The Complete Peanuts volume 3: 1955-1956


By Charles Schulz (Canongate Books/Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84767-075-5 (Canongate HB):             978-1-56097-647-9 (Fantagraphics HB)

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal. At its height, the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, as they have ever since Schulz’ departure. Book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

Cartoonist Charles M Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical epic for half a century. During that time he published 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000, and died – from the complications of cancer – the day before his last strip was printed…

None of that is really the point. Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, but one the syndicate imposed upon him – changed the way newspaper strips were received and perceived, and proved that cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punch lines.

Following a heartfelt and clearly awestruck Foreword from contemporary cartoon genius Matt Groening, this third gargantuan landscape hardback compendium (218 by 33 by 172 mm in the solid world and infinitely variable in its digital iterations) offers in potent monochrome the fifth and sixth years in the life of Charlie Brown and Co: an ever-evolving bombardment of cruel insight and bitingly barbed hilarity.

Here our increasing browbeaten but resolutely optimistic little round head and his high-maintenance mutt Snoopy respond with increasing bewilderment to the rapidly changing world of TV, sports, games and especially peers who seem designed only to vex, belittle or embarrass the introspective everyboy.

Gaining far greater prominence is obnoxious “fussbudget” Lucy who, with her infant sibling Linus – an actual architectural idiot savant – are getting more and more of the best lines and set-ups. Another up and comer settling in (amidst a cloud of dust and detritus) is hapless toxic innocent ‘Pig-Pen’: a sad clown in the grand manner, buffeted by a cruel condition but manfully persevering throughout…

Bombastic Shermy and mercurial Patty are slowly being eased out, and brusque Violet is slowly losing ground to gags starring Beethoven-obsessed, long-suffering musical prodigy Schroeder. Linus’ mystic tranquiliser the Security Blanket also gains greater prominence, but his anxiety peaks exponentially whenever raucous, strident newcomer Charlotte Braun ambles by…

The daily diet of rapid-fire gags had now successfully evolved from raucous slapstick to surreal, edgy, psychologically honed introspection, crushing peer-judgements and deep rumination in a world where kids – and certain animals – were the only actors, although even inanimate objects occasionally got into the action with malice aforethought…

The relationships, however, were ever-evolving: deep, complex and absorbing even though “Sparky” Schulz never deviated from his core message to entertain…

The first Sunday page had debuted on January 6th 1952: a standard half-page slot offering more measured fare than the daily. Both thwarted ambition and explosive frustration became part of the strip’s signature denouements and continue to develop here. There are some pure gem examples of running gag mastery in here too, regarding Lucy’s ongoing relationship to certain snowmen of her own macabre devising and mounting jealousy that her predestined inamorata would rather look at plaster busts of Beethoven than upon her living form…

Perennial touchstones on display herein include playing, playing pranks, playing sports, playing golf, playing baseball, playing in mud, playing in snow, playing musical instruments, playing marbles, the rules of croquet, learning to read, coping with increasingly intransigent if not actually malevolent kites, teasing each other, making baffled observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups.

New themes include America’s fascination with flying saucers, ditto for TV sensation Davy Crockett, art appreciation and Snoopy’s growing desire to be anything but a maligned and put-upon little dog. Especially one starved of tasty treats and bonbons…

The soft-soap ostracization of Charlie Brown and his expressions of alienation are well explored but in truth Lucy is the real star here, with episodes seeing her seeking to become Mayor of the United States, duelling Snoopy with skipping ropes and investigating the mystery of why the planet is getting smaller…

More exploration of Snoopy’s incredible inner mindscape can be seen here and there are plenty of season-appropriate gags about summer sun, winter snow and the Fall of leaves as well as riffs on festive events such as Halloween, Easter and Christmas. During this time Good Ol’ Charlie starts getting those stress-induced head and stomach aches…

And best of all, auteur Schulz is in brilliant imaginative form crafting a myriad of purely graphic visual gags any surrealist would give their nose-teeth to have come up with…

Now and forevermore Charlie Brown – although still a benign dreamer with his eyes affably affixed on the stars – is solidly locked on the path to his eternal loser, singled-out-by-fate persona and the sheer diabolical wilfulness of Lucy starts sharpening itself on everyone around her…

Adding to the enjoyment and elucidation, a copious ‘Index’ offers instant access to favourite scenes you’d like to see again, after which Gary Groth reviews the life of ‘Charles M. Schulz: 1922-2000’, rounding out our glimpse of the dolorous graphic genius with intimate revelations and reminiscences…

Still readily available, this volume offers the perfect example of a masterpiece in motion: comedy gold and social glue gradually metamorphosing in an epic of spellbinding graphic mastery which became part of the fabric of billions of lives, and which continues to do so long after its maker’s passing.

How can you possibly resist?
The Complete Peanuts: 1955-1956 (Volume Three) © 2004 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. Foreword © 2005 Matt Groening. “Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000” © 2004 Gary Groth. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: Tintin and the Broken Ear


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-617-4 (HB)                    : 978-0-416-57030-5 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécles children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

After six years of continuous week-by-week improvement, Hergé was approaching his mastery when he began The Broken Ear. His characterisations were firm in his mind, and the storyteller was creating a memorable not to say iconic supporting cast, whilst balancing between crafting satisfactory single instalments and building a cohesive longer narrative.

The version reprinted here (in either hardback or softcover as you prefer) was repackaged in colour by the artist and his studio in 1945, although the original ran as monochrome 2-page weekly instalments from 1935-1937, but there are still evident signs of his stylistic transition in this hearty, exotic mystery tale that makes Indiana Jones look like a boorish, po-faced amateur.

Back from China, Tintin hears of an odd robbery at the Museum of Ethnography and, rushing over, finds the detectives Thompson and Thomson already on the case in their own unique manner.

A relatively valueless carved wooden Fetish Figure made by the Arumbaya Indians has been taken from the South American exhibit. Bafflingly, it was returned the next morning, but the intrepid boy reporter is the first to realise that it’s a fake, since the original statue had a broken right ear.

Perhaps coincidentally, a minor sculptor has been found dead in his flat…

Thus begins a frenetic and enthralling chase to find not just who has the real statue but also why a succession of rogues attempt to secure the dead sculptor’s irreverent and troublesome parrot, with the atmospheric action encompassing the modern urban metropolis, an ocean-going liner and the steamy, turbulent Republic of San Theodoros.

Hhere the valiant lad becomes embroiled in an on-again, off-again Revolution. Eventually, though, our focus moves to the deep jungle where Tintin finally meets the Arumbayas and a long-lost explorer, finally getting one step closer to solving the pan-national mystery.

Whilst unrelenting in my admiration for Hergé I must interject a necessary note of praise for translators Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner here. Their light touch has been integral to the English-language success of Tintin, and their skill and whimsy is never better seen than in their dialoguing of the Arumbayas.

Just read aloud and think Eastenders

The slapstick and mayhem incrementally build to a wonderfully farcical conclusion with justice soundly served all around, all whilst solid establishing a perfect template for many future yarns: especially those that would perforce be crafted without a political or satirical component during Belgium’s grim occupation by the Nazis.

Here, however, Hergé’s developing social conscience and satirical proclivities are fully exercised in a telling sub-plot about rival armaments manufacturers using an early form of shuttle diplomacy to gull the leaders of both San Theodoros and its neighbour Nuevo-Rico into a war simply to increase company profits, and once again oil speculators would have felt the sting of his pen – if indeed they were capable of any feeling…

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, there’s no better time to rectify that sorry situation.

The Broken Ear: artwork © 1945, 1984 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1975 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

The Dick Tracy Casebook – Favorite Adventures 1931-1990


By Chester Gould, selected by Max Allan Collins and Dick Locher (St. Martins/Penguin)
ISBN: 978-0-31204-461-9 (HB)                978-0-14014-568-7 (PB)

All things considered, comics have a pretty good track record on creating household names. We could play the game of picking the most well-known fictional characters on Earth (usually topped by Sherlock Holmes, Mickey Mouse, Superman and Tarzan) and in that list you’ll find Batman, Popeye, Blondie, Charlie Brown, Tintin, Spider-Man, Garfield, and not so much now – but once upon a time – Dick Tracy.

At the height of the Great Depression cartoonist Chester Gould was looking for strip ideas. The story goes that as a decent guy incensed by the exploits of gangsters (like Al Capone who monopolised the front pages of contemporary newspapers) he settled upon the only way a normal man could fight thugs: Passion and Public Opinion.

Raised in Oklahoma, Gould was a Chicago resident and hated seeing his home town in the grip of such wicked men, with far too many honest citizens beguiled by the gangsters’ power and charisma.

He decided to pictorially get it off his chest with a procedural crime thriller that championed the ordinary cops who protected civilisation. He took “Plainclothes Tracy” to legendary newspaperman and strips Svengali Captain Joseph Patterson, whose golden touch had blessed such strips as Gasoline Alley, The Gumps, Little Orphan Annie, Winnie Winkle, Smilin’ Jack, Moon Mullins and Terry and the Pirates among others.

Casting his gifted eye on the work, Patterson renamed the stern protagonist Dick Tracy and revised his love interest into steady girlfriend Tess Truehart.

The series launched on October 4th 1931 through Patterson’s Chicago Tribune Syndicate and rapidly became a huge hit, with all the attendant media and merchandising hoopla that follows.

Amidst the toys, games, movies, serials, animated features, TV shows et al, the strip soldiered on, influencing generations of creators and entertaining millions of fans. If you’ve never seen the original legend in action this collection – still readily available and released to accompany the Warren Beatty movie in 1990 – is a great introduction.

Selected by Max Allen Collins and Dick Locher, who worked on the strip after Gould retired, it presents complete adventures from each decade of the strip’s existence to date, and gives a grand overview of the development from radical ultra-violent adventure to forensic Police Procedural through increasingly fantastical science fiction and finally back-to-basics cop thriller under Collins’ own script tenure.

From the 1930s comes the memorable and uncharacteristic ‘The Hotel Murders’ (9th March – 27th April, 1936) wherein the terrifyingly determined cop solves a genuine mystery with a sympathetic antagonist instead of the usual unmitigated, unrepentant outlaw.

Whodunits with clues, false trails and tests of wits were counterproductive in a slam-bang, daily strip with a large cast and soap-opera construction, but this necessarily short tale follows all the ground rules as Tracy, adopted boy side-kick Junior, special agent Jim Trailer and the boys on the Beat track down the killer of a notorious gambler.

The best case of the 1940s – and for many the best ever – was ‘The Brow’ (22nd May – 26th September, 1944) in which the team must track down a ruthless and brilliant Nazi spy. As my own personal favourite, I’m doing you all the favour of saying no more about this compelling, breathtaking yarn, and you’ll thank me for it, but I will say that this is a complete reprinting, as others have been edited for violence and one edition simply left out every Sunday instalment – which is my own definition of policed brutality.

By the 1950s Gould was at his creative peak. ‘Crewy Lou’ (22nd April – 4th November, 1951) and ‘Model’ (23rd January – 27th March, 1952) are perfect examples of the range of his abilities. The first is an epic of minor crimes and criminals escalating into major menaces whilst the latter is another short shocker with the conservative Gould showing that social ills could still move him to action in a tale of juvenile delinquency as Junior grows into a teenager and experiences his first love affair…

As with many creators in it for the long haul the revolutionary 1960s were a harsh time for established cartoonists. Along with Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon, Dick Tracy especially foundered in a social climate of radical change where the popular slogans included “Never trust anybody over 21” and “Smash the Establishment”.

The strip’s momentum faltered, perhaps as much from the shift towards science fiction themes (Tracy moved into space and the alien character Moon Maid was introduced) as any old-fashioned attitudes.

In the era when strip proportions had begun to diminish as papers put advertising space above feature clarity, his artwork had attained dizzying levels of creativity: mesmerising, nigh-abstract concoctions of black-&-white that grabbed the eye no matter what size editors printed it. ‘Spots’ (3rd August – 30th November) 1960 comes from just before the worst excesses, but still displays the artist’s stark, chiaroscurist mastery in a terse thriller that shows the fundamental secret of Tracy’s success and longevity – Hot Pursuit wedded to Grim Irony.

The 1970s are represented by ‘Big Boy’s Open Contract’ (12th June – 30th December 1978) by Max Allen Collins & Rick Fletcher. Although he retired in 1977, Gould still consulted with the new creative team, and this third outing for the new guys saw the long-awaited return of Big Boy, a thinly disguised Capone analogue Tracy had sent to prison at the very start of his career, and whose last try for revenge tragically cost the hero a loved one and forever changed the strip.

Representing the 1980s, the final tale is ‘The Man of a Million Faces’ (October 5th 1987 – April 10th 1988) by Collins & Dick Locher. Like Fletcher, this illustrator was an art assistant to Gould who took up the master’s mantle.

Despite the simply unimaginable variety of crimes and criminals Tracy has brought to book, this sneaky story of a bank robber and his perfect gimmick proves that sometimes the back to basics approach leads to the best results.

Dick Tracy is a milestone strip that has influenced all popular fiction, not simply comics. Baroque villains, outrageous crimes and fiendish death-traps pollinated the work of numerous strips and comics such as Batman, but his studied use – and startlingly accurate predictions – of crime-fighting technology and techniques gave the world a taste of cop thrillers, police procedurals and forensic mysteries decades before shows such as such as CSI and The Coroner made the disciplines everyday coinage.

This is a fantastically readable strip and this chronological primer is a wonderful way to ease yourself into his stark, no-nonsense, Tough-love, Hard Justice world.
© 1990 Tribune Media Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz 1937-1938: “Shifting Sands Dusts its Cheeks in Powdered Beauty”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard & Derya Ataker (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-734-6

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, the cartoon strip starring Krazy Kat is arguably the pinnacle of graphic narrative innovation; a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and became an undisputed treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these gloriously addictive commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics, is a creation which must be appreciated on its own terms. Over the decades the strip developed a unique language – at once both visual and verbal – whilst exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding and without ever offending anybody.

Sadly, however, it did go over the heads and around the hearts of far more than a few…

Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex multi-layered verbal and pictorial whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been noodling about at the edges of his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Mildly intoxicating and gently scene-stealing, Krazy Kat subsequently debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s enrapt adoration and overpowering direct influence and interference – gradually spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (notably – but not exclusively – Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and latterly Jack Kerouac) all adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the populace-beguiling comics section.

Eventually the feature found a true home and safe haven in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s doctrinaire patronage and enhanced with the cachet of fulsome colour, the Kat flourished unharmed by editorial interference or fleeting fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The saga’s basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline of indeterminate gender, hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse; a venal everyman, rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a true unreconstructed male; drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and innumerable children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick. These he obtains singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly.

Smitten kitten Krazy always misidentifies these missiles as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him/her in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

The final crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, who is completely besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to the perennially “Friend-Zoned” Pupp’s dilemma…

Secondarily populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as terrifying deliverer of unplanned babies Joe Stork; hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury conman and trickster Don Kiyoti, social climbing busybody Pauline Parrot, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious animal crackers all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (patterned on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, cunningly designed, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“why dollin is you in pritzin?”, “l’il dahlink” or “I are illone”).

Yet for all that, the adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick.

Sometimes Herriman even eschewed his mystical mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a supremely entertaining silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops

There’s been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was first rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This delirious tome covers all the strips from 1937-1938 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a madly mystical digital edition.

Preceded by candid photos, examples of contemporary merchandise, memorabilia and some of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions featuring the cast and settings, the splendid madness resumes with January 3rd 1937 – with the hues provided by professional separators rather than Herriman – we can now set off on another odyssey into the heartlands of imagination.

Within this compelling compendium of incessant passions thwarted, the torrid triangular drama plays out as winningly as ever, with even more new faces popping up to contribute to the insular insanity and well-cloaked social satire.

Newcomers include a family of kangaroos who provide a unique form of locomotion for the traditional cops and boppers chases, a pale equatorial bear of mixed origins (Mama from the south Pole and Papa from the North), a tightrope walker of surly demeanour and unlikely antecedents, a gang of morally ambiguous pelicans and the much-travelled odd cove calling himself D.B. Platypus…

Of especial note can be observed a marked increase in the (temporary) triumphs of Offissa Pupp who now regularly locks up the brick-bunging little brigand. Oddly, that in turn leads to a spike in jail breaks…

As well as frequent incarceration, Ignatz endures numerous forms of exile and social confinement, but with Krazy aiding and abetting, these sanctions seldom result in a reduction of cerebral contusions… a minor plague of travelling conjurors and unemployed magician also make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary…

Never long daunted, Bull Pupp indulges in a raft of home-away-from home improvements, including a formidable moat around the county jail as well as art installations and an early example of conjugal visitations

As always, the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based gags and his occasional fleecing by Coconino’s (occasionally “Kokonino”) copious coterie of confidence tricksters – a scurrilous sub-population which seems to grow by the week. Of course, the mouse is a man who enjoys revenge served hot, cold or late…

Amongst the notable innovations this time is an increase in road traffic as America’s love affair with the internal combustion engine takes hold of the cast (after a bevy of wandering car salesmen arrive in town). Alternatively the entire cast spend a lot of time in one spot stargazing and attempting various form of flight – usually before coming back to earth with a bump.

Topics of civic conversation and favoured pastimes include a serious lack of good gossip, the proposed smashing of the atom by audacious “sign tisks”, insomnia, radio talk shows and movie-making, a seasonal but wholly unexpected cold snap, astronomy and misunderstood planetary phenomena, fishing and water sports and the parlous and participatory state of the burgeoning local theatre scene…

One tireless constant is the growing instability and trustworthiness of supreme comedy maguffin Joe Stork, whose increasingly hooch-affected delivery of (generally unwanted) babies still brings dread responsibility and smug schadenfreude in equal amounts to denizens of the county.

And, welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora for humorous inspiration and all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity.

Following another personalised birthday card, the cartoon gold is topped off by another erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a stupendous and gleeful monument to whimsy: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these comic strips which have shaped our industry and creators, inspired auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, and engendered delight and delectation in generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a most accessible way to do so.
© 2006, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Blue Lotus


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-804-8 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-616-7 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécle’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme; unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

The clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits) and report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

The Blue Lotus was serialised weekly from August 1934 to October 1935 before being published in a collected volume by Casterman in 1936: a tale of immense power as well as exuberance, and a marked advance on what has gone before.

This adventure took place in a China that was currently under sustained assault by Imperial Japan: imbued with deep emotion and informed by the honest sentiment of a creator unable to divorce his personal feeling from his work.

Set amidst ongoing incursions into China by the Japanese during the period of colonial adventurism that led to the Pacific component of World War II, readers would see Tintin embroiled in a deep, dark plot that was directly informed by the headlines of the self-same newspapers that carried the adventures of the intrepid boy reporter…

Following the drug-busting exploits seen in Cigars of the Pharaoh, and whilst staying with the Maharajah of Gaipajama, Tintin intercepts a mysterious radio message just before a visit by a secretive oriental from Shanghai. This gentleman is attacked with madness-inducing narcotic Rajaijah, before he can introduce himself or explain his mission, so the lad sets off for China to solve the mystery.

At the conclusion of Cigars, Remi advertised that Tintin would go to China next, and the author was promptly approached by Father Gosset of the University of Leuven, who begged him to avoid the obvious stereotyping when dealing with the East.

The scholar introduced him to a Chinese art-student named Chang Chong-chen (or Chong-jen or possibly Chongren). They became great friends and Chang taught Hergé much of the history and culture of one of the greatest civilisations in history.

This friendship also changed the shape and direction of all Hergé’s later work. The unthinking innate superiority of the Colonial white man was no longer a casual given, and the artist would devote much of his life to correcting those unthinking stereotypes that populated his earlier work.

Chang advised Hergé on Chinese art and infamously lettered the signs and slogans on the walls, shops and backgrounds in the artwork of this story. He also impressed the artist so much that he was written into the tale as the plucky, heroic street urchin Chang, and would eventually return in Tintin in Tibet

As Tintin delves into the enigma he uncovers a web of deception and criminality that includes gangsters, military bullies, Japanese agent provocateurs, and corrupt British policemen. Hergé also took an artistic swing at the posturing, smugly superior Westerners that contributed to the war simply by turning a blind eye, even when they weren’t actively profiting from the conflict…

As Tintin foils plot after plot to destroy him and crush any Chinese resistance to the invaders, he finds himself getting closer to the criminal mastermind in league with the Japanese. The reader regularly views a valiant, indomitable nation fighting oppression in a way that would typify the Resistance Movements of Nazi-occupied Europe a decade later, with individual acts of heroism and sacrifice tellingly mixed with the high-speed action and deft comedy strokes.

The Blue Lotus is an altogether darker and oppressive tale of high stakes: the villains in this epic of drug-running and insidious oppression are truly fearsome and despicable, and the tradition of Chinese wisdom is honestly honoured. After all, it is the kidnapped Professor Fang Hsi-ying who finally finds a cure for Rajaijah – once rescued by Tintin, Snowy and Chang. But despite the overwhelmingly powerful subtext that elevates this story, it must be remembered that this is also a brilliant, frantic rollercoaster of fun.

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, this lush series – in both hardcover or paperback – is a hugely satisfying way of rectifying that sorry situation. So why haven’t you..?
The Blue Lotus: artwork © 1946, 1974 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1983 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Golden Age volume 4


By Bill Finger, Don Cameron, Joseph Greene, Joe Samachson, Jack Schiff, Bob Kane, Jack Burnley, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7130-5

The history of the American comicbook industry in most ways stems from the raw, vital and still compelling tales of two iconic creations published by DC/National Comics: Superman and Batman. It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in chronological order in relatively cheap, and gloriously cheerful, compilations.

Debuting a year after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (and latterly Robin, the Boy Wonder) confirmed DC/National Comics as the market frontrunner and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

Having established the parameters of the metahuman with their Man of Steel, the physical mortal perfection and dashing derring-do of the strictly-human Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all other four-colour crime-busters were judged.

Batman: The Golden Age is a series of paperback feasts (there’s also weightier, pricier, more capacious hardback Omnibus editions available, and digital iterations too) re-presenting the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

Presented in original publishing release order, the tomes trace the character’s growth into the icon who would inspire so many and develop the resilience needed to survive the stifling cultural vicissitudes that coming decades would inflict upon him and his partner, Robin.

Re-presenting astounding cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #66-74, Batman #12-15 and pertinent stories from World’s Finest Comics #7-9, this book covers groundbreaking escapades from August 1942 to April 1943: as the Dynamic Duo continually develop and storm ahead of all competition.

As the heroes’ influence expanded, new talent joined the stable of creators. Jerry Robinson had already worked with writer Bill Finger and penciller Bob Kane, and during this period more scripters joined the ever-expanding team to detail adventures during the darkest days of World War II.

I’m certain it’s no coincidence that many of these Golden Age treasures are also some of the best and most reprinted tales in the Batman canon. With chief writer Bill Finger at a peak of creativity and production, everybody on the Home Front was keen to do their bit – even if that was simply making kids of all ages forget their troubles for a brief while…

This volume starts in grand style with the debut of a true classic villain as Finger, Kane & Robinson expose ‘The Crimes of Two-Face’ (Detective Comics #66): a classical tragedy in crime-caper form as Gotham DA Harvey Kent (whose name was later changed by editorial diktat to Dent) is disfigured in court and goes mad – becoming the conflicted thief and killer who remains one of the Caped Crusader’s greatest foes.

Batman #12 (August/September 1942) follows with another four classics. ‘Brothers in Crime’ – by Don Cameron & Robinson – reveals the tragic fates of a criminal family after which the Joker returns in ‘The Wizard of Words’ by Finger, Kane, Robinson and George Roussos.

Jack Burnley illustrated the spectacular daredevil drama ‘They Thrill to Conquer’ before ‘Around the Clock with Batman’ recounts a typical “day in the life” of the Dynamic Duo, complete with blazing guns, giant statues and skyscraper near-death experiences…

Then, from World’s Finest Comics #7 (Fall 1942), comes an imaginative thriller of chilly thrills and spills in ‘The North Pole Crimes!’ whilst Detective #67 features the Penguin as ‘Crime’s Early Bird!’, before Two-Face’s personal horror-story continues in ‘The Man Who Led a Double Life’ from #68.

Batman #13 (October/November 1942) tugged heartstrings when ‘The Batman Plays a Lone Hand’ but returned to more traditional ground after the Joker organized a ‘Comedy of Tears’ (by Jack Schiff, Kane, Robinson & Roussos). Although ‘The Story of the Seventeen Stones!’ (drawn by Burnley) then offered a deliciously experimental murder-mystery, the heroes slipped into comfortable Agatha Christie – or perhaps Hitchcock territory – as they tackled a portmanteau of crimes on a train in Cameron, Kane, Robinson and Roussos’ ‘Destination: Unknown!’ to close the issue.

Joseph Greene scripted the Joker’s next escapade in the astounding case of ‘The Harlequin’s Hoax!’ (Detective #68 before our heroes endure the decidedly different threat of ‘The Man Who Could Read Minds!’: another off-beat thriller from Cameron that premiered in Detective #70.

Cameron also wrote all four stories in Batman #14 (December 1942/January 1943). ‘The Case Batman Failed to Solve’ (illustrated by Jerry Robinson) is a superb example of the sheer decency of the Caped Crusader as he fudges a mystery for the best possible reason; ‘Prescription for Happiness’ (art by Bob Kane & Robinson) is a masterful example of the human-interest drama that used to typify Batman tales as a poor doctor discovers his own true worth, and ‘Swastika Over the White House!’ (Jack & Ray Burnley art) is typical of the spy-busting action yarns readers were gratuitously lapping up at the time.

The final story ‘Bargains in Banditry!’ – also from the Burnley boys – is another canny crime caper featuring fowl felon the Penguin.

Detective Comics #71 (January 1943, Finger, Kane & Robinson) featured ‘A Crime a Day!’ – one of the most memorable and thrilling Joker escapades of the period – whilst ‘Brothers in Law’ (by Schiff and the Burnleys from the Winter 1942 World’s Finest Comics #8) pits Batman and Robin against a Napoleon of Crime and feuding siblings who had radically differing definitions of justice…

Samachson, Kane & Robinson crafted Detective #72 which saw found our heroes crushing murderous con-men in ‘License for Larceny’ before Batman #15 (February/March 1943) lead with Schiff, Kane & Robinson’s Catwoman romp ‘Your Face is your Fortune!’ whilst Cameron and those Burnleys introduced plucky homeless boy Bobby Deen as ‘The Boy Who Wanted to be Robin!’

The same team concocted powerful propaganda tale ‘The Two Futures’, which examined an America under Nazi subjugation after which ‘The Loneliest Men in the World’ (Cameron, Kane & Robinson) was – and remains – one of the very best Christmas Batman tales ever created; full of pathos, drama, fellow-feeling and action…

Cameron, Kane & Robinson went back to spooky basics in Detective Comics#73 (March 1943) when ‘The Scarecrow Returns’, a moody chiller followed by the introduction of comical corpulent criminal psychopaths ‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee!’ in #74, before this gripping volume concludes with the Batman portion of World’s Finest #9 (Spring 1943) as Finger, Robinson & Roussos recount the saga of a criminal mastermind who invented a sure-fire ‘Crime of the Month!’ scheme…

These are the stories that cemented the popularity of Batman and Robin and brought welcome surcease to millions during a time of tremendous hardship and crisis. Even if these days aren’t nearly as perilous or desperate – and there ain’t many who thinks otherwise! – the power of such work to rouse and charm is still potent and just as necessary. You owe it to yourself and your family and even your hamster to Buy This Book…
© 1942, 1943, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Graphic Canon volume 1: From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons


By Many and Various, edited by Russ Kick (Seven Stories)
ISBN: 978-1-60980-376-6

Once upon a time in the English-speaking world, nobody clever, educated or in any way grown-up liked comics. Now we’re an accredited really and truly art form and spectacular books like this can be appreciated…

The Graphic Canon is an astounding literary and art project, instigated by legendary crusading editor, publisher, anthologist and modern Renaissance Man Russ Kick, which endeavours to interpret the world’s great books through the eyes of masters of crusading sequential narrative in an eye-opening synthesis of modes and styles.

The project is divided into three periods roughly equating with the birth of literature and its evolution up to the rise of the modern novel. Debut volume From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons covers literature from ancient times to the end of the 1700s in stories and poetry. Much of the material here has been taken from already extant or ongoing projects: indeed, as editor Russ Kick explains in his Introduction, it was a realisation that so many creative individuals were attempting to publish their own graphic responses to global heritage literature that led him to initiate this mammoth project in the first place…

Rather than simply converting the stories, the artists involved have enjoyed the freedom to respond to texts in their own way, producing graphics – narrative or otherwise, monochrome or something else, sequential or not – to accompany, augment or even offset the words before them and the result is simply staggering…

Make no mistake: this is not a simple bowdlerising “prose to strip” exercise like generations of Classics Illustrated comics, and you won’t pass any tests on the basis of what you see here. Moreover, these images will make you want to re-read the texts you know and hunger for the ones you haven’t got around to yet. You will of a certainty marvel at the infinite variety of the artistic responses the canonical works inspired…

They certainly did for me…

Each piece is preceded by an informative commentary page by Kick, and the wonderment begins with a colourful and outrageously engaging ‘Three Panel Review: Hamlet’ by Lisa Brown after which grateful Acknowledgements and that aforementioned Editor’s Introduction lead directly into a delirious snippet from The Epic of Gilgamesh.

Like many contributions collected here, The Bull of Heaven – as adapted by Kent & Kevin Dixon – was already in production when invited into this book. The finally-completed saga has recently re-manifested and you can read of it here.

Those august remnants of lost Babylonian Tablets are followed by a delicious retelling of the origin of the stars in ‘Coyote and the Pebbles’. The beguiling and witty Native American Folktale is given a compelling reworking by Dayton Edmonds & Micah Farritor and leads seamlessly into a double dose of Homeric grandiloquence.

Alice Duke samples the duel between Paris and Menelaus from The Iliad after which Gareth Hinds dips into The Odyssey to re-present the monstrous duel between the lost Greeks and the ghastly Cyclops, after which we stay firmly in the cradle of civilisation to enjoy Sappho’s ‘Poem Fragments’ as embellished by Alessandro Bonaccorsi before Tori McKenna sums up the vengeful force of Euripides’ ‘Medea’.

Aristophanes’ still-shocking and controversial play Lysistrata is potently and hilariously précised in strip form by Valerie Schrag before J.T. Waldman powerfully synthesises the erotic vision of ‘The Book of Ester’ from the Hebrew Bible and Yeji Yun translates Plato’s Symposium into stark yet effective pantomimic visuals.

Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey have adapted numerous deep thinkers in their series Action Philosophers! ‘Tao Te Ching’ as dictated by Lao Tzu is both wickedly funny and thoughtfully compelling and perfectly offset by Matt Wiegle’s colourful heroic snippet ‘The House of Lac’ from The Mahabharata.

Van Lente & Dunlavey bring us some Analects and Other Writings of Confucius – called here ‘Master Kong’ – before the Hebrew Bible provides Benjamin Frisch with the golden-hued inspiration for dreamy fable ‘The Book of Daniel’, after which Tom Bilby & Jonathan Fetter-Vorm (AKA Two Fine Chaps) graphically discourse On the Nature of Things as originally cited by Lucretius.

Michael Lagocki captures the graceful ferocity of Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’ – specifically the founding of Rome – before master cartoonist Rick Geary astoundingly encapsulates the entirety of ‘The Book of Revelation’ from the New Testament and Sharon Rudahl restores calm and sanity with ‘Three Tang Poems: Frontier Song by Wang Han, A Village South of the Capital by Cul Hu and Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon by Li Bai’

Gareth Hinds grittily adapts the battle between hero and monster in Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem Beowulf after which idyllic romance is referenced by Molly Kiely through a series of portraits of some of the many erotic conquests of an ideal Japanese prince as inspired by Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji.

Far darker and more troubled love guides the images crafted by Ellen Lindner to illustrate ‘The Letters of Heloise and Abelard’ after which Kiely illuminates the profoundly eco-activist poem ‘O Nobilissima Viriditas’ by Hildegard of Bingen (look her up, you really should…).

Andrice Arp puckishly illustrates stories within a story for ‘The Fisherman and the Genie’ from The Arabian Nights, after which the same source – albeit the unexpurgated translation by Sir Richard Burton – provides racy and outrageously wry ‘The Woman with Two Coyntes’ as adapted by Vicki Nerino.

Coleman Barks translates a wonderful plenitude of ‘Poems’ by Sufi sage – and advocate of a loving universe – Rumi for Michael Green to spectacularly illustrate, after which a double dose of Dante Alighieri begins with Seymour Chwast’s smart and sassy take on The Divine Comedy. Hunt Emerson than adds his own unique spin to ‘The Inferno’ (The Eighth Circle, if you’re keeping score) whilst Sanya Glisic sustains the post-viva theme by offering views of the Eastern afterlife as cited in Padmasambhava and Karma Lingpa’s translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol).

Safely back among the living, we turn to the outrageous lifestyle of French poet and courtier François Villon, who penned in a jailhouse ‘The Last Ballad’ illustrated here by Julian Peters long before his actual end. It’s followed by another medieval masterpiece as Seymour Chwast deftly tackles the ‘Wife of Bath’ from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

Staying in England, Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur is given a stunning treatment by Omaha Perez who illumines the parable of ‘How the Hart was Chased into a Castle and There Slain, and How Sir Gawaine Slew a Lady’

The reason we have so much European and Asian literature today is the sheer fact that it wasn’t deliberately eradicated. That’s tragically not the case for the pre-Columbian Americas and a great pity since sole surviving Incan play Apu Ollantay – adapted here by Caroline Picard – is a smart and potent family star-crossed love affair worthy of the Greeks or even Shakespeare…

Outlaws of the Water Margin is a vast and sprawling epic of heroes battling against corruption and injustice in ancient China. As Shi Nai’an’s opus is far too large to handle here, illustrator Shawn Cheng has instead offered a rogues’ gallery of some of the heroic characters who feature in the portmanteau classics, whereas Isabel Greenberg has time and space to lyrically adapt Japanese Noh play ‘Hagoromo (Celestial Feather Robe)’ in full.

Roberta Gregory then pictorialises the decidedly more wholesome and charming creation myth from Popul Vuh – the Sacred Book of the Quiché Maya – and Edie Fake illuminates ‘The Visions of St. Teresa of Ávila’ as first seen in the Spanish religious reformer’s autobiography.

Almost forgotten English poet George Peele penned his own interpretation of the drama of Solomon and Bathsheba centuries ago, a snippet of which is here transformed by Dave Morice into stunning op-art masterpiece ‘Hot Sun, Cool Fire’. Conor Hughes then expertly covers in more traditional form ‘The Sun Rises’ from Wu Cheng’en’s revered Chinese epic Journey to the West before Michael Stanyer adapts and Eric Johnson illustrates a mere fragment from Edmund Spenser’s unfinished opus The Faerie Queene.

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream must be one of the most popular comic strip topics of all, but Maxx Kelly & Huxley King still add fresh zest and contemporary sparkle to the scene where Titania and Oberon haggle over the fate of an abducted child…

Ian Pollock then tackles The Bard’s darkest drama as King Lear challenges the heavens themselves before Will Eisner lends his unique light touch to Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

Robert Berry and Josh Levitas then translate Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 18’ to an effectively modern setting whilst Aidan Koch applies a more esoteric approach to the eternally-mystifying ‘Sonnet 20’ before Noah Patrick Pfarr supplies a suitably raunchy setting and quirky twist to John Donne’s erotic poem ‘The Flea’.

Andrew Marvell’s equally celebrated devious love-ploy ‘To His Coy Mistress’ is given a sentimental 19th century makeover by Yien Yip after which real-life Restoration-Era Wonder Woman Aphra Behn provides moody inspiration for artist Alex Eckman-Lawn through her poem ‘Forgive Us Our Trespasses’.

John Milton’s magnificent Paradise Lost – specifically ‘the Fall of Satan’ – is astoundingly depicted by Rebecca Dart after which ‘Part II: A Voyage to Brobdingnag’ sees Gareth Hinds lovingly limning an extract from Jonathan Swift’s satirical salvo Gulliver’s Travels whilst Ian Ball uses abreaction to hammer home the finer points of Voltaire’s Candide.

Modern graphic crusader Peter Kuper then lambasts us with a lethally edgy visualisation of Swift’s brutally critical A Modest Proposal.

Benjamin Franklin’s scandalous epistle ‘Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress’ is accompanied by a sumptuous painting from Cortney Skinner before James Bosworth’s shocking and sordidly biographical London Journal is captivatingly interpreted by comix pioneer Robert Crumb in ‘A Klassic Komic: excepts from Boswell’s London Journal 1762-1763’.

Veteran cartoonist Stan Shaw then captures the wryly scatalogical spirit of Benjamin Franklin’s ‘Letter to the Royal Academy of Brussels (AKA ‘Fart Proudly’)’ and van Lente & Dunlavey return with another Action Philosophers! titbit clarifying Mary Wollstonecraft’s momentous political tract A Vindication of the Rights of Woman before Molly Crabapple illustrates select moments from Choderios de Lacios’ dark and disturbing social satire Dangerous Liaisons to bring the art schooling to a close.

Wrapping up the elucidatory experience are suggestions of ‘Further Reading’ from Liz Byer, a full list of ‘Contributors’, plus details of ‘Credits and Permissions’ and an ‘Index to volume 1’.

Although no replacement for actually reading as much of the source material as you can find, this astonishing agglomeration of visual interpretations is a magnificent achievement and one every fan of the comics medium should see: a staggering blend of imperishable thoughts and words wedded to and springing from sublimely experimental pictures.

This type of venture is just what our art form needs to grow beyond our largely self-imposed ghetto, and anything done this well with so much heart and joy simply has to be rewarded.
© 2012 Russ Kick. All work © individual owners and copyright holders and used with permission. All rights reserved.

Milton Caniff’s America: Reflections of a Drawingboard Patriot


By Milton Caniff, edited by Shel Dorf (Eclipse Books)
ISBN: 978-0-913035-25-2

This little rarity (happily still available through assorted online vendors) is a delightful introduction to the old-fashioned world and magical artistry of possibly the greatest strip cartoonist of all time.

Milton Caniff wasn’t an overnight sensation. He worked long and hard before he achieved his stellar status in the comic strip firmament. Before Terry and the Pirates brought him fame, and Steve Canyon secured his fortune and reputation, the strip which brought him to the attention of legendary Press Baron “Captain” Joseph Patterson (in many ways the co-creator of Terry) was an unassuming daily feature about a little boy hungry for adventure.

Caniff was working for The Associated Press as a minor jobbing cartoonist when a gap opened in their strips department. AP was an organisation that devised and syndicated features for the thousands of local and small newspapers which could not afford to produce the cartoons, puzzles, recipes and other fillers that ran between the local headlines and the regional sports.

Over a weekend Caniff came up with Dickie Dare, a studious lad who would read a book and then fantasize himself into the story, taking his faithful little white dog Wags with him. The editors went for it and the strip launched on July 31st 1933. Caniff would write and draw the adventures for less than eighteen months before moving on, although his replacement Coulton Waugh steered the series until its conclusion two decades later.

As well as being one of the greatest comic-strip artists of all time, Caniff was an old-fashioned honest American Patriot, from the time when it wasn’t a dirty word or synonym for fanatic.

The greatest disappointment of his life was that he was never physically fit enough to fight. Instead, during World War II he not only continued the morale-boosting China Seas adventure epic Terry and the Pirates newspaper strip seven days a week, he also designed art, brochures and posters (all unpaid) for the War Department and made live appearances for soldiers and hospital residents. Even that wasn’t enough.

Again unpaid, he devised Male Cale: a strip to be printed in the thousands of local military magazines and papers around the world. Originally using established characters from Terry, Caniff swiftly switched (for reasons best explained in Robert C Harvey’s wonderful Meanwhile… a Biography of Milton Caniff) to a purpose built (and was she built!) svelte and sexy ingénue who would titillate, amuse but mostly belong to the lonely and homesick American fighting men away from home and under arms.

Funny, saucy, even racy but never lewd or salacious, breakout star Miss Lace spoke directly to the enlisted man – the “ordinary Joe” – as entertainer, confidante and trophy date. She built morale and gave brief surcease from terror, loneliness or boredom. Although comparisons abound with our own Jane, the rationales behind each combat glamour girl were poles apart.

Created by Norman Pett in 1932, Jane ran in The Daily Mirror until 1959. She was infamously reputed to lose her clothes whenever the war effort needed a boost – always resulting in huge Allied successes.

Miss Lace was different. She spoke to and with the soldiers, and she wasn’t in normal papers. She was simply and totally theirs and theirs alone.

After leaving the incredibly successful, world-renowned Terry, Caniff created another iconic comic hero in demobbed WWII pilot Steve Canyon. The reasons for the move were basically rights and creative control, but it’s also easy to see another reason. Terry, set in a fabled Orient, even with the contemporary realism the author so captivatingly imparted, is a young man’s strip and limited by locale.

The worldly, if not war-weary, Canyon was a mature adventurer who could be sent literally anywhere and would appeal to the older, wiser readers of Atom-Age America, now a fully active, if perhaps reluctant, player on the world stage.

Canyon also reflects an older creator who has seen so much more of human nature and frailty than even the mysterious East could provide. Put another way, William Shakespeare could write Romeo and Juliet as a young man, but needed experience more than passion and genius to produce King Lear or The Tempest.

Milton Caniff’s America: Reflections of a Drawingboard Patriot was released in the mid-1980s when Caniff’s brand of patriotism was slowly giving way to a far more intolerant and infinitely crueller brand of paranoid nationalism. In many ways, it’s more valid now than ever before since these sublime excerpts from his vast body of graphic work forcefully remind the reader of a purer, more idealistic, welcoming and aspirational land of Freedom and Opportunity.

Here fans can delight in the chance to see some of the creator’s early reportage and portraiture, plus editorial cartooning and landmark strips such as the episode of Terry and the Pirates that was read into the Congressional Record. Also collected are Caniff’s public service drawings; a Steve Canyon sequence (from 1982) entitled ‘What is Patriotism?’ and many strips dedicated to departed comrades.

Of most moving consequence are the collected Armed Forces Day strips and every Steve Canyon Christmas Day episode (an unbroken string of graphic ruminations on the lot and role of the military everyman) spanning 1947 to 1987.

Stirring, gripping, heartfelt, these evocations from a master of his craft are the best tribute from, to and by an honest plain-dealer from an America we all long to see again. Simply Wonderful.
Artwork © 1987 Milton Caniff. © 2007 Ester Parsons Caniff Estate. Text features © their respective authors. All Rights Reserved

Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying


By the Original Writer, Mick Anglo, Garry Leach, Alan Davis, Don Lawrence, Steve Dillon, Mick Austin, Paul Neary & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5462-4 (HB)

I got my start in comics as the most junior of juniors on a rather iconoclastic and sensational magazine named Warrior. It was an incredible learning experience but producing arguably Britain’s most influential comic magazine was a tense, fraught, high energy, cauldron-like existence for all involved and some of those comrades-in-arms barely talk to each other these days.

That’s part of the story behind the fact that the incredible author of most of the stories in this premier compilation doesn’t want his name anywhere near it.

As that’s the case I’m happy to respect his wishes. It is a shame, though, as this is a work which changed the shape and nature of superhero comics forever, even if during the latter days of it in Warrior, we all thought the bloody strip was cursed…

If you’re interested in rumour, speculation and divided perspectives on ancient history, there are plenty of places online to visit for other information, but today let’s just discuss one of the very best superhero stories ever crafted…

This book is available in a variety of formats and although some of the back-up contents might vary in essence it is a lavish, remastered full re-presentation of the original Marvelman saga A Dream of Flying; stuffed with extra story content and page after page of lush behind-the-scenes material, production art and more.

Just in case you weren’t aware: the hero of this tome was originally created by jobbing artist and comics packager Mick Anglo for publisher L. Miller and Son in 1954 to replace a line of extremely popular British weekly monochrome reprints starring the Marvel Family as originally generated by US outfit Fawcett.

When a decade-long legal dispute between Fawcett and National/DC arguing copyright infringement ended just as the superhero trend nosedived in America, the defendant simply closed down most of its comics line. Overnight this act deprived British – and other foreign clients’ – firms of one of their most popular reprint strands.

In a feat of slippery brilliance, Anglo rapidly retooled defunct Yank heroes Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Junior and Mary Marvel into Marvelman, Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman, subsequently detailing their simplistic, charming adventures until 1963, when falling sales and changing tastes finally caught up with them all and they vanished into comicbook limbo.

In 1982 the characters and concepts were picked up by Dez Skinn for his proposed new independent and proudly British venture and quite soon magic was being created again…

The second end began when a certain US comics publisher started suing Warrior for using the word “Marvel” even though when Marvelman was created they were still calling themselves “Atlas”. (No, of course I’m over it now…)

An inescapable truism of modern life is that money trumps fact every time…

This compelling volume opens with ‘Prologue 1956: The Invaders from the Future’ (originally created by Anglo and the great Don Lawrence but subtly tweaked by our unnamed “original writer”) as a scene-setting foretaste of what might have been before the deconstructionist main event opens.

In that idealised past epoch, invulnerable time-travellers from 1981 are beaten back by the intrepid trio of superheroes before the real story begins in the drab, humdrum and utterly ordinary world of Thatcherite Britain, circa 1982…

Over-the-hill freelance journalist Mike Moran is plagued by ‘A Dream of Flying’ (illustrated by Garry Leach) as a godlike gleaming superman before being blown up by atom bombs…

This morning, however, he can’t let it stop him getting to the opening of the new atomic power station at Larksmere, even if his concentration is ruined by another of his crippling headaches and the agonising frustration of a word he’s forgotten lurking just beyond the tip of his tongue…

The press launch is an unmitigated disaster. When a band of terrorists attack the site, Mike collapses and while he’s being dragged off something happens. That word comes back to him and, in a catastrophic salvo of heat and light and noise, he transforms into the creature of his dreams before comprehensively dealing with the gunmen and flying off into space…

In ‘Legends’ the glittering paragon returns to Mike’s wife and attempts to explain the impossible events and his restored memories of being a superhero in Fifties Britain. Liz Moran cannot help but laugh at the canon of ridiculous absurdities this incredible creature spouts even if to all intents and purposes he is her husband. After all, if his restored memories are correct, why has nobody ever heard of him?

To augment the drama (and pad out the comicbooks this compilation is taken from), ‘Miracleman Behind the Scenes’ devotes space to pages offering a wealth of pre-production work: sketches, design roughs, pencilled panels and complete original art, colour-indications, pertinent ads, pin-ups and covers by Leach.

These are supplemented by ‘Kimota! The Secret Origin of Mick Anglo’s Marvelman’ by British comics historian and journalist Mike Conroy, and ‘Mick on Mick’ sees Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada interviewing Mick Anglo before a brace of the veteran’s strips (from Marvelman #25, February 3rd 1954) reveal what all the post-war fuss was about.

‘Marvelman and the Atomic Bomber’ finds precocious newsboy Micky Moran on the trail of deadly spies after which ‘Marvelman and the Stolen Radium’ has the Atomic Warrior foiling dastardly bandits led by Professor Hatz and saving England from fatal contamination…

Further vintage thrills materialise in ‘The Stolen Reflections’ (Marvelman #32, March 24th 1954) when mad scientist Gargunza builds a machine to animate mirror images…

Returning to modern times and full colour, aging Mike’s insane situation is exacerbated next morning ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’. Technological guru and self-made billionaire John Bates calls out of the blue and Mike suddenly remembers the amiable little lad with superpowers who was his jolly sidekick before being caught in the same atomic blast that eradicated his own memories.

After he and Liz visit the unctuous mogul, Mike realises with horror that his fawning junior partner never changed back to human but has been slowly using his gifts to dominate the world for the last eighteen years…

Rumbled, Bates ferociously attacks in ‘Dragons’, using abilities which have grown and evolved in two decades of constant if covert use to beat the recently returned Miracleman near to death. However, the horrific super-duel is abruptly curtailed by a sudden jump into what we thought back then would be the near-future…

Warrior #4 was sold as a summer special in August 1982. It led with a bold fill-in set three years into the story time-line. The editorial long-term plan had been to create a “Justice League” of Warrior characters and ‘The Yesterday Gambit’ – with art by Steve Dillon, Alan Davis & Paul Neary – starred two of them in an interlude from their final battle with an ultimate nemesis.

The complex plot involved trans-dimensional teleporting alien samurai Aza Chorn (as yet unintroduced) who ferried Miracleman through time to battle himself at different stages of his career. The expended energies of the cataclysmic combats would be harvested by the gallant Warpsmith to use against their unstoppable future foe…

The ‘Miracleman Behind the Scenes’ offers more pre-production work: sketches, designs for Bates, complete original art, and covers by Leach, supplemented by ‘A Short History of British Comics’ by Mike Conroy plus a brace of 1950s classics.

‘The Birth of Marvelman’ (Marvelman #65, November 1st 1954) was the eagerly-anticipated origin tale of how reclusive astro-scientist Guntag Barghelt first gifted plucky young Micky Moran with the greatest power in the universe, after which issue #102 (July 30th 1955) saw a newly-minted boy hero rescuing innocent kids unjustly accused of being juvenile delinquents in ‘Introducing Kid Marvelman’

The appalling supra-normal duel of metahuman gods resumes next: spectacularly devastating much of London. Pencilled by Alan Davis and inked by Leach, ‘Fallen Angels, Forgotten Thunder’ emphasises the true horror of para-powered combat and only ends when the smugly overconfident former Kid Miracleman accidentally defeats himself…

The first inklings of the incredible truth begin to emerge in ‘Secret Identity’ (Davis & Leach) as Sir Dennis Archer of mothballed, clandestine organisation “The Spookshow” despatches his top assassin to find and sanction a threat he’s long-believed eradicated in a flash of atomic fire decades past.

Mike and Liz meanwhile head for Dartmoor to test Miracleman’s abilities in private.

Their marriage has suffered since the initial transformation, especially as Mike insists he and his alter-ego are two different people and Miracleman has got Liz pregnant after his own fruitless years of trying…

Davis fully took over the art chores with ‘Blue Murder’ as Archer’s highly capable investigator/hitman Evelyn Cream tracks down and brilliantly takes out Moran with a minimum of fuss…

Following Mick Austin’s award-winning cover to Warrior #7, ‘We Are Warpsmiths!’ reintroduces the hero’s prospective alien allies through covers, sketches and design roughs, culminating with the stranger creatures’ initial storyline as first seen in Warrior #9 and 10.

Reproduced here in captivating full colour and showcasing the bizarre and exotic realms the militaristic peacekeepers are sworn to defend, ‘Cold War, Cold Warrior’ sees a family group of stellar sentinels critically overreact to a suspected incursion into their protectorate…

The unending, extended conflict with their cosmic antithesis The Qys results in constant, deadly politicking and here innocent kids and two members of their own Warpsmith cadre are sacrificed to expediency and a greater agenda…

By the advent of ‘Out of the Dark’ (first seen in Warrior #9, January 1983) the enigmatic killer Cream has inexplicably switched sides, aiding Miracleman as he seeks out the truth of his origins in a top-secret military bunker which contains deadly defences, another – lesser – superhuman and more. The human resources prove as nothing to the sparkling juggernaut in their midst but the Spookshow has one last card to play: a deformed and inadequate leftover superhuman dubbed Big Ben

‘Inside Story’ reveals at last what happened when British Intelligence happened upon the find of an epoch and how they foolishly sought outside assistance to utilise it. Tragically, that single misjudgement led to a catalogue of others…

Soon Miracleman understands how recovered and reverse-engineered alien DNA techniques, cruel and callous genetic experimentation and the paranoia of one deranged, debauched scientist who grew supermen and programmed them to compliance using comicbook fantasies led to his current predicament in culminating chapter ‘Zarathustra’

To Be Continued…

The remainder of this stunning collection is rounded out with tantalising snippets from Warrior’s then-gestating shared universe, beginning with ‘Saturday Morning Pictures’ – illustrated by Davis as a framing device in the Marvelman Special – which originally featured a number of classic, remastered Anglo-era adventures and a fascinating peek into what might have been…

The nomadic multiplanar policemen called Warpsmiths reappear in ‘Ghostdance’ (originally published in A1 #1, October 1989) in a direct continuation of the first saga, as the surviving dutiful sentinels grieve and move on in their own uniquely inexplicable manner…

This last is accompanied by more ‘Miracleman Behind the Scenes’ material from Leach, tracing the development of the Warpsmiths and augmented by a selection of house ads, even more original art pages and found background material.

Wrapping things up is a stunning gallery of covers and variants by Leach, Davis, Austin, Joe Quesada, Danny Miki, Richard Isanove, John Cassady, Paul Mounts, Leinil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Laura Martin, Skottie Young, Mark Buckingham, D’Israeli, Jerome Opena, Dean White, Steve Oliff, Neal Adams, Frank Martin, Mark Farmer, Arthur Adams, Peter Steigerwald, Mike Perkins, Andy Troy, Mike McKone, Paulo Rivera, Mike Deodato, Rain Beredo, J.G Jones, Javier Rodriguez, John Tyler Christopher, Gerald Parel and Bryan Hitch, generated for Marvel’s 2013 relaunch of the property.

One of the greatest superhero comics sagas ever. There’s simply nothing else to say…
© 2014 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Action Heroes Archive Vol 1: Captain Atom & Vol. 2 Captain Atom, Blue Beetle & The Question


By Steve Ditko and various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0302-3  ISBN: 978-1-4012-1346-6 (vol 2)

It’s been a grim few weeks for lovers of the graphic arts. Peter Firmin passed away at the beginning of the month, and I’ve just heard that Steve Ditko has been found dead in his apartment. Both these men shaped my life and so many millions of others, especially the solitary work-obsessed genius who gave us Spider-Man, The Creeper, Mr. A and so many more. A more considered response and review will come in the weeks to come, but for now let’s consider these books: classic outsider wonderment from a creator who reshaped every aspect of comics by sniping from the edge and never once buying into the hype…

Steve Ditko is possibly comics’ most unique stylist. Love him or hate him, you can’t mistake his work for anyone else’s. His career began in the early 1950’s and, depending on whether you’re a superhero fan or prefer the deeper and more visually free and experimental work, peaked in either the mid-1960’s or 1970’s.

Leaving the Avenging World, Mr. A and his other philosophically derived creations for another time, the super-hero crowd should heartily celebrate this deluxe collection of the first costumed do-gooder that Ditko worked on. Although I’m a huge fan of his linework – which is best served by black and white printing – the crisp, sharp colour of this Archive edition is still much better than the appalling reproduction on bog-paper that first displayed Charlton Comics’ Atomic Ace to the kids of Commie-obsessed America, circa 1960.

Captain Adam is an astronaut accidentally atomised in a rocketry accident. Eerily – and the way it’s drawn spooked the short pants off me when I first read it more than fifty years ago – he reassembles himself on the launch pad, gifted with astounding powers. Reporting to the President, he swiftly becomes the USA’s secret weapon.

In those simpler times the short, terse adventures of Captain Atom seemed somehow more telling than the anodyne DC fare, and Marvel was still pushing monsters in underpants; their particular heroic revolution was still months away. Ditko’s hero was different and we few who read him all knew it.

Mostly written or co-written with Joe Gill, the first wonderful, addictive run of 18 stories from Space Adventures #33-42 (and three of those were drawn by the uninspired and out-of-his-depth Rocke Mastroserio) are a magnificent example of Ditko’s emerging mastery of mood, pacing, atmosphere and human dynamics.

In 1961, as Ditko did more and more work for the blossoming – and better paying – Marvel, Charlton killed the series. But when Dick Giordano created a superhero line for Charlton in late 1965, Captain Atom was revived. Space Adventures was retitled, and the Captain’s first full length issue was numbered #78.

As he was still drawing Amazing Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, Ditko could only manage pencils for the Captain and Mastroserio was recruited to ink the series, resulting in an oddly jarring finish. With #79 Ditko became lead writer too, and the stories took on an eccentric, compelling edge and tone that lifted them above much of the competition’s fare. Eventually the inker adapted to Ditko’s style and much of the ungainliness had disappeared from the figurework, although so had the fine detail that had elevated the early art.

This volume ends with issue #82, leaving six more published issues and a complete unpublished seventh for another time…

This second volume completes Ditko’s costumed hero contributions with the remainder of the Captain Atom tales, and the introduction of a new Blue Beetle and the uniquely iconic Question.

Captain Atom #83 (November 1966) starts the ball rolling here with a huge blast of reconstructive character surgery. Although ‘Finally Falls the Mighty!’ was inked by Rocke Mastroserio and scripted by David Kaler, thematically it’s pure Ditko. Plotted and drawn by him, it sees an ungrateful public turn on the Atomic Ace, due to the manipulations of a cunning criminal.

Intended to remove some of the omnipotence from the character, the added humanity of malfunctioning powers made his struggles against treacherous Professor Koste all the more poignant, and the sheer visual spectacle of his battle against a runaway reactor is some of Ditko’s most imaginative design and layout work. The tale ends on a cliffhanger – a real big deal when the comic only came out every two months – and the last seven pages featured the debut of a new superhero with one of the oldest names in the business.

The Blue Beetle first appeared in Mystery Men Comics #1, released by Fox Comics and dated August 1939. Created by Charles Nicholas (née Wojtkowski) the character was inexplicably popular and survived the death of a number of publishers to end up as a Charlton property in the mid 1950s. After releasing a few issues sporadically the character disappeared until the superhero revival of the early 1960s when young Roy Thomas revised and revived the character for a ten issue run (June 1964 – February 1966).

Here Ditko completely recreated the character. Ted Kord was an earnest young scientist with a secret tragedy in his past but Ditko and scripter Gary Friedrich wisely eschewed origin for action in a taut and captivating crime-thriller where the new hero displayed his modus operandi by stopping a vicious crime-spree by the Killer Koke Gang.

This untitled short has all the classic elements of a Ditko masterpiece: outlandish fight scenes, compact, claustrophobic yet dynamic layouts, innovative gimmickry and a clear-cut battle between Right and Wrong. It’s one of the very best introductory stories of a new hero anywhere in comics – and it’s seven pages long.

The remodeling of the Atomic Ace concluded in the next issue with ‘After the Fall a New Beginning.’ Once again Ditko rattled his authorial sabre about the fickleness of the public as the villainous Koste exposed the hero’s face on live TV. Escaping, Atom got a new costume with his curtailed powers and consequently a lot more drama entered the series.

Now there was a definite feeling of no safety or status quo. The untitled Beetle back-up (scripted by Gary Friedrich with pencils and inks by Ditko) pitted the hero against the masked Marauder but the real kicker was the bombshell that Homicide detective Fisher, investigating the disappearance of Dan Garrett, suspected a possible connection to scientist Ted Kord…

‘Strings of Punch and Jewelee’ introduced a couple of shady carnival hucksters who found a chest of esoteric alien weapons and used them for robbery whilst extending a running plot-line about the mysterious Ghost and his connection to a lost civilization of warrior women. Although Cap and partner Nightshade are somewhat outclassed here, the vigour and vitality of the Blue Beetle was undeniable when a mid-air hijack is foiled and a spy sub and giant killer octopus are given short thrift by the indomitable rookie crusader.

Captain Atom #86 finally brought the long-simmering plot-thread of tech thief The Ghost to a boil as the malevolent science-wizard went on a rampage, utterly trouncing Nightshade and our hero before being kidnapped by the aforementioned Warrior girls. ‘The Fury of the Faceless Foe!’ is by Ditko, Kaler & Mastroserio whilst in the (still) untitled Blue Beetle strip by Friedrich and Ditko the azure avenger battled a ruthless scientist and industrial spy.

This led directly into the first issue of his own comic-book. Blue Beetle #1 (June 1967) is an all-Ditko masterpiece (he even scripted it under the pen-name D.C. Glanzman) and saw the hero in all-out action against a deadly gang of bandits. ‘Blue Beetle… Bugs the Squids’ is crammed with the eccentric vitality that made the Amazing Spider-Man such a monster hit, and the crime-busting joie de vivre is balanced by the moody, claustrophobic introduction of Steve Ditko’s most challenging superhero creation.

‘The Question’ is Vic Sage, a TV journalist with an uncompromising attitude to crime and corruption and an alter-ego of faceless, relentless retribution. In his premiere outing he exposes the link between his own employers’ self-righteous sponsors and gambling racketeer Lou Dicer. This theme of unflinching virtue in the teeth of both violent crime and pernicious social and peer pressure marked Ditko’s departure from straight entertainment towards philosophical – some would say polemical – examination of greater societal issues and the true nature of both Good and Evil that would culminate in his controversial Mr. A, Avenging World and other independent ventures.

Captain Atom #87, ‘The Menace of the Fiery-Icer’ (August 1967) presaged the beginning of the end for the Atomic Ace as Kaler, Ditko & Mastroserio dialed back on the plot threads to deliver a visually excellent but run-of-the-mill yarn about a spy ring with a hot line in cold-blooded leaders.

Blue Beetle #2 however, an all-Ditko affair from the same month, showed the master at his heroic peak, both in the lead story ‘The End is a Beginning!’ which finally revealed the origin of the character as well as the fate of Dan Garrett, (the original Beetle) and even advanced his relationship with his girl Friday Tracey. The enigmatic Question, meanwhile, tackled the flying burglar known as the Banshee in a vertiginous, moody thriller reminiscent of early Doctor Strange strips.

Frank McLaughlin took over the inking for ‘Ravage of Ronthor’ in Captain Atom #88 (October 1967) as the hero answered a distress call from outer space to preserve a paradise planet from marauding giant bugs, in a satisfying no-nonsense escapist romp. Blue Beetle #3 was another superbly satisfying read as the eponymous hero routed the malevolent, picturesque thugs ‘The Madmen’ in a sharp parable about paranoia and misperception. Equally captivating was the intense and bizarre Question vignette as a murderous ghostly deep-sea diver stalks some shady captains of industry.

Issue #89 was the last Captain Atom published by Charlton (December 1967): an early casualty of the burn-out afflicting the superhero genre that led to a resurrected horror/mystery craze. This genre would then form a new backbone for the company’s 1970’s output; one where Ditko would shine again in his role as master of short story horror.

Scripter Dave Kaler managed to satisfactorily tie up most of the hanging plot threads with the warrior women of Sunuria in the sci-fi-meets-witchcraft thriller ‘Thirteen’ although the Ditko/McLaughlin art team was nowhere near their best form.

The next episode promised a final ‘Showdown in Sunuria’, but this never materialized.

Blue Beetle #4 (released the same month) is visually the best of the bunch as Ted Kord followed a somehow returned Dan Garrett to an Asian backwater in pursuit of lost treasure and a death cult. ‘The Men of the Mask’ is pure strip poetry and bombastic action, perfectly counterbalanced by a seedy underworld thriller as the Question sought to discover who gave the order to ‘Kill Vic Sage!’ This was scripted by Steve Skeates (as Warren Savin) and was the last action any Charlton hero saw for the better part of a year.

Cover-dated October 1968, The Question returned as the star of Mysterious Suspense #1. Ditko produced a captivating cover and a three-chapter thriller (whilst Rocke Mastroserio provided a rather jarring full-page frontispiece).

‘What Makes a Hero?’ (probably rescued from partially completed inventory material) saw crusading Vic Sage pilloried by the public, abandoned by friends and employers yet resolutely sticking to his higher principles in pursuit of hypocritical villains masquerading as pillars of the community. Ditko’s interest in Ayn Rand’s philosophical Objectivism had become increasingly important to him and this story is probably the dividing line between his “old” and “new” work. It’s also the most powerful and compelling piece in the entire book.

A month later one final issue of Blue Beetle (#5) was published. ‘The Destroyer of Heroes’ is a decidedly quirky tale that features a nominal team-up of the azure avenger and the Question as a frustrated artist defaced heroic and uplifting paintings and statues. Ditko’s committed if reactionary views of youth culture, which so worried Stan Lee, are fully on view in this controversial, absorbing work.

Other material had been created and languished incomplete in editorial limbo. In the early 1970s a burgeoning and committed fan-base created a fanzine called Charlton Portfolio. With the willing assistance of the company, a host of kids who would soon become household names in their own right found a way to bring the lost work to the public gaze.

Their efforts are also included here, in black and white as they originally appeared. For Charlton Portfolio #9 and 10 (1974), Blue Beetle #6 was serialized. ‘A Specter is Haunting Hub City!’ is another all-Ditko extravaganza, pitting the hero against an (almost) invisible thief whilst the follow-up magazine Charlton Bullseye (1975) finally published ‘Showdown in Sunuria’ in its first two issues.

Behind an Al Milgrom Captain Atom cover, Kaler’s plot was scripted by Roger Stern (working as Jon G. Michels) and Ditko’s pencils were inked by rising star John Byrne – a cataclysmic climax almost worth the eight year wait. But even there the magic doesn’t end in this magnificent Archive volume.

From Charlton Bullseye #5 (1975) comes one final pre-DC tale of The Question: eight, gripping, intense, beautiful pages plotted by Stern, scripted by Michael Uslan and illustrated by the legendary Alex Toth, This alone is well worth the rather high price of admission.

These weighty snapshots of another era are packed with classic material by brilliant craftsmen. They are books no Ditko addict, serious fan of the genre or lover of graphic adventure can afford to be without. It’s impossible to describe the grace, finesse, and unique eclectic shape of Steve Ditko’s art. It should be experienced. And this is as good a place to start as any, and probably a lot easier to obtain than much of this lost genius’ back catalogue.

© 1966, 1967, 1968, 1974, 1975, 1976, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.