s supervillain community unites to crush the heroes. Opposing the rebellion and fighting to keep a living WMD from them are an Unknown Soldier, vigilante Warrant, Power Girl and Steel

In 2015, as the New 52 experiment staggered to a conclusion, a series of company-wide events offered speculative glimpses at what might have been. Following 2014’s Futures End came Convergence in April 2015: a series of character-derived micro-series referencing key periods in the amalgamated history of DC heroes. Crafted by Simonson, June Brigman, Roy Richardson & John Rauch, Convergence: Superman: Man of Steel #1-2 depicted ‘Divided We Fall’ & ‘United We Stand’ as assorted cities from varied publishing epochs of continuity are imprisoned under domes by Telos, slave of Brainiac and ordered to fight each other until only one survives. Referencing their 1990s iteration, Irons, Natasha and nephew Jemahl armour up beside maniacal villain The Parasite to battle the abrasive superteens of Gen 13

We end by turning full circle as Louise Simonson, Jon Bogdanove & colourist Glenn Whitmore share undisclosed secrets from the first appearance of Steel, as finally revealed in The Death of Superman 30th Anniversary Special #1 (November 2022).‘Time’ expands on ‘First Sightings’, taking readers back to the moments Doomsday ripped through Metropolis and showing how “Henry Johnson” saved lives as he ran towards the life or death battle to aid Superman however he can…

With covers by Bogdanove & Janke, Dave Johnson, Howard Porter & John Dell, Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen, John Cassaday & Richard Horie, Zach Howard, Alex Garner, Morales & Brad Anderson, Steve Skroce & Jason Keith, Walter Simonson & Dave McCaig, these tales span cover-dates January 1993 to November 2022; a period where black heroes finally became acceptable comics currency – at least for most people – and this too brief collation of groundbreaking yarns only begs the question: why isn’t more of this wonderful stuff already available?
© 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2022, 2023 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Flash Gordon Annual 1969


By anonymous staff of the Mick Anglo Studio, Dick Wood, Al Williamson, Don Heck & various (World Distributor’s [Manchester] Ltd.)
No ISBN – B06WGZR1KX

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

Where Rogers had traditional adventures and high science concepts, this new feature reinterpreted Fairy Tales, Heroic Epics and Mythology. It did so by spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying esoteric “Rays”, “Engine” and “Motors” substituting for trusty swords and lances – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic flying craft and contraptions standing in for Galleons, Chariots and Magic Carpets.

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

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

At the time of this annual a bunch of Gold Key and King Features Syndicate licenses were held by Mick Anglo, who provide strip and prose material for UK weekly TV Tornado. It combined British-generated material with US comic book reprints in an era when the television influence of shows like Tarzan and Batman, and veteran features like Flash Gordon – who had a small screen presence thanks to frequent re-runs of his cinema chapter plays. The project was extremely popular, even though not always of the highest quality…

In 1966, newspaper monolith King Features Syndicate briefly got into comic book publishing again: releasing a wave of titles based on their biggest stars. These were an ideal source of material for British publishers, whose regular audiences were profoundly addicted to TV and movie properties. Moreover, thematically they fitted with World Distributors’ other licensed properties, which repackaged Western’s comics material like Star Trek, Beverly Hillbillies and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea with domestically generated material – generally by Mick Anglo’s packaging company Gower Studios.

This Anglo-American (tee-hee!) partnership fulfilled our Christmas needs for decades, generating a wealth of UK Annuals, comics and the occasional Special, mixing full-colour US reprints with prose stories, puzzles, games and fact-features on related themes.

Flash Gordon Annuals appeared sporadically over the next few decades with this release from 1968 (and forward-dated for 1969) being the second. Like the previous book it leaned heavily on generic space opera adventure in prose-based illustrated vignettes leavened with some truly stunning comics tales recasting Flash, Dale Arden and Dr. Hans Zarkov as generalised space explorers undertaking non-stop voyages to the unknown by saving lesser civilizations from mischance, misfortune and monsters sentient and not.

The action opens with a prose return to last year’s main comic feature. Sporting full-colour illustrations peppered with mini general knowledge/science factoids, ‘The Terror of Krenkelium’ sees Flash and Zarkov head back underground to a subterranean kingdom where first-timer Dale meets her rival for Flash’s attention. Happily, Princess Darla regains her equilibrium and common sense when usurper Mogulari tries to kill the court and take over only to meet stern and fatal resistance from the upworlders…

‘Plague of the Underground Forest’ then finds our heroes revisiting a formerly idyllic aboriginal paradise planet whose deeply spiritual people are now racked with famine thanks to an invasion of super-rats. The problem is not destroying the immediate menace but convincing the despondent survivors to leave their ancestral lands for somewhere that can actually support them in the solution’s aftermath…

Astronautics quiz ‘Space Probe’ and a page of ‘Fun Time’ cartoons presage a switch to 2-colour illustration as prose thriller ‘The Idol of Zatamandoo’ sees the star travellers uncover the dark underbelly of another apparent paradise planet where a godlike being trades peace and perfection for the occasional human sacrifice. After a traditional quiz – ‘Know Your Sport’ – Flash, Dale and Zarkov return to Mongo to save Earth from being drowned by ‘The Floating Desert’ before prose pauses and this year’s strip quotient begins. Originating in US comic book Flash Gordon #6 (cover-dated July 1967) as ‘Cragmen of the Lost Continent’, here Bill Pearson & Reed Crandall’s sublime romp becomes Flash Gordon meets the Cragmen of the Lost Continent’ as a trek through unknown regions of Mongo sees Dale in charge and kicking alien butt when Flash is swallowed by a monster and the old doctor breaks his leg.

Striving against uncredible beasts and hostile conditions she eventually rescues her captive hero from sinister mountain dwellers and is bringing him to safety when…

An abrupt return to words follows a full-colour board game delivering ‘Danger in Space’ (as long as you can find dice and counters) after which diversion our dynamic trio scotch ‘The Micro-Men Plot’: an invasion scheme by a despot able to shrink his all-conquering forces.

An activity page of conjuring tricks shares the how-to of ‘Magic by Illusion’ before strip thrills blast back with a short spy story also taken from Flash Gordon #6. Written by Gary Poole and limned by either Mike Roy and/or Frank Springer, it tells of Secret Agent X-9 in Japan to obtain at all costs ‘The Third Key of Power’.

It’s back to 2-tone visions and peerless prose as our heroes endure the strangest case of their lives after encountering an advanced culture of ants. ‘The Swarming Peril’ proves so fearsome Flash has his brain inserted into an insect’s skull to complete his mission…

‘Time For a Laugh’ affords more cartoon buffoonery before The Mazzlins try to eradicate humankind in a ‘Deluge!’, after which thrills pause for general knowledge and testing in ‘Flash Puzzles’ and ‘Strange But True’.

Prose poser ‘Return to Krenkelium’ finds the human heroes again going underground, with Princess Darla’s embattled people invaded by The Snakemen of Syndromeda – beings from even deeper in the planet’s core…

Crossword ‘Out of This World’ segues into comics and the conclusion of the Cragmen crisis as Flash faces ‘The Totem Master!’ before this slice of Christmas past fades away with another board game situated in a ‘City Under the Sea.’

Once upon a time this type of uncomplicated done-in-one media-tasty package was the basic unit of Yule fuel, entertaining millions of British kids, and still holds much rewarding fun for those looking for a simple and straightforward nostalgic escape.
MCMLXVII, MCMLXVIII by King Features Syndicate, Inc. All rights reserved throughout the world. The Amalgamated Press.

The Rise of Ultraman


By Kyle Higgins, Mat Groom, Francesco Manna, Espen Grundetjern with Michael Cho, Gurihiru, Ed McGuiness, Alex Ross, Jorge Molina & various (MARVEL WORLDWIDE, INC.)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2571-0 (TPB/Digital edition)

In the spirit of completeness here’s a modern reinterpretation in comics form written by Kyle Higgins (Batman: Gates of Gotham, Radiant Black) and Mat Groom (Inferno Girl Red, Self/Made), illustrated by Francesco Manna (Avengers), and coloured by Espen Grundetjern. Released as a 5-part miniseries this volume includes a trytich of sidbar tales fleshing out the revised concept…

It all begins with a flashnack to 1966 when pilot Dan Moriboshi crashed into a UFO and something miraculous and awful happened…

Now it’s 2020, and Cadet Kiki Fuji of the United Science Patrol is abruptly seconded from gruntwork to an actual mission. The job – and indeed organsation – is top secret. The general public are utterly unaware that the USP’s enemy is Kaiju: giant monsters that sporadically invade earth to make trouble. Thankfully, the USP are equipped with mysterious but infallible K-Ray weapons which utterlt eradicate the terrifying titans…

Her first field job goes wrong fast and Fuji is humiliatingly rescued by Shin Hayata, an old friend who scrubbed out of training for reasons even he is not aware of. A brilliant inventor, Shin has gone solo hunting monsters and developed some very disturbing theories about kaiju, and the way the USP handles them…

Hayata continually inserts himself into missions and joins now Fuji and her abrasive superior Captain Muramatsu when another incursion occurs. This this one is different. A glowing giant humanoid in a ball of light, the invader seems benign and when Shin chooses to talk rather than shoot it, the Being of Light merges with his human form…

The Ultra Being has come to examine what happened to its brother 54 years previously. By probing Shin’s memories it learns how Kiki and his human host first became involved in the secret war against monsters as children. Then the alien exposes the truth about the Kaiju crisis and what it really means, which Muramatsu and Fuji indadvertantly confirm by tracing how the Ultra reached Earth and uncover a shocking cover-up at the USP…

When they retaliate, Kiki must soldier on alone, tracking down Dr. Yamamoto – who was also permenentlychanged by the 1966 event and has been building to counteract a repeat of the incursion ever since.

In another place and space, Shin learns that what the USP has been doing with K-Rays has gradually set up Earth for a monumantal monster surprise attack and voluteers to accept union with the Being of Light. The result is a giant champion of last resort… Ultraman!

In human form, however, Shin is still niave and trusting, allying himsef with USP top brass who prove to be untrustworty and scheming, even as they help him track down Kiki and Dr. Yamamoto. They have become prime targets of the kaiju – now revealed as far more than dumb marauding brutes – and when the horrors’ patient scheme finally pays off and beasts roam through Tokyo, Ultraman is there to fight for humanity…

To Be Continued…

As well as a barrage of variant and photo covers by Alex Ross, Jorge Molina, Adi Granov, Ed McGuiness, Yuji Kaida, Skottie Young, John Tyler Christopher, Olivier Ciople & Romulo Fajardo Jr., Stanley “Artgerm” Lau, Arthur Adams & Jason Keith, Masayuki Gotoh, Kim Jacinto & Rachelle Rosenberg, E.J. Su and Kia Asamiya, plus a selection of comedic ‘Kaiju Steps’ strips with cute terror Pigmon, the books also offers historical and biographical background in Eiji Tsuburaya: Lord of Giants and bonus strip ‘Ultra Q’. Drawn by Michael Cho, it reveals a dark moment in the 20th century and the formation of the USP, and peeks forward with ‘Things to Come’

Timeless and ever renewing, Ultraman is sheer cathartic wonder no thrill fan should miss…
© 2023 Tsuburaya Productions. Published by MARVEL WORLDWIDE, INC.

Doctor Who Graphic Novels volume 15 – Nemesis of the Daleks


By Richard Starkings, John Tomlinson, John Freeman, Paul Cornell, Dan Abnett, Steve Moore, Simon Jowett, Mike Collins, Andrew Donkin, Graham S. Brand, Ian Rimmer, Tim Robins, Lee Sullivan, John Ridgway, Steve Dillon, David Lloyd, Geoff Senior, Art Wetherell & Dave Harwood, Andy Wildman, John Marshall & Stephen Baskerville, Cam Smith & many and various (Panini Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-531-4 (TPB)

Despite the strangely quarked variety of entangled quantums, if you prefer your reality in a sequential manner, this year will always be the 60th Anniversary of Doctor Who. Thus there is/has been/will be a bunch of Timey-Wimey stuff on-going as we celebrate a unique TV and comics institution in a periodical manner …

The British love comic strips, adore “characters” and are addicted to celebrity. The history of our homegrown graphic narratives includes an astounding number of comedians, Variety stars and television actors: such disparate legends as Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Askey, Charlie Drake and so many more I’ve long forgotten and you’ve likely never heard of.

As much adored and adapted were actual shows and properties like Whacko!, Supercar, Pinky and Perky, The Clangers and literally hundreds more. If folk watched or listened, an enterprising publisher made printed spectacles of them. Hugely popular anthology comics including Radio Fun, Film Fun, TV Fun, Look-In, TV Comic, TV Tornado, and Countdown readily and regularly translated our light entertainment favourites into pictorial joy every week, and it was a pretty poor star or show that couldn’t parley the day job into a licensed strip property…

Doctor Who debuted on black-&-white televisions across Britain on November 23rd 1963 with the premiere episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’. In 1964, a decades-long association with TV Comic began: issue #674 heralding the initial instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

On 11th October 1979, Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly. Turning monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) it’s been with us – via various iterations – ever since. All proving the Time Lord is a comic star of impressive pedigree, not to be trifled with.

Panini’s UK division ensured the immortality of the comics feature by collecting all strips of every Time Lord Regeneration in a uniform series of over-sized graphic albums – although we’re still waiting for digital versions. Each time tome focuses on a particular incarnation of the deathless wanderer, with this one gathering stories originally published in Doctor Who Magazine #152-156, 159-162, The Incredible Hulk Presents #1-12, Doctor Who Weekly #17-20, #27-30 and Doctor Who Monthly #44-46 communally spanning 1980-1990) and nominally starring Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy.

Also on show are awesome ancillary stars from the monolithic Time Lord “Whoniverse” including the eponymous trundling terrors of the title, legendary cosmic crusaders The Star Tigers and the long-revered tragic, demented antihero Abslom Daak, Dalek-Killer.

Delivered beauty-contest style in reverse order, the magnificent magic opens with the cataclysmic ‘Nemesis of the Daleks’ (DWM #152-155) as Richard and Steve Alan – AKA Richard Starkings & John Tomlinson – deliver a definitive and classic clash between the nomadic chrononaut and the ultimate foes of life, wherein deadly Daleks enslave a primitive civilisation. This is done by driving the pitiful, primitive Helkans to the brink of extinction in forced labour to construct a Dalek Death Wheel armed with the universe’s most potent and toxic Weapon of Mass Destruction.

Grittily illustrated by Lee Sullivan, the blockbuster opens with the valiant last stand of stellar champions the Star Tigers, before the peripatetic Doctor accidentally arrives in the right place at the wrong time – no surprise there then – joining death-obsessed Abslom Daak in a doomed attempt to stop the Emperor of the Daleks from winning supreme power.

Filled with evocative do-or-die heroics, this is a battle only one being can survive…

In a complete change-of-pace, ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (#156 from January 1990, by John Freeman, Paul Cornell & Gerry Dolan) takes a wry, merrily murderous poke at modern art and the slavish gullibility of its patrons that still holds true now – and probably always will…

The Incredible Hulk Presents was a short-lived reprint weekly from Marvel UK that launched on September 30th 1989. It targeted younger readers with 4 media-fed features. As well as the Big Green TV sensation, it also reprinted American-produced stories of Indiana Jones and GI Joe/Action Force, but the mix was augmented by all-new adventures of the Gallant Gallifreyan crafted by a rotating roster of British creators.

The plan was to eventually reprint the Who stories in DWM – thus maximising the costly outlay of new material at a time in British comics publishing where every penny counted. It didn’t quite go to plan and the comic folded after 12 issues, with only a couple of the far simpler – though no less enjoyable – offerings making it into the mature magazine publication.

It began with ‘Once in a Lifetime’ by Freeman & Geoff Senior, wherein an obnoxious alien reporter learns to his dismay that some stories are too big even for the gutter press, after which issues #2-3 saw Dan Abnett & John Ridgway depict ‘Hunger From the Ends of Time!’ as the Doctor and Foreign Hazard Duty (the future iteration of UNIT) save the Universal Library from creatures who literally consume knowledge.

‘War World!’ by Freeman, Art Wetherell & Dave Harwood finds the irascible time-traveller uncharacteristically fooled by an (un)common foot soldier, whilst in Abnett & Wetherell’s ‘Technical Hitch’ the Doctor saves a lonely spacer from unhappy dreams of paradise…

Freeman & Senior concocted a riotous monster-mash for ‘A Switch in Time!’ whilst ‘The Sentinel!’ (Tomlinson & Andy Wildman) finds the Time Lord helpless before a being beyond the limits of temporal physics. Claiming to have created all life in the universe, he still needs a little something from Gallifrey to finish his latest project…

Another 2-parter in #8-9 declared ‘Who’s That Girl!’, as the Doctor’s latest regeneration apparently results in a female form just as the Time Lord is required to stop inter-dimensional war between malicious macho martial empires. Of course, there’s more than meets the eye going on in a silly but engaging thriller by Simon Furman, John Marshall & Stephen Baskerville.

Simon Jowett & Wildman offered a light-hearted salutary fable as ‘The Enlightenment of Ly-Chee the Wise’ proves some travellers are too much for even the most mellow of meditators to handle, after which Mike Collins, Tim Robins & Senior prove just how dangerous fat-farms can be in ‘Slimmer!’, before The Incredible Hulk Presents ended its foray into time-warping with the portentous ‘Nineveh!’ by Tomlinson & Cam Smith.

There and then, the Tardis is ensnared in the deadly clutches of the Watcher at the End of Time – an impossibly mythical being who harvests Time Lords after their final regeneration…

For most of its run and in all its guises the Doctor Who title suffered from criminally low budgets and restricted access to concepts, images and character-likenesses from the show (many actors, quite rightfully owning their faces, wanted to be paid if they appeared in print! How’s that work today?) but diligent work by successive editors gradually bore fruit and every so often fans got a proper treat…

Crafted by Andrew Donkin, Graham S. Brand & John Ridgway, ‘Train-Flight’ ran in DWM #159-161 (April to June 1990), benefitting from slick editorial wheeler-dealing and the generosity of actor Elizabeth Sladen (who allowed her Sarah Jane Smith character to be used for a pittance) in a chilling tale of alien abductions. Here, a long overdue reunion between The Doctor and his old Companion is derailed when their commuter train is hijacked by marauding carnivorous insects…

‘Doctor Conkerer!’ (#162 by Ian Rimmer & Mike Collins) terminates this tome’s Time Lord travails in a humorous escapade describing the unsuspected origins of that noble game played with horse chestnuts so beloved by British schoolboys (of 40 years or older), assorted aliens and, of course, Vikings of every stripe…

There’s still plenty of high quality action and adventure to enjoy here, however, as the complete saga of ‘Abslom Daak, Dalek-Killer’ follows. A potent collaboration between Steve Moore and artists Steve Dillon & David Lloyd from Doctor Who Weekly #17-20 (February-March 1980; Doctor Who Weekly #27-30 (April 1980) and Doctor Who Monthly #44-46, (December 1980 to February 1981) the epic fills in the blanks on the doomed defenders of organic life everywhere…

In the 26th century the Earth Empire is in a death struggle with voracious Dalek forces, yet still divided and focused on home-grown threats. One such is inveterate, antisocial killer Abslom Daak, who – on sentencing for his many crimes – chooses “Exile D-K”: being beamed into enemy territory to die as a “Dalek Killer”. As such, his life expectancy is less than three hours – and that suits him just fine. Materialising on an alien world, the madman eagerly expects to die but finds an unexpected reason to live until she too is taken from him, leaving only an unquenchable thirst for Dalek destruction…

The initial ferociously action-packed back-up series led to a sequel and ‘Star Tigers’ found the manic marauder winning such improbable allies as a rebel Draconian Prince, a devilish Ice Warrior and the smartest sociopath in Human space, all willing to trade their pointless lives to kill Daleks…

As always, this compilation chronicle is supplemented with lots of text features, and truly avid fans can also enjoy a treasure-trove of background information in the 17-page prose Commentary section at the back: story-by-story background, history and insights from the authors and illustrators, supplemented by scads of sketches, script pages, roughs, designs, production art covers and photos.

This includes full background from former DWM editor/scripter John Freeman on the stories, plus background on the guest stars in ‘Tales from the Daak Side’ by John Tomlinson.

More details and creator-biographies accompany commentaries on The Incredible Hulk Presents tales. and there’s a feature on ‘Hulk meets Who’, explaining that odd publishing alliance, plus reminisces from editor Andy Seddon and even more info on the legendary Dalek killer and his Star Tiger allies to pore and exult over.

None of which is relevant if all you want is a darn good read. However all creators involved have managed the ultimate task of any artisan – to produce engaging, thrilling, fun work which can be equally enjoyed by the merest beginner and the most slavishly dedicated and opinionated fans imaginable.

This is another marvellous book for casual readers, a fine shelf-addition for dedicated fans of the show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics one more go.

All Doctor Who material © BBCtv. Doctor Who, the Tardis and all logos are trademarks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. Licenced by BBC Worldwide. Tardis image © BBC 1963. Daleks © Terry Nation. All commentaries © 2013 their respective authors. Published 2013 by Panini Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Superman Adventures volumes 1


By Paul Dini, Scott McCloud, Rick Burchett, Bret Blevins, Mike Manley & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5867-2 (TPB/Digital edition)

At their primal hearts heroes like Batman and Superman appeal directly and powerfully to the little kids in us all, who helplessly rail at forces that boss us around and don’t let us be ourselves. Maybe that’s why the versions ostensibly and specifically made for youngsters are so often the most vivid and rewarding…

Almost a decade after John Byrne re-galvanised, reinvigorated and reinvented the look and feel of the Man of Steel, animator Bruce Timm returned to comicbook country to meld modern sensibility and classic mythology with Superman: The Animated Series.

With Paul Dini, he had already designed and overseen Batman: The Animated Series: a 1993 TV show which captivated young and old alike, breathing vibrant new life into an old concept. In 1996 lightning struck a second time. The show was another masterpiece and led to a tranche of sequels and spin-off including The New Batman/Superman Adventures, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.

Although the Superman cartoon show (originally airing in the USA from September 6th 1996 to February 12th 2000) never got the airplay it deserved in Britain, it remains a highpoint in the character’s long, long animation history, second only to 17 astounding, groundbreaking shorts produced by the Max Fleischer Studio in the 1940s.

These stylish modern visualisations became the norm, extending to the Teen Titans, Legion of Super Heroes, Young Justice and Brave and the Bold animation series that so successfully followed.

The broad stylisation – dubbed “Ocean Liner Art Deco” – also worked magnificently in static two dimensions for the spin-off comic book produced by DC as seen in this first of four compilations, curating Superman Adventures #1-10 (November 1996-August 1997).

With no further ado, the all-ages action opens with ‘Men of Steel’ by show writer Paul Dini, illustrated with dash and verve by Rick Burchett & Terry Austin. Because they know their audience, the editors wisely treated prior animated episodes and comic releases as equally canonical, and here shady mega-billionaire Lex Luthor is a public hero even whilst covertly organising clandestine criminal deals, international coups and a secret war against the Man of Tomorrow.

The devil’s brew of dark deeds culminates here in the oligarch’s creation of a new secret weapon: a hyper-powerful robot-duplicate of Superman, which he uses to initially discredit and ultimately attack the Caped Kryptonian. If it manages to kill him, Lex can mass-produce them and sell them to warlords around the world…

Comics grand master Scott McCloud came aboard as regular scripter with the second issue as ‘Be Careful What You Wish For…’ sees the return of Kryptonite-powered cyborg Metallo. The mechanical maniac – like the rest of Metropolis – erroneously believes lonely, attention-seeking Kelly to be Superman’s girlfriend, but his sadistic revenge scheme hasn’t factored in how Lois Lane might react to the fraudulent claim…

Computerised Kryptonian relic Brainiac resurfaces in ‘Distant Thunder’, having placed its malign consciousness into Earth artefacts (such as robot cats!) before building a new body to facilitate a renewed assault on the Metropolis Marvel. As ever, Brainiac’s end goal is assimilating data, but Superman quickly realises how to turn that programmed compulsion into a weapon ensuring the computer tyrant’s defeat…

Apprentice photo-journalist Jimmy Olsen’s dreams of success and stardom get a big boost in issue #4’s ‘Eye to Eye’. After Luthor orchestrates another lethal attack on Superman – with an enhanced gravity-weapon – the cub reporter learns his job is as much about grit and guts as being in the right place at the right time…

Bret Blevins pencils ‘Balance of Power’ as electrical villain Livewire awakes from a coma and sets about equalizing gender inequality by taking over the world’s broadcast airwaves. With all male presences edited out thanks to her galvanic gifts, the sparky ideologue returns to her original agenda and attempts to eradicate too-powerful men like Superman and Luthor…

McCloud, Burchett & Austin reunite for the astoundingly gripping ‘Seonimod’ wherein Superman utterly fails to save Metropolis from complete annihilation. All is not lost, however, as Fifth Dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk has trapped the hero in a backwards-spiralling time-loop, allowing the Man of Tomorrow one last chance to track a concatenation of disasters back to the inconsequential event that initially triggered the string of accidents which wiped out everything he cherishes…

‘All Creatures Great and Small part 1’ opens a titanic 2-part tale which sees Krypton’s Phantom Zone villains General Zod and Mala escape a miniaturised prison Superman had incarcerated them in. In the process they also shrink our hero to a few centimetres in height, but the endgame is far more devilish that that.

When scientific savant Professor Hamilton and top cop Dan “Terrible” Turpin join Lois in using a growth ray to restore Superman, Zod intercepts them and transforms himself into a towering colossus of chaos and carnage. Utterly overmatched and without options, the tiny Man of Tomorrow is forced into the most disgusting and risky manoeuvre of his career to bring the gigantic General low in the concluding ‘All Creatures Great and Small part 2’

Mike Manley pencils Superman Adventures #9 as ‘Return of the Hero’ focuses on an idealistic boy whose two heroes are Superman and Lex Luthor. However, as a series of arson attacks plagues his neighbourhood, Francisco Torres learns some unpleasant truths about the billionaire that shatter his worldview and almost destroy his family. Happily, the Caped Kryptonian proves to be a far more reliable role model…

Wrapping up this first cartoon collection is a classic clash between indomitable hero and deadly maniac, as a twisted techno-terrorist y returns, peddling Superman action figures designed to plunder and rob their owners’ parents. ‘Don’t Try This at Home!’ – by McCloud, Burchett & Austin – once again proves that no amount of devious deviltry can long deter the champion of Truth, Justice and the American Way…

Breathtakingly written and spectacularly illustrated, these stripped-down, hyper-charged rollercoaster-romps are pure, irresistible examples of the most primal kind of comics storytelling, capturing the idealised essence of what every Superman story should be. It’s a treasury every fan of any age and vintage will adore.
© 1996, 1997, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Doctor Who volume 2: Dragon’s Claw


Illustrated by Dave Gibbons, Mike McMahon & Adolfo Buylla, scripted by Steve Moore & Steve Parkhouse (Panini Books)
ISBN: 978-1-904159-81-8 (TPB)

It’s the 60th Anniversary of Doctor Who so there is/has been/will be a bunch of Timey-Wimey stuff on-going as we periodically celebrate a unique TV and comics institution…

The British love comic strips and they love celebrity and they love “characters.” The history of our homegrown graphic narratives includes a disproportionate number of radio comedians, Variety stars and television actors: such disparate legends as Charlie Chaplin, Flanagan & Allen, Arthur Askey, Winifred Atwell, Max Bygraves, Jimmy Edwards, Charlie Drake and so many more I’ve long forgotten and you’ve likely never heard of.

As much adored and adapted were actual shows and properties like Whacko!, ITMA, Our Gang, Old Mother Riley, Supercar, Thunderbirds, Pinky and Perky, The Clangers and literally hundreds of others. If folk watched or listened to something, an enterprising publisher would make print spectacles of them. Hugely popular anthology comics including Radio Fun, Film Fun, TV Fun, Look-In, TV Tornado, TV Comic and Countdown readily translated our light entertainment favourites into pictorial joy every week, and it was a pretty poor star or show that couldn’t parley the day job into a licensed strip property…

Doctor Who premiered on black-&-white televisions across Britain on November 23rd 1963 with the premier of ‘An Unearthly Child’. In 1964, a decades-long association with TV Comic began: issue #674 heralding the initial instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th), Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly. Turning monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) it’s been with us – under various names and iterations – ever since. All of which only goes to prove the Time Lord is a comic star not to trifled with.

Panini’s UK division has ensured the immortality of the comics feature by collecting all strips of every Regeneration of the Time Lord in a uniform series of over-sized graphic albums. Originally published between July 10th 1980 and January 1982, these monochrome yarns are mainly by Dave Gibbons: spanning #39-57 and 60, plus a fill-in yarn in #58-59.

This was drawn by Mike McMahon (Judge Dredd, Sláine, Alien Legion, Tank Girl, The Last American,) and inked by Spanish veteran Adolfo Buylla AKA Adolfo Álvarez-Buylla Aguelo. He worked internationally on strips like Diego Valor, Yago Veloz, Inspector H. Diario de un Detective, G.I. Combat, House of Mystery, Creepy, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Twilight Zone, Space: 1999, Knights of Pendragon and others.

These were amongst the last regular comics work the artist created for the British market before being scooped up by the Americans as part of the Eighties’ “British Invasion”.

The comics kick off with a wry romp written by Steve Moore (Rick Random, Dan Dare, Axel Pressbutton, Tharg’s Future Shocks, Father Shandor, Tales of Telguuth, Fortean Times). Set in China circa 1522 AD, ‘Dragon’s Claw’ (DWW #39-45) carried the periodical from weekly to monthly schedule, with the Fourth Doctor – as played by Tom Baker – and companions K-9 and Sharon Davies (from 20th century English town Blackcastle) uncovering old enemies bending history by providing alien ordnance to a Shaolin monk with big dreams.

After stymying the star conquerors, the garrulous Gallifreyan resumed his self-appointed task of getting Sharon home in shorter sagas better suiting monthly outings. DWM #46 found the travellers accidentally ensnared by a cosmic anthropologist and his bored and lonely robot companion before generating a deadly alternate reality in ‘The Collector’

Two-part tale ‘Dreamers of Death’ (#47-48) then sees a world of oneiric escapism imperilled by telepathic infiltrators and close to ruination. The spectacular solution saves lives but ultimately sunders the Time Lord’s connection to Sharon forever…

Spanning #49-50, ‘The Life Bringer!’ takes The Doctor and K-9 far into the past where they liberate Prometheus from godly punishment and clash with beings who think themselves gods. The prisoner’s “crime” was scattering seeds of life throughout the universe and he will do it again now, but what The Time Lord really needs to know is has he intervened before or after Prometheus reached Earth…

‘War of the Words’ (#51) sees the TARDIS “vwoorp” into a space conflagration over library planet Biblios. The clash between Vromyx and Skluum has been raging for eternity and the fed-up Gallifreyan thinks he has a way to end it all forever…

Those pesky arrogant Earthlings pop up again in DWM #52’s monster mash ‘Spider-God’ as Terran Survey Vessel Excelsior lands on an unknown planet and immediately jumps to a wrong conclusion about the relationship between idyllic idealised humanoids and the six-legged beasties that apparently prey on them. Even the doctor can’t stop the humans making the same tragic mistakes they have always made…

Steve Parkhouse signed on as regular scripter with #53 as ‘The Deal’ as the TARDIS materialises amidst the madness of the Millennium Wars and tragically becomes a target of all sides, before ‘End of the Line’ (#54-55) sees the usually-happy wanderer lost on a ruined world – beneath it, actually – fleeing cannibal gangs hunting for unwary sustenance on the still-running underground train system…

Luckily there’s a few ninja-like “Guardian Angels” on patrol, saving lives and planning their exodus to the dream-inspiring “countryside”. Or is it lucky?

At the annual Festival of Five Planets, The Doctor meets many fellow cosmic voyagers in what became the backdoor pilot for a spinoff comics series. Whilst enjoying the convention’s many attractions, the Gallifreyan is conned into a race contest, testing the TARDIS against the star vehicle of mercenary/stunt pilot team the ‘Free-Fall Warriors’.

Encompassing DWM #56-57, the wild ride intersected a sneak attack by marauding Rebel Raiders which meant all bets were off and there was hell to pay…

McMahon/Abylla fill-in ‘Junk-Yard Demon’ (#58-59) follows as the Time Lord’s trusty vessel comes to the attention of space salvage ship Drifter. Captain/builder/pilot Flotsam, and crew-beings Jets and Dutch think they’ve scored big. They’re most apologetic when The Doctor affably introduces himself and really, really sorry when the Time Lord’s presence activates a presumed broken Cyberman…

Things get really tense when it then tries compelling them to repair its legion of shattered comrades. Thankfully, the man with the scarf has a plan…

This epic onslaught of wonders ends on a prologue as Gibbons returns to realise the first sally of a proposed ambitious multi-part Parkhouse saga. On a futuristic world, civilisation falls to barbarism as it always does, with ‘The Neutron Knights’ (DWM #60) butchering each other with highly advanced primitive weapons. Plucked from the time stream by a mysterious wizard, The Doctor watches helplessly as the old story unfolds once more. Reawakening back at his point of origin, the baffled Gallifreyan is forced to accept the incident as real when Merlin reappears, warning these are portents and they will meet again…

Sheer effusive delight from start to finish, this is a splendid book for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for dedicated fans of the show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics another shot…

All Doctor Who material © BBCtv. Doctor Who, the Tardis, Dalek word and device mark and all logos are trademarks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. Dalek device mark © BBC/Terry Nation 1963.All other material © its individual creators and owners. Published 2004 by Panini. All rights reserved.

Rick and Morty: Sometimes Science Is More Art Than Science – The Official Colouring Book


Illustrated by Austin Baechle (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-80336-598-5 (PB)

Multi award-winning Adult Swim (the grown-up after-dark division of Cartoon Network) animated comedy science fiction series Rick and Morty was created by Justin Roiland & Dan Harmon. It was developed from the former’s parody short of Back to The Future in 2006, and with Harmon’s eventual collaboration was unleashed on the universe – arguably all of them – in December 2013. We’re up to Season 7, with 3 more contracted for.

The show combines edgy domestic comedy with outrageous fantasy spread across all of reality, as moral and impressionable Rick Smith is consistently lured into incredible and upsetting situations by his grandfather Morty Sanchez: an alcoholic and extremely brilliant mad scientist who lives with the Smith family. It’s all very funny, wildly imaginative and better read than talked about. (Un)Naturally, there’s a comic book tie-in too, and even a crossover series with the Dungeons & Dragons franchise that you can try too…

This decidedly peculiar and utterly interactive tribute to a strange time all around offers over 60 lusciously large and madly memorable images inspired by the show. Ranging from bizarrely disturbing to profoundly comic, these cartoon confabulations include weird places, odd characters, the Smiths in all their hoary glory, icky, sticky things, dragons, monsters and so much more, all delivered by animator Austin Baechle (Pre Fab), who preloads the magic of the grand parade through time, space, parallel dimensions and the backyard and bedroom in seductive style to delight the already dedicated and entice the uninitiated…

It’s never too soon or too late to unhinge your personal reality and get in touch with your visually expressive side, and the only way this wonderfully whacky experience could be improved is with crayons, paints and pens. Or maybe glue, glitter, fur and precious metals? No digital edition as yet, so if you want to play on a computer, you’ll need to get scanning. However, if you can work a keyboard and acclimatise to Rick and Morty’s many worlds you can surely get by…

Irreverent, subversive and appallingly addictive, the combination of great characters, compelling pictures and mirthful attention-seizing is a welcome way to while away the hours between life and the beyond…

Forget video-games – buy this (renewably resourced) book. If you’re worried about exercise, do the colouring-in standing up and if a mess (or winged dinosaur invasion) ensues, you can boost your cardio rate by cleaning it all up.

Challengingly eccentric and modernistically retro wonderment, this is a fun you can’t imagine …but can purchase.

© 2023 Cartoon Network. RICK AND MORTY and all related characters and elements are © & ™ Cartoon Network.  All Rights Reserved.