Team-Ups of the Brave and the Bold


By J. Michael Straczynski, Jesus Saiz, Chad Hardin, Justiniano, Cliff Chiang & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2793-7 (HB) 978-1-4012-2809-5 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955; an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales starring a variety of period heroes and a format mirroring and cashing in on that era’s filmic fascination with historical dramas.

Devised and written by Robert Kanigher, issue #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now legendary Viking Prince. The Gladiator was soon replaced by National Periodicals/DC Comics’ iteration of Robin Hood, and the high adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when a burgeoning superhero revival saw B&B remodelled as a try-out vehicle like the astounding successful Showcase.

Deployed to launch enterprising concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Strange Sports Stories, Hawkman and the epochal Justice League of America, the title then evolved to create a whole sub-genre – although barely anybody noticed at the time…

That innovation was Superhero Team-Ups.

For almost a decade DC had enjoyed great success pairing Superman with Batman and Robin in World’s Finest Comics, and in 1963 sought to create another top-selling combo from their growing pantheon of masked mystery men. It didn’t hurt that the timing also allowed extra exposure for characters imminently graduating to their own starring vehicles after years as back-up features…

This was during a period when almost no costumed heroes acknowledged the jurisdiction or (usually) existence of other costumed champions. When B&B offered this succession of power pairings, they were unknowingly laying foundations for DC’s future close-knit comics continuity. Nowadays, there’s something wrong with any superstar who doesn’t regularly join every other cape or mask on-planet every five minutes or so…

The short-lived experiment eventually calcified as “Batman and…” but, for a while, readers were treated to some truly inspired pairings such as Flash and the Doom Patrol, Metal Men and Metamorpho, Flash and The Spectre or Supergirl and Wonder Woman.

The editors even achieved their aim after Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad remained together after their initial foray and expanded into the ever-popular Teen Titans

That theme of heroes united together for a specific time and purpose was revived in 2007 for the third volume of The Brave and the Bold, resulting in many exceedingly fine modern Fights ‘n’ Tights classics, and this compilation collects issues #27-33 (November 2009 – June 2010): the first seven issues scripted by TV/comics star scribe J. Michael Straczynski.

The run of easily accessible, stand-alone tales delved into some of the strangest nooks and crannies of the DCU and opens here with ‘Death of a Hero’, illustrated by Jesús Saíz, wherein teenager Robby Reed visits Gotham City and decides to help out a Batman sorely pressed by the machinations of The Joker

The child prodigy had his own series in the 1960s as a kid who found a strange rotary device dotted with alien hieroglyphics that could temporarily transform him into a veritable army of super-beings when he dialled the English equivalents of H, E, R and O…

Here, however, after the lad dials up futuristic clairvoyant Mental Man, the visions he experiences force him to quit immediately and take to his bed…

He even forgets the Dial when he leaves, and it is soon picked up by down-&-out Travers Milton who also falls under its influence and is soon saving lives and battling beside the Dark Knight as The Star. What follows is a meteoric and tragic tale of a rise and fall…

Again limned by Saíz, B&B #28 takes us a wild trip to the ‘Firing Line’ as the Flash (Barry Allen) falls foul of a scientific experiment and winds up stranded in the middle of World War II. Injured and unable to properly use his powers, the diminished speedster is taken under the wing of legendary paramilitary aviator squadron The Blackhawks, but finds himself torn when his scruples against taking life crash into the hellish cauldron of the Battle of Bastogne and his manly, martial love of his new brothers in arms…

Brother Power, The Geek was a short-lived experimental title developed by legendary figure Joe Simon at the height of the hippy-dippy 1960s (or just last week if you’re a baby booming duffer like me).

He/it was a tailor’s mannequin mysteriously brought to life through extraordinary circumstances, just seeking his place in the world: a bizarre commentator and ultimate outsider philosophising on a world he could not understand.

That cerebral angst is tapped in ‘Lost Stories of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’ when the elemental outcast crawls out of wreckage in Gotham City and clashes with Batman as they both strive to save homeless people from authoritarian brutality and greedy arsonists.

Like the times it references, this story is one you have to experience rather than read about…

Straczynski & Saíz play fast and loose with time travel in ‘The Green and the Gold’ as mystic Lord of Order Doctor Fate is helped through an emotional rough patch by Green Lantern Hal Jordan. As a result of that unnecessary kindness, the mage gets to return the favour long after his own demise at the moment the Emerald Warrior most needs a helping hand…

Illustrated by Chad Hardin & Walden Wong and Justiniano, The Brave and the Bold #31 describes ‘Small Problems’ encountered by The Atom after Ray Palmer is asked to shrink into the synapse-disrupted brain of The Joker to perform life-saving surgery. Despite his better judgement, the physicist eventually agrees but nobody could have predicted that he would be assimilated into the maniac’s memories and forcibly relive the Killer Clown’s life…

Straczynski & Saíz reunite as sea king Aquaman and hellish warrior Etrigan the Demon combine forces in a long-standing pact to thwart a revolting Cthonic invasion of ‘Night Gods’ from a hole in the bottom of the ocean before this mesmerising tome concludes with a bittersweet ‘Ladies Night’ from times recently passed, illustrated by Cliff Chiang.

When sorceress Zatanna experiences a shocking dream, she contacts Wonder Woman and Batgirl Barbara Gordon, insisting that they should join her on an evening of hedonistic excess and sisterly sharing. Only Babs is left out of one moment of revelation: what Zatanna foresaw would inescapably occur to her the next day at the hands of the Joker…

Smart, moving and potently engaging, these heroic alliances are a true treat for fans of more sophisticated costumed capers, and skilfully prepared in such a way that no great knowledge of backstory is required. Team-ups are all about finding new readers and this terrific tome is a splendid example of the trick done right…
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Doom Patrol volume 2


By Arnold Drake, Bruno Premiani, Bob Brown & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-85768-077-8 (TPB)

In 1963 DC/National Comics converted a venerable anthology-mystery title – My Greatest Adventure into a fringe superhero team-book with #80, introducing a startling squad of champions with their thematic roots still firmly planted in the B-movie monster films of the era which had for so long informed the tone and timbre of the parent title.

That aesthetic subtly shaped the progression of the strip – which took control of the title within months, prompting a title change to The Doom Patrol with #86 – and throughout a 6-year run made the series one of the most eerily innovative and incessantly hip reads of that generation. Happy 60th Anniversary, you “Fabulous Freaks”!

No traditional team of masked adventurers, the cast comprised a robot, a mummy and a 50-foot woman in a mini-skirt, united with and guided by a brusque, domineering, crippled mad scientist, all equally determined to prove themselves by fighting injustice their way…

Two relatively recent compilations are still awaiting a third and final edition to complete the reprint run, and this monochrome tome from 2010 might have to do for some time yet.

Should you be afflicted with the curse of a completist nature, Doom Patrol: The Silver Age volume 1 spans June 1963 to May 1965, re-presenting in full colour My Greatest Adventure #80-85 and Doom Patrol #86-95, whilst Doom Patrol: The Silver Age volume 2 covers June 1965-November 1966 via Doom Patrol #96-107, The Brave and the Bold #65 and Challengers of the Unknown #48. They’re both available digitally, but should you want a comprehensive read-through, that’s going to take a little more effort than we spoiled 21st Centurians are used to…

Spanning March 1966 to their radically bold demise in the September/October 1968 final issue, this quirky monochrome compilation collects their last exploits as seen in Doom Patrol #102 to 121: a landmark run that truly deserves better dissemination…

These creepy Costumed Dramas were especially enhanced by the superb skills of Italian artist Giordano Bruno Premiani, whose comfortably detailed, subtly representational illustration style made even the strangest situation frighteningly authentic and grimly believable.

As such, he was the perfect vehicle to squeeze every nuance of comedy and pathos from the captivatingly involved and grimly light-hearted scripts by Arnold Drake who always proffered a tantalising believably world for the outcast heroes to strive in.

Those damaged champions comprised competitive car racer Cliff Steele, but only after he’d had “died” in a horrific crash, with his undamaged brain transplanted into a fantastic mechanical body – without his knowledge or permission…

Test pilot Larry Trainor was trapped in an experimental stratospheric plane and become permanently radioactive, with the dubious benefit of gaining a semi-sentient energy avatar which could escape his body to perform incredible stunts …for up to a minute at a time. To pass safely amongst men, Trainor had to be perpetually wrapped in radiation-proof bandages.

Former movie star Rita Farr was exposed to mysterious gases on location. These gave her the unpredictable, initially uncontrolled ability to shrink or grow – in part or wholly – to incredible sizes.

The outcasts were brought together by brilliant, enigmatic Renaissance Man Niles Caulder who, as The Chief, sought to mould the solitary misfits into a force for good. The wheelchair-bound savant directed the trio of solitary strangers in many terrifying missions as they slowly grew into a uniquely bonded family…

Here – now firmly established in the heroic pantheon – The Doom Patrol join fellow outsiders The Challengers of the Unknown in #102’s ‘8 Against Eternity!’: battling murderous shape-shifter Multi-Man and his robotic allies as they seek to unleash a horde of zombies from a lost world upon modern humanity

Meanwhile, super-rich Steve Dayton – who had created a psycho-kinetic superhero persona Mento solely to woo and wed Rita, met outrageous, obnoxious Gar Logan. It was disgust at first sight, but neither the ruthless, driven billionaire authority figure nor wildly rebellious Beast Boy realised how their lives would soon entwine…

Whilst a toddler in Africa, Logan had contracted a rare disease. Although his scientist parents’ experimental cure beat the contagion before they died, it left him the colour of cabbage and able to change shape at will. A protracted storyline commenced in #100 wherein the secretive, chameleonic kid revealed how he was now an abused orphan being swindled out of his inheritance by his unscrupulous guardian Nicholas Galtry. The greedy, conniving accountant had even leased his emerald-hued charge to rogue scientists…

Rita especially had empathised with Gar’s plight and resolved to free him from Galtry whatever the cost…

DP #103 held two tales, beginning with a tragedy ensuing after Professor Randolph Ormsby sought the team’s aid for a space shot. When the doddery savant mutates into flaming monster ‘The Meteor Man’ it takes the entire patrol plus Beast Boy and Mento to save the day.

‘No Home for a Robot’, continues unpacking the Mechanical Man’s early days following Caulder’s implantation of Cliff’s brain into an artificial body. The shock had seemingly driven the patient crazy as Steele went on a city-wide rampage, hunted and hounded by the police. Here, the ferrous fugitive finds brief respite with his brother Randy, before realising that trouble would trail him anywhere…

DP #104 astounded everyone as Rita abruptly stopped refusing loathsome Steve to become ‘The Bride of the Doom Patrol!’ However, her star-stuffed wedding day is almost ruined when alien arch-foe Garguax and The Brotherhood of Evil crash the party to murder the groom. So unhappy are Cliff and Larry with Rita’s “betrayal” that they almost let them…

Even whilst indulging her new bride status in #105, Rita can’t abandon the team and joins them in tackling old elemental enemy Mr. 103 during a ‘Honeymoon of Terror!’ before back-up yarn ‘The Robot-Maker Must Die’ concludes Cliff Steele’s origin as the renegade attempts to kill the mystery surgeon who had imprisoned him in a metal hell… finally giving Caulder a chance to fix a long-term malfunction in Steele’s systems…

‘Blood Brothers!’ in #106 introduces domestic disharmony as Rita steadfastly refuses to be a good trophy wife: resuming the hunt for Mr. 103 with the rest of the DP. Her separate lives continue to intersect, however, when Galtry hires that elemental assassin to wipe Gar and his freakish allies off the books…

The back-up section shifts focus onto ‘The Private World of Negative Man’: recapitulating Larry Trainor’s doomed flight and the radioactive close encounter that turned him into a walking mummy. However, even after being allowed to walk amongst men again, the gregarious pilot finds himself utterly isolated and alone…

Doom Patrol #107 began an epic story-arc concerning ‘The War over Beast Boy!’ as Rita and Steve open legal proceedings to get Gar and his money away from Galtry. The embezzler responds by commencing a criminal campaign to beggar Dayton which inadvertently aligns him with the team’s greatest foes. Already distracted by the depredations of marauding automaton Ultimax, the hard-pressed heroes swiftly fall to the murderous mechanoid as Rita is banished to a barbaric sub-atomic universe…

The secret history of Negative Man resumes with ‘The Race Against Dr. Death!’ when fellow self-imposed outcast Dr. Drew draws the pilot into a scheme to destroy the human species which had cruelly excluded them both, before Larry’s ebony energy being demonstrates the incredible power it possesses by saving the world from fiery doom.

In #108, ‘Kid Disaster!’ sees Mento diminished and despatched to rescue Rita whilst Galtry’s allies reveal their true nature before ambushing and killing the entire team…

…Almost.

Despite only Caulder and Beast Boy remaining, our exceedingly odd couple nevertheless pull off a major medical miracle: reviving the heroes in time to endure the incredible attack of alien colossus ‘Mandred the Executioner!’ whilst Larry’s ‘Flight into Fear’ at the comic’s rear proves that Drew hasn’t finished with the itinerant Negative Man yet…

DP #110 wonderfully wraps up the Beast Boy saga as Galtry, Mandred and the Brotherhood marshal one last futile attack before the ‘Trial by Terror!’ finally finds Logan legally adopted by newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Dayton. Sadly, it’s a prelude to a titanic extraterrestrial invasion in #111, which heralds the arrival of ‘Zarox-13, Emperor of the Cosmos!’

The awesome overlord and his vanguard Garguax make short work of the Fabulous Freaks and, with all Earth imperilled, an unbelievable alliance forms, but not before ‘Neg Man’s Last Road!’ ends Trainor’s tale as the alienated aviator again battles Dr. Death, before joining a band of fellow outcasts in a bold new team venture…

Unbelievably, the uneasy alliance of the DP with The Brain, Monsieur Mallah and Madame Rouge as ‘Brothers in Blood!’ in #112 results in no betrayals and the last-minute defeat of the invincible aliens.

Moreover, although no rivalries were reconciled, a hint of romance does develop between two of the sworn foes, whilst at the back, untold tales of Beast Boy begin as ‘Waif of the Wilderness’ introduces millionaire doctors Mark and Marie Logan whose passion for charity took them to deepest Africa and into the sights of native witch-man Mobu who saw his powerbase crumbling…

When their toddler Gar contracts dread disease Sakutia, the parents’ radical treatment saves their child and grants him metamorphic abilities, but as they subsequently lose their lives in a river accident, the baby boy cannot understand their plight and blithely watches them die.

Orphaned and lonely, he inadvertently saves the life of a local chief with his animal antics and is adopted, …making of Mobu an implacable, impatient enemy…

Doom Patrol #113 pits the team against a malevolent mechanoid one-man army in ‘Who Dares to Challenge the Arsenal?’ but the real drama manifests in a subplot showing Caulder seeking to seduce schizophrenic Rouge away from the lure of wickedness and malign influence of the Brotherhood of Evil.

The issue includes another Beast Boy short as ‘The Diamonds of Destiny!’ finds two thieves kidnapping the amazing boy, just as concerned executor Nicholas Galtry takes ship for the Dark Continent to find the heir to his deceased employer’s millions…

DP #114 opens with the team aiding Soviet asylum seeker Anton Koravyk and becoming embroiled in a time-twisting fight against incredible caveman ‘Kor – the Conqueror!’ whilst Beast Boy segment ‘The Kid who was King of Crooks!’ sees toddler Gar turned into a thief in Johannesburg… until his Fagin-ish abductors have a fatal falling out…

The next issue debuts ‘The Mutant Master!’: pitting the team against three hideous, incomprehensibly powerful atomic atrocities resolved to eradicate the world which had cruelly treated them. Things might have fared better had not the Chief neglected his comrades in his obsessive – and at last successful – pursuit of Madame Rouge…

Also included is ‘General Beast Boy – of the Ape Brigade!’, wherein a Nazi war criminal is accidentally foiled by lost wanderer Gar. The madman’s loss is Galtry’s gain, however, as his search ends with the crook “rescuing” Logan and taking him back to safe, secure America…

The mutant maelstrom concludes in #116 as ‘Two to Get Ready… and Three to Die!’ features Caulder saving Earth from mutant-triggered obliteration to reap his reward in a passionate fling with the cured – but still fragile – Rouge.

The wheelchair wonder seizes centre stage in #117 as his neglect drives the team away, leaving him vulnerable to attack from a mystery man with a big grudge in ‘The Black Vulture!’, before a reunited squad deals with grotesque madman ‘Videx, Monarch of Light!’ even as the Brain challenges Caulder to return his stolen chattel Rouge. Nobody thought to ask her what she wanted, though, and that’s a fatal oversight…

Tastes were changing in the turbulent late 1960s and the series was in trouble. Superheroes were about to plunge into mass decline, and the creators addressed the problem head-on in #119: embracing psychedelic counter culture in a clever tale of supernal power, brainwashing and behaviour modification leaving the DP cowering ‘In the Shadow of the Great Guru!

An issue later they faced a furious Luddite’s ‘Rage of the Wrecker!’ when a crazed scientist declares war on technology – including the assorted bodies keeping Cliff alive…

The then-unthinkable occurred next and the series spectacularly, abruptly ended with what we all believed at the time to be ‘The Death of the Doom Patrol!’

Faced with cancellation, Editor Murray Boltinoff and creators Drake & Premiani wrapped up all the long-running plot threads as spurned Madame Rouge goes off the deep end and declares war on both the Brain and Caulder’s “children”…

Blowing up the Brotherhood, she attacks the city until the DP remove themselves to an isolated island fortress. Even there they are not safe and her forces ambush them…

Captured and facing death, Rouge offers mercy if they abandon their principles and allow her to destroy a village of 14 complete strangers in their stead…

At a time when comics came and went with no fanfare and cancelled titles seldom provided any closure, the sacrifice and death of the Doom Patrol was a shocking event for us youngsters. We wouldn’t see anything like it again for decades – and never again with such style and impact…

With the edge of time and experience on my side, it’s obvious just how incredibly mature Drake & Premiani’s take on superheroes was, and these superbly engaging, frenetically fun and breathtakingly beautiful stories rightfully rank amongst the very best Fights ‘n’ Tights tales ever told.

Even the mercilessly exploitative many returns of the team since can’t diminish that incredible impact, and no fan of the genre or comic dramas in general should consider their superhero education complete until they’ve seen these classics. Let’s hope DC wise up quickly and release that final volume soon…
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2010 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Brave and the Bold volumes 1 & 2: The Lords of Luck and The Book of Destiny


The Lords of Luck By Mark Waid & George Pérez & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-649-8 (US HB) 978-1-84576-649-8 (TPB)

There are so many great graphic novels and compilations available these days that it’s always a shock when I realise how many more are still out of print. Here’s a classic example just begging for revival and digital editions…

The Brave and the Bold: The Lords of Luck collects the first 6 issues of another revival of a venerable DC title (technically volume 3 and spanning April -September 2007): returning it not only to the fitting team-up format we all enjoyed, but doing so with such style, enthusiasm and outright joy that I’m reduced to a gawping, drooling nine-year-old again.

Here Mark Waid, George Pérez and inkers Bob Wiacek & Scott Koblish crafted an intergalactic romp through time and nether dimensions, ripping across the DC Universe in a funny, thrilling and immensely satisfying murder-mystery-come-universal-conquest saga.

When Batman and Green Lantern (in part one ‘Roulette’ and concluding episode ‘The Girl Who Knew Too Much’) discover absolutely identical corpses hundreds of miles apart it sets them on the trail of probability-warping aliens and the missing Book of Destiny – a mystical chronicle of everything that ever was, is, and will be!

And yes, that makes this a notional tie-in to The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman and his coterie of classy creatives…

Each issue/chapter highlights a different team-up and eventually the hunt by Adam Strange, Blue Beetle (‘The Lord of Time’), Destiny (of the Endless, no less in chapter 4 ‘The Garden of Destiny’), the Legion of Super Heroes (‘The Batman of Tomorrow’), Lobo, Supergirl (‘Ventura’) and a mystery favourite from long-ago (you’ll thank me for not blowing the secret, honestly!) plus an incredible assortment of cameo stars coalesces into a fabulous free-for-all that affirms and reinforces all the reasons I love this medium.

With the value-added bonus of an annotated exploration of Waid & Pérez’s creative process to entrance the aspiring creator-of-tomorrow, this is a great story with great art, and is perfect for all ages to read and re-read over and over again. So let’s hope that happens soon…

© 2006, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Book of Destiny

By Mark Waid, George Pérez, Jerry Ordway, Bob Wiacek & Scott Koblish (DC Comics)

ISBN: 978-1-4012-1838-6 (HB) 978-1-4012-1861-4 (TPB)

The Book of Destiny is a mystical ledger which charts the history, progress and fate of all Reality and everything in it – except for the four mortals entrusted with its care at the end of The Brave and the Bold: The Lords of Luck. The death-defying Challengers of the Unknown – cool pilot Ace Morgan, indomitable strongman Rocky Davis, intellectual aquanaut Prof. Haley and daredevil acrobat Red Ryan – live on borrowed time and were bequeathed the terrifying tome by Destiny of the Endless since their lives are no longer included within its horrifying pages…

After the staggering spectacle of the previous Brave and the Bold story-arc, here Waid & Pérez, with inkers Bob Wiacek & Scott Koblish are joined by co-penciller Jerry Ordway for a stunning sequel featuring most of the DC universe…

This compilation collects issues #7-12 (volume 3 from December 2007-June 2008) of the high-energy, all-star revival of the venerable DC title: playing novel games with traditional team-up format as a mysterious mage begins manipulating heroes and villains in a diabolical alchemical scheme to transform the cosmos fundamentally and forever…

Beginning with ‘Scalpels and Chainsaws’ – wherein Wonder Woman and the ever-abrasive Power Girl rub each other the wrong way (oh please, what are you, ten!?) whilst tackling an undead invasion, the case takes a stranger turn and Kara-Zor-L accidentally discovers the Caped Kryptonian has been brainwashed into trying to murder her cousin Superman

Their ill-tempered investigations lead to the fabled Lost Library of Alexandria and a disastrous confrontation with the deranged Dr. Alchemy, but he too is only a pre-programmed pawn – of a sinister presence called Megistus – who needs Power Girl to use the mystical artefact known as the Philosopher’s Stone to turn the Fortress of Solitude into pure Red Kryptonite…

Thanks to Wonder Woman’s battle savvy, the plot is frustrated and the stone thrown into the sun… just as Megistus intended…

All this has been perused in the mystic chronicle by the Challengers and their fifth member Dr. June Robbins – whose merely mortal existence and eventual doom are tragically recorded in the Book. They rush off to investigate a universe-rending menace even as ‘Wally’s Choice’ brings The Flash and his rapidly aging children Jai and Iris West into unwelcome contact with manipulative genius Niles Caulder and his valiant Doom Patrol. “The Chief” claims he can cure the twins’ hyper-velocity malady, but Caulder never does anything for selfless reasons…

With no other hope, Wally and wife Linda acquiescence to the mad genius’ scheme – which relies on using elemental hero Rex Mason to stabilise their kids’ critical conditions. It might have worked, had not Metamorpho been mystically abducted mid-process – consequently transforming the children into bizarre amalgams of Negative Man and Robot Man

Worst of all, Flash is almost forced to choose which child to save and which should die…

Thinking faster than ever, the Scarlet Speedster beats the odds and pulls off a miracle but, in a distant place, the pages of the Book are suddenly possessed and abruptly attack the Challengers…

‘Changing Times’ features a triptych of short team-up tales which play out as the Men that History Forgot battle a monster made of Destiny’s pages, beginning as the robotic Metal Men joined forces with young Robby Reed who could become a legion of champions whenever he needs to Dial H for Hero.

Sadly not even genius Will Magnus could have predicted the unfortunate result when crushingly shy robot Tin stuck his shiny digit in the arcane Dial…

Next, during WWII the combative Boy Commandos are joined by The Blackhawks in battling animated mummies intent on purloining the immensely powerful Orb of Ra from a lost pyramid, after which perpetually reincarnating warrior Hawkman joined All-New Atom Ryan Choi in defending Palaeolithic star-charts from the marauding Warlock of Ys.

None of them are aware that they are doing the work of malignly omnipresent Megistus…

The fourth chapter paralleled the Challengers’ incredible victory over the parchment peril with a brace of tales seeing the Man of Steel travel to ancient Britain to join heroic squire Brian of Kent (secretly the oppression-crushing Silent Knight) in bombastic battle against a deadly dragon, whilst the Teen Titan’s untold second ever case finds Robin, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash in Atlantis for the marriage of Aquaman and Mera.

Unfortunately Megistus’ drone Oceanus crashes the party, intent on turning Aqualad into an enslaved route map to the future…

And in California, the Challengers attempted to save Green Lantern’s Power Battery from being stolen only to find it in the possession of an ensorcelled Metamorpho…

As the Element Man easily overwhelms Destiny’s Deputies, Jerry Ordway assumed the penciller’s role for issues #11-12.

‘Superman and Ultraman’ saw the natural enemies initially clash and then collaborate at the behest of an alternate universe’s Mr. Mixyezpitelik, who reveals the appalling scope and nature of Megistus’ supernal transformational ambitions, leading to a gathering of the heroic clans and a blistering Battle Royale in the roaring heart of the Sun…

With the fate of reality at stake and featuring a veritable army of guest stars ‘The Brave and the Bold’ concludes the saga with a terrible, tragic sacrifice from the noblest hero of all, whilst subtly setting the scene for the then-upcoming Final Crisis

With fascinating designs and pencil drawings from Ordway to tantalise the art lovers, this second captivating collection superbly embodies all the bravura flash’n’dazzle thrills superhero comics so perfectly excel at. This is a gripping fanciful epic with many engaging strands perfectly coalescing into a frantic and fabulous free-for-all overflowing with all the style, enthusiasm and exuberant joy you’d expect from top costumed drama talents.

The Brave and the Bold: The Book of Destiny is another great story with great art, ideal for kids of all ages to read and re-read over and over again.
© 2007, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Bizarro Comics! – The Deluxe Edition


By a big bunch of very funny people AKA Jessica Abel, Todd Alcott, Rick Altergott, Peter Bagge, Kyle Baker, Gregory Benton, Charles Berberian, Aaron Bergeron, Nick Bertozzi, Ariel Bordeaux, Rand & David Borden, Ivan Brunetti, Eddie Campbell, Jim Campbell, Dave Cooper, Leela Corman, Mark Crilley, Jef Czekaj, Farel Dalrymple, Brian David-Marshall, Paul Dini, Paul Di Filippo, D’Israeli, Evan Dorkin, Mike Doughty, Eric Drysdale, Ben Dunn, Philippe Dupuy, Sarah Dyer, Phil Elliott, Hunt Emerson, Maggie Estep, Bob Fingerman, Abe Foreu, Ellen Forney, Liz Glass, Paul Grist, Matt Groening, Tom Hart, Dean Haglund, Tomer & Asaf Hanuka, Dean Haspiel, Danny Hellman, Sam Henderson, Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Matt Hollingsworth, Paul Hornschemeier, Dylan Horrocks, Nathan Kane, John Kerschbaum, Chip Kidd, Derek Kirk Kim, James Kochalka, John Krewson, Michael Kupperbaum, Tim Lane, Roger Langridge, Carol Lay, Jason Little, Lee Loughridge, Matt Madden, Tom McCraw, Pat McEown, Andy Merrill, Scott Morse, Peter Murrietta, Tony Millionaire, Jason Paulos, Harvey Pekar, Will Pfeifer, Paul Pope, Patton Oswalt, Brian Ralph, Dave Roman, Johnny Ryan, Alvin Schwartz, Marie Severin, R. Sikoryak, Don Simpson, Jeff Smith, Jay Stephens, Rick Taylor, Raina Telgermeier, Craig Thompson, Jill Thompson, M. Wartella, Andi Watson, Steven Weissman, Mo Willems, Kurt Wolfgang, Bill Wray, Jason Yungbluth, & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-1012-9 (HB/Digital)

Here am big, dull shopping list of top-ranking cartoonists from beginning of twenty-oneth century. Bunch of names not very entertaining, but what they draw and write am, especially when taking loving pot-shots at beloved DC Comics icons and moments…

I’ll happily go on record and say that practically all of the fun and true creativity in comics has come out of the ‘alternative’ or non-mainstream writers and artists these days. To prove my point I’d list a bunch of things, and very near the top of that list would be this book -actually two older, smaller books sensibly nailed together in 2021.

In its near 90 years of comics publishing, DC Comics has produced many of the most memorable, most engaging and most peculiar comic characters and concepts you could imagine. For all that, they also managed to stir echoes and forge a deep and abiding affection in the hearts and minds of some of the most creative people on the planet.

As I’ve already said, the material in this titanic tome of titters (sorry, apparently I’m channelling my inner Frankie Howerd today) first emerged in a brace of cartoon anthology volumes: Bizarro Comics and Bizarro World in 2001 and 2005, disrespectively.

They delivered fast and furious skits, sketches and gags by profoundly engaged – often deeply disturbed – fans turned pros. There was a heavy dependence on small-press and self-published creators all used to having complete control of their work…

It was all meant to make you laugh and feel longing for simpler whackier times, and the Introduction by Kyle Baker should be all you need to steer you through what follows.

If I were you, I’d stop here and just buy the book, but just in case you’re a stubborn holdout, I’m going to add to my editor and proof-reader’s many woes by listing exactly who is in the thing, what they did and even add a few critical comments, just to earn my keep.

Then I’ll make my poor staff read the book too, just to cheer them up after all my word salad…

Following Matt Groening’s Bizarro Comics cover (which you get here for free) lurks a hilarious framing sequence, as a monstrous unbeatable creature attempts to conquer Mr Mxyzptlk’s 5th dimensional home. Chris Duffy & Stephen DeStefano – aided by legendary cartoonist and colourist Marie Severin – tell a weird and wonderful tale of outlandish failed Superman clone Bizarro that begins in ‘Bizarre Wars Part One’ and diverges into a wonderland of individual battles against cosmic games player A.

As the appointed defender of the entire endangered dimension, Bizarro resorts to a heretofore unsuspected ultimate power: producing comic strips featuring unfamiliar adventures of DC’s most recognizable heroes that come to life …ish.

Cue a veritable Who’s Who of the cool and wonderful of modern comics creating a plethora of wacky, dreamy, funny, wistful and just plain un-put-downable strips that would delight any kid who read comics but then accidentally grew up.

In rapid rollercoaster fashion and Fighting the Goof Fight for reality come ‘Bizarro-X-Ray One’ by Gregory Benton, Bizarro-X-Ray Two’ by John Kerschbaum and Bizarro-X-Ray Three’ by Gilbert Hernandez – all coloured by Tom McCraw. Sam Henderson & Bob Fingerman reconvene the ‘Super-Pets’ whilst Duffy & Craig Thompson expose Green Lantern in ‘The Afterthoughts’. Chip Kidd & Tony Millionaire revisit early days of ‘The Bat-Man’ in stylish monochrome before Henderson, Dean Haspiel, Bill Oakley & Matt Madden recount the silly charm-packed saga of ‘Captain Marvel and the Sham Shazam’

Baker & Elizabeth Glass test the mettle of ‘Letitia Lerner, Superman’s Babysitter!’ and Aquaman endures double trouble as Evan Dorkin, Brian David-Marshall, Bill Wray & Matt Hollingsworth draw attention to ‘Silence of the Fishes’ before Andy Merrill & Jason Little douse the Sea King in ‘Porcine Panic!’

Fingerman, Pat McEown, Oakley & Hollingsworth inflict ‘The Tinnocchio Syndrome’ on The Metal Men before Andi Watson, Mark Crilley & Lee Loughridge orchestrate ‘Wonder Girl vs Wonder Tot’ and James Kochalka, Dylan Horrocks & Abe Foreau pit Hawkman against ‘The Egg-Napper!’, even as ‘The GL Corps: The Few, The Proud’ glean more story glory courtesy due to Will Pfeifer, Jill Thompson, Clem Robins, Rick Taylor & Digital Chameleon.

Horrocks, Jessica Abel & Madden then see Supergirl and Mary Marvel have a moment in ‘The Clubhouse of Solitude’ whilst Nick Bertozzi & Tom Hart tune in to ‘Kamandi: The Last Band on Earth!’ before Jeff Smith, Paul Pope & Loughridge depict Bizarro demanding ‘Help! Superman!’ as Jef Czekaj & Brian Ralph confront Aquaman with ‘The Man Who Cried Fish!’ in advance of Wonder Woman pondering ‘One-Piece, Two-Piece, Red-Piece, Blue-Piece’ on a shopping trip organised by Fingerman & Dave Cooper.

Ellen Forney, Ariel Bordeaux & Madden probe a young girl’s ‘Bats Out of Heck’ and Eddie Campbell, Hunt Emerson, Rick Taylor & Digital Chameleon went full-on Batmaniacal in ‘Who Erased the Eraser’ before Crilley & Watson negotiate a shocking ‘First Contact’ with The Atom, after which The Batman invites us ‘Inside the Batcave’ with Pope & Jay Stephens as tour guides.

Dorkin, D’Israeli & Digital Chameleon expose ‘Solomon Grundy: Bored on a Monday’ before Alvin Schwartz, Roger Langridge & Loughridge debut ‘The Most Bizarre Bizarro of All’ and Ivan Brunetti, Dorkin & Sarah Dyer reveal ‘That’s Really Super, Superman!’ to The World’s Finest Team whilst Dorkin, Carol Lay, Tom McCraw & Digital Chameleon invite everyone to ‘The J’onn J’onzz Celebrity Roast’ before Bordeaux, Forney & Madden share ‘Wonder Woman’s Day Off’

The initial volume and that framing Mxyzptlk yarn are coming to a close as Dorkin, Wray, John Costanza & Hollingsworth craft ‘Unknown Challenges of the Challengers of the Unknown’ and Dorkin, Steven Weissman & Dyer go to bat for all the forgotten creature sidekicks in ‘Without You, I’m Nothing’ before Duffy, DeStefano, Phil Felix, Severin & Digital C reunite for the climactic conclusion of ‘Bizarre Wars – Part Two’

If you haven’t heard of anybody on that overwhelming list then get Googling. Then get this book and get enjoying.

No? that’s okay… There’s More…

The turn of this century was a particularly fraught time – aren’t they always? – and one of the best ways to combat the impending travail was to make people laugh. A follow up to the remarkably successful Bizarro Comics again invited a coterie of alternative comics creators (and guests!) to make sport of various hallowed DC icons. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and all the lesser gods were dragooned into more tales humorous, dolorous and just plain peculiar, drawn in an eye-wrenching range of styles. Many of those involved continued to display a disturbing knowledge of, if not respect for, the DC continuity of the 1960s whilst others seem to centre on the TV and Movie interpretations, but the fondness for times gone by was readily apparent throughout.

Behind a Bizarro World cover from Jaime Hernandez, Rian Hughes & Coco Shinomiya is unsurprisingly story ‘Bizarro World’ by Duffy, Scott Morse, Rob Leigh & Dave Stewart as a couple of unwary kids fall into a universe stuffed to overflowing with everyday super people…

Answers come from a crusty reporter with extensive files and notes from many stringers…

Kidd, Millionaire & Jim Campbell review ‘Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder’ and Merrill, Langridge & Madden get seasonally silly in ‘Jing Kal-El’, whilst Mo Willems, Forney & Madden reveal ‘The Wonder of it All’ for the youthful feminist before Foreu, Kochalka & Madden have shapeshifter Chameleon Boy ask ‘Where’s Proty?’

Nostalgia and childish wish-fulfilment masterfully merge in pants-wettingly funny ‘Batman Smells’ by American National Treasures Patton Oswalt, Fingerman & Stewart, whilst Duffy & Craig Thompson channel ‘The Spectre’ and Jasons Yungbluth & Paulos confirm with Hal Jordan that ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green’ even as Aaron Bergeron & Kerschbaum revel in ‘The Power of Positive Batman’

Mike Doughty & Danny Hellman’s Fish-out-of-water ‘Aquaman’ segues into another true Stand Out story: ‘Batman: Upgrade 5.0’ by Dean Haglund & Peter Murrieta, illustrated by Don Simpson, before comics bad boy John Ryan joins Dave Cooper to explore being ‘Super-Dumped’ via the sad story of Clark and Diana

Elsewhere, Dorkin & M. Wartella retroactively introduce Batman to ‘Monkey, the Monkey Wonder’ whilst comics verité legends Harvey Pekar & Dean Haspiel declare ‘Bizarro Shmizarro’ just as Dylan Horrocks, Farel Dalrymple & Paul Hornschemeier proposition ‘Dear Superman’ on behalf of a youngster with a secret…

‘The Red Bee Returns’ courtesy of Peter Bagge, Gilbert Hernandez & Madden, after which Eric Drysdale, Tim Lane, Oakley & Madden organise ‘The Break’ for the JLA. Dorkin & Watson then find The Legion of Super-Heroes ‘Out with the In Crowd’ just as Todd Alcott, Michael Kupperman & Ken Lopez detail the ‘Ultimate Crisis of the Justice League’

Tomer & Asaf Hanuka join Lopez & Campbell to define ‘Batman’ whilst Paul Dini & Carol Lay have the very last word on ‘Krypto the Superdog’ and Ariel Bordeaux & Rick Altergott unwisely launch ‘Legion.com’ before mercurial Harvey Dent enjoys a ‘Dinner for Two’ thanks to Dorkin & Iva Brunetti…

Maggie Estep & Horrocks take on ‘Supergirl’ and her horsey history before Leela Corman & Tom Hart steer a ‘Power Trip’ for Batgirl, Wonder Woman and the Girl of Steel, whilst Eddie Campbell, Paul Grist & Phil Elliott schedule ‘A Day in the Life in the Flash’ before hilariously reprising their manic madness via ‘The Batman Operetta’

Bizarro returns in an activity page from his ‘Daily Htrae’ – by Dorkin & R. Sikoryak – and the GL Corps turn Japanese in ‘Lantern Sentai’ from Rand & David Borden of Studio Kaiju, manifested by multi-talented Benn Dunn. Philippe Dupuy & Charles Berberian then offer a continental touch in ‘Batman of Paris’, Kurt Wolfgang & Brian Ralph have fun with ‘The Demon’ and John Krewson, Dorkin & Dyer expose ‘Kamandi, The Laziest Boy on Earth’.

Despite all the craziness, the best has wisely been left until last and end begins with The Justice League of America regretting ‘Take Your Kids to Work Day’ (by Dave Roman & Raina Telgemeier) whilst ultimate manservant Alfred Pennyworth conducts his master’s business as a “Personal Shopper” thanks to Kyle Baker & Elizabeth Glass, before we finish with Deadman who learns with horror – from Paul Di Filippo & Derek Kirk Kim – that ‘Good Girls Go to Heaven. Bad Girls Go Everywhere’

What do you get if you give a whole bunch of vets and alternative comics creators carte blanche and a broad brief? You should get this.
© 2001, 2005, 2021 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Wonder Woman: The Golden Age volume 1


By William Moulton Marston & Harry G. Peter & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7444-3 (TPB/Digital edition)

We can’t get too far into a month of comics by and/or about women without acknowledging the greatest role model of all time…

Wonder Woman was famously created by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston – apparently at the behest of his formidable wife Elizabeth – and illustrated by Harry G. Peter in a well-intentioned attempt to offer girls a positive and forceful role model. Her spectacular launch and preview (that’s the comic book superstar, not Mrs. Marston) came in one of the company’s most popular publications: an extra feature inside All Star Comics #8, home of the immortal Justice Society of America.

One month later the Perfect Princess gained her own series – including the cover-spot – in new anthology title Sensation Comics, and was a huge and instant hit. She won her own eponymous title in late Spring of that year (cover-dated Summer 1942).

Using the nom de plume Charles Moulton, Marston scripted all the Amazing Amazon’s many and miraculous adventures until his death in 1947, whereupon Robert Kanigher took over the writer’s role. Venerable co-creator H.G. Peter illustrated almost every WW tale until his own death in 1958.

Spanning December 1941 – February/March 1943, this superb full-colour compilation (also collects that seminal debut from All Star Comics #8, and her every iconic adventure from Sensation Comics #1-14 and Wonder Woman #1-3, plus the first outing in anthological book of (All) Stars Comics Cavalcade.#1

Naturally, we begin with ‘Introducing Wonder Woman’

On a hidden island of immortal super-women, an American aviator crashes to Earth. Near death, US Army Intelligence Captain Steve Trevor is nursed back to health by young Princess Diana. Fearing her growing obsession with the man, her mother Queen Hippolyte reveals the hidden history of the Amazons to the child. Diana learns how her people were seduced and betrayed by men but rescued by the goddess Aphrodite on condition that they thenceforward isolate themselves from the rest of the world and devote their eternal lives to becoming ideal, perfect creatures.

However, after Trevor explains the perfidious spy plot which accidentally brought him to the Island enclave, divine Athena and Aphrodite appear, ordering Hippolyte to assign an Amazon warrior to return with the American to fight for freedom and liberty.

Hippolyte diplomatically and democratically declares an open contest to determine the best candidate and, despite being forbidden to participate, Diana enters and wins. Accepting the will of the gods, the worried mother outfits her in the guise of Wonder Woman and sends her out to Man’s World…

A month later the story continued where the introduction had left off. Sensation Comics #1 declares ‘Wonder Woman Comes to America’, seeing the eager immigrant returning the recuperating Trevor to the modern World. She also trounces a gang of bank robbers and falls in with a show business swindler…

One major innovation here is the newcomer buying a secret identity: that of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, elegantly allowing the Amazon to be close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick medic to join her own fiancé in South America…

Even with all that going on, there was still room for Wonder Woman and Captain Trevor to bust up a spy ring attempting to use poison gas on a Draft induction centre, before Steve breaks a leg and ends up in hospital again, where “Nurse Prince” is assigned to tend him…

Sensation #2 introduced deadly enemy agent ‘Dr. Poison’ in a cannily crafted tale which also debuted the most radical comedy sidekicks of the era…

The plucky fun-loving gals of the Holliday College for Women and their chubby, chocolate-gorging Beeta Lamda sorority-chief Etta Candy would get into trouble and save the day in equal proportions for years to come: constantly demonstrating Diana’s – and Marston’s – philosophical contention that girls, with correct encouragement, could accomplish anything that men could…

With War raging and in a military setting, espionage and sabotage were inescapable plot devices. ‘A Spy at the Office’ finds Diana arranging a transfer to the office of General Darnell as his secretary so that she can keep a closer eye on the finally fit Steve. She isn’t there five minutes before uncovering a ring of undercover infiltrators amongst the typing pool and saving her man from assassination.

Unlike most comics of the period, Wonder Woman employed tight continuity. ‘School for Spies’ in #4 sees some of those fallen girls murdered by way of introducing inventive genius and Nazi master manipulator Baroness Paula von Gunther. She employs psychological tricks to enslave girls to her will and sets otherwise decent Americans against their homeland.

Even Diana succumbs to her machinations… until Steve and the Holliday Girls crash in…

America’s newest submarine is saved from destruction and cunning terrorists brought to justice in ‘Wonder Woman versus the Saboteurs’ before issue #6 has the Amazing Amazon accepting a ‘Summons to Paradise’ to battle her immortal sisters in Kanga-riding duels before receiving her greatest weapon: an unbreakable Lasso of Truth which compels and controls anyone who falls within its golden coils.

It proves quite handy when Paula escapes prison and uses an invisibility formula to wreak havoc on American coastal defences…

‘The Milk Swindle’ is pure 1940s social advocacy drama, with homegrown racketeers and Nazi von Gunther joining forces to seize control of America’s milk supply with the incredibly long-sighted intention of weakening the bones of the country’s next generation of soldiers.

Closely following in Sensation #8 is ‘Department Store Perfidy’ wherein the Amazon goes undercover in the monolithic Bullfinch emporium to win better working conditions and fair pay for the girls employed there.

There was a plethora of surprises in #9 with ‘The Return of Diana Prince’ from South America. Now Mrs Diana White, the young mother needs her job and identity back until her inventor husband can sell his latest invention to the US army. Luckily, Wonder Woman and an obliging gang of saboteurs help to expedite matters…

The next major landmark was the launch of the Amazon’s own solo title. The first quarterly opens here a text feature on the Amazon’s pantheon of godly patrons in ‘Who is Wonder Woman?’ after which comic action commences with a greatly expanded revision of her first appearance in ‘A History of the Amazons: The Origin of Wonder Woman’. This precedes a beguiling mystery tale as ‘Wonder Woman Goes to the Circus’ wherein Diana solves the bizarre serial murders of the show’s elephants before Paula von Gunther rears her shapely head again in ‘Wonder Woman versus the Spy Ring’ wherein the loss of the Golden Lasso almost causes her demise and ultimate defeat of the American Army…

The issue ends with ‘The Greatest Feat of Daring in Human History’ as Diana and Etta head for Texas, only to become embroiled in a sinister scheme involving Latin Lotharios, lady bullfighters, lethal spies and a Nazi attempt to conquer Mexico…

Back in Sensation Comics #10 (October 1942) ‘The Railroad Plot’ celebrates Steve and Wonder Woman’s first anniversary by exposing a sinister plan devised by Japanese and German agents to blow up New York using the labyrinth of subway tunnels under the city, whilst ‘Mission to Planet Eros’ debuts the Princess’ long line of cosmic fantasy exploits. The Queen of Venus requests Diana’s aid in saving an entire planetary civilisation from gender inequality and total breakdown, before ‘America’s Guardian Angel’ – from Sensation #12 – sees the Warrior Princess accepting an offer to play herself in a patriotic Hollywood movie, only to find the production infiltrated by the insidious Paula and her gang of slave-girls…

Preceded by an illustrated prose piece about ‘The God of War’, Wonder Woman #2 comprises a 4-part epic introducing the Astounding Amazon’s greatest enemy in ‘Mars, God of War’. He apparently instigated a World War from his HQ on the distant red planet but chafes at the lack of progress since Wonder Woman entered the fray on the side of the peace-loving allies. He now opts for direct action, no longer trusting his earthly pawns Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito

When Steve goes missing, Diana allows herself to be captured and ferried to Mars. Here she starts disrupting the efficient working of the war-god’s regime and fomenting unrest amongst the slave population, before rescuing Steve and heading home to Earth. ‘The Earl of Greed’, one of Mars’ trio of trusted subordinates, takes centre stage for the second chapter, with orders to recapture Steve and Diana at all costs.

As the duo attempt to infiltrate Berlin, Greed uses his influence on Hitler to surreptitiously redirect the German war effort, using Gestapo forces to steal all the USA’s gold reserves…

With Steve gravely injured, the Amazon returns to America and whilst her paramour heals, uncovers and foils the Ethereal Earl’s machinations to prevent much-needed operating funds from reaching Holliday College, where young girls learn to be independent free-thinkers…

With Greed thwarted, Mars dispatches ‘The Duke of Deception’ to Earth, where the spindly phantom impersonates Wonder Woman and frames her for murder.

Easily escaping from prison, the Princess of Power not only clears her name but also finds time to foil a Deception-inspired invasion of Hawaii, leaving only ‘The Count of Conquest’ free to carry out Mars’ orders.

His scheme is simple: through personal puppet Mussolini, the Count tries to physically overpower the Amazing Amazon with a brutal giant boxing champion, even as Italian Lothario Count Crafti attempts to woo, seduce and suborn her. The latter’s wiles actually worked, too, but capturing and keeping her are two different things entirely and after breaking free on the Red Planet, Diana delivers a devastating blow to the war-machine of Mars…

This issue ends with a sparkling double page patriotic plea when ‘Wonder Woman Campaigns for War Bonds’

Sensation Comics #13 (January 1943) claims ‘Wonder Woman is Dead’ when a corpse wearing her uniform is discovered, and the astounded Diana Prince discovers her alter ego’s clothes and the irreplaceable magic lasso are missing…

The trail leads to a diabolical spy-ring working out of Darnell’s office and an explosive confrontation in a bowling alley, whilst ‘The Story of Fir Balsam’ in #14 presents a seasonal tale concerning lost children, an abused mother and escaped German aviators. All was happily resolved around a lonely pine tree, after which the Immortal Warrior celebrated her next publishing milestone…

The 1938 debut of Superman propelled National Comics to the forefront of their fledgling industry and a year later the company was licensed to produce a commemorative comicbook celebrating the opening of the New York World’s Fair.

The Man of Tomorrow prominently featured on the appropriately titled New York World’s Fair Comics among such four-colour stars as Zatara, Butch the Pup, Gingersnap and The Sandman. In 1940 another abundant premium emerged with Batman and Robin added to the roster, and the publishers felt they had an item and format worth pursuing commercially.

The spectacular card-cover 96-page anthologies had been a huge hit: convincing editors that an over-sized anthology of their pantheon of characters, with Superman and Batman prominently featured, would be a worthwhile proposition. Thus, the format was retained for a wholly company-owned, quarterly high-end package, retailing for the then-hefty price of 15¢.

Launching as World’s Best Comics #1 in Spring 1941, the book morphed into World’s Finest Comics from #2, beginning a stellar 45-year run which only ended as part of the massive clear-out and decluttering exercise that was  Crisis on Infinite Earths. During the Golden Age, however, it remained a big blockbuster bonanza of strips to entice and delight readers…

At this time National/DC was in an editorially-independent business relationship with Max Gaines that involved shared and cross promotion and distribution for the comicbooks released by his own outfit All-American Publications. Although technically competitors if not quite rivals, the deal included shared logos and advertising and even combining both companies’ top characters in the groundbreaking All Star Comics as the Justice Society of America.

However, by 1942 relations between the companies were increasingly strained – and would culminate in 1946 with DC buying out Gaines, who used the money to start EC Comics.

All-American thus decided to create its own analogue to World’s Finest, featuring only AA characters. The outsized result was Comics Cavalcade

Cover-dated December 1942-January 1943 – and following Frank Harry’s gloriously star-studded cover to Comic Cavalcade #1 – Wonder Woman’s fourth regular star slot began with the company superstar solving the ‘Mystery of the House of the Seven Gables’ (as ever the fruits of Marston & Peter’s fevered imaginations) wherein Diana Prince stumbles upon a band of Nazi spies. All too soon, the Amazing Amazon needs the help of some plucky youngsters to quash the submarine-sabotaging brutes…

Wonder Woman #3 then dedicates its entirety to the return of an old foe; commencing with ‘A Spy on Paradise Island’ as the undergrads of Holliday College for Women – and Etta Candy – are initiated into some pretty wild Amazon rites on Paradise Island. Sadly, the revels inadvertently allow an infiltrator to gain access and pave the way for an invasion by Japanese troops…

Naturally Wonder Woman and the Amazons prevail on the day but the sinister mastermind behind it all is exposed and strikes back in ‘The Devilish Devices of Baroness Paula von Gunther’.

Whilst the on-guard Amazons build a women’s prison that will be known as “Reform Island”, Wonder Woman – acting upon information received by the new inmates – trails Paula and is in time to crush her latest scientific terror: an invisibility ray…

‘The Secret of Baroness von Gunther’ offers a rare peek at a villain’s motivation when the captured super-spy reveals how her little daughter Gerta has been a hostage of the Nazis for years and remains a goad to ensure the genius’ total dedication to the German cause… Naturally, the Amazing Amazon instantly determines to reunite mother and child at all costs after which ‘Ordeal by Fire’ confirms the Baroness aiding Diana and Steve in dismantling the spy network and slave-ring the Nazis had spent so long building in America… but only at great personal and physical cost to the repentant Paula…

Much has been posited about subtexts of bondage and subjugation in Marston’s tales – and, to be frank, there really are lots of scenes with girls tied up, chained or about to be whipped – but I just don’t care what his intentions (subconscious or otherwise) might have been: I’m more impressed with the skilful drama and incredible fantasy elements that are always wonderfully, intriguingly present: I mean, just where does the concept of giant war-kangaroos come from?

Exotic, baroque, beguiling and uniquely exciting, these Golden Age tales of the World’s Most Famous female superhero are timeless, pivotal classics in the development of comic books and still provide lashings of fun and thrills for anyone looking for a great nostalgic read. If that’s you, you know what you need to do…
© 1941, 1942, 1943, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

A Very DC Valentine’s Day


By Cecil Castellucci, Amanda Conner, Andy Diggle, Paul Dini, Ray Fawkes, Phil Hester, Kyle Higgins, Collin Kelly, Alisa Quitney, Jackson Lanzing, Peter Milligan, Ann Nocenti, Steve Orlando, Jimmy Palmiotti, James Robinson, Mark Russell, Mairghread Scott, Tim Seeley, Simon Bisley, Ben Caldwell, Aaron Campbell, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Mirko Colak, Andrew Currie, Javier Fernandez, Julio Ferreira, Julius Gopez, Sanford Greene, Stephanie Hans, Bryan Hitch, Frazer Irving, Kelley Jones, Nic Klein, Emanuela Lupacchino, Guillem March, John McCrea, Jaime Mendoza, Inaki Miranda, Robson Rocha, Thony Silas, Cam Smith, John Timms & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401287665 (TPB/Digital edition)

After generations of incorporating seasonal occasions, milestones and themes into their regular chronology, in recent years comics publishers have started releasing special issues and compilations to single out those sale-enhancing moments. For DC, that process really began during their New 52 reboot…

Regrettably eschewing their own vast back catalogue of magnificently-limned genre romance material (still… maybe one day, hey?) the home of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman released all-new anthologies exploring the many roads to and ways of loving.

In 2018, three one-shots – Young Monsters in Love #1, Young Romance: The New 52 Valentine’s Day Special #1 and Harley Quinn Valentine’s Day Special #1 – were tangled together as a celebratory tome which might entice less traditional fans…

We begin with Young Monsters in Love #1, which hit stores on February 7th 2018 carrying an April cover-date. It opens with a tale of Man-Bat wherein Kyle Higgins, Kelley Jones & colourist Michelle Madsen expose the bestial inner monologue of Kirk Langstrom’s “Nocturnal Animal”’ as the self-mutated science renegade seeks to rekindle his romantic relationship with ex-wife Francine

Tim Seeley, Giuseppe Camuncoli & Cam Smith also explore that theme of stability lost as Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. reviews his centuries-long relationship with “The Bride” in ‘Pieces of Me’ whilst Clark Kent and his son Jon learn a few hard truths about love and loss in ‘Buried on Sunday’. It’s a potentially shattering lesson for the Man of Steel and Superboy who seek to ensure that Solomon Grundy does not wallow in the eternal despair of bereavement as sensitively detailed by Mairghread Scott, Bryan Hitch & Andrew Currie…

Disgruntled Teen Titan/peripatetic ghost buster Raven discovers ‘The Dead Can Dance’ on a long-deferred Prom Night(mare) by Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing & Javier Fernandez, after which Paul Dini & Guillem March expose the cruel traumas of elementary school bullying when Deadman saves a lonely boy crushed and nearly killed by the annual purgatory of card-giving in ‘Be My Valentine’

Swamp Thing loves and loses another frail and fragile human contact in the beautifully eerie ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ by Mark Russell & Frazer Irving, before Steve Orlando & Nic Klein push the parameters of amour and self-sacrifice when queer cop Maggie Sawyer seeks to stop a potential bloodbath as Monsieur Mallah & The Brain (of the Brotherhood of Evil) seek a way to further their impossibly complex relationship by looking backwards in ‘Visibility’

Andrew Bennet (I, Vampire, by Alisa Quitney & Stephanie Hans) then experiences painful revelation when forced to accept a new role for his ever-maturing disciple in ‘The Turning of Deborah Dancer’, whereas EtriganThe Demon – brutally challenges the entire infernal host to reach Jason Blood’s lost love in ‘To Hell and Gone’ by Phil Hester &Mirko Colak.

Amidst the madness of WWII, the warped wooing closes with a distressing brush-off letter to the Creature Commandos’ man-made vampire in ‘Dear Velcoro’, by James Robinson & John McCrea.

Heralding a shift from dark dilemmas to costumed courting – courtesy of the contents of Young Romance: The New 52 Valentine’s Day Special #1 (originally cover-dated April 2013) – our soap-opera sagas start with Catwoman reminiscing over her first meeting and troubled history with Batman in Ann Nocenti, Emanuela Lupacchino & Jaime Mendoza’s ‘Think it Through’

Aquaman & Mera uncover unrequited love and reunite unquiet separated spirits in ‘The Lighthouse’ (by Cecil Castellucci & Inaki Miranda) before Batgirl Babs Gordon lets her guard down with a certified bad boy in Ray Fawkes & Julius Gopez’s ‘Dreamer’.

Superhero teammates Apollo & Midnighter revisit their first “ mad moment” mid-mission in ‘Seoul Brothers’ by Peter Milligan & Simon Bisley, whilst paragon legacy hero Nightwing makes all his old mistakes again with new foe/ally/love interest Ursa in ‘Another Saturday Night’ by Kyle Higgins & Sanford Greene…

One of the biggest and most touted draws of the New 52 was the sidelining of Lois Lane and shocking romantic entanglement of Superman and Wonder Woman. Here, Andy Diggle, Robson Rocha & Julio Ferreira depict the ultimate power couple in the early, exploratory stages of that relationship and learning via a shocking game of ‘Truth or Dare’ …until spiteful sirens and a possessed god of love violently object…

The final third of this torrid tome sees lunatic love bandit Harleen Quinzel hog the limelight and steal the show with an extended epic from the Harley Quinn Valentine’s Day Special #1: released on February 11th 2015 and once again cover-dated for the month of All Fools…

Written by Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti, and collaboratively illustrated by John Timms, Ben Caldwell, Aaron Campbell, Thony Silas and colourists Paul Mounts & Hi-Fi, ‘Just Batty Over You’ offers an hallucinogenic rollercoaster ride of passions and perplexing playfulness as The Joker’s former main squeeze espies and is enthralled by super-sexy Bruce Wayne who is a prize in a charity dating auction…

She determines to make him hers and the abduction part goes off pretty much as required. However, complicating the scheme is Harley’s own meandering grip on reality, Bruce’s many jobs and secrets, so very much over-applied and shared narcotic inducement, hench-folk who can only see the billionaire’s vast dollar-value and the perpetual interference of briny costumes activists The Carp and Sea Robin, who really want everybody to heed their message of marine environmental crisis…

Daft, delightful and delivered with perfect timing and elan, this lustful lark caps a supremely frothy and inconsequential diversion to charm casual and fully committed thrill seekers in equal amounts.
© 2013, 2015, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The All-New Atom volumes 3 & 4: The Hunt for Ray Palmer & Small Wonder


By Gail Simone, Rick Remender, Mike Norton, Pat Oliffe, Dan Green & Trevor Scott & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1782-2 (TPB Hunt) 978-1-4012-1996-3 (TPB Wonder)

After the events of Identity Crisis and 52, superhero physicist Professor Ray Palmer disappeared, leaving his world behind him. But life goes on, and his teaching chair at Ivy University was offered to a young prodigy from Hong Kong. The neophyte just happened to be Palmer’s pen-friend and confidante: privy to his predecessor’s secrets ever since he was a child.

Dr. Ryan Choi unwillingly inherited his predecessor’s super-hero career as well – under some rather suspicious circumstances – battling super-villains, monsters and seemingly random chronal catastrophes that are making Ivy Town a viper’s nest of bizarre occurrences.

With this third volume (collecting issues #12-16 of All-New Atom) the so-likable legacy hero joins an eccentric team of heroes to track down his missing mentor in a story-arc that coincided with events of unfolding mega-crossover Countdown to Final Crisis

Written by the brilliant Gail Simone and illustrated by Mike Norton, Dan Green & Trevor Scott, the The Hunt for Ray Palmer starts with ‘Never Too Small to Hit the Big Time’ as size-shifting homicidal maniac Dwarfstar returns, swiftly followed by a procession of Palmer’s oddly unique Rogues’ Gallery.

Temporal anomalies are devastating the city and Choi’s only chance to sort it all is the creepily coincidental alliance offered by infamous “time-thief” Chronos

‘Second Genesis’ finds Choi and the wily villain lost in the South American jungles, encountering the tiny alien barbarians Palmer once lived with (see Sword of the Atom link please) before the new Tiny Titan links up with Donna Troy, Jason Todd and the Monitor – all major protagonists in the aforementioned Countdown to Final Crisis.

Choi joins forces in their search of the entire multiverse, with a first stop in ‘Heavens to Bitsy’ taking them from the super-scientific civilisation located on the bottom of Choi’s pet dog (not his underside, but the bit by the tail…) and from there to the post-existence paradise where all dead superheroes go. The manic manoeuvring features classy and clever cameos from a host of departed DC stars…

However, nothing is as it seems and by the time the new “challengers of the unknown” reach neutral ground and a rendezvous with Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, it’s clear that something or someone is sabotaging them. ‘Loss Leader’ sees Choi abruptly yanked from the quest and returned to Earth to save Ivy Town from the effects of the swifty escalating and accelerating time-storm one: of the funniest and grossest hero exploits ever recorded – or as Choi puts it, Ewwww’

The book concludes on a hilariously action-packed high note with ‘Forward! Into the Past!’ as further hints on the identity of the mastermind behind the All-New Atom’s troubles are revealed when Ivy Town takes a reality-warping, mind-bending trip back into the Summer of Love.

Ghosts, aliens, monsters, naff villains and Hippies abound, and there’s a guest-shot for those clearly inadequate guardians of the Time Stream, the Linear Men

This fun-filled frantic frolic is a joyous return to clever, light-hearted adventure of the Good Old days (whenever they were) and these collected tales are everything a jaded superhero fan needs to clear the palate and revive flagging interests.


The All-New Atom volume 4: Small Wonder sees the adventures of the legacy Tiny Titan come to an abrupt halt with this final collection of mind-bending, time-busting yarns, collecting issues #17, 18 and 20-25 but sadly and inexplicably omitting #19 – a rather tasty subterranean thriller fill-in from Keith Champagne & Jerry Ordway.

Whether the switch from gleefully, wistfully whimsical scripter Gail Simone to darker, more hard-edged Rick Remender indicated the series was failing or perhaps actually caused its eventual demise is a matter of speculation – but it was probably neither and just another example of rapidly changing popular taste shredding sales below a viable cut off point…

Following the events of publishing events Identity Crisis and 52, size-changing part-time superhero Professor Ray Palmer vanished, leaving his world behind him. But life went on regardless, and his position at Ivy University was offered to a young prodigy from Hong Kong: Palmer’s confidante and someone privy to his predecessor’s secrets since childhood. Ryan Choi inherited his Palmer’s super-hero identity too – under rather suspicious circumstances.

The kid battled super-villains, monsters and seemingly random chronal catastrophes that were making Ivy Town a viper’s nest of bizarre occurrences and nexus of improbability.

Gail Simone started proceedings with 2-parter ‘The Atom and the Amazon’ illustrated by Mike Norton, Andy Smith, Trevor Scott & Keith Champagne: a bravura blend of action, adventure and surreal comedy wherein expanding villainess Giganta sexually harasses the junior professor into a date whilst the mysterious forces and agencies infesting Ivy Town jockey for position before an impending emergent crisis…

Things come to a head when Federal Department of Metahuman Affairs agent Diana Prince steps in and asks Choi to wear a wire on his assignation…

When a creep with a detachable brain provokes a confrontation, Wonder Woman steps in and events spiral out of control until Ryan uses a brilliant seldom-seen ploy to calm things down. Sadly, the pacification is only temporary, as the brain-thing incites the entire city to attack the heroes, before The Atom saves the day …and is rewarded by the most outrageous offer he has ever heard…

Simone ended her run with ‘A Few Small Affairs’ wherein the sinister mastermind behind so many of Choi’s problems traps the diminishing hero in a perfect prison: a paradisiacal hallucination…

Meanwhile in consensus reality, demons, monsters and aliens rampage through Ivy Town…

To see how he stops that mess you’ll need to get this book, but that’s not the end of the affair. That comes in epic encounter ‘Inside Out’ by Rick Remender, Pat Olliffe & John Stanisci, pitting the out-of-his-depth Tiny Titan against truly horrendous odds and seemingly insurmountable hazards.

In ‘The Positive Aspects of Negative Thinking’, Choi learns that his explorations of the micro-cosmos have infected him with a virus and unleashed a monstrous carnivore on the city that only he can deal with. ‘How to Disappear Completely’ then leaves him shocked and reeling when the beast devours his best friend Panda.

Consumed with a need to make amends, Choi is utterly unaware that arch-enemies Chronos and Dwarfstar are preparing to attack, and is horrified and derailed to discover that the micro-monster has since disintegrated dozens of citizens. Meanwhile, his bodily infection is causing him to uncontrollably shrink in violently painful spasms…

Donning a high-tech containment suit, Choi struggles on in ‘Strange New World’: becoming lost in the Microverse before joyfully discovering that the townsfolk “consumed” by the monster were in fact simply reduced to sub-atomic proportions and entrapped in an extremely hostile new universe.

That elation is tempered however when he realises that time passes much faster there, and if the horrors inhabiting the place don’t eat them first, they will all die of old age before he can save them…

Guest-starring time-displaced hero Booster Gold, ‘Forecast Fascist Future’ focuses on Chronos and his partner in time-crime, a mysterious lady from Choi’s past, before the myriad plot-threads of the series converge and Ray Palmer returns to save the day: revealing some shocking truths to – and about – his successor in ‘Time’, a gripping conclusion to a bold epic and conclusive proof that the Tiny Titans should have been awarded more time to continue their adventures…

Alas they didn’t and the series passed away, but at least lovers of fun, fantastic fantasy Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction have these volumes to enjoy, if they can find them. Let’s all hope that DC get around to rereleasing all of them digitally ASAP…
© 2007, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Super-Friends: Saturday Morning Comics volume 2


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Bob Rozakis, Martin Pasko, Bob Oksner, Ramona Fradon, Kurt Schaffenberger, Romeo Tanghal, Joe Staton, Bob Smith, Vince Colletta & Kim DeMulder with Alex Toth & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0592-7 (HB/Digital edition)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Absolute Entertainment Perfection… 9/10

Once upon a time comics were primarily created with kids in mind and, whilst I’d never advocate exclusively going back to those days, the modern industry has for the longest time sinned by not properly addressing the needs and tastes of younger fans these days. Happily, DC has latterly been rectifying the situation with a number of new and – most importantly for old geeks like me – remastered, repackaged age-appropriate gems from their vast back catalogue.

A superb case in point of all-ages comics done right is this massive tome. And don’t stress the title: it may celebrate the joys of past childhood shows but this is definitely a great big Sunday “settle back and luxuriate” treat…

The Super Friends: Saturday Morning Comics gathers comic book tales spun off from a popular Saturday Morning TV Cartoon show of the 1970s: one that – thanks to the canny craftsmanship and loving invention of primary scripter E. Nelson Bridwell – became an integral and unmissable component of the greater DC Universe, as a well a key supplier of fresh fodder to enhance its all-encompassing omniverse. So very many of his supporting characters became superstars in their own right and trappings such as the junior characters, villains and the Hall of Justice are now key components of today’s overarching continuity…

The Super Friends was also one of the most universally thrilling and satisfying superhero titles of the period for older fans: featuring the type of smart and witty, straightforward adventures people my age grew up with, produced during a period when the entire industry was increasingly losing itself in colossal continued storylines and bombastic, convoluted, soap opera melodrama.

It’s something all creators should have tattooed on their foreheads: sometimes all you really want is a smart plot well illustrated, sinister villains well-smacked, a solid resolution and early bed…

Under various guises, the TV show Super Friends ran from 1973 to 1986: a vehicle for established television-alumni Superman, Batman and Robin, Aquaman and Wonder Woman, supplemented by a succession of studio-originated kids as student crimebusters. The show also offered airtime to occasional guest stars from the DCU on a case by case basis. The animated show made a hugely successful transition to print as part of the publisher’s 1976 foray into “boutiqued” comics which saw titles with television connections cross-marketed as “DC TV Comics”.

Child-friendly Golden Age revival Shazam! – the Original Captain Marvel had been adapted into a popular live action series and its Saturday Morning silver screen stablemate The Secrets of Isis consequently reversed the process by becoming a comic book. With the additions of hit comedy show Welcome Back Kotter and animated blockbuster Super Friends’ four-colour format, DC had a neat little outreach imprimatur tailor-made to draw viewers into the magic word of funnybooks.

At least, that was the plan: with the exception of Super Friends, none of the titles lasted more than 10 issues…

This massive mega-extravaganza (the second of 2) gathers Super Friends #27-47, The Super Friends Special #1, The Best of DC: Blur Ribbon Digest #3, Limited Collectors’ Edition C-41 and Super Friends!: Truth Justice and Peace! (collectively spanning December 1979 to August 1981), ending the initial run whilst sharing material from assorted reprints and one-shots.

The majority of stories were by E. Nelson Bridwell & Ramona Fradon (Aquaman; Batman; Metamorpho the Element Man; The Brave and the Bold; Brenda Starr, Reporter). Bridwell (Secret Six; Inferior Five; Batman; Superman; The Flash; Batman and Robin newspaper strip; Legion of Super-Heroes; Captain Marvel/Shazam!) had been one of the art form’s earliest mega-fans, turning his hobby into a career in the 1950s.

He was justly renowned as DC’s Keeper of Lore and Continuity Cop – thanks to an astoundingly encyclopaedic knowledge of publishing minutiae and ability to instantly recall every damn thing about anything! Thankfully, he was also an ingenious and supremely witty writer. Fradon was a pioneering artist who also got her start in the 1950s, graced with a uniquely smooth and accessible style. She became one of comics’ earliest (acknowledged!) female artists and was a fan-favourite for generations.

Neither Bridwell or Fradon considered working at the junior end of the market as in any way less important or prestigious than the auteur/adult drama sector just starting to manifest in the American industry…

When Super Friends first aired, the costumed champions were mentors to two kids and their pet: tasked with training the next generation of superheroes. Without warning or explanation, Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog were replaced for the second television season by alien shapeshifters Zan and Jayna and their elastic-tailed space monkey Gleek. In the comics – with more room to extrapolate and far more consideration for the fans – Bridwell turned the cast change into an extended epic.

When two siblings from distant planet Exor – a girl able to transform into animals and a boy who can become any form of water from steam to ice – came to Earth with an urgent warning they saved the world and were marooned here.

Their integration became an ongoing plot strand with the adults (and Robin) not only training Zan and Jayna, but also jointly acclimating them and introducing them into human society…

This concluding compilation of thrilling fun resumes with The Super Friends #27 and ‘The Spacemen Who Stole Atlantis!’ (Bridwell, Fradon & inker Bob Smith) sees domed undersea city Poseidonis stolen away by ruthlessly curious alien scientists who had not factored in Earth’s greatest defenders.

Inked by Vince Colletta, the next issue detailed a ‘Masquerade of Madness!’ in a Halloween yarn packed with guest stars (including Etrigan the Demon, Solomon Grundy, Man-Bat, Swamp Thing and Jimmy “wolfboy” Olsen) as mystic malcontent Felix Faust crashes a costume ball, trapping attendees in their outfits until Bruce Wayne hands over a certain magical gem… And that’s when the other – untransformed – Super Friends step in…

Another extraterrestrial invasion by colonising invaders seeking to evict humanity manifests in #29, with the new bosses wielding technology that seems to make all resistance futile. However, Wonder Woman and the Wonder Twins find a work-around meaning the war can be won by the heroes making themselves ‘Invisible Defenders of Earth!’

The issue also offers an adventure of the Wonder Twins, who now have secret identities and live in the home of guardian Professor Carter Nichols – Bruce Wayne’s science advisor/time travel expert who debuted in Batman #24, August 1944.

Here Bridwell, Kurt Schaffenberger & Smith establish the ‘Scholars from the Stars’ as transfer students at Gotham Central High, but John and Joanna Fleming are soon being stalked by curious classmates eager to learn all they can about the strange newcomers…

Nichols plays a major role in #30 as Fradon-illustrated ‘Gorilla Warfare Against the Humans!’ sees the heroes battle super-primate Grodd and his ally Giganta as they deploy their new tech to transform men into apes…

Guest stars were always a big draw and #31’s ‘How to Trap an Orchid!’ (inked by Colletta) saw DC’s most enigmatic hero targeted and framed by a ruthless enemy and helped by the Friends before Schaffenberger pencilled and Smith inked #32’s ‘The Scarecrow Fights with Fear!’ as the Tyrant of Terror afflicts the heroes with crippling weaponised personal phobias that only teamwork and determination can overcome

Fradon & Colletta combine for ‘The Secret of the Stolen Solitaire!’ as obsessive old enemy Menagerie Man returns, still using trained animals to commit spectacular robberies. His schemes are derailed when Jayna becomes a famously extinct creature and is “captured”, leading the heroes and visiting VIP Hawkman to his lair and the Winged Wonder’s captive sidekick Big Red

With #34, two stories per issue became the norm, leading with Bridwell, Fradon & Colletta’s ‘The Creature That Slept a Million Years!’, in which a hibernating beast awakened on Earth causes inadvertent chaos, balanced by ‘The Boss and the Beast’ as John and Joanna Fleming help their favourite teacher by saving her husband from a crooked boss fitting him up for a life of crime…

Romeo Tanghal & Smith illustrate full-length spectacle ‘Circus of the Super-Stars’ as the Super Friends and their showbiz impersonators trade places to outwit crooks targeting a massive charity event, before #36 bifurcates with a brace of tales limned by Tanghal & Colletta. First up is ‘Warhead Strikes at Gotham’ with Plastic Man and Woozy Winks tracking a war-mongering maniac and overlapping with the Super Friends battle to stop a paramilitary criminal force, after which The Wonder Twins visit a museum in their school personas and discover the shocking truth about ‘The Dinosaur Demon!’

Fradon & Colletta depict #37’s ‘Bad Weather for Supergirl!’ as the Kryptonian Crime-crusher (in her then-current day job as teacher) brings a class to Gotham just as the Weather Wizard goes on a rampage. Kara’s problem is not the villain’s outrages but that her kids seem far more impressed by the late-arriving superteam than their own hometown hero…

Drama is balanced by rampant fantasy in support story ‘The Giant Who Shrunk Ireland!’, with Bridwell’s creation Jack O’Lantern using his magical gifts to save the Celtic fairy realms from an awakened Fomorean Giant.

Jack was one of a number of international heroes Bridwell and Fradon devised, who grew in popularity and were eventually retrofitted into a team dubbed the Global Guardians. Another debuted in a solo spot at the back of #38, after ‘The Fate of the Phantom Super Friends’ (art by Fradon & Colletta), which saw alien tyrant Grax recruit and arm Earth gangsters to take revenge on his enemies. Then Bob Oksner & DeMulder illustrate ‘The Seraph’s Day of Atonement’ as Bridwell relocates his Israeli holy warrior to a new Jewish settlement in disputed territory just in time to save it from bandits pretending to be Arab terrorists. When, in his righteous anger, he goes too far in punishing the evildoers, he faces divine consequences…

Another former foe resurfaces in #39 with a sinister scheme to create hyper-evolved clones of the only being he trusts… himself. However, ‘The ‘Future’ Son of Overlord!’ (Fradon & Colletta) proves insufficient to the demands and the demise of “Futurio” only results in Overlord cruelly retrenching, after which the human-seeming Wonder Twins discover nightclubs are another place crazy crime can occur in ‘The Boogie Mania Will Get You’ (Tanghal & Collett)…

Inked by Kim DeMulder, #40’s lead tale ‘Menace of the Mixed-Up Senses!’ pits the heroes against a vindictive scientist creating disasters by scrambling perceptions, before Jack O’Lantern returns to teach a smooth-talking conman a life lesson in ‘Blarney for Sale!’ (Bridwell, Tanghal & DeMulder)

Bob Rozakis joins Fradon & Colletta in detailing ‘The Toyman’s Tricky Thefts!’ as the veteran villain attacks a Christmas toy convention as prelude to his true diabolical plan, whilst the rear guard of #41 witnesses Oksner write & illustrate ‘Dry Earth… Stolen Waters’ as The Seraph foils an industrial spy stealing the secrets of an experimental desalination device…

In Seasonal Special #42, Bridwell, Tanghal & Colletta debut Brazilian hero Beatriz Da Costa (AKA Green Fury, Green Flame and/or Fire) who joins the Wayne Foundation just in time to help the Super Friends defeat a vegetation-controlling villain in ‘How Green Was My Gotham!’ and still leave room for the Wonder Twins to enjoy ‘A Christmas with Everything!’ in a heartwarming tale of family and little miracles…

Overlord tries again in #43, unleashing ‘Futurio Times Ten!’ to destroy the collegiate heroes, (and Green Fury) but fails when the over-evolved clone develops an unholy fascination with potential mate Wonder Woman, after which Plastic Man bounces back in ‘Mouth-Trap!’ by Pasko, Staton & Smith, taking down thieving shock jock Lou Kwashus – AKA Chatterbox

Issue #44 leads with Bridwell, Tanghal & Colletta’s ‘Peril of the Forgotten Identities!’ as a menace from the Wonder Twins’ homeworld warps the memories of the team leaving Zan, Jayna & Beatriz to save the day. As counterpoint, Jack O’Lantern then solves a snag in the (super)natural order by ensuring ‘The Death-Cry of the Banshee!’ is heard by the right person…

The “International Heroes” who would become Global Guardians (Rising Sun, Bushmaster, Olympian, Wild Huntsman, Godiva and Little Mermaid) were formally gathered by immortal wizard Doctor Mist in #45 and united with the Super Friends to defeat ‘The Man Who Collected Villains!’

Another classic by Bridwell, Tanghal & Colletta, it pits the merged squads against uber-baddie The Conqueror and his personal Doom Legion – Hector Hammond, Kanjar Ro, Queen Bee, Sinestro, Time Trapper and World-Beater – in a brutal clash that concludes in the next issue.

Before that though, courtesy of Pasko, Staton & Smith, Plastic Man & Woozy discover ‘One of Our Barbarians Is Missing!’ and must halt the rampage of a temporarily-deranged movie swordsman being manipulated by devious crooks…

The frantic Fights ‘n’ Tights clash then results in ‘The Conqueror’s Greatest Conquest!’ (Bridwell, Tanghal & Colletta) – and ultimate downfall before The Seraph battles an ‘Echo of Evil’ and the ghosts of Masada (look it up) in an all-Oksner thriller.

The comic book Super Friends ended with #47: a 25-page epic by Bridwell, Tanghal & Colletta detailing the origin of Green Fury, a plane of animal spirits and ‘The Demons from the Green Hell!’ whose actions sought to unmake the world until the team stepped up…

Times and tastes were changing and it would be years until superheroes – and not toy tie-ins – for kids were a viable option again: when once again TV led that march with breakthrough adaptations of Batman, Superman and Justice League Animated Series…

Here and now, this epic collation closes with series designer Alex Toth’s 1976 cover for Limited Collectors’ Edition C-41 and The Best of DC: Blur Ribbon Digest #3 (January-February 1980) cover by José Luis García-López & Bob Smith. Also on view is Ross Andru & Dick Giordano’s cover from The Super Friends Special #1 1981 and Toth’s frontage from the 2003 Super Friends!: Truth Justice and Peace! trade paperback collection.

Sublimely resplendent in the rich flavours and simple joys of DC’s Silver Age boom, and with covers by Fradon, Smith, Schaffenberger, Tanghal, & Colletta, this concluding compendium is superbly entertaining, masterfully crafted and utterly engaging. It offers stories of pure comics gold to delight children and adults in equal proportion. Truly generational in appeal, they are probably the closest thing to an American answer to the magic of Tintin or Asterix and no family home should be without this tome.
© 1976, 1979, 1980, 1981, 2003, 2020 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: Strange Attractors


By Gail Simone, Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, John Byrne & Nelson (DC Comics)
ISBN 978-1-4012-0917-9 (TPB)

Here’s a Superman collection tailored to the fight fan, as the mighty Man of Steel takes on a bevy of baddies in terse tales designed as an antidote to an over-abundance of multi-chapter epics. I’m focussing on it here primarily because it’s also a complication- and continuity-light compendium featuring movie Man of the Moment Black Adam

Created by Otto Binder & C.C. Beck, Black Adam/Teth Adam debuted in The Marvel Family #1, cover-dated December 1945. There he was revealed as the power-corrupted predecessor of current magical superhero (the Original…) Captain Marvel. The Egyptian relic’s reign of evil ended with his death at the end of the story…

You can’t keep a good villain down though, and when the Golden Age Marvel was revived in the 1970s as Shazam!, the ancient antithesis eventually returned to bedevil the heroes. He even survived the continuity changing chaos of Crisis on Infinite Earths and numerous subsequent reboots.

For present purposes, the following is the backstory new readers should access…

Once upon a time Billy Batson was a little boy living on the streets of Fawcett City. His archaeologist parents had left him with an uncle when they went on a dig to Egypt. They never returned, his little sister vanished and Billy was thrown out so his guardian could steal his inheritance.

Sleeping in a storm drain and selling newspapers for cash, the indomitable lad grew street-smart and resilient, but when a shadowy stranger bade him follow into an eerie subway, the boy somehow knew it was all okay. Soon after, he met the wizard Shazam, who bestowed upon him the powers of six ancient Gods and Heroes.

Thus began an astounding career as wholesome powerhouse hero Captain Marvel. Billy eventually found lost sister Mary and shared his nigh-infinite power with her, as they both subsequently did with disabled friend Freddy Freeman.

They fought and eventually reached an accommodation with militant progenitor Black Adam, who was the wizard’s first superhuman champion, reborn in the body of Theo Adam – a distant descendant who had murdered the Batson’s parents. When a succession of crises arose, everything changed.

Immortal Shazam was murdered, Billy was exiled to the transcendent Rock of Eternity as his replacement and Freddy became a new Captain Marvel; his mighty gifts supplied by a completely different pantheon of patrons.

Meanwhile, Black Adam had found peace and redemption in the love of ascendant nature goddess Isis …until she was cruelly taken from him. The worst tragedies befell poor Mary. Deprived of her intoxicating powers she became an addict without a fix… until soul-sick Adam shared his dark energies with her. His corrupted spirit fatally tainted the once-vibrant innocent…

During his lost phase, the Egyptian warrior vacillated between hard-line hero and outright menace: joining the Justice Society of America but also arbitrarily administering his old testament brand of judgement whenever he felt the need…

This selection of Superman stories comes from Action Comics #827-828, and #830-835 (spanning July 2005 through March 2006). The run of was originally interrupted for the “Sacrifice” storyline (and collected as a graphic novel of the same name), so the volume reconvenes with the episode after…

First up is eponymous 2-part saga ‘Strange Attractors’ and Strange Attractors part 2 – Positive Reinforcement’: a battle against the incredibly bad and quite mad Master of Magnetism Dr Polaris, aided, if not abetted, by the resurrected reprobate Black Adam, currently holding a high position in supervillain army The Society

Following the aforementioned Sacrifice pause, we reconvene with #830’s ‘The Great Society’ as the Man of Tomorrow tackles Dr. Psycho. The old Wonder Woman villain is a physically stunted, sadistic psychologist with the power to control minds. When he arrives in Metropolis intent on mischief, Superman finds that every citizen is a foe and hostage at the same time.

Once again, Black Adam is on hand to render ambivalent assistance as ‘Black & Blue’ (a Villains United tie-in) sees Adam reassess his role before it all devolves into the obligatory fist fight.

Scripted by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning ‘Old Ghosts’ sees Devil-surrogate Lord Satanus and the Spectre use the city as a phantasmal Ground Zero next, and, after refereeing that little cataclysm, Superman finds himself the target of a psychic and spiritual assault from old JLA foe The Queen of Fables in ‘Depths’ and ‘Awake in the Dark’ – with Norm Rapmund, Larry Stucker, Marc Campos, & Oclair Albert joining Nelson in applying inks to John Byrne’s pencils..

The furious ferocious fun concludes in a duel with Livewire, that perky punkette with absolute control of all things electrical who contracts ‘A Contagion of Madness’ with Gail Simone, John Byrne and inker Nelson delivering potent, punchy and self-contained mini-classics.

Not overly complicated, concentrating on exhilaration and excitement, but still managing to sustain some tense sub-plots involving Lois Lane-Kent and the rest of the venerable supporting cast, these stories are just plain fun. It’s a shame that the experiment doesn’t seem to have caught on …
© 2005, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore


By Dennis O’Neil, Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0755 (HB/Digital edition)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Total Entertainment Perfection… 10/10

Superman is the comic book crusader who started the whole genre and, in the decades since his 1938 debut, has probably undertaken every kind of adventure imaginable. With that in mind it’s tempting and very rewarding to gather up whole swathes of his inventory and periodically re-present them in specific themed collections, such as this hardback celebrating one his greatest extended adventures. The episodes contained within were originally released just as comics fandom was becoming a powerful – if headless – lobbying force reshaping the industry to its own specialised desires and remains a true landmark of the superhero genre.

When Julie Schwartz took over editorial responsibility for the Man of Steel in 1970, he was expected to shake things up with nothing less than spectacular results. To that end, he sagely incorporated many key characters and events that were simultaneously developing as part of fellow iconoclast Jack Kirby’s freshly unfolding “Fourth World”.

That bold experiment was a breathtaking tour de force of cosmic wonderment which brought a staggering new universe to fans: instantly and permanently changing the way comics were perceived and how the entire medium could be received.

Schwartz, meanwhile, was again breathing fresh life into a powerful but moribund icon – a job he had been excelling at since he more-or-less singlehandedly kickstarted the Silver Age of Comics. Superman had been a mega-media star since his launch, with internationally syndicated comics, books, newspaper strips, movie and cinema serials plus hugely successful radio and TV shows (live action and animated) making the franchise globally recognizable. Whenever that happens, inevitably overkill and overexposure inescapably set in and the core property needs to be carefully overhauled or vanish forever. I’ll bet you can think of plenty of really famous and ubiquitous things from your childhood that one day you simply stopped noticing. Happily, sometimes they can be reborn…

Schwartz knew his market and was open to new ideas, and his creative changes were just appearing in 1971. The new direction was also vanguard and trigger for a wealth of controversial and socially-challenging story content unheard of since the feature’s earliest days: a wave of tales ultimately described as “Relevant”…

The era itself and those vital changes are described and contextualised in Paul Levitz’s Introduction, after which the crucial radical shift in Superman’s vast mythology starts to unfold.

With iconic covers by Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Carmine Infantino & Murphy Anderson, this titanic tome collects Superman #233-238 and #240-242, originally running from January to September 1971.

The groundbreaking epic was crafted by scripter Dennis J. “Denny” O’Neil, and veteran illustrators Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson – although stand-in Dick Giordano inked #240. A deliberate and very public abandonment of super-villains, fanciful Kryptonian scenarios and otherworldly paraphernalia instantly revitalised the Man of Tomorrow, attracting new readers and began a period of engagingly human-scaled stories which made Superman a “must-buy” character all over again.

The innovations began in ‘Superman Breaks Loose’ (Superman #233) when a government experiment to harness Kryptonite as an energy source goes explosively wrong. Closely monitoring the test, the Action Ace is blasted across the desert surrounding the isolated lab, but somehow survives a supposedly fatal radiation-bath. Then, reports begin filtering in from all over Earth: every piece of the deadly mineral has been transformed to harmless, common iron…

As he goes about his protective, preventative patrols, the liberated hero experiences an emotional high at the prospect of all the good he can now accomplish. He isn’t even phased when the Daily Planet‘s new owner Morgan Edge (a key Kirby character) shakes up his civilian life: summarily ejecting Clark Kent from the print game to remaking him as a roving TV journalist…

Meanwhile, the desert site of his recent crashlanding offers a moment of deep foreboding as Superman’s irradiated imprint in the sand shockingly grows solid and shambles away in ghastly parody of life…

The suspense resumes in #234’s ‘How to Tame a Wild Volcano!’ as an out-of-control plantation owner refuses to let his indentured native workforce flee an imminent eruption on the island of Boki. Handicapped by misused international laws, the Man of Tomorrow can only fume helplessly as the UN rushes towards a diplomatic solution. His anxiety intensifies when a sinister sand-thing inadvertently passes him and agonisingly drains him of his powers.

Crashing to Earth in a turbulent squall, the de-powered hero is attacked by work boss Boysie Harker‘s thugs and instantly responds to the foolish provocation, relying for a change on determination rather than overwhelming might to save the day…

The ‘Sinister Scream of the Devil’s Harp’ in #235 gave way to weirder ways – the industry was enjoying a periodic revival of interest in supernatural themes and stories – as mystery musician and apparent polymath Ferlin Nyxly reveals the secret of his ever-growing aptitudes and gifts is an archaic artefact which steals from living beings knowledge, talents and even Superman’s alien abilities.

The Man of Steel is initially unaware of the drain, as he’s trying to communicate with his eerily silent doppelganger, but once Nyxly graduates to a full-on raving super-menace self-dubbed Pan, the taciturn homunculus unexpectedly joins its living template to trounce the power thief…

Issue #236 offered a Batman cameo and a science fictional morality play as cherubic aliens seek Superman’s assistance to defeat a band of devils and rescue Kent’s friends from Hell. However, the ‘Planet of the Angels’ is nothing of the kind, and the Metropolis Marvel must pull out all the stops to save Earth from a very real Armageddon, after which Superman #237 sees him save an orbiting astronaut only to see him succumb to madness-inducing mutative disease. After another savage confrontation with the sand-thing further debilitates him, the harried hero is present as more mortals fall to the contagion.

Believing himself the cause, the ‘Enemy of Earth’ considers quarantining in space. As he decides, Lois Lane stumbles into another lethal predicament and the hero’s instinctive intervention seemingly confirms his earlier diagnosis, but another clash with the ever-present sandy simulacrum on the edge of space presents an incredible truth. Painfully debilitated, Superman nevertheless saves Lois and again meets the evermore human creature. Now able to speak, it offers a chilling warning and the Man of Steel realises exactly what it is taking from him and what it might become…

A mere shadow of his former self, the Man of Tomorrow is unable to prevent a band of terrorists taking over a magma-tapping drilling rig and endangering the entire Earth in #238’s ‘Menace at 1000 Degrees’. With Lois among their hostages and the madmen threatening to detonate a nuke in the pipeline, the Action Ace desperately begs his doppelganger to assist him, but its cold rejection forces the depleted hero to take the biggest gamble of his life…

Superman #239 was an all-reprint giant featuring the hero in his incalculably all-powerful days – so not included here – but the diminished Caped Kryptonian returned in #240 (with Giordano inks) to confront his own lessened state and seek a solution in ‘To Save a Superman’. The trigger is his inability to extinguish a tenement fire and the wider world’s realisation that their unconquerable champion is now vulnerable and fallible…

Especially interested are the Anti-Superman Gang who immediately allocate all resources to destroying their nemesis. After one particularly close call, Clark is visited by an ancient Asian sage who somehow knows his other identity and offers an unconventional solution…

From 1968 superhero comics began to decline – just as they had at the end of the 1940s – so publishers sought fresh ways to keep audience as tastes changed. Back then, the industry depended on newsstand sales, and if you weren’t popular, you died. Editor Jack Miller, innovating illustrator Mike Sekowsky and relatively new scripter Denny O’Neil came up with a radical proposal and made history by depowering the only female superhero then in the marketplace. They had the mystical Amazons leave our dimension, taking with them all their magic – including Wonder Woman‘s powers and all her weapons…

Reduced to mere humanity she chose to stay on Earth, assuming and legitimising her own secret identity of Diana Prince: resolved to fighting injustice as a mortal. Tutored by blind Buddhist monk I Ching, she trained as a martial artist, and quickly became a formidable enemy of contemporary evil.

I Ching claims he can repair Superman’s difficulties and dwindling might, but evil eyes are watching. Arriving clandestinely, Superman allows the adept to remove his Kryptonian powers as a precursor to restoring them, allowing the A-S Gang opportunity to strike. In the resultant brutal melee, the all-too-human hero triumphs in the hardest fight of his life…

The saga continues with “Swan-derson” back on art in #241 as Superman overcomes momentary but almost overwhelming temptation to surrender his oppressive burden and lead a normal life. Admonished and resolved, he then submits to Ching’s resumed remedy ritual and finds his spirit soaring to where the sand-being lurks before explosively reclaiming the stolen powers. Leaving the gritty golem a shattered husk, the phantom brings the awesome energies back to their true owner and a triumphant hero returns to saving the world…

Over the next few days, however, it becomes clear that something has gone wrong. The Man of Tomorrow has become arrogant, erratic and unpredictable, acting rashly, overreacting and even making stupid mistakes. In her boutique Diana Prince discusses the problem with Ching and the sagacious teacher deduces that whilst merely mortal and fighting AS gangsters, Superman received punishing blows to the head which have caused a brain injury that did not heal after his powers returned…

When the hero refuses to listen, Diana and Ching track down the dying sand-thing and beg its aid. The elderly savant recognises it as a formless creature from other-dimensional Quarrm and listens to the amazing story of its entrance into our world. He also suggests a way for it to regain some of what it recently lost…

Superman, meanwhile, has blithely gone about his deranged business until savagely attacked by a statue of a Chinese war-demon. Also able to steal his power, it has been possessed by a second fugitive from Quarrm. It has no conscience and wears ‘The Shape of Fear!…

The shocking saga concludes in ‘The Ultimate Battle’ as the second Quarrmer falls under the sway of two petty thugs who use it to put the again de-powered Superman into hospital…

Rushed into emergency surgery, the Kryptonian fights for his life as sand-thing confronts war-demon in the streets, but events take an even more bizarre turn once the latter drives off its foe and turns towards the hospital to finish off the flesh-&-blood Superman. Regaining consciousness – and a portion of his power – the Metropolis Marvel battles the beast to a standstill but needs the aid of his silicon stand-in to drive the thing back beyond the pale. With the immediate threat ended, Man of Steel and Man of Sand face off one last time, each determined to ensure his own existence no matter the cost…

The stunning conclusion was a brilliant stroke on the part of the creators, one which left Superman approximately half the man he used to be. Of course, all too soon he returned to his unassailable, god-like power levels but never quite regained the tension-free smug assurance of his 1950s-1960s self.

A fresh approach, snappy dialogue and more human-scaled concerns to balance outrageous implausible fantasy elements all wedded to gripping plots and sublime art make Kryptonite Nevermore one of the very best Superman sagas ever created. Also included are creator biographies, the iconic ‘House Ad’ by Swan & Vince Colletta which proclaimed the big change throughout the DC Universe, plus a thoughtful ‘Afterword by Dennis O’Neil’ to wraps things up with some insights and reminiscences every lover of the medium will appreciate.

A must-have graphic novel to sit on the same shelf as Watchmen, Batman: Year One, Segar’s Popeye, Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse, Kirby & Lee’s Galactus Trilogy and Chaykin’s American Flagg!: a shining exemplar of action- adventure comics captured at their most perfect moment. Why don’t you have this yet?
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