Batman: The Brave and the Bold volume 1


By Matt Wayne, J. Torres, Andy Suriano, Phil Moy, Carlo Barberi, Dan Davis & Terry Beatty (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2650-3 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold began in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format which mirrored that era’s filmic fascination with historical dramas. Devised and written by Bob Kanigher, issue #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now-legendary Viking Prince. Soon, the Gladiator was increasingly alternated with Robin Hood, but the manly adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle in the manner of Showcase.

Used to premiere concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Hawkman, Strange Sports Stories and the epochal Justice League of America, the comic soldiered on until issue #50 when it provided another innovative new direction which once again truly caught the public’s imagination.

That issue paired two superheroes – Green Arrow & Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up, as did succeeding ones: Aquaman with Hawkman in #51, WWII Battle Stars Sgt. Rock, Captain Cloud, Mme. Marie & the Haunted Tank in #52 and Atom & Flash in #53. The next team-up – Robin, Aqualad & Kid Flash, evolved after further try-outs into the Teen Titans and after, Metal Men/the Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter appeared, brand new hero Metamorpho, the Element Man debuted in #57-58.

From then it was back to the extremely popular superhero pairings with #59, and although no gone realised it at the time, this particular conjunction – Batman with Green Lantern – would be particularly significant….

After a return engagement for the Teen Titans, two issues spotlighting Earth-2 champions Starman & Black Canary and Wonder Woman witth Supergirl, an indication of things to come materialised as Batman duelled hero/villain Eclipso in #64: an acknowledgement of the brewing TV-induced mania mere months away…

Within two issues, following Flash/Doom Patrol and Metamorpho/Metal Men, Brave and the Bold #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and the lion’s share of the team-ups. With the exception of #72-73 Spectre</Flash and Aquaman/Atom) the comic was henceforth a place where Batman invited the rest of company’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

Decades later, the Batman Animated TV series masterminded by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini in the 1990s revolutionised the Dark Knight and subsequently led to some of the absolute best comicbook adventures in his decades-long publishing history with the creation of the spin-off print title.

With constant funny book iterations and tie-ins to a succession of TV cartoon series, Batman has remained popular and a sublime introducer of kids to the magical world of the printed page.

One relatively recent incarnation was Batman: the Brave and the Bold, which gloriously teamed up the all-ages small-screen Dark Knight with a torrent and profusion of DC’s other heroic creations, and once again the show was supplemented by a cool kid’s comic book full of fun, verve and swashbuckling dash, cunningly crafted to appeal as much to the parents and grandparents as those fresh-faced neophyte kids…

This stellar premier collection (available in paperback but aggravatingly not in digital editions) gathers the first 6 issues in a hip, trendy, immensely entertaining package suitable for newcomers, fans and aficionados of all ages and, although not necessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience (and they’re pretty good too)…

Following the format of the TV show, each tale opens with a brief vignette adventure before telling a longer tale. Issue #1 has the Caped Crimebuster and Aquaman putting paid to robotic rogue Carapax. This feeds into main feature ‘The Panic of the Composite Creature’ (by Matt Wayne, Andy Suriano & Dan Davis) wherein Batman and the pulchritudinous Power Girl save London from Lex Luthor’s latest monster-making mechanism.

Phil Moy illustrates Superman and the Gotham Guardian mopping up the terrible Toyman before ‘The Attack of the Virtual Villains’ finds the Bat and Blue Beetle in El Paso battling evil Artificial Intellect The Thinker, in a compelling and extremely challenging computer-game world…

After an introductory battle between Wonder Woman , Dark Knight and telepathic tyrant Dr. Psycho’s zombie villains, ‘President Batman!’ (Wayne, Suriano & Davis) sees the Great Detective substitute for the Commander-in-Chief, with Green Arrow as bodyguard when body-swapping mastermind Ultra-Humanite attempts to seize control of the nation.

Then, in full-length thriller ‘Menace of the Time Thief!’, Aquaman and his bat-eared chum prevent well-intentioned Dr. Cyber from catastrophically rewriting history, following a magical and too brief prologue wherein sorcerer Felix Faust is foiled by a baby Batman and the glorious pushy terrible toddlers Sugar and Spike

Torres, Carlo Barberi & Terry Beatty stepped in for both the chilling vignette wherein the nefarious Key is caught by Batman and a Haunted Tank whilst ‘The Case of the Fractured Fairy Tale’ opens as the awesome Queen of Fables starts stealing children for her Enchanted Forest and the Caped Crusader needs the help of both Billy Batson and his Shazam!-shouting adult alter ego Captain Marvel

This initial outing concludes with a preliminary clash between Hourman and Batman against the crafty Calculator, after which ‘Charge of the Army Eternal!’ (Torres, Suriano & Davis) finds villainous General Immortus at the mercy of his own army of time-lost warrior bandits and desperately seeking the help of the Gotham Gangbuster and ghostly Guardian Kid Eternity..

Although greatly outnumbered, the Kid’s ability to summon past heroes such as The Vigilante, Shining Knight, Viking Prince and G.I. Robot proves invaluable, especially once the General inevitably betrays his rescuers…

This fabulously fun rollercoaster ride also includes informative ‘Secret Bat Files’ on Luthor, Power Girl, Thinker, Blue Beetle, Ultra-Humanite, Green Arrow, Dr. Cyber, Aquaman, Queen of Fables, Captain Marvel, General Immortus and Kid Eternity, and the package is topped off with a spiffy cover gallery courtesy of James Tucker, Scott Jeralds & Hi-Fi.

The links between kids’ animated features and comicbooks are long established and, I suspect, for young consumers, indistinguishable. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end…

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV viewing kids, these short, sweet sagas are also wonderful, traditional comics thrillers no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers, making this terrific tome a perfect, old fashioned delight. What more do you need to know?
© 2009 DC Comics. Compilation © 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

I Am Not Okay with This



By Charles Forsman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-193-2 (FB PB) 978-0-57135-012-4 (Faber & Faber PB)

Teenage rites of passage are an evergreen source for dramatic material – and comedy too, if you’re fortunate enough to survive the inescapable maturation process relatively unscathed and not too warped – especially when viewed from a bit of distance and with the right perspective.

Even so, it certainly seems that the problems faced get worse for each successive generation. I can remember my lot facing peer and parental pressure, sexual and/or gender confusion, the war against conformity, political despair and general powerlessness, all while trying to stay sober enough to finish A-Level exams and ponder our employment futures, but trolls and invisible bullies you can’t escape or confront? No, thanks…

Today’s issues have a unique (devil’s) advocate however, in a brilliant cartoonist who combines keen insight, devilish imagination and an uncanny ear for dialogue to make stories it’s impossible to not respond to, no matter your specific age or circumstance…

Charles Forsman is a multi-award-winning graduate of Vermont’s celebrated Center for Cartoon Studies, whose previous releases include Celebrated Summer, The End of the Fucking World, Hobo Mom and self-published minicomics such as Snake Oil, Revenger and Slasher

Already into its third physical printing, readily available digitally and the basis for an equally evocative – but by no means identical – TV adaptation, I Am Not Okay with This is rendered in a powerfully deceptive and underplayed cartoon primitivist manner which deviously disguises the fact that this yarn has the shock value and emotional impact of a chunk of concrete chucked through your windscreen from a motorway overpass…

The tale for our times opens with troubled outsider Sydney reluctantly complying to a school counsellor’s urgings to start a journal to catalogue and confront her feelings. Syd is 15 and confused: she’s so far from pretty, a poor student, and recently lost her war-veteran dad in a most unconventional manner.

She’s fighting with her mom – who wastes all her time at her crappy waitressing job – and idiot little brother Liam. Her only friend Dina is now ghosting her, having just discovered boys in the incomprehensibly form of vile jock Brad. He wants to keep the freak away from his “property” and calls Syd a dyke. Maybe she is? So what?

…And now – as if sexual confusion, family insecurity and disgusting body breakouts aren’t enough – Syd discovers a hidden and uncontrollable ability to cause harm and destruction with her mind. She also thinks someone dark and dangerous is dogging her heels and knows all her secrets…

The similarities to the broader elements of Stephen King’s epistolary landmark Carrie or Kazuya Kudō & Ryoichi Ikegami’s Mai the Psychic Girl soon vanish in this tale, as the progression of diary entries intimately expose a succession of poor decisions and relationship mistakes that reshape and transform Syd and everyone she knows.

Sadly, the choices made by one lost soul are increasingly irredeemable. They will never get the chance to live down or move away from the events that soon overtake them all, bringing tragedy and disaster in their wake…

Potent and moving, I Am Not Okay with This is a devastatingly affecting variation on a teenage theme, and an unforgettable exploration of becoming human everyone with a heart and mind must read.
© 2018 Charles Forsman. This edition © 2018 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All rights reserved.

My Favorite Martian – The Complete Series Volume One


By Paul S. Newman, Bob Ogle, Russ Manning, Dan Spiegle, Sparky Moore, Mike Arens & various (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-932563-79-5(HB) eISBN 978-1-932563-79-2

My Favorite Martian debuted in America in September 29th 1963, the forerunner of a miniature golden age of fantasy-themed sitcoms that included Living Doll, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, The Ghost and Mrs Muir, Nanny and the Professor and many more: all operating on the premise of a science fictional or magical character acting as disruptive outsider and playing hob with “normal” American domestic life.

Coming in at the height of the Space Race, My Favorite Martian ran for three seasons and 107 episodes – the last of which premiered in May 1966 – and particularly shone because of the laidback style, intriguing music, strong scripts and the unparalleled gifts of lead actor Ray Walston and his “straight man” young Bill Bixby. Many episodes haven’t dated at all – at least in term of gags, if not cultural attitudes, something which sadly, cannot be said of Disney’s 1999 movie reboot…

Like most successful television properties, the series spawned a ton of nifty merchandise, including a comic book (nine issues running between January 1964 and October 1966) from licensing specialists Gold Key. Here, the first five are curated in an imposing hardcover (or eBook) collection from comics-resurrection and nostalgia specialists Hermes Press. It’s especially welcome as it unearths incidences of masterful lost work from some of our industry’s biggest names…

Preceded by stunning H. Greer game box art, Kate Walston’s Foreword ‘My Dad and My Favorite Martian’ reminisces over her dad’s career, friendship with co-star Bixby and the show before a photo from the pilot episode (the volume is liberally and peppered throughout with photos) precedes Daniel Herman’s Introduction discussing the careers of ‘The Artists of My Favorite Martian’.

The writers were “King of Comics” Paul S. Newman – whose astoundingly prolific career encompassed scripts for almost every publisher in the US on titles such as The Lone Ranger, Tom Corbett – Space Cadet, Turok, Son of Stone, Dr. Solar, Patsy Walker, G.I. Combat, House of Mystery ad infinitum – and Bob Ogle, an animator and voice actor who also wrote for Gold Key’s vast stable of ties-in and TV shows such as Shirt Tales, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, The Kwicky Koala Show and Yogi’s Gang.

The premise of My Favorite Martian was supremely evergreen, yet smartly contemporary. The pilot episode revealed how 450-year old Martian anthropologist Exigius 12½ is marooned on Earth after his ship almost collides with experimental American rocket-plane X-15, fired from Edwards Air Force Base. The crash is observed by passing journalist Tim O’Hara who takes the alien under his wing – and into his lodgings as his Uncle Martin – until the voyager can repair his wrecked vessel.

Sadly, Tim has a nosy landlady in busybody Mrs Brown and Martin has strong opinions, incredible scientific gifts, a whole raft of uncanny powers and no luck at all…

The comic launched in January 1964 and, behind a photo-cover, was graced with artwork from one of the industry’s greatest exponents. Russ Manning (Magnus, Robot Fighter, Tarzan, Star Wars) was one of comics’ greatest stylists and perfectly caught the tone of the show in Newman’s ‘My Favorite Martian’, which adapted and reprised the origin before revealing how Tim’s scoop on the X-15 – and suppression of his meeting with Martin – lead to his being arrested by the authorities for espionage…

No sooner has the Martian finagled Tim out of a cell and cleared his name than he’s risking his new friend’s life by having them infiltrate a top-secret project in search of a fuel source necessary to power the hidden Martian ship he’s gradually rebuilding…

The romp ends with a monochrome single page gag highlighting Martin’s ability to talk to animals, probably drawn by Mike Arens.

Issue #2 carries a July 1964 cover-date and is the only one to employ an illustrated rather than photographic cover. It and the interiors that follow are by the criminally unsung Dan Spiegle, whose career was two-pronged and incredibly long. Born in 1920, Spiegle wanted to be a traditional illustrator but instead fell – after military service in the Navy – into comics at the end of the 1940s. He was equally adept at dramatic and cartoon narrative art and his portfolio includes impeccable work on Hopalong Cassidy, Rawhide, Sea Hunt, Space Family Robinson, Blackhawk, Crossfire, Nemesis, Scooby Doo, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Indiana Jones, the Hanna-Barbera stable and so much more.

He opens here with ‘Destination Mars’ as a well-meaning intervention by the landlady’s daughter ruins Martin’s latest fuel formulation and he is driven by frustration and loneliness to try stowing away on a robotic Mars probe built by the backward earthmen…

This is counterbalanced by a romantic flight of whimsy in ‘Priscilla Loves Melvin’ as Martin intervenes – with catastrophic effect – to reunite a lovesick zoo gorilla with her missing spouse…

Another monochrome gage strip detailing the danger of Mrs Brown’s pies segues into #3 (February 1965) with Sparky Moore (Rin Tin Tin, The Three Stooges) assuming visual control for ‘It’s a Small World’, with Martin and Tim off to Africa in search of an ancient Martian crash-site and discovering an astonishing connection to the Martian’s past! ‘Sighted! Green Monster’ reveals a startling side effect of Martian food on human physiology when Tim and Martin have a picnic in Florida and set off a E.T. panic…

Ogle took over scripting and Mike Arens (Dale Evans, Chuckwagon Charley, Roy Rogers) became regular artist with MFM #4 (May 1965), nicely balancing the drama and fantasy elements for ‘Once Upon a Ding-Ding’, wherein a trip to the Zoo and an incautious nap manifests a beloved beast of Mars from Martin’s ferociously potent, semi-autonomous subconscious with the now-traditional calamitous results, after which the visitor’s attempts to diminish his own awesome powers inadvertently revert Tim to toddler size and threaten to rejuvenate him out of existence in ‘Kid Stuff’

This initial outing concludes with August 1965’s fifth issue, opening with ‘The Creep of Araby’, as Martin’s latest invention – a molecular duplicator – complicates and endangers Tim’s life just as he’s about to interview a desert sultan. Later, when the Martian’s escaped and now-physically realised subconscious starts recklessly granting wishes in ‘Martin’s Other Self’, Tim has to take extraordinary action to circumvent the chaos that follows…

Wrapping up the vintage wonderment, ‘Memorabilia, Photos and Publicity’ offers a collection of merchandise, art – such as colouring book covers, game and model kit boxes – and publicity stills (including show costume designs) to delight fans old and freshly-minted.

TV-themed compendia of screen-to-page magic were an intrinsic part of growing up in Britain for generations and still occur every year with only the stars/celebrity/shows changing, not the package. The show itself has joined the vast hinterland of fantasy fan-favourites immortalised in DVD and streamed all over the world, but if you want to see more, this rewarding tome is a treat you won’t want to overlook.
My Favorite Martian® © 1966-1965 and 2011 The Contingent Trust of the Jack and Florence Chertok Trust dated October 22, 1990/ Jack Chertok Television, Inc; Peter Greenwood Licensing Manager Worldwide. Reprinted with Permission. All Rights Reserved.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus volume 1


By Joss Whedon, Christopher Golden, Daniel Brereton, Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Paul Lee, Eric Powell, Joe Bennett, Cliff Richards, & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-784-6 (TPB)

I’m thoroughly enjoying a complete rescreening of Buffy at the moment and thus took a look at this premier compilation of her earliest comics outings. They’re still great too. You should track them down. They’re all available as eBooks these days…

Blood-drenched supernatural doomed love is a venerable, if not always creditable, sub-genre these days, so let’s take a look at one of the relatively ancient antecedents responsible for this state of affairs in the shape of Dark Horse Comics’ translation of cult TV show franchise Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Collected here in a big bad Omnibus edition is material from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike & Dru #3 (December 2000), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: the Origin (January-March 1999) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer #51-59 (November 2002 to July 2003); nearly three hundred pages of full-colour, tongue-in-cheek mystical martial arts mayhem and merriment.

As explained in comicbook Editor Scott Allie’s Introduction, although the printed sagas and spin-offs were created in a meandering manner up and down the timeline, this series of Omnibus books re-presents them in strict chronological continuity order, beginning with a perilous period piece entitled ‘All’s Fair’ – by Christopher Golden with art from Eric Powell, Drew Geraci & Keith Barnett – originally seen in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike & Dru #the 3 (from December 2000).

Although Buffy was a hot and hip teen cheerleader-turned-monster-killer, as the TV series developed it became clear that the bad-guys were increasingly the true fan-favourites. Cool vampire villain and über-predator Spike eventually became a love-interest and even a suitably tarnished white knight, but at the time of this collection he was still a jaded, blood-hungry, immortal, immoral psychopath… every girl’s dream date.

His eternal paramour was Drusilla: a demented precognitive vampire who killed him and made him an immortal bloodsucker. She thrived on a stream of fresh decadent thrills and revelled in baroque and outré bloodletting.

There has been an unbroken mystical progression of young women tasked with killing the undead through the centuries, and here we see the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1900, where Spike and Dru are making the most of the carnage after killing that era’s Slayer. The story then shifts to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933 where the undying mad lovers are still on the murderous prowl. However, the scientific wonders of the modern world displayed in various exhibits are all eclipsed by one scientist who has tapped into the realm of Elder Gods as a cheap source of energy. To further complicate matters, Spike and Dru are being stalked by a clan of Chinese warriors trained from birth to destroy the predatory pair and avenge that Slayer killed back in Beijing…

Gods, Demons, Mad Scientists, Kung Fu killers, Tongs and terror all combine in a gory romp that will delight TV devotees and ordinary horrorists alike…

Next up is a smart reworking of the cult B-movie which launched the global mega-hit TV.

Starring Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Luke Perry and Rutger Hauer, the film was released in 1992 with a modicum of success and to the lasting dissatisfaction of writer/creator Joss Whedon. Five years later he got the chance to do it right and in the manner he’d originally intended. The ensemble action-horror-comedy series became a genuine phenomenon, inspiring a new generation of Goth gore-lovers as well as many, many “homages” in assorted media – including comics.

Dark Horse won the licensing rights in the USA, subsequently producing an enthralling regular comicbook series goosed up with a welter of impressive miniseries and specials. In 1999 the company – knowing how powerfully the inclusivity/continuity/completism gene dominates comics fan psychology – finally revisited that troublesome cinematic debut with miniseries Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Origin running from January to March.

Scrupulously returning to the author’s script and core-concept, restoring excised material, shifting the tone back towards what Whedon originally intended whilst reconfiguring events until they better jibed with the established and beloved TV mythology, adaptors Christopher Golden & Daniel Brereton (with artists Joe Bennett, Rick Ketcham, Randy Emberlin & J. Jadsen) produced a fresh 3-issue miniseries which canonically established just exactly what the formerly vapid Valley Girl did in her old hometown that got her transferred to scenic Sunnydale and a life on the Hellmouth…

It all kicks off in ‘Destiny Free’ as shallow yet popular teen queen/cheerleader Buffy Summers shrugs off recurring nightmares of young women battling and being killed by vampires throughout history to continue her perfect life of smug contentment. Even a chance meeting with grungy stoner bad-boys Pike and Benny can’t dent her aura of self-assured privilege and studied indolence…

The nightmares keep mounting in intensity, however, and all over town teenagers keep disappearing…

Things come to a head the week her parents leave town for a trip. In a dark park, a maniac attacks Pike and Benny and is only driven off by the intervention of a mysterious, formidable old man. Even so, the assailant manages to take the screaming Benny with him…

Next day the same old geezer is at school, annoying Buffy. She is blithely mocking until he tells her about her nightmares and explains that she has an inescapable destiny… as a slayer of monsters…

Meanwhile, deep in the bowels of the Earth a monster is marshalling his forces and making terrifying converts out of the spoiled, worthless – but tasty – children of California…

Buffy’s strange stalker is exceedingly persistent and that night, despite her disbelieving misgivings, she and Merrick – an agent of an ancient, monster-hunting secret society – lurk in a graveyard waiting for a recently murdered man to rise from his fresh grave…

When he does – along with unsuspected others – Buffy’s unsuspected powers and battle reflexes kick in and, against all odds, she spectacularly overcomes…

‘Defenseless Mechanisms’ finds the aggressively altered Buffy grudgingly dropping her fatuous after-school activities and friends to train with the increasingly strident and impatient Watcher Merrick. Even though her attitude is appalling and her attention easily diverted, the girl is serious about the job, and even has a few new ideas to add to The Slayer’s traditional arsenal…

Even as she starts her career by pretending to be a helpless lost girl to draw out vile vamps, across town Pike is in big trouble. He also knows what is happening: after all, every night Benny comes to his window, begging to be let in and offering to share his new life with his best bud…

At school, the change in Buffy is noticeable and all her old BFFs are pointedly snubbing her, even as every sundown Lothos’ legion gets bolder and bigger. A fatal mistake occurs on the night when Slayer and Watcher save the finally-outmanoeuvred Pike from Benny and the Vampire Lord. Only two of the embattled humans survive and escape…

The tale escalates to a shocking climax when an undead army invades the long-awaited Hemery High School dance, looking for Buffy and fresh meat/recruits. With his bloodsuckers surrounding the petrified revellers and demanding a final reckoning, Lothos believes his victory assured, but in all his centuries of unlife he’s never encountered a Slayer quite like Buffy Summers…

As Allie’s Introduction already revealed, there are major hassles involved in producing a licensed comicbook whilst the primary property is still unfolding. Thus, as the print series was winding up the editors opted for in-filling some glaring gaps in the Slayer’s early career. Buffy the Vampire Slayer #51-59, spanning November 2002 through July 2003, addresses the period between the film’s end and her first days in Sunnydale, leading off with ‘Viva Las Buffy’ (Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Cliff Richards & Will Conrad) detailing what the Slayer did next: abandoning her disintegrating family as they prepared to leave LA and the reputation their daughter has garnered.

Buffy hooks up with sole survivor and wannabe monster-hunter Pike and they eventually fetch up in Nevada to investigate the apparently vampire-run Golden Touch Casino. The young warriors have no idea that a dark solitary stranger with a heavenly name is stalking them or that somewhere in England a Council of arrogant scholar-magicians are preparing a rather controversial candidate to join her as the new Watcher…

Sadly, Rupert Giles has a rival for the post who is prepared to do literally anything to secure the position…

Pike and the Slayer infiltrate the gambling palace as menial workers, whilst moodily formidable solo avenger Angelus goes straight to the top: hiring on as an enforcer for the management. When both independently operating factions are exposed, the Vamp with a Soul is tossed into a time-trap and despatched back to the 1930s as Buffy and Pike battle an army of horrors before confronting the ghastly family of monstrosities running the show across two eras.

The living and undead heroes endure heartbreak and sacrifice before this evil empire is ended forever…

Paul Lee then reveals the bizarre story of ‘Dawn & Hoopy the Bear’ wherein Buffy’s little sister accidentally intercepts a Faustian gift intended for the absent Slayer and finds herself befriended by a demonic Djinn who seems sweet but is pre-programmed for murder…

Through the narrative vehicle of Dawn reading her big sister’s diary, the last piece of the puzzle is revealed in ‘Slayer, Interrupted’ (Lobdell, Nicieza, Richards, Conrad, Lee & Horton) as Buffy’s own written words disclose her apparent delusional state. With no other choice, her parents have their clearly-troubled teen committed to a psychiatric institution.

Meanwhile in Ireland, Giles – having overcome his own opposition – completes his training preparations by undergoing a potentially lethal ritual and confronting his worst nightmare before heading to the USA, where Angelus and demonic attendant Whistler are still clandestinely watching over the Slayer.

That’s all to the good, as the asylum has been infiltrated by a sorcerous cult intent on gathering “brides” for infernal night-lord Rakagore

As Buffy undergoes talk therapy with the peculiar Dr. Primrose, she comes to realise the nature of her own mission, her role as a “Creature of Destiny” in the universe and, most importantly, that the elderly therapist is not all she seems either…

With her head clear at last, all Buffy has to do is prove she’s sane, smash an invasion of devils, reconcile with her family and prepare for the new school year at Sunnydale High…

To Be Continued…

Supplementing a hoard of supernatural treasures is a copious photo, Title Page and Cover Gallery with contributions from Ryan Sook, Guy Major, Bennett, Gomez, Jadsen, René Micheletti, Paul Lee & Brian Horton.

Visually impressive, winningly scripted and illustrated and – most importantly – proceeding at a breakneck rollercoaster pace, this supernatural action-fest is utterly engaging even if you’re not familiar with the vast backstory: a creepy chronicle as easily enjoyed by the most callow neophyte as by the dedicated devotee. Moreover, with the shows readily available, if you aren’t a follower yet you soon could – and should – be…
Buffy the Vampire Slayer ™ & © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Star Trek Classics Volume 4: Beginnings


By Mike Carlin, Pablo Marcos & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-671-1 (TPB)

Many companies have published comic book adventures based on the exploits of Gene Roddenberry’s legendary brainchild, and the run from the 1980s produced under DC’s aegis were some of the finest. Never flashy or sensationalistic, the tales embraced the same storytelling values as the shows and movies, and were strongly character and plot-driven.

A fine example can be found in this epic primer by long-time writer Michael Carlin, illustrated by the underrated Pablo Marcos, which collects miniseries Star Trek: The Next Generation #1-6 from February – July 1988 and not to be confused with the monthly comic-book that followed it.

With inks by Carlos Garzon & Arne Starr, colours by Carl Gafford and letters from Bob Pinaha, the bold adventures – available in trade paperback or in digital formats you can scan on your personal PADD™ – commence with double length saga ‘…Where No One Has Gone Before!’

Here, the revamped and reimagined NCC-1701-D starship Enterprise heads into a completely unexplored sector of the galaxy. As freshly-installed and formidably prestigious Captain Jean-Luc Picard acclimatises to his new crew and mission, the ship is fired upon by beings unknown on recently discovered planet Syntagus Thelev.

That’s a bizarre mystery, considering the unseen inhabitants are currently negotiating with the Starfleet vessel and claim they know nothing about the attacks…Although the ship is in no imminent danger, the quandary Picard to despatch a top-level Away Team to find out where the barrages are coming from…

In the end, it requires the uncanny psychic abilities of Ship’s Counsellor Deanna Troi to reveal the uncanny source and motives of the astral assaults…

The second tale is a Christmas yarn wickedly spoofing a certain tale by Dr. Seuss, as ‘Spirit in the Sky!’ finds the Enterprise in festive mode, with the many cultures and families all celebrating their particular version of the Yule Season, before a flock of mysterious strangers invite themselves to the feasts. Happily, their obsessive covert hunt for a eerie energy spirit ends joyously… after a few tense moment and close encounters…

Issues #3-5 comprise an extended repeat confrontation with an apparently omnipotent moral gadfly. ‘Factor Q’ finds the crew assaulted by terrifying memories made real. Particularly targeted is Security Chief Tasha Yar who relives her appalling abusive early years as a survivor of The Colony, when an Away Mission traps her on an alien vessel, even as the almighty Q attempts to seduce Picard into a shooting war with an equally-manipulated stranger ship.

Events escalate in ‘Q’s Day’ as the increasing unstable instigator turns the screw: bringing Yar’s old abuser back to torment her, killing helmsman Geordi LaForge, terrifying the crew and rapidly descending into frustration-induced insanity, before the impossible becomes commonplace as more judgemental intruders from the Q Continuum manifest with their own imponderable agenda in concluding chapter ‘Q Affects!’

Wrapping up this initial foray into the future, ‘Here Today’ sees Enterprise ordered to investigate seeming paradise planet Faltos via concealed orders somehow hardwired into android crewman Lieutenant Data. An extragalactic Shangri-La, the weird world has – over uncounted eons – been able to pacify and integrate every hostile visitor, but when the benevolent emissaries of the Foundation beam down, they find that the miraculous haven is a unique and inescapable trap…

Or is it?

These tales originate from the earliest days of the TV series so there are a few uncertain moments and quirks of characterisation obsessive fans might quibble over, but overall these are solid adventure yarns in the tried-&-trusted Rodenberry manner that will astound and satisfy Trekkies, Trekkers, comics fans and even the Next-est Generation just coming to the franchise via the current Star Trek: Picard TV revival/revamp…
® & © 2013 CBS Studios Inc. STAR TREK and related marks and trademarks of CBS Studios Inc. © 2013 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All rights reserved.

Countdown Annual 1972


By Many & various, edited by Dennis Hooper (Polystyle Publications)
SBN: 85096-018-5

As the 1960s ended, comics editors realised their readership was becoming increasingly sophisticated and sought to keep their attention with upscale rebrandings and style changes. Venerable old TV Comic and even TV21 were no longer dynamic enough and one answer to the situation – from licensing specialist Polystyle – was Countdown.

Running for a mere 58 weeks (beginning 20th February 1971) as a glossy, high end periodical, before its first dramatic makeover – which saw it relaunched on April 1st 1972 as TV Action + Countdown and ultimately TV Action – it subsisted until August 1973 when it was rolled up into TV Comic.

The magazine boasted a rich creative throughput, but the majority of the television-fuelled drama strips were written by editor Dennis Hooper, with additional material from Robin Hillborn, Allan Fennell and possible Angus Allen. However, as the company had access to TV 21’s archive and used reprint material, I could just be misremembering…

This is the only official Annual. The following year it became Countdown Annual… for TV Action, but don’t let that put you off: whether you’re a telly addict or comics fanboy, this book is stuffed with superb entertainment.

The action opens with a full-colour UFO thriller ‘The Circus’ illustrated by Jon Davis. The saga of a predatory alien body-snatcher used as a cash-cow by a failing Irish carnival show is interrupted (like an advert break?) by photo/fact feature ‘The Defenders’, wherein the secrets of Gerry Anderson’s covert anti-extraterrestrial force SHADO (Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defences Organisation) are outlined, but the story finale remains explosive and satisfying.

Rendered in black-&-red on white paper, 2-page gag strip ‘Dastardly and Muttley’ (by Peter Ford?) sees the cartoon clowns still hunting that infernal pigeon, after which a ‘Countdown Quiz’ tests your knowledge of the Space Race.

Staying in the Wild Black Yonder, Don Harley limns tense Thunderbirds thriller ‘Terror at Torreba’ with a crashed meteor bringing madness and destruction to Africa…

Arnold Kingston was the chief writer of extremely contemporary science fact features for the Countdown comic so it’s safe to assume he’s responsible for the ‘Think Tank! News from the Frontiers of Science’ photo noticeboard here, and another ‘Countdown Quiz’ as well as later features in the book.

Dastardly and Muttley then return, afflicted with dreams of cinematic stardom, after which Martin Asbury paints a full-colour ‘Captain Scarlet’ tale as the Mysterons suborn a giant killer robot and let it run amok…

Board game ‘Countdown Rescue Mission’ dovetails into dystopian prose sci fi short story ‘Countdown: Dangerous Friend’ – magnificently illustrated by John M. Burns – whilst ‘Rockets’ provides a potted photo-history of the real march into space.

Abortive Gerry Anderson Property ‘The Secret Service’ (Peter Ford again) finds priest and part-time secret agent Father Unwin leading the charge back into restricted colour as he and his partner Matthew use their Minimiser shrinking ray to steal back microdots from a hostile embassy

Photo feature ‘A Day with Dr. Who’ visits the locations used whilst filming The Daemons, before ‘U.F.O.s in history’offers a more evidential lesson on extraterrestrial encounters, whilst a colour ‘Jon Pertwee pinup’ brings us to a cracking Time Lord tale as Dr. Who battles floral doom in ‘The Plant Master’, brilliantly illustrated by Jim Baikie.

Slim but potent, this box of delight then ends with prose yarn ‘Joe 90 Resigns’ as the 9-year-old breaks the rules to rescue his father from an alpine emergency.

Closing with the ‘Answers’ to all those quiz questions and a stunning UFO photo section, this is a powerful and evocative treat you’d be crazy to miss…
© Polystyle Publications 1971.

Supercar Annual


By Alan Fennel, G. Wood and H.J. Cauldwell (Wm. Collins and Sons)
No ISBN:

For its entire existence British Comics have tapped into and exploited other entertainment icons such as stage, film and radio stars. As television became commonplace in the 1950s and exploded during the late 1960s – especially in the range and variety of children’s shows and cartoons – those programmes increasingly became a staple source for cheap weeklies but especially the Seasonal Annual market, not just for celebrities such as Arthur Askey or Abbott & Costello but increasingly the shows themselves: adding extra episodes to little aficionados’ finite canon.

Moreover, in an era before home recordings of any sort, these were exploits that could be enjoyed over and over again…

During that critical developmental period, Gerry Anderson’s innovative and increasingly high-tech puppet-show dramas revolutionised kids’ TV, and their comics tie-ins did exactly the same for our pictorial reading habits.

TV Century 21 (the unwieldy “Century” was eventually dropped) was patterned on a newspaper – albeit from 100 years into the future – and this shared conceit carried the avid readers into a multimedia wonderland as television and reading matter fed off each other. The incredible graphic adventures were supplemented with stills taken from the TV shows (and later, films), and a plenitude of photos also graced the text features and fillers which added to the unity of one of the industry’s first “Shared Universe” products,

Number #1 launched on January 23rd 1965, instantly capturing the hearts and minds of millions of children, and further proving to our comics editors the unfailingly profitable relationship between television shows and healthy sales.

Filled with high quality art and features, printed in gleaming photogravure, TV21 featured previous shows in strips such as Fireball XL5, Supercar and Stingray to supplement currently airing big draw Thunderbirds. In a bizarre attempt to be topical, the allegorically Soviet state of Bereznik constantly plotted against the World Government (for which read “The West”) in a futuristic Cold War to augment the aliens, aquatic civilisations and common crooks and disasters that threatened the general well-being of the populace. Even the BBC’s TV “tomorrows” were represented by a full-colour strip starring The Daleks.

Before all that, however, there were far simpler and more inclusive epics for kids at Christmas from the Anderson stable: such as this charming tome, credited to future Anderson staff writer Alan Fennel with cartoon art, strips, puzzles and illustrations by G. Wood and H. J. Cauldwell.

Supercar was Anderson’s (in conjunction with designer Reg Hill and scriptwriters Hugh and Martin Woodhouse) second marionette series, following on from comedy western Four-Feather Falls. Soundly science fictional, it was the first to be internationally syndicated and detailed the exploits of a futuristic flying car, as piloted by dashing test pilot Mike Mercury. His adventure prone entourage included batty boffins Professor Rudolph Popkiss and Dr. Horatio Beaker – who invented and built the mechanical beast – as well as boy sidekick Jimmy Gibson and his mischievous pet Mitch who was a monkey…

Located in a desert base at Black Rock, Nevada, the team had daring adventures all over the world (seen in the 39 episodes recorded between 1961-1962), and frequently faced wicked enemy agent Masterspy and his henchman Zarrin.

Broadcasts began in January 1962 and were eagerly awaited by millions of fans who found solace when the show closed by buying TV Comic for further exploits.

There were three annuals released, of which this is the last, offering an unconventional experience since all the strips and prose adventures comprise one large complete saga.

Following an enthralling painted double-page frontispiece of the wonder vehicle at the bottom of the sea, the action opens with Cauldwell’s full-colour strip ‘Killer Whale’ as the action-ready team save ocean-going scientist Doctor Bombay from one of his own maddened experiments. In the aftermath, they learn the savant has been recently been restored to his previous role as Maharajah of Subahn and agree to escort him home to take up the reins of power…

Before they can set off, however, a fresh emergency occurs, and Supercar is needed to fix a sabotaged trestle in Wood’s 2-colour strip ‘Bridge of Danger’ and their base is plundered of secrets in prose mystery yarn ‘The Workshop Robbery’. Thankfully, Mike is as adept at crimefighting and counterespionage as he is at flying…

Following puzzle page ‘World Flight’, monochrome strip ‘Close-Up on Danger’ finally sees the journey to Subahn begin, but during a stopover in London deposed former dictator Randah Singh deploys a hired assassin to kill Bombay in front of a live studio audience…

Plot foiled, the voyagers resume their flight, leaving us to enjoy a puzzle-maze in ‘S-O-S’ before a flashback prose tale details how Beaker and Popkiss discovered ‘The Treasure of Mesa Verde’ despite the larcenous efforts of Masterspy and Zarrin…

Another full-colour section begins with activity pages ‘What is Wrong with this Picture?’ and ‘Memory Game: Exploring Space’, before ‘Sahara Inferno’ finds Supercar diverted again to help extinguish a blazing natural gas well. General knowledge teaser ‘Nevada Quiz’ then segues into a new restricted colour section foe Wood’s ‘Kidnapped’ wherein Randah Singh hires Masterspy and Zarrin to ensure Maharajah Bombay never takes up his throne…

Rebus page ‘The Lost Diplomatic Plane’ leads to another prose flashback for ‘Mission to Destroy’; revealing how Supercar was instrumental in eradicating an illegal weapons cache in Malaya, after which a return to the present sees Bombay’s triumphal accession procession interrupted by the ‘Eruption!’ of the local volcano…

Memories evoked, a prose tale follows of a time in Switzerland when a souped-up mechanical doll triggered ‘The Avalanche’ before the extended saga concludes in full-colour with ‘The Triumphant Procession’ as Randah Singh plays his last murderous ace…

Blending charm with action and exoticism with big laughs, this is a splendid example of simpler times and all-ages storytelling that no nostalgia-afflicted baby boomer could possibly resist.
© 1963, A.P. FILMS and A.T.V. Ltd. All rights reserved.

TV Comic Annual 1965


By Chick Henderson, Neville Main, Bill Titcombe, Dick Millington & various (TV Publications Ltd)
No ISBN

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

Thanks to the vagaries of image licensing, one thing you won’t find herein is a wealth of photographs of any cast member (although the frontispiece and endpapers are spiffy publicity shot spreads of Gerry Anderson’s Supercar and Fireball XL5), but there are plenty of nostalgia-tinged, all-ages sci fi and adventure thrills, dashing derring-do and a horde of hilarious gag strips to delight not just TV devotees and comics fans but also any reader in search of a pictorially powerful grand adventure.

This book from 1963 was produced in a non-standard UK format, with limited 2-colour and full-colour pages but none in simple monochrome: a sign of its high-end book trade aspirations. The make-up is comics, brief prose pieces, puzzles, games and fact-features on related themes. As for the writers and artists of the originated material your guess is, sadly, as good as or better than mine.

TV Comic launched on 9th November 1951, an offshoot of the Beaverbrook newspaper concern and aimed explicitly at toddlers and pre-school children. It expanded its remit over the decade but didn’t really take off until 1960 when Polystyle Publications expanded the adaptations to include television adventures series enjoyed by kids who could read and choose their own entertainments such as Treasure Island, Black Beauty and the Lone Ranger.

Always a huge hit, the magazine absorbed companions and rivals such as TV Land, TV Express, TV Action, Tom and Jerry Weekly and Target. Amongst its most memorable features were early Gerry Anderson series such as Four Feather Falls, Supercar and Fireball XL5, Doctor Who (running from 1964-1979), Tarzan, Space Patrol, The Avengers (John Steed and Cathy Gale/Emma Peel), Star Trek and perennial cartoon hits such as Popeye, Pink Panther and many others.

Often eclectic and esoteric, the comic followed the tone of the TV times faithfully before finally going off air in 1984 with #1697.

This splendid example hails from 1963 and, eschewing bought in pre-existing material, offers British takes on many US icons such as the full-colour Popeye clash with brutish Brutus that gets the ball rolling before a beautifully painted adventure by Neville Main sees the crew of Fireball XL5 captured by alien technology bandits.

Main shows his versatility with a broadside of sci fi gags in Pick of the Jokes before venerable comedy feature Mighty Moth (by sometime editor Dick Millington) puts a strange spin on the traditional roles of man and wife…

A Supercar Christmas yarn (with art by Mike Noble, H Watts or maybe Bill Mevin) sees pilot Mike Mercury and Professor Beaker crush a Yuletide crimewave to close the first full-colour section before autograph-hunting TV TerrorsCuthbert, Buttons and Monica clash once more with mean TV Studio doorman Hoppit in their search for famous names in glorious two-tone orange and black on white…

US soldier Beetle Bailey then gets to act out one of the oldest jokes on Earth before the TV Terrors again clash with their officious nemesis, Beetle Bailey fails a medical and long-forgotten cartoon buddies Foo Foo and Gogo by Halas & Batchelor (or at least from their studio) have fun and fear in the snow…

Millington’s Mighty Moth indulges in some wildlife documentary making whilst a domestic sitcom sneaks in as The Dickie Henderson Family sees his unnamed wife make some radical wardrobe corrections in a strip beautifully rendered by Bill Titcombe.

The TV Terrors join a painful episode of This is Your Life, Foo Foo and Gogo indulge in hat hijinks and (some of) The Dickie Henderson Family enjoy a quiet round of golf and Mighty Moth helps out an enemy to get a bit of peace and quiet before Beetle Bailey revolutionises tank warfare with the aid of canteen utensils, after which the Technicolor turns on with Popeye and Wimpy at a barbecue. Oooh! Bad idea!

Mighty Moth and the TV Terrors revel in their full-colour escapades before a traditionally rendered tale of Robin Hood(but not the TV version with Richard Greene) sees the hero save a beekeeper from the Sheriff of Nottingham…

A Dickie Henderson Family country retreat turns into a rout before we pause for activities, courtesy of a Continental Tourboard game, supplemented by Party Puzzles and two more Main Pick of the Jokes pages, leading to a bizarre personal favourite as Bill Titcombe delineates deucedly deranged pastiche The Telegoons (based on characters devised on radio by Harry Secombe, Peter Sellars, Michael Bentine and Spike Milligan). It’s even more gloriously mad today than it ever was…

A theatre visit goes badly wrong for The Dickie Henderson Family whilst The Telegoons dabble with fortune telling and Foo Foo and Gogo bring the colour to a close with another pointless domestic spat…

Mighty Moth then wrecks dinner and the TV Terrors practise making faces, before more Party Puzzles bracket a short faux advertising episode for Foo Foo and Gogo and Mighty Moth ships out with the Royal Navy.

The Telegoons setting up as firemen segues into a historical battle as little Davie of the Glen attempts to save the doomed army of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Mighty Moth picks up a trumpet and the TV Terrors participate in a game show whilst the The Telegoons go fishing and Foo Foo and Gogo go birdwatching before another Pick of the Jokes selection brings us to a prose thriller set in the world of motor racing.

‘Johnny’s Big Chance’ leads to more Party Puzzles and the commencement of the last colour session, with boating fools Foo Foo and Gogo giving way to a thrilling Supercar yarn involving lost submarines and giant crustaceans.

A suit Mighty Moth can’t eat and a new pet for Popeye’s boy Swee’ Pea lead us to one last parcel of Party Puzzles before Main’s exuberant Fireball XL5 fable posits the risks of letting all kids have their own spacecraft…

A barrel of fun from start to finish, this book concludes with Popeye demonstrating his incredible strength and even has a back-cover Marathon board game to enjoy when the reading concludes.

A true gem from a far nicer and more indulgent time, this is a perfect example of why Christmas Annuals have lasted and should never be forgotten.
© TV Publications 1964.

Noggin the Nog



By Oliver Postgate & Peter Firmin (Egmont)
Nogbad Comes Back ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8155-3
Noggin and the Dragon ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8154-6
Nogbad and the Elephants ISBN 978-1- 4052-8142-3
Noggin and the Moon Mouse ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8141-6
Noggin and the Storks ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8144-7
Noggin and the Money ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8143-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Wonderful Stories By and For Human People… 10/10

Baby Boomers like me consider our childhoods – no matter how personally privileged or deprived – to have been a golden age in terms of liberty, agency and especially entertainment. That’s probably due in large part to being exposed to the gentle, life-affirming fantasy worlds of these guys.

Richard Oliver Postgate was a writer puppeteer, animator and unrepentant storyteller who was born to an extremely prestigious, overachieving and drama-drenched family. He was born April 12th 1925 in Hendon Middlesex and educated at Woodstock School, Woodhouse Secondary, Dartington Hall College and Kingston College of Art.

He joined the Home Guard in 1942 but when at last called up, declared himself a Conscious Objector – just as his father did during the Great War. Court martialled and sentenced to Feltham Prison, he eventually became a land-worker growing crops. After the war Postgate worked for the Red Cross in Occupied Germany. He returned to Britain in 1948, went to Drama School and drifted from job to job.

In 1957, whilst working as a stage manager for ITV company Associated Rediffusion, he observed the appalling quality of children’s programming up close and knew he could do better for the same paltry money offered. He wrote Alexander the Mouse and convinced a Central School of Art tutor named Peter Firmin to draw the backgrounds for him.

After moving on to short-lived deaf-viewer project The Journey of Master Ho, in 1959 the creators formalised their partnership as independent studio Smallfilms. The rest is history…

When not shaping the minds of 30-years-worth of kids, Postgate continued trying to save and refine mankind. He was active in the CND movement and wrote their pamphlet The Writing on the Sky and 1981 book Thinking it Through: The Plain Man’s Guide to the Bomb.

In 1986, he created a 15-meter artwork for his latterday romantic partner Naomi Linnell’s book Illumination of the Life and Death of Thomas Beckett, repeating the exercise for the Triumphant Failure (about Christopher Columbus) and triptych A Canterbury Chronicle. You can see them if you visit the city’s Royal Museum Art Gallery and Eliot College Campus…

Working when he pleased, Postgate narrated – in that calm quiet compelling voice hardwired into the brains of millions – radio comedy and documentary shows, wrote more books such as autobiography Seeing Things, and accompanied his greatest creation Bagpuss (voted in 1999 the Most Popular Children’s Television Programme of All Time) as the stuffed cat accrued awards such as an honorary degree from the University of Kent at Canterbury.

He died – hopefully properly and rightly well-contented – in Broadstairs Kent, on December 8th 2008.

Peter Arthur Firmin was born in Harwich on 11th December 1928. Following training at Colchester School of Art and National Service in the Royal Navy, he attended Central School of Art and Design in London from 1949 to 1952. A creative man of many talents and disciplines, he then worked as a stained-glass designer, jobbing illustrator and lecturer.

Whilst teaching at Central in 1957 he was targeted by audacious, up-and-coming children’s TV writer Oliver Postgate who believed (quite rightly) that clever individuals could produce high-quality kids’ viewing at reasonable cost.

After producing backgrounds for Postgate’s Alexander the Mouse and The Journey of Master Ho, Firmin became equal partner in new venture Smallfilms, which grew in a shed at the artist’s Canterbury home. The kindred spirits initially produced hand-drawn cartoons and eventually stop motion animation episodes for series including Ivor the Engine, Pingwings, The Saga of Noggin the Nog, Pogle’s Wood/The Pogles, Bagpuss and The Clangers.

Postgate wrote, voiced and filmed whilst Firmin drew, painted, built sets and made puppets. Their spouses and friends were often dragooned if they showed useful talents such as sewing or knitting…

During those early days Firmin seemed tireless. In addition to the Smallfilms job he also devised, designed and populated other kids shows such as The Musical Box and Smalltime. In 1962 with Ivan Owen he created a fox puppet for The Three Scampies. That creation soon had his own show and career as Basil Brush

Throughout his life, Firmin continued his cartooning and illustration career. This included writing and/or illustrating a number of books such as Basil Brush Goes Flying, The Winter Diary of a Country Rat, Nina’s Machines and Postgate’s Seeing Things – An Autobiography.

Firmin also worked as a printmaker and engraver, designer and educator. In 1994 he was asked to create a British postage stamp and produced a magnificent offering featuring Noggin and the Ice Dragon.

Even at their most productive and overworked, Postgate & Firmin always ensured there was plenty of ancillary product such as Christmas Annuals, comic strips, spin-off books, games and puzzles for their devoted young fans. One of the most charming and enduring was a series of “Starting-to-Read” books released by Kaye & Ward between 1965 and 1973. Postgate & Firmin crafted all 8 books in a kid-friendly format gently sharing the further adventures of the Nicest Norseman of Them All…

Available again in superb hardcover editions – perfect for tiny hands – the first two (Noggin the King and Noggin and the Whale, both originally released in 1965) were reviewed here; a brace of charming, gently humorous escapades starring the TV cast and beautifully illustrated in a variety of duo-toned line-&-colour with wit and subtle charm by the irrepressible Firmin. Now with the gift-giving season in full swing let’s tempt you with the splendid rest…

On the death of his father, quiet, unassuming Noggin becomes king of the northland Viking tribe known as the Nogs. He rules with understanding and wisdom – generally thanks to his advisors: wife Nooka – who hails from the far north (we’d call her an Inuit or Inuuk princess these days) – bluff old codger Thor Nogson and talking green cormorant Graculus.

Despite many fantastic adventures, Noggin prefers a quiet home life with his people and his boisterous son Knut

Originally released in 1966, Noggin and the Dragon sees little Prince Knut and his chums pestering the royal couple to let them go on a dragon hunt. Noggin and Nooka are reluctant at first – Dragon Valley is no place for little boys and besides, the best thing to do with dragons is give them sweets and make friends – but eventually the proud parents capitulate to pester power.

To ensure things go smoothly they insist old warrior Thor Nogson goes with them, but as the unruly boys trek out into a gathering storm, no one has any idea regarding the shocking surprise in store for them all…

From the same year, Nogbad Comes Back highlights the return from exile of Noggin’s wicked usurping uncle, just in time to try and spoil the King’s annual animal and vegetable show. Living up to his name, Nogbad the Bad tries to win the glittering jewel-encrusted cup for best flora and fauna by devious cheating and, when that fails, through simple shameful theft.

Luckily, Nooka is not as forgiving and kind as her husband and has been keeping a close eye on her outlaw in-law…

The next year saw two more books: one of which was a distant precursor to one of Smallfilms’ most successful franchise creations…

Noggin and the Moon Mouse begins with Knut enacting an official ceremony at a water trough. The proceedings are utterly disrupted when a strange silver ball crashes down and a child-sized rodent-like creature emerges. Caught up in the excitement, the prince and his unruly pals give chase until Queen Nooka takes charge. After admonishing the boys, she and Noggin befriend the strange visitor (who actually comes from another world) and help him gather the odd household items he requires to return to the stars…

And yes, a few years later a peculiar band of woolly beasties began communicating with us all in their universally comprehensible penny-whistle pipings in a little show called The Clangers

Nogbad and the Elephants proves that there are many perks to being royal. One is wonderful presents such as the gigantic gem-encrusted, long-nosed big-eared beast presented to Prince Knut by the King of Southland. Sadly, the wonderful creature is constantly unhappy and falls under the sway of crafty Nogbad who lures it away to steal its jewelled coat. Realising it’s been hoodwinked, the piteous pachyderm takes restorative action in its own unique manner, compelling Knut to make his first grown-up decision…

The last brace of tales comes from 1973, and begins with the hilarious Noggin and the Money wherein Court Inventor Olaf the Lofty suffers a setback in his dream to modernise the nation. The Nogs have been happily soldiering on using barter and trade as long as anyone can remember, so when the big thinker creates coins as currency, he thinks he’s made life easier for everybody. Thor Nogson soon learns to disagree after he’s despatched to acquire eggs for the royal breakfast and meets rather a lot of resistance to the new-fangled nonsense…

Wrapping up the fun is Noggin and the Storks which finds the King sagely dealing with a minor ecological crisis. Sooty Storks have nested on the chimneys of the town for decades, using the heat of cooking fires to warm their eggs. This year, as the birds are particularly numerous, the populace are continually being smoked out of their own homes.
Angrily, they petition Noggin to let them chase the pests away, but as king of birds as well as people, the smooth sovereign seeks another, more equitable solution. Cue Olaf the Lofty, who has an idea involving an old chalk quarry, a stand of hollow trees, masses of convoluted piping, steel sheets and tons of firewood….

Serenely bewitching, engaging and endlessly rewarding (both these books and their much-missed, multi-talented originators) the works of Postgate and Firmin shaped generations of children and parents. If you aren’t among them, do yourself a great favour and track down those DVD box sets, haunt the streaming services and buy these books. You won’t regret it for an instant…
Text © The Estate of Oliver Postgate 1965-1973. Illustrations © Peter Firmin/The Estate of Peter Firmin 1965-1973.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold: Emerald Knight


By Landry Q. Walker, Sholly Fisch, Adam Schlagman, Robert Pope, Eric Jones, Carlo Barberi & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3143-9 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format which mirrored that era’s filmic fascination with flamboyant if fanciful historical dramas. Devised and written by Bob Kanigher, issue #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now legendary Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was alternated with Robin Hood, but the adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like Showcase.

Used to premiere concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Hawkman and Strange Sports Stories as well as the epochal Justice League of America, the comic soldiered on until issue #50 when it provided another innovative new direction which once again truly caught the public’s imagination.

That issue paired two superheroes – Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up, and was followed by other ones: Aquaman and Hawkman in #51, WWII “Battle Stars” Sgt. Rock, Captain Cloud, Mme. Marie & the Haunted Tank in #52 and Atom & Flash in #53.

The next team-up – Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash – quickly evolved into Teen Titans and after Metal Men/the Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter appeared, a new hero debuted in #57-58: Metamorpho, the Element Man.

From then it was back to the increasingly popular superhero pairings with #59, and although no one realised it at the time, that particular conjunction – Batman with Green Lantern – would be particularly significant….

After a return engagement for the Teen Titans, two issues spotlighting Earth-2 champions Starman and Black Canary and Earth-1’s Wonder Woman with Supergirl, an indication of things to come came when Batman duelled hero/villain Eclipso in #64: an early acknowledgement of the brewing TV-induced mania mere months away.

Within two issues (following Flash/Doom Patrol and Metamorpho/Metal Men), B&B #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and the lion’s share of the team-ups. With the late exception of #72 and 73 (Spectre/Flash and Aquaman/Atom) the comic was henceforth a place where Batman invited the rest of company’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

Decades later, the Batman Animated TV series masterminded by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini in the 1990s revolutionised the Dark Knight and subsequently led to some of the absolute best comicbook adventures in his seventy-year publishing history with the creation of the spin-off print title…

With constant funnybook iterations and tie-ins to a succession of TV cartoon series, Batman has remained popular and a sublime introducer of kids to the magical world of the printed page. One fun-filled incarnation was Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which gloriously celebrated the team up in both its all-ages small-screen and comicbook spin-off.

Shamelessly and magically plundering decades of continuity arcana in a profusion of alliances between the Dark Knight and DC’s other heroic creations, the show was supplemented by a cool kid’s periodical full of fun, verve and swashbuckling dash, cunningly crafted to appeal as much to the parents and grandparents as those fresh-faced neophyte kids…

This stellar trade paperback and digital collection re-presents issues #13, 14, 16, 18, 19 and 21 in an immensely entertaining package suitable for newcomers, fans and aficionados of all ages originally released between March and November 2010. Best of all, although not necessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience…

Following the format of the TV show, each tale opens with a brief vignette adventure before telling a longer tale. Issue #13 sees the Caped Crimebuster break a leg while working with Angel O’Day and Sam Simeon (the astonishingly daft but wonderful Angel & The Ape) and laid up for main feature ‘Night of the Batmen’ (by Sholly Fisch, Robert Pope & Scott McRae) as an army of (uninvited and unwelcome) heroic comrades – including Green Arrow, Plastic Man, Aquaman and Shazam!-powered Captain Marvel among others – impersonate the Dark Knight to keep Gotham safe from fiends such as Bane, Killer Croc, Penguin, Deadshot and Catwoman. However, when the Joker joins the party, it results in the real deal ending his recuperation early…

Crafted by Landry Q. Walker & Eric Jones, the next yarn opens with Bats and Plastic Man tackling the Scarecrow before the Gotham Gangbuster meets the Huntress. She is having trouble with a costumed crazy with a nasty obsession and ends up briefly ‘Captured by Mr. Camera!’

The same creative crew return for #16 as a battle with the Teen Titans against Nocturna hatches a sinister sub-plot in ‘Egg Hunt! or: The Evil of Egg Head!’ as the ovoid mastermind revives antediluvian elder god Y’ggphu Soggoth (offering a guilty treat for old fans of truly naff supervillains) and Batman needs the aid of Wonder Woman to scramble the scheme…

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #18 alters the format slightly with a brace of linked tales from Walker & Jones. ‘Life on Mars’ features Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz defeating the human extermination plans of super-psionic shapeshifting White Martian Ma’alefa’ak before a strangely off-kilter Dark Knight calls in mystic master Doctor Fate to diagnose and treat a case of possession in follow-up thriller ‘All in the Mind’

The last two yarns collected here both co-star Hal Jordan and other stalwarts of the Green Lantern Corps. From #19 and by Adam Schlagman, Carlo Barberi & Terry Beatty, ‘Emerald Knight’ details how the ring-slinger is captured by ultimate tech pirate Cyborg Superman and robotic Manhunters. Unable to prevail alone, Jordan temporarily bequeaths his power to Batman who lead his comrades in the Corps to victory, after which a brief interlude battling dinosaur gangsters beside the Lady Blackhawks leads to the Gotham Guardian and the fully-restored Jordan uniting to defeat ‘The Menace Known as Robert’. Another Walker & Jones production, this depicts the calamitous threat of a primordial alien horror invading Earth and the terrifying lengths Batman will go to save the world…

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV-addicted kids, these mini-sagas are also wonderful, traditional comics thrillers no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a fabulously fun rollercoaster ride and confirms the now-seamless link between animated features and comicbooks. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end; really unmissable entertainment…

What more do you need to know?
© 2010, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.