Lone Wolf and Cub volume 6: Lanterns for the Dead


By Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima, translated by Dana Lewis (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-507-9 (TPB/digital edition)

Best known in the West as Lone Wolf and Cub, the vast Samurai saga created by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima is without doubt a global classic of comics literature. An example of the popular Chanbara or “sword-fighting” genre of print and screen, Kozure Okami was first serialised in Weekly Manga Action from September 1970 until April 1976. It was an immense and overwhelming Seinen (“Men’s manga”) hit. The tales prompted thematic companion series Kubikiri Asa (Samurai Executioner – which ran from 1972-1976) but the major draw – at home and, increasingly, abroad – was always the nomadic wanderings of doomed feudal noble Ogami Ittō and his solemn, silent child Daigoro as they were framed by family rivals, dishonoured by the Shōgun and condemned to death by his peers. Breaching all etiquette the court executioner refused to suicide quietly and instead opted to vengefully walk the bloody road to Meifumadō: the hell of Buddhist legend…

Revered and influential, Kozure Okami was – after years of supplication by fans and editors – followed by sequel Shin Lone Wolf & Cub (illustrated by Hideki Mori) and even spawned – through Koike’s indirect participation – science fiction homage Lone Wolf 2100 (by Mike Kennedy & Francisco Ruiz Velasco) The original saga has been successfully adapted to most other media, spawning movies, plays, TV series (plural), games and merchandise. The property is infamously still in Hollywood pre-production…

The several thousand pages of enthralling, exotic, intoxicating narrative art produced by these legendary creators eventually filled 28 collected volumes, beguiling generations of readers in Japan and, inevitably, the world. More importantly, their philosophically nihilistic odyssey – with its timeless themes and iconic visuals – has influenced hordes of other creators. The many manga, comics and movies, TV and animated versions these stories have inspired around the globe are utterly impossible to count. Frank Miller, who illustrated the cover of this edition, referenced the series in Daredevil, his dystopian opus Ronin, The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City. Max Allan Collins’ Road to Perdition is a proudly unashamed tribute to the masterpiece of vengeance-fiction. Stan Sakai has superbly spoofed, pastiched and celebrated the wanderer’s path in his own epic Usagi Yojimbo, and even children’s cartoon shows such as Samurai Jack are direct descendants of this astounding achievement of graphic narrative. The material has become part of a shared global culture.

In the West, we first saw the translated tales in 1987, as 45 Prestige Format editions from First Comics. That innovative trailblazer foundered before getting even a third of the way through the vast canon, after which Dark Horse Comics acquired the rights, systematically reprinting and translating the entire epic into 28 tankōbon-style editions of around 300 pages each. Once the entire epic was translated – between September 2000 and December 2002 – it was all placed online through the Dark Horse Digital project.

Following cautionary warning on stylistic interpretation ‘A Note to Readers’, this moodily morbid monochrome collection truly gets underway, keeping in text many terms and concepts western readers may find unfamiliar. Thankfully on offer at the close is a Glossary providing detailed context on the term used in the stories. The endless journey resumes in Lanterns for the Dead with 29th exploit ‘Floating Spirits’ as the wanderer buys two bamboo boats as a votive offering, even as elsewhere extremely low-placed yakuza foot-soldiers Kinpachi and Kotomi make a life-changing mistake that costs both their dignity and one his life.

As the heartsick survivor seeks redress of deadly killer Kyōjō Isogitabi and vengeance upon his gang of brutal killers, the petty thug is inexorably drawn into the orbit of the Lone Wolf. The hell-bound wanderer is undertaking his latest commission and already pursues Kyōjō, with that inevitable clash granting Kinpachi and Kotomi deferred but suitably bloody vengeance of a kind…

When a gang of criminal fraudsters attempt their riskiest con after intercepting a client of the Lone Wolf and impersonating Ogami Ittō, the cost to the scurrilous ‘Deer Chaser’ gang is full and fatal. However, the delivery of their fate does not come from the mimicked hitman but from a trusted source turned traitor…

A rather shocking (Absolutely not for the squeamish!) tale – to western sensibilities at least – follows as famine blights the region. The lord of Kigaru Castle’s favourite sport is hunting and torturing dogs and when he does so at ultimate cost to his serfs in ‘Hunger Town’, Wolf and Cub exploit his obsession at great personal cost (especially little Daigoro, who has never had a pet before). With both assassin and deranged noble oblivious to a rural revolt, it all plays out exactly as Ogami expects…

Steeped in Buddhist lore and mythology, ‘The Soldier is the Castle’ sees the grim nomad tested by desperate men before agreeing to become an unlikely saviour. Uncovering a plot to destroy their homeland of Iwakidaira Han by subterfuge, they ask the Wolf to foil a sham gold robbery intended to disgrace and dismantle a region long-coveted by the Shōgun. The impossible task is not just to stop the robbery ever happening but also destroy with notice an army of warriors and the Court’s relentless Kurokuwa Ninjas. Proud to die for the treasured outmoded principle of “Kanjō” (literally The Soldier is the Castle), Ogami Ittō manufactures a miracle, but again only at terrible personal cost…

A potent change of pace concludes the adventure here at ‘One Stone Bridge’ as little Daigoro seeks to care for his grievously wounded father despite the predations of a gang of bullying older kids. His efforts charm and latterly astound a wealthy childless couple who consider adopting the waif.

When they find the child is caring for an adult they seek to help – but only until the assassin drags himself from what should be his deathbed to face Kurokuwa Ninjas who have – due to his actions against the Shōgun rescinded their previous neutrality and declared war on the killer bound for Hell. When Ogami again overcomes all, the couple are still keen to help, if only to get father and child away from them as soon as possible…

Closing with ‘Creator Profiles’ of author Koike Kazuo & illustrator Kojima Goseki plus a tonal ‘Art Gallery’ of powerfully moving images by the latter, this is another classic volume in a series of Japanese imports which utterly changed the nature of American comics and a saga no lover of historical fiction should be without.
Art and story © 1995, 2001 Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima. All other material © 2000 Dark Horse Comics, Inc. Cover art © 2001 Frank Miller. All rights reserved.

Pogo – Bona Fide Balderdash: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 2


By Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-584-6 (HB/Digital edition)

By golly, we finally got us an election, and in these moments of elation and trepidatious uncertainty, it’s only natural to turn to the steadfast things in our lives such as the total conviction that this guy knew all about liars, chancers, opportunists and self-serving, utterly unqualified dissimulators suddenly paying really close attention to what the public has been telling them for years…

It doesn’t hurt that his creator was one of the greatest cartoonists and humourists of all time and that his comics are timelessly wonderful. Read this book and all the others – it may well be your last chance to do so…

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and started his cartooning career whilst still in High School, as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935, after relocating to California he joined the Disney Studio, working on short cartoon films and such major features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio. When the infamous animator’s strike began in 1941 Kelly refused to take sides, and moved back East and into comic books – primarily for Dell Comics who at that time held the Disney funnybook license, amongst so many others.

Despite glorious work on such popular people-based classics as the Our Gang movie spin-off, he preferred and particularly excelled with anthropomorphic animal and children’s fantasy material.

For the December 1942-released Animal Comics #1 this other Walt created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum: sensibly retaining copyrights in the ongoing saga of two affable Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine. Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal actors stayed as stars until 1948 when Kelly moved into journalism, becoming art editor and cartoonist for hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star. On October 4th 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive characters began their second careers, on the far more legitimate funny pages, appearing in the paper six days a week until it folded in January 1949.

Although ostensibly a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its run (reprinted in full at the back of Pogo: the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 1 link please) the first glimmers of an increasingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary began to emerge. When The Star closed, Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate, and launched in selected outlets on May 16th 1949. A colour Sunday page debuted January 29th 1950: both produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 (and even beyond, courtesy of his talented wife and family). At its height the strip appeared in 500 papers in 14 countries with book collections – which began in 1951 – eventually numbering nearly 50 and collectively selling over 30 million copies – and all that before this Fantagraphics series began…

In this second volume the main aspect of interest is the personable Possum’s first innocently adorable attempts to run for Public Office. This became a ritual inevitably and coincidentally reoccurring every four years, whenever America’s merely human inhabitants got together for raucous caucuses and exuberant electioneering. It’s remarkable – but not coincidental – to note that by the close of the 2-year period contained herein, Kelly had increased his count of uniquely Vaudevillian returning characters to over one hundred. The sordid likes of Solid MacHogany, sloganeering P.T. Bridgeport, Tamananny Tiger, Willow McWisper, Goldie Lox, Sarcophagus MacAbre, bull moose Uncle Antler and three brilliantly scene-stealing bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred, amongst so many others, would pop up with varying frequency and growing impact over following decades

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation (356 pages) offers monochrome Dailies from January 1st 1951 to December 31st 1952, plus the Sundays – in their own full-colour section – from January 7th 1951 to December 28th 1952: each faithfully annotated and listed in a copious, expansive and informative Table of Contents. Supplemental features include a Foreword from pioneering comedy legend Stan Freberg, delightful unpublished illustrations and working/developmental drawings by Kelly, extra invaluable context and historical notes in the amazing R.C. Harvey’s ‘Swamp Talk’ and a biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ from Mark Evanier.

In his time, satirical mastermind Kelly unleashed his bestial spokes-cast on such innocent, innocuous sweethearts as Senator Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, The John Birch Society, Richard Nixon and the Ku Klux Clan, as well as less loathsome louts like of Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert Humphrey and – with eerie perspicacity – George W. Romney (US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) Governor of Michigan and dad of a guy named Mitt…

This particular monument to madcap mirth and sublime drollery naturally carries the usual cast: gently bemused Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant alligator Albert, dolorous Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagger Seminole Sam Fox, pompous (doesn’t) know-it-all Howland Owl and all the bestial rest: covering not only day-to-day topics and travails like love, marriage, weather, fishing, the problem with kids, the innocent joys of sports, making a living and why neighbours shouldn’t eat each other, but also includes epic and classic sagas: the stress of Poetry Contests, hunting – from a variety of points of view – Christmas and other Public Holidays, incipient invasion, war and even cross-dressing, to name but a few…

Kelly spent a good deal of 1952 spoofing the electoral race, and this tome offers magical, magnificent treatment of all problems associated with grass (and moss) roots politics, dubious campaign tactics, loony lobbying, fun with photo ops, briefings (for & against), impractical tactical alliances, glad-handing, a proliferation of political promos and ephemera, how to build clockwork voters – and candidates – and of course, life after a failed run for the top job…

As the delicious Miz Ma’m’selle Hepzibah would no doubt say: “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”

Either I heard it somewhere or I’m just making it up, but I gather certain embattled Prime Ministers and Presidents are using the cartoons as tactical playbooks and there’s a copy in every gift bag handed out at Riyadh and Davos. Gosh, how I hope so…

Kelly’s uncontested genius lay in a seemingly effortless ability to lyrically and vivaciously portray – through anthropomorphic affectation – comedic, tragic, pompous, infinitely sympathetic characters of any shape or breed, all whilst making them undeniably human. He used that blessed gift to blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre.

The hairy, scaly, feathered slimy folk of the surreal swamp lands are, of course, inescapably us, elevated by burlesque, slapstick, absurdism and all the glorious joys of wordplay from puns to malapropisms to raucous accent humour into a multi-layered hodgepodge of all-ages delight. Tragically, here at least, we’ve never looked or behaved better…

This stuff will certainly make you laugh; it will probably provoke a sentimental tear or ten and will certainly satisfy your every entertainment requirement. Timeless and magical, Pogo is a weeny colossus not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent collection should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf, right beside the first one. Or, in the popular campaign parlance of the critters involved: “I Go Pogo!” and so should you.
POGO Bona Fide Balderdash and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2012 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2012 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.

Flash Gordon on the Planet Mongo volume 1: Sundays 1934-1937 (The Complete Flash Gordon Library


By Alex Raymond & Don Moore, with restorations by Peter Maresca (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-154-6 (HB)

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

Where Rogers offered traditional adventures laced with blue sky science concepts, its new competitor reinterpreted Fairy Tales, Heroic Epics and Mythology. It did so by spectacularly draping them in trappings of a contemporary future, varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for trusty swords and lances (although there were also plenty of those) and exotic flying craft and contraptions standing in for Galleons, Chariots and Magic Carpets.

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for concise, elegant detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip all young artists swiped from. When all-original comic books began some few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean lined Romanticism of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Most of the others went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (which also began in 1934 – and who will get his go another day).

Thankfully in this 90th anniversary year there are still many collections knocking about, and I’m plumping here for 2012’s hardcover archive from British publisher and keeper of traditions Titan Books, who boldly began a Complete Library of the stellar crusader’s exploits that year. We’re still waiting for its conclusion…

Augmenting the epic entertainment is a brace of photo and illustration-packed introductory essays, beginning with uber-artist/fan Alex Ross’ exploration of ‘The Flash Gordon Legacy’ and continuing with ‘Birth of a Legend’ by comics writer and historical publisher Doug Murray, detailing the fantasy milieu into which the dauntless hero was born…

The immortal saga begins with a rogue planet about to smash into Earth. As panic grips the planet, polo player Flash and fellow airline passenger Dale Arden narrowly escape disaster when a meteor fragment downs the plane they’re traveling on. Parachuting out, they land on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov – who imprisons them on a rocket-ship he has built. His plan? To fly directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it!

…And that’s just the first 13-panel episode. ‘On the Planet Mongo’ ran every Sunday until April 15th 1934 when, according to this wonderful full-colour book, second adventure ‘Monsters of Mongo’ (22nd April – 18th November 1934) began, promptly followed by ‘Tournaments of Mongo’ (25th November 1934 to 24th February 1935).

To readers back then, of course, there were no such artificial divisions. There was just one continuous, unmissable Sunday appointment with utter wonderment. The machinations of the impossibly evil but magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet, Flash’s battles and alliances with myriad exotic races subject to the Emperor’s will and the Earthman’s gradual victory over oppression captivated America and the World in tales that seemed a direct and welcome contrast to an increasingly darker reality in the days before World War II.

In short order the Earthlings become firm friends – and in the case of Flash & Dale, much more – as they encounter, battle and frequently ally with beautiful, cruel Princess Aura, the Red Monkey Men, Lion Men, Shark Men, Dwarf Men, and crucially King Vultan and the winged Hawkmen. The epic rebellion against seemingly unbeatable Ming really started with the awesome ‘Tournaments…’ sequence wherein Raymond seemed to simply explode with confidence. It was here that true magic blossomed, with every episode more spectacular than the last. Without breaking step, Raymond moved on to his next mini-epic, as our hero entered ‘The Caverns of Mongo’ on March 3rd until 14th April 1935.

Veteran editor Don Moore was only 30 when he was convinced to “assist” Raymond with the writing, starting soon after the strip first gained momentum and popularity. Moore remained until 1953, long after Raymond had gone. The artist had joined the Marines in February 1944, with the last page he worked on published on April 30th of that year. On demobilisation, Raymond moved to fresh strip fields with detective strip Rip Kirby. Mercifully, that still leaves a decade’s worth of spectacular, majestic adventure for us to enjoy…

Without pausing for breath, the collaborators introduced a host of new races and places for their perfect hero to win over in the war against Ming’s timeless evil. On increasingly epic Sunday comics pages, Flash and his entourage confronted the ‘Witch Queen of Mongo’ (April 21st – 13th October 1935), found themselves ‘At War with Ming’ (20th October 1935 – April 5th 1936) and discovered ‘The Undersea Kingdom of Mongo’ (12th April – 11th October 1936). The sheer glorious beauty and drama of the globally-syndicated serial captivated readers all over the world, resulting in not only some of the medium’s most glorious comic art, but also novels, 3 movie serials, radio and TV shows, a monochrome daily strip (by Raymond’s former assistant Austin Briggs), comic books, merchandise and so much more.

The Ruritanian flavour of the series was enhanced continuously, as Raymond’s slick, sleek futurism endlessly accessed and refined a picture-perfect Romanticism of idyllic Kingdoms, populated by idealised heroes, stylised villains and women of staggering beauty. In these episodes Azura, Witch Queen of Mongo wages brutal, bloody war against Flash and his friends for control of the underworld, eventually leading to all-out conflict with Ming the Merciless – a sequence of such memorable power that artists and movie-men would be swiping from it for decades to come.

When the war ends our heroes are forced to flee, only to become refugees and captives of the seductive Queen Undina in her undersea Coral City. The never-ending parade of hairsbreadth escapes, fights and/or chases continues as Flash, Dale & Zarkov crash into the huge jungle of Mongo. As this initial tome ends the refugees enter ‘The Forest Kingdom of Mongo’ (October 18th 1936 to January 31st 1937): barely surviving its wild creatures before weathering horrific tunnels of ‘The Tusk-Men of Mongo’ (February 7th to June 5th 1938). Here, struggling through desperate hardship and overcoming both monsters and the esoteric semi-humans they finally reach Arboria, the Tree kingdom of Prince Barin, Ming’s son-in-law. He is not what he seems…

And so the book ends, but not the adventure. Even stripped down to bare plot-facts, the drama is captivating. Once you factor in the by-play, jealousies and intrigues – all rendered with spectacular and lush visualisation by the master of classical realism – you can begin to grasp why this strip captured the world’s imagination and holds it still. To garnish all this enchantment, there’s even ‘The Alex Raymond Flash Gordon Checklist’ and biographies of both creators and this astounding tome’s key contributors

Along with Hal Foster (Prince Valiant) and Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon), Raymond’s work on Flash Gordon is considered pivotal to the development of American – if not world – comic art. These works overwhelmingly influenced everyone who followed until the emergence of manga and the advancement of computer technology. If you’ve only heard how good this strip is, you owe it to yourself to experience the magic up close and personal.

I never fail to be impressed by the quality of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon. Yes, plots are formulaic and some gender and social attitudes need to be embraced on their own historical terms but what commercial narrative medium of any vintage is free of that? What is never dull or repetitive is the sheer artistry and bravura staging of the tales. Every episode is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, but the next episode still tops it. You are a fool to yourself if you don’t try this wonderful strip out.

Flash Gordon © 2012 King Features Syndicate Inc., ™ & © Hearst Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

Asterix Omnibus volume 1: Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and the Golden Sickle, Asterix and the Goths


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion)
ISBN: 978-0-75289-154-5(HB) 978-1-44400-423-6(TPB)

Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export. The feisty, wily little warrior who fought the iniquities and viewed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and – whenever necessary – a magical potion imbuing the imbiber with incredible strength, speed and vitality, is the go-to reference all us non-Gallic gallants when we think of France.

The diminutive, doughty darling was created at the close of the 1950s by two of our artform’s greatest masters, with his first official appearance being October 29th in Pilote #1, even though he had actually debuted in a pre-release teaser – or “pilot” – some weeks earlier. Bon Anniversaire mon petit brave!

René Goscinny was arguably the most prolific – and remains one of the most read – writers of comic strips the world has ever known. Born in Paris in 1926, he grew up in Argentina where his father taught mathematics. From an early age René showed artistic promise. He studied fine arts and graduated in 1942. Three years later, while working as junior illustrator at an ad agency, his uncle invited him to stay in America, where he worked as a translator.

After National Service in France, he returned to the States and settled in Brooklyn, pursuing an artistic career and becoming, in 1948, an assistant in a small studio which included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis & John Severin, as well as European giants-in-waiting Maurice de Bévère (Morris, with whom from 1955-1977 Goscinny produced Lucky Luke) and Joseph Gillain (Jijé).

Goscinny also met Georges Troisfontaines, head of World Press Agency, the company that provided comics for the French magazine Le Journal de Spirou. After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and Jerry Spring, Goscinny was promoted to head of World Press’ Paris office. Here he met his ultimate creative collaborator Albert Uderzo. In his spare time, René also created Sylvie and Alain et Christine with Martial Durand (“Martial”) and Fanfan et Polo, drawn by Dino Attanasio. In 1955, Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier & Jean Hébrad formed independent syndicate Édifrance/Édipresse, creating magazines for business and general industry like Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory. With Uderzo, René spawned Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine, whilst illustrated his own scripts for Le Capitaine Bibobu.

Under nom-de-plume Agostini, he wrote Le Petit Nicholas (drawn by Jean-Jacques Sempé), and in 1956 began an association with revolutionary periodical Le Journal de Tintin, writing for various illustrators including Attanasio (Signor Spagetti), Bob De Moor (Monsieur Tric), Maréchal (Prudence Petitpas), Berck (Strapontin), Globule le Martien and Alphonse for Tibet; as well as Modeste et Pompon for André Franquin, and with Uderzo fabulously funny adventures of inimitable Indian brave Oumpah-Pah. Goscinny also wrote for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959, Édifrance/Édipresse launched Pilote, and René went into overdrive. The first issue featured re-launched versions of Le Petit Nicolas, Jehan Pistolet/Jehan Soupolet, new serials Jacquot le Mousse and Tromblon et Bottaclou (drawn by Godard), plus a little something called Astérix le gaulois: inarguably the greatest achievement of his partnership with Uderzo.

When Georges Dargaud bought Pilote in 1960, Goscinny became Editor-in-Chief, still making time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (with Martial), La Potachologie Illustré (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx). He also wrote frequently for television, but never stopped creating strips like Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah for Record – illustrated by Swedish artist Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud when it transferred to Pilote. Goscinny died far too young, in November 1977.

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927, in Fismes on the Marne, a child of Italian immigrants. As a boy reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, he showed artistic flair from an early age. Alberto became a French citizen at age seven and dreamed of being an aircraft mechanic, but at 13 became an apprentice of the Paris Publishing Society, learning design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching. When WWII came, he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany, joining his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being decided upon, the region was the only choice…

In France’s post-war rebuilding, Uderzo returned to Paris to become a successful illustrator in the country’s burgeoning comics industry. His first published work – a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables – appeared in Junior and, in 1945, he was introduced to industry giant Edmond- Françoise Calvo (The Beast is Dead). Young Uderzo’s subsequent creations included indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated novels, worked in animation, as a journalist, as illustrator for France Dimanche and created vertical comic strip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir. In 1950, he drew a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

Another inveterate traveller, the young artist met Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends, they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right or gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were devised for La Libre Junior and they produced a comedy Western starring a very Red (but not so American) Indian who evolved into Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replacing Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine before, in 1957 adding Charlier’s Clairette to his bulging portfolio. The following year, he made his Tintin debut, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and rapturous audience. Uderzo also illuminated Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane.

When Pilote launched in October 1959, Uderzo was its major creative force, limning Charlier’s Tanguy et Laverdure and a humorous historical strip about Romans…

Although Asterix was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (subsequently Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first historical serial was collected in a single volume as Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it was clear the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death, the publication rate of Asterix tales dropped from two per year to one volume every 3-to-5).

By 1967, Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation, and when Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist. Happily, he gave in and produced a further ten volumes before retiring in 2009. According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the 10th most-often translated French-language author in the world and 3rd most-translated French language comics author – right behind his old mate René and the grand master Hergé.

So what’s it all about?

Like all the best entertainments the premise works on two levels: as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a-cropper for younger readers and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, transformed here by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue).

Originally serialised in Pilote #1-38 (29th October 1959 – 4th July 1960, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0 distributed from June 1st 1959), the story is set in the year 50 BC (not BCE!) on the outermost tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast. Here a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families frustrate every effort of the immense but not so irresistible Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul.

Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorts to a policy of containment, leaving the little seaside hamlet hemmed in by heavily fortified permanent garrisons – Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium. The Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine by just going about their everyday affairs, protected by a magic potion provided by the resident druid and the shrewd wits of a rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic best friend…

In Asterix the Gaul, this immaculate comedy-drama scenario is hilariously demonstrated when Centurion Crismus Bonus – fed up with his soldiers being casually beaten up by the fiercely free pre-Frenchmen – sends reluctant spy Caligula Minus to ferret out the secret of their incredible strength. The affable insurgents take the infiltrator in and, soon dosed up with potion, the perfidious Roman escapes with the answer – if not the formula itself…

Soon after, wise and wily Druid Getafix is captured by the invaders and the village seems doomed, but crafty Asterix is on the case. Breaking into Compendium and resolved to teach the Romans a lesson, he drives them crazy for ages by resisting all efforts at bribery and coercion, until abruptly wizard and warrior seemingly capitulate. They make the Romans a magic potion… but not the one the rapacious oppressors were hoping for…

Although comparatively raw and unpolished, the good-natured, adventurous humour and sheer energy of the yarn barrels along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, all marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s seductively stylish bigfoot art-style. From the second saga on, the unique and expanding cast would encroach on events, especially the unique and expanded, show-stealing sidekick Obelix – who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby – and became a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to our little wise guy…

Asterix and the Golden Sickle originally unfolded in Pilote #42-74, recounting disastrous consequences after Getafix loses his ceremonial gold sickle just before the grand Annual Conference of Gaulish Druids. Since time is passing and no ordinary replacement will suffice to cut ingredients for magic potion, Asterix offers to go all the way to Lutetia (you can call it Paris if you want) to find another.

Since Obelix has a cousin there – Metallurgix the Smith – he volunteers for the trip too and the punning pair are swiftly away, barely stopping to teach assorted bandits the errors of their pilfering ways, but still finding a little time to visit many roadside inns and taverns serving traditional roast boar. There is concurrently a crisis in Lutetia: a mysterious gang is stealing all the Golden Sickles and forcing prices up. The Druid community is deeply distressed and, more worrying still, master sickle-maker Metallurgix has gone missing too.

When Asterix and Obelix investigate the dastardly doings in their own bombastic manner they discover a nefarious plot that seems to go all the way to the office of the local Roman Prefect…

The early creative experiment was quickly crystallizing into a supremely winning format of ongoing weekly episodes slowly building into complete readily divisible adventures. The next epic cemented the strip’s status as a popular icon of Gallic excellence.

Asterix and the Goths ran from 1962-1963 and followed a dangling plot-thread of the Druid Conference as Getafix, brand new sickle in hand, sets off for the Forest of the Carnutes to compete. However, on Gaul’s Eastern border savage Goths – barbarians who remained unconquered despite the might of the Empire – have crossed into pacified Roman territory. These barbarians are intent on capturing the mightiest Druid and turning his magic against the rule of Julius Caesar

Although non-Druids aren’t allowed into the forest, Asterix & Obelix had accompanied Getafix to its edge, and as the Conference competition round ends in victory for him and his power-potion, the Goths strike, abducting him in his moment of triumph. Alerted by fellow Druid Prefix, our heroic duo track the kidnappers, but are mistaken for Visigoths by Roman patrols, allowing the Goths to cross the border into Germania. Although Romans are no threat, they can be a time-wasting hindrance, so Asterix & Obelix disguise themselves as Romans to invade the Barbarian lands…

By now well-used to being held prisoner, Getafix is making himself a real nuisance to his bellicose captors and a genuine threat to the wellbeing of his long-suffering appointed translator. When Asterix & Obelix are captured dressed as Goths, they concoct a cunning plan to end the ever-present threat of Gothic invasion – a scheme that continues successfully for almost two thousand years…

Astérix is one of the most popular comics in the world, translated into 111 languages, with a host of animated and live-action movies, games and even his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). Approaching 400 million copies of 40 Asterix books and a handful of spin-off volumes have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors. This is sublime comics storytelling and you’d be as Crazy as the Romans not to increase those statistics by finally getting around to acquiring your own copies of this fabulous, frolicsome French Folly.
© 1961-1963 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Tarzan and the Lost Tribes (Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 4)


By Burne Hogarth & Rob Thompson (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-320-7 (Album HB)

The 1930 and 1940s was an era of astounding pictorial periodical adventure. In the years before television, newspaper strips (and later comicbooks) were the only visually-based home entertainment for millions of citizens young and old and consequently shaped the culture of many nations. Relatively few strips attained near-universal approval and acclaim. Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates and Prince Valiant were in that rarefied pantheon but arguably the most famous was Tarzan.

The full-blown dramatic adventure serial started on January 7th 1929 with Buck Rogers and Tarzan debuting that day. Both were adaptations of pre-existing prose properties and their influence changed the shape of the medium forever. The 1930s saw an explosion of similar fare, launched with astounding rapidity and success. Not just strips but actual genres were created in that decade, still impacting on today’s comic-books and, in truth, all our popular fiction forms.

In terms of art quality, the adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ immensely successful novels starring jungle-bred John Clayton, Lord Greystoke by Canadian commercial artist Harold “Hal” Foster were unsurpassed. These strips soon became a firm favourite of the masses, supplementing movies, books, a radio show and ubiquitous advertising appearances.

As detailed in previous volumes of this sublime oversized (330 x 254 mm), full-colour hardback series, Foster initially quit the strip at the end of a 10-week adaptation of first novel Tarzan of the Apes and was replaced by Rex Maxon. At the insistent urging of author ER Burroughs, Foster returned when the black-&-white daily expanded to include a lush, full colour Sunday page featuring original adventures.

Maxon was left to capably handle the weekday book adaptations, and Foster crafted the epic and lavish Sunday page until 1936 (233 consecutive weeks). He then left again, for good: moving to King Features Syndicate and his own landmark weekend masterpiece Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur – debuting in February 1937. Once the 4-month backlog of material he built up was gone, Foster was succeeded by precociously brilliant 25-year old Burne Hogarth: a graphic visionary whose superb anatomical skill, cinematic design flair and compelling page composition revolutionised the entire field of action/adventure narrative illustration. The galvanic modern dynamism of the idealised human figure in today’s comicbooks can be directly attributed to Hogarth’s pioneering drawing and, in later years, educational efforts. Burroughs cannily used the increasingly popular comic strip to cross-market his own prose efforts with great effect.

This fantastic fourth tome begins with the spectacularly illustrated ‘Jusko on Hogarth: An Education in Form and Movement’ with the fantasy painter harking back to his childhood comics experiences and influences after which the astounding action/adventure epic recommences. At this time, Hogarth was sharing the scripting chores veteran collaborator Rob Thompson, having only recently returned to the feature after a dispute with the owners. He had moved to the Robert Hall Syndicate for whom he produced seminal adventure classic Drago, and then United Features to create comedy strip Miracle Jones. During the time away from Tarzan, Hogarth – with Silas Rhodes – opened the Cartoonists and Illustrators School, which later evolved into the School of Visual Arts.

‘Tarzan and N’Ani’ (episodes #875-896, 14th December to 1948 – 9th May 1948) offers more raw drama as Tarzan visits old friend Pangola only to find the chief dead and his Wakamba warriors under the thumb of apparent spirit soldiers and their White Queen. A little spirited resistance and dedicated investigation by the Ape-Man soon reveals crooked circus performers exploiting and enslaving the natives, but before he can confront the villains they take his wife Jane hostage. N’Ani’s big mistake is thinking her captive is a weak and feeble civilised woman…

When the bad guys and their trained big cats are dealt with, the excitement briefly subsides, but all too soon the Jungle Lord is duped into boarding a scientist’s reconditioned atomic submarine and whisked away against his will to uncanny uncharted regions in year-long saga ‘Tarzan on the Island of Mua-Ao’ (pages #897-947 and running from 16th May 1948 to 1st May 1949). After some Nemo-like subsea escapades (the mad scientist not the cartoon fish) Tarzan and his unwelcome companions fetch up on a Polynesian (minor) lost continent only to be captured by the scientifically advanced but morally barbarous Lahtian people. This slave-owning totalitarian kingdom is ripe for revolution and after our hero – with worthy warriors Soros and Timaru – escapes a gladiatorial arena they go about arranging one. Of course, that necessitates traversing the savage jungle hinterlands, surviving its ubiquitous feline predators and making peace with the dominant Ornag-Rimba and Thalian tribes…

A little complication crops up when local witchdoctor Totama feels threatened and repeatedly seeks to assassinate Tarzan, but the Ape-Man counters every plot and foray in his own unstintingly decisive manner…

Eventually, Tarzan has his coalition in place and leads an unstoppable assault against the Lahtians which inevitably leads to regime-change and his return to Africa…

The titanic tome concludes in a macabre yarn and a radical overhaul of the strip. During ‘Tarzan and the Ononoes’ (#948-972) which ran from May 8th to 23rd October 1949, the venerated traditional full-page vertical format was controversially downgraded to episodes printed in landscape format, allowing a certain liberalisation of layouts but making pages seem cramped and claustrophobic…

Narratively, the tone is full-on fantasy as Tarzan swears to expiring explorer Philip Ransome that he will rescue his lost daughter from mysterious creatures holding her beyond the impassable Ashangola Mountains.

That mission brings him into conflict with Waloks – intelligent missing-link anthropoids – and their bitter enemies, a race of depraved monsters called Ononoes. These carnivorous horrors are giant heads with arms but no legs or torsos with a penchant for human sacrifice. Their next victim is to be an outworlder girl named Barbara Ransome

Grim, grotesque and genuinely scary, Tarzan’s struggle against the rotund terrors is a high point of the strip and anticipates even greater thrills in the forthcoming final collection.

To Be Concluded…

Tarzan is a fictive creation who has attained an immortal reality in a number of different creative arenas, but none offer the breathtaking visceral immediacy of Burne Hogarth’s comic strips.

These vivid visual masterworks are all coiled-spring tension or vital, violent explosive motion, stretching, running, fighting: a surging rush of power and glory. It’s a dream come true that these majestic exploits are back in print for ours and future generations of dedicated fantasists to enjoy.
Trademarks Tarzan® and Edgar Rice Burroughs® owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and Used by Permission. Copyright © 2017 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Year One – The Deluxe Edition



By Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli with Richmond Lewis, Todd Klein & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3342-6 (HB/Digital edition) (978-0-29020-489-0 TPB)

Happy Bat-Anniversary!

Batman’s first ever origin moment came in Detective Comics #33 (November 1939, on sale from September 30th). Scripted by Gardner F. Fox and Bill Finger, ‘The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom’ included 2-page prologue ‘The Batman and How He Came to Be’ which first revealed how a young boy witnessed his parents’ hold-up and murder by a petty thug and dedicated his life to becoming a perfect human specimen to avenge them and punish all criminals. Those 12 panels were reprinted at the beginning of Batman #1 (Spring 1940) and – with occasional minor tweaking – stayed the official version for 50 years.

However, comic book heroes are all about fashion and revisionism, and on the back of DC’s multiversal continuity adjustment Crisis on Infinite Earths the hero voted Best Comic Book Character of the 20th Century completed a long-enacted but gradual readjustment: completely reverting to his gothic noir roots. The process actually started almost immediately after the Batman TV show was cancelled, and hit its pivot point in two 1980s’ tales: Alan Moore & Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke and the revolutionary series-within-a-series here.

This classic tale is available in a variety of editions. Batman: Year One is a joy to read and its pulp fiction fuelled reinterpretation of the hallowed origin literally changed the way Batman was produced – much more so than Frank Miller’s apocalyptic “Imaginary story” The Dark Knight Returns. The effects of the revisualisation still echo through Bat-titles and every single screen iteration from animated cartoons to box office blockbusters.

When Superman and Wonder Woman were similarly re-tooled, each got to start fresh with a new number #1s, but Batman’s evolution simply crept up on fans in the regular run of comics. The tale radically reimagined Catwoman and Jim Gordon, introduced believable human-scaled villains with organised crime figures such as Carmine Falcone and comprehensively rebuilt Gotham City as a hopeless hellhole of endemic corruption.

It began in Batman #404 – cover-dated February 1987 and on sale from October 21st 1986. Over four issues the bleak serial utterly altered the comic landscape as scripter Frank Miller and illustrator David Mazzucchelli (fresh from an astounding collaboration resurrecting Daredevil in Born Again please link to Daredevil: Born Again July 26th 2016) made Bruce Wayne and Batman simultaneously more human, vulnerable, formidable and credible.

With art based on the stylisations of Alex Toth and a story lensed through iron-hard detective and crime procedural dramas ‘Chapter One: Who I Am. How I Come to Be’ opens on January 4th and focuses on Wayne and recent transfer Lieutenant James Gordon as both arrive in Gotham ahead of personal scandals. Gordon is joining the crookedest constabulary in America, and the young heir to one of the City’s biggest fortunes has a desperate wish, a poorly formed plan and no method of getting what he wants.

By March, both have almost died but found their own way to hit back…

‘Chapter Two: War is Declared’ opens in April with Gordon hailed an honest-to-goodness hero cop. It’s the only thing saving him from being murdered by his own corrupt colleagues and mob-owned Police Commissioner Gillian B. Loeb: that and his high-profile hunt for a costumed vigilante who dresses like a bat…

When the masked maniac graduates from thugs, pushers and burglars by declaring war on Gotham’s criminal aristocracy, Gordon’s hunger to catch him falters. Isn’t the Bat doing exactly what Gordon would do if he didn’t have a pregnant wife, secret mistress and pitiful career to protect?

His conflicted quandaries are put into sharp perspective in ‘Chapter Three: Black Dawn’ when Loeb submits to pressure from Falcone and unleashes Gotham’s brutally gung-ho SWAT forces on the vigilante: a move costing countless civilian lives when they raid a tenement in hot pursuit of “The Bat”. The assault is live televised, triggering one witness to begin her own costumed career, plundering Falcone’s shaking empire even as the mystery man categorically proves he’s no urban myth but a force to be feared…

Spanning September to December 3rd, ‘Chapter Four: Friend in Need’ finds our mismatched heroes finally joining forces after Gordon at last sees the kind of man The Bat is. That comes when GCPD attempt to destroy the by-the-book cop by targeting his wife and newborn baby and leads to the beginning of a major clean up in Gotham’s government…

The sequence was heavily promoted from the start and immediately reset The Dark Night’s monthly continuity. From this point on this was what Batman was ALWAYS like…

A high design style was created from the start – by Chip Kidd – to match the fully immersive impressionist reworking. This story was treating the material like a grownup book not a kid’s throwaway pamphlet: boldly declaring “less is more. Less is enough. Less is what you get. Work with what’s here.” The whole point of the exercise was to give creators that followed plenty of raw material to work with and it paid off big-time as the Dark Knight began his second Golden Age.

Various collected editions include up to 40 pages of extras such as mood setting preface ‘The Crime Blotter by Slam Bradley’, an Introduction by Denny O’Neil, Afterword by Miller and Mazzucchelli’s wonderfully drawn ‘Afterword(s)’ – a comic strip commentary on Batman. There is a wealth of development material, promotional art and selection of script pages, thumbnail sketches and layouts providing a fascinating intro into the artistic process. Colourist Richmond Lewis completely reworked the printed newsprint pages for the higher quality graphic novel and examples of her process are here, plus a full comics cover gallery and large selection of book cover designs.

Batman: Year One is a story every comic fan should own, and if you are and you don’t, fix that situation now, Now, NOW!
© 1986, 1987, 2005, 2007, 2012, 2017, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Valerian: The Complete Collection volume 1


By J.-C. Mézières & P. Christin with colours by E. Tranlê: translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-352-9 (HB/Digital edition)

Although I still marginally plump for Flash Gordon, another strong contender for the most influential science fiction series ever drawn – and yes, I am including Buck Rogers in this tautological turmoil – is Valérian. Although to a large extent those venerable newspaper strips actually formed the genre itself, anybody who has seen a Star Wars movie (or indeed any sci fi flic from the 1980s onwards) has seen some of Jean-Claude Mézières & Pierre Christin’s brilliant imaginings which the film industry has shamelessly plundered for decades: everything from the Millennium Falcon’s look to Leia’s Slave Girl outfit…

Please don’t take my word for it: this splendid oversized hardback compendium – originally released to cash in on the epic Luc Besson movie – has a copious and good-natured text feature entitled ‘Image Creators’ confirming and comparing panels to film stills.

In case you’re curious, additional features include photo & design art-packed ‘Interview Luc Besson, Jean-Claude Mézières and Pierre Christin (Part I)’ plus bullet-point historical briefings ‘How it All Began…’, ‘Go West Young Men!’, ‘Colliding Worlds’, ‘Explore Anything’ and ‘Hello!’ This is Laureline…’. Simply put, more carbon-based lifeforms have marvelled at the uniquely innovative, grungy, lived-in tech realism and light-hearted swashbuckling roller-coasting of Mézières & Christin than any other cartoon spacer ever imagined possible.

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent launched in the November 9th 1967 edition of Pilote (#420, running until February 15th 1968). It was an instant hit. However, album compilations only began with second tale The City of Shifting Waters, as all creatives concerned considered their first yarn as a work-in-progress, not quite up to their preferred standard. You can judge for yourself, as that prototype – Bad Dreams – kicks off this volume, in its first English-language translation…

The groundbreaking series was boosted by a Franco-Belgian mini-boom in science fiction triggered by Jean-Claude Forest’s 1962 creation Barbarella. Other notable successes of the era include Greg & Eddy Paape’s Luc Orient and Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane tales (our reviews are coming soon!), which all – with Valérian – stimulated mass public reception to science fiction and led to the creation of dedicated fantasy periodical Métal Hurlant in 1977.

Valérian and Laureline (as it became) is a light-hearted, wildly imaginative time-travel adventure-romp (a bit like Doctor Who, but not really at all), drenched in wry, satirical, humanist, political commentary, starring (at least in the beginning) an affably capable but unimaginative, by-the-book cop tasked with protecting universal time-lines and counteracting paradoxes caused by reckless casual time-travellers…

The fabulous fun commences with the aforementioned Bad Dreams – which began life as Les Mauvais Réves – a blend of comedy and action as dry dullard Valérian voyages to 11th century France in pursuit of a demented dream-scientist: a maverick seeking magical secrets to remake the universe to his liking. Sadly, our hero is a little out of his depth until rescued from a tricky situation by a fiery, capable young woman/temporal native called Laureline.

After handily dealing with the dissident Xombul and his stolen sorceries, Valerian brings Laureline back with him to the 28th century super-citadel and administrative wonderland of Galaxity, capital of the vast and mighty Terran Empire.

The indomitable girl trains as a Spatio-Temporal operative and is soon an apprentice Spatio-Temporal Agent accompanying Val on his missions throughout time and space…

Every subsequent Valérian adventure until the 13th was first serialised in weekly Pilote until the conclusion of The Rage of Hypsis (January 1st – September 1st 1985) after which the mind-wrenching sagas were simply launched as all-new complete graphic novels, until the magnificent opus concluded in 2010.

One clarifying note: in the canon, “Hypsis” is counted as the 12th tale, due to collected albums being numbered from The City of Shifting Waters. When Les Mauvais Réves was finally released in a collected edition in 1983 it was given the number #0. The City of Shifting Waters was originally published in two tranches; La Cité des Eaux Mouvantes (#455-468, 25th July – 24th October 1968) followed by Terre en Flammes (Earth in Flames, #492-505, 10th April – 10th July 1969).

Both are included here and the action opens with the odd couple dispatched to 1986 – when civilisation on Earth was destroyed due to ecological negligence, political chicanery and atomic holocaust. Their orders are to recapture Xombul, still hellbent on undermining Galaxity and establishing himself as Dictator of the Universe. To attain this goal the renegade travelled to New York after the nuclear accident melted the ice caps and flooded the city – and almost everywhere else. He’s hunting lost scientific secrets that would allow him to conquer the devastated planet and prevent the Terran Empire ever forming… at least that’s what his Galaxity pursuers assume…

Plunged back into an apocalyptic nightmare where Broadway and Wall Street are submerged, jungle vines connect deserted skyscrapers, tsunamis are an hourly hazard and bold looters snatch up the last golden treasures of a lost civilisation, the S-T agents find unique allies to preserve the proper past, but are constantly thwarted by Xombul who has constructed deadly robotic slaves to ensure his schemes.

Visually spectacular, mind-bogglingly ingenious and steeped in delicious in-jokes (the utterly-mad-yet-brilliant boffin who helps them is a hilarious dead ringer for Jerry Lewis in 1963 film The Nutty Professor) this is a timelessly witty Science Fiction delight which climaxes in a moody cliffhanger…

Immediately following, Earth in Flames concludes the saga as our heroes head inland, encountering hardy survivors of the holocaust. Enduring more hardships, they escape even greater catastrophes such as the eruption of a super-volcano under Yellowstone Park before finally frustrating the plans of the most ambitious mass-killer in all of history… and as Spatio-Temporal Agents they should know…

Concluding this first fantastic festive celebration is The Empire of a Thousand Planets (originally seen in Pilote #520-541, October 23rd 1969 – March 19th 1970) as veteran and rookie are despatched to fabled planet Syrte the Magnificent. It is the capital of a vast system-wide civilisation and a world in inexplicable and rapid technological and social decline. The mission is threat-assessment: staying in their base time-period (October 2720) the pair must examine the first galactic civilisation ever discovered which has never experienced any form of human contact or contamination. As usual, events don’t go according to plan…

Despite easily blending into a culture with a thousand separate sentient species, Valerian & Laureline find themselves plunged into intrigue and dire danger when the cheekily acquisitive girl buys an old watch in the market. Nobody on Syrte knows what it is since all the creatures of this civilisation have an innate, infallible time-sense, but the gaudy bauble quickly attracts the attention of one of the Enlightened – a sinister cult of masked mystics who have the ear of the Emperor and a stranglehold on all technologies.

The Enlightened are responsible for the stagnation within this once-vital interplanetary colossus and they quickly move to eradicate the Spatio-Temporal agents. Narrowly escaping doom, the pair reluctantly experience the staggering natural wonders and perils of the wilds beyond the capital city before dutifully returning to retrieve their docked spaceship. Sadly, our dauntless duo are distracted, embroiled in a deadly rebellion fomented by the Commercial Traders Guild. Infiltrating the awesome palace of the puppet-Emperor and visiting the mysterious outer planets, Valerian & Laureline discover a long-fomenting plot to destroy Earth – a world supposedly unknown to anyone in this Millennial Empire…

All-out war looms and the Enlightened’s incredible connection to post-Atomic disaster Earth is revealed just as interstellar conflict erupts between rebels and Imperial forces, with our heroes forced to fully abandon their neutrality and take up arms to save two civilisations a universe apart yet inextricably linked…

Comfortingly familiar and always innovative, this savvy space-opera is fun-filled, action-packed, spectacular, visually breathtaking and mind-bogglingly ingenious. Drenched in wide-eyed fantasy wonderment, science fiction adventures have never been better than this.
© Dargaud Paris, 2016 by Christin, Mézières & Tranlê. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets – The Official Classic Children’s Illustrated Mystery Adventure Series


By Hergé translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Farshore)
ISBN: 978-1-40521-477-3 (HB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and 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) which have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Dickens with the Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died while working, so final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without an official 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 70 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 Siècle where he apparently fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist (himself a dedicated boy scout) produced his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine. By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siècle’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme. He was unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nènesse and Poussette and Cochonette (written by a staff sports reporter) when 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? Also, perhaps he might also highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats?

Having recently discovered word balloons in imported newspaper strips, Remi opted to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work, producing a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning on January 10th 1929, Tintin au pays des Soviets AKA Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments in Le Petit Vingtiéme, eventually running until May 8th 1930: meaning that as well as celebrating 95 years of existence Tintin remains one of the very first globally successful strip characters, barely preceded by Tarzan and Buck Rogers (both January 17th 1929) and Popeye on January 17th of that year…

The 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 English speakers) 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 and opens with the pair arriving in Russia. The dog and his boy are constantly subjected to a series of attacks and tricks in a vain scheme by “the Soviets” to prevent the truth of their failed economic progress, specious popular support and wicked global aspirations being revealed to the Free World.

In a manic, breathless progression of fights, chases, slapstick accidents and futile attempts to bribe and corrupt him – or worse – a hint of Tintin as a capable, decent and resourceful hero can be seen cohering on every progressive page as he thwarts the plots of the Bolsheviks and Moscow’s ubiquitous Secret Police…

Week by week, page by page, Tintin “gets away clean” in all manner of fast, flashy machines – all lovingly rendered in a stylised, meta-realistic manner not yet used for the human characters: a clear forerunner of Hergé’s Ligne Claire drawing style which develops rapidly as the plucky lad makes his way back across Europe to a rapturous welcome in Belgium, and with every kilometre covered, the personalities of the characters move beyond action-ciphers towards the more fully realised universal boy-hero we all know today.

The strip itself appears very much a work-in-progress, primitive both in narrative and artistic execution. But amidst the simplified line, hairsbreadth chases and grossly simplistic anti-communistic polemic there is something; an intriguing hint of glories to come. Rendered in sleek monochrome, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, was one of the last adventures to be published in English and is still available in a range of hardback and paperback editions.

Although possibly still a little controversial (and probably not ideal for an official target market of 8-years old and up), Tintin in the Land of the Soviets is a highly readable, joyously thrilling, exuberant and deeply informative romp for any fan of the comic strip medium.
Tintin in the Land of the Soviets: artwork © 1999 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text ©1999, 2007 Casterman/Moulinsart. All Rights Reserved.

Flash Gordon Dailies: Dan Barry volume 1 – The City of Ice 1951-1953


By Dan Barry & Harvey Kurtzman with Frank Frazetta, Harry Harrison & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-683-4 (HB/Digital edition)

Happy 90th, space man!

By almost any metric Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip of all time. When the husky hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) he was an answer to revolutionary, inspirational, but clunky Buck Rogers strip ) by Philip Nolan & Dick Calkins – which also began on January 7th, albeit five years previously. Two new elements were added to the wonderment: Classical Lyricism and astonishing beauty.

Where Buck Rogers blended traditional adventure and high science concepts, Flash Gordon reinterpreted Fairy Tales, Heroic Epics and Mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of a contemporary future, with varying “Rays”, “Engines’ and “Motors” as seen in pulps substituting for spells, swords and steeds. To be fair there were also plenty of those too – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for Galleons, Chariots and Magic Carpets.

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

When all-original comic books began two years later, dozens of talented kids weaned on the strip’s clean-lined, athletic Romanticism entered the field, their interpretations of Raymond’s mastery a ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Almost as many went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (and to see one of his better disciples check out Beyond Mars, illustrated by the wonderful Lee Elias).

For over a decade, sheer escapist magic in Ruritanian Neverlands blending Camelot, Oz and every fabled Elysium that promised paradise whilst concealing hidden vipers, ogres and demons, enthralled the entire world, all cloaked in a glimmering sheen of sleek art deco futurism. Worthy adversaries such as utterly evil, animally magnetic Ming, emperor of a fantastic wandering planet; myriad exotic races and fabulous conflicts offered a fantastic alternative to the drab and dangerous real world…

Alex Raymond’s ‘On the Planet Mongo’ – with journalist/editor magazine writer Don Moore (Jungle Jim and a long career in television scripting the likes of Captain Video, Rawhide, Sea Hunt and Death Valley Days) doing the bulk of the word stuff – ran every Sunday until 1944, when the illustrator enlisted in the Marines. On his return he would create gentleman detective Rip Kirby. The continuous, unmissable weekly appointment with sheer cosmic wonderment continued under the artistic auspices of Raymond’s assistant Austin Briggs – who had been drawing the daily instalments since 1940.

The Monday-to-Saturday monochrome feature ran from 1940 to 1944 when it was cancelled to allow Briggs to take on the Sunday page. Often regarded as the poor relation, the daily strip got an impressive reboot in 1951 when King Features, keenly aware of the burgeoning science fiction zeitgeist in the post-war world, revived it, asking Dan Barry to produce the package. The Sunday was continued by Austin Briggs until 1948 when Mac Raboy assumed artistic control, beginning a 20-year resurgence of classicist elegance and sheer beauty. On Raboy’s death Barry added the Sunday to his workload… until he quit over a pay dispute in 1990.

A contemporary of Leonard Starr and Stan Drake, Dan Barry (1911-1997) began his career as a jobbing comic book artist. Like them and his own brother Seymour “Sy” Barry – who produced The Phantom newspaper strip for three decades – Dan worked in a finely-detailed, broadly realistic style, blending aesthetic sensibility with straightforward visual clarity and firm, almost burly virile toughness: a gritty “He-man” attitude for a new era, contemporarily christened “New York Slick”. He drew varied comic stars fare such as Airboy, Skywolf, Boy King, Black Owl, Spy Smasher and Doc Savage before joining the US Air Force and, on returning after the hostilities, limned monster hero The Heap and sundry genre shorts for new titles like Crimebusters and started his own outfit producing educational/informational comics.

Dan began his gradual withdrawal from funnybooks as early as 1947, assuming art chores on the Tarzan daily strip for a year, but was still gracing DC’s crime, mystery and science fiction anthologies as late as 1954. When he was offered Flash Gordon he quickly accepted, intending to write the feature himself. However, remuneration was meagre and he soon started looking for a scripter.

The (short term) solution was to hire arguably the most important cartoonist of the latter half of the last century, even more so than Jules Feiffer, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Joe Kubert or Will Eisner. Harvey Kurtzman’s early triumphs in the fledgling field of comic books (Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales and especially groundbreaking, game-changing Mad) would be enough for most creators to lean back on, but he was also a force in young kids comics and newspaper strips (Hey Look!, Silver Linings, Rusty) and a restless innovator, commentator and social critic who kept on looking at folk and their doings and just couldn’t stop making art or sharing his conclusions.

Kurtzman invented a whole new format when he converted extremely successful colour comic book Mad into a monochrome magazine, safely distancing the brilliant satirical publication from fallout caused by the 1950s comics witch-hunt that eventually killed all EC’s other titles. He then pursued comedy and social satire further in newsstand magazines Trump, Humbug and Help!, all the while creating challenging and powerfully effective, culturally challenging humour strips like Jungle Book, Little Annie Fanny (in Playboy), Nutz, Goodman Beaver, Betsy’s Buddies and so much more.

The story of how cartoon genius Kurtzman came aboard and what happened next is covered in preliminary article Flash Gordon vs the Reluctant Collaborators of Manhattan Isle’, as first written by Dave Schreiner in 1988 for the Kitchen Sink compilation Flash Gordon: Complete Daily Strips – 19th November 1951- 20th April 1953. The feature section also offers a wealth of Kurtzman’s rough-pencilled script layouts, ancillary sketches and a large sampling of ghosted pencils from young Frank Frazetta. There’s even a brief glimpse of Flash spoofs from other magazines (if you’re interested, they include ‘Flesh Garden’ by Wally Wood from Mad #11 (May 1954), ‘Flyashi Gordonovitch’ (Jack Davis, Humbug #10, June 1958) and ‘Little Annie Fanny’ (Playboy 1962, Will Elder). For more, you’ll need to see the utterly effervescent Kitchen Sink iteration, and you should because it’s great too…

This monochrome tome reprints all Barry’s episodes and Kurtzman’s entire run (until his departure with the 20th April episode) before thundering on with non-stop space opera under other scripters’ aegis. Later story collaborators included writers Harry Harrison and Julian May, but we’re not certain who immediately took over – it might well have been Barry again until he found someone to handle what he considered the least rewarding part of the process.

Art assistants were commonplace with Frazetta pitching in during 1953’s Mr Murlin sequence and are early glimpses of Dan’s old Hillman Publications associates Bob Fujitani (The Hangman, Crime Does Not Pay, Prince Valiant, Dr. Solar, Man of the Atom) and Fred Kida (Airboy, Valkyrie, The Spirit, Steve Canyon, Captain Britain, Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip) who joined early and continued on Flash Gordon intermittently for decades thereafter. Preceded by introductory recap ‘The Story Thus Far’ and series listing ‘The Dan Barry Flash Gordon Checklist Part One (1951-1958)’, and biographical features on the major contributors, the wide black yonder wonderment then takes off.

The new Flash Gordon daily debuted on 19th November 1951 with the beloved baroque regalia and fanciful scenarios of Mongo and its universe shelved in favour of grittier, harder-edged contemporary-toned pulp fiction atmosphere and trappings. In ‘Space Prison’ (11/19/1951 to 2/16/1952), in the near future (the imminent end of the 20th century in fact) astronaut Flash Gordon blasts off into space: part of Expedition X-3 to Jupiter. However, technical trouble forces the rocket to stop at the Space Prison Station. Docked for repairs, his crew – especially female member Dale – inadvertently trigger a riot. Soon ruthless hopeless convicts take a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to escape the space rock…

Terse and gripping, the two-fisted yarn rockets along with Flash, Dale and their valiant explorer comrades fighting for their lives as rapacious head thug Big Moe orchestrates a ruthless double cross which only fails when one of the rioters rebels… someone who would eventually join them on their voyage to the gas giant and beyond.

Stories were only seldom titled to herald the forthcoming adventure, so here what was previously billed as ‘Man Against Jupiter!’ is retitled ‘The City of Ice. With iconoclastically fresh tone and milieu firmly established, the real adventure began on Monday, February 25th 1952 (with Kurtzman’s first scripts appearing in April). The crew orbiting the colossal mystery globe again experience terrifying malfunctions and their atomic powered ship “Planet Pioneer” heads to nearby moon Ganymede to effect repairs. On landing, the voyagers discover a subterranean civilisation within the icy satellite – and a young Earth boy.

Ray Carson is the son of a lost lunar scientist and his presence halfway across the solar system is but one of the baffling mysteries challenging Flash and Dale as they battle alien madmen and malicious monsters in the eponymous hidden frozen metropolis. Of course, the real threat is wilful, voluptuous Queen Marla who had originally abducted Ray and his dad…

Via teleport technology, she latterly dispatched the missing scientist to another star-system to search for an element vital to Ganymedan survival, but when geophysical upheaval and a takeover attempt by sadistic usurping Prince Garl tear the city apart Flash, Dale, Ray and Marla can only escape by following the missing savant into an unknown universe…

Concluding on 14th June, it was followed by a fuller return to traditional fantasy element as ‘The Butterfly Men’ (16/6 – 9/8/1952) saw many old accoutrements of the classic strip reappear: lost civilizations, monsters, arena duels – and with this new sequence the creators brought back more fantasy elements as the survivors explore a new world whilst hunting Dale, who has been lost in transit. After an intriguingly offbeat encounter with cruelly wronged but vengeful winged aliens and a gruelling ocean odyssey, the sage segues into diabolical continuation ‘Tartarus’ (11/8 – 18/10/1952) as Flash, Marla and Ray are found by a feudal race of horned, tailed, cloven-hoofed warriors in their devil city… Happily, they also encounter a long lost old friend making relatively primitive Earth weapons for the horn-headed natives as they strive to overthrow a tyrannical warlord and gain independence…

Wherever Flash goes, war and revolution seem to follow, but once the devil-men have settled their differences, Flash, Ray and Marla (who has besotted and beguiled surviving Planet Pioneer crewman Bill Kent) resume the search for Dale, stumbling into bizarrely advanced city Pasturia, ruled by devious masters of the mind. These savants hide behind a wall of deception and test the mettle of the visitors in ‘The Awful Forest’ (20/10 to 30/12/1952). When spoiled, greedy Marla typically exploits their technology for her own gain, a potential golden age for humankind is squandered away, but her meddling does bring Flash – still searching for Dale – into contact with a legendary Earth wizard. The voyagers learn that this astronomically distant world is the retirement home of ‘Mr Murlin’ (31/12/1952 – 20/4/1953) before becoming involved in the mage’s desperate attempts to forestall his own long-foreseen murder. As an enticement, Murlin restores Dale to Flash and rescues Ray’s dad too…

The fugitive’s super technologies include a time-machine that proves bewilderingly complex but easily coopt-able by the bad guys. The romp opens with a rapid return to Earth, devolves into a chronal comedy-of-errors, a cruel killer spree and a catastrophic mass destruction event, all sparked by 29th century bandit Boss Punch seeking to escape the long arm of the law by “taking over” 900 years before his time…

This extended sequence rattles along with immense pace and spectacular action, much of it ghosted (which used to mean “crafted by an unattributed replacement”) by up-&-coming star Frank Frazetta, as Flash and his team strive to save the present and guarantee the future. The saga also acts as a formal full re-set for the next few years of the feature…

The first of those new stories offers abroad change of pace via ‘The Space Kids on Zoran’ (21/4/ to 24/10/1953) as Ray starts meeting children his own age and founds a club of boy pace enthusiasts determined to build their own rocket and travel into orbit. Soon the callous machinations of money-mad space industrialist J.B. Pennington and efforts of his cruelly-neglected son Cyril to belong jointly spark a stowaway crisis on a prototype “starliner”, catapulting them – and Flash’s trusty test crew of rocketeers – into another star system and galaxy.

The marooned humans’ struggle to survive is hindered and enhanced by the suspicion that one of their number is unwittingly able to call upon uncanny powers of the mind which manifest as randomly materialised wishes and daydreams: lost kingdoms, flying horses, flaming monsters, pirates and worst of all capable of dealing out death and destruction…

Gripping, alluring, stunningly well illustrated (did I mention that the incomparable Frank Frazetta pencilled a long sequence of incredible strips?) this lost treasure is pure graphic gold, presented on huge pages that perfectly display the virtuosity of all involved. Perfect, perfect comic strip wonderment. Please gods of space, bring it back and more besides!

As I’ve constantly stated, most of the material here was first collected in 1988 by Kitchen Sink Press as Flash Gordon: Complete Daily Strips – 19th November 1951- 20th April 1953 in oversized (320 x 260mm) editions (ISBNs 978-0-87816-035-3/HB & 978-0-86801-969-7/TPB). There the focus solidly on the writer: more so than on the legendary character or the artists. If that’s not confusing enough for you, if you buy on Kindle, this book is retitled Flash Gordon Volume 5: The City of Ice. However, none of that should deter you from enjoying some of the most thrilling and endlessly enjoyable science fiction fun ever made…
Flash Gordon © 2016 King Features Inc. and ™ Hearst Holdings Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Flash Gordon vs. the Reluctant Collaborators of Manhattan Isle: Dave Schreiner. © 2016 used with permission of Lesleigh Luttrell. All rights reserved.

Tarzan versus The Nazis (Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 3)


By Burne Hogarth with Don Garden & Rubén Moreira (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-319-1 (Album HB)

The 1930 and 1940s was an era of astounding pictorial periodical adventure. In the years before television, newspaper strips (and later comic books) were the only visually-based home entertainment for millions of citizens young and old and consequently shaped the culture of many nations. Relatively few strips attained near-universal approval and acclaim. Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates and Prince Valiant were in that rarefied pantheon but arguably the most famous was Tarzan.

The dramatic adventure serial as we know it started on January 7th 1929 with Buck Rogers and Tarzan debuting that day. Both were adaptations of pre-existing prose properties and their influence changed the shape of the medium forever. An explosion of similar fare followed, launched with astounding rapidity and success. Not just strips but actual genres were created in that decade, still impacting on today’s comic-books and, in truth, all our popular fiction forms.

In terms of sheer quality, the adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ immensely successful novels starring jungle-bred John Clayton, Lord Greystoke by Hal Foster were unsurpassed, and the strip soon became a firm favourite of the masses, supplementing movies, books, a radio show and ubiquitous advertising appearances. As detailed in previous volumes of this oversized (330 x 254 mm), full-colour hardback series, Foster initially quit at the end of a 10-week adaptation of first novel Tarzan of the Apes and was replaced by Rex Maxon. At the insistent urging of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Foster returned when the black-&-white daily expanded to include a lush, full colour Sunday page featuring original adventures.

Maxon was left to capably handle the weekday book adaptations, and Foster crafted the epic and lavish Sunday page until 1936 (233 consecutive weeks). He then left again, for good: moving to King Features Syndicate and his own landmark weekend masterpiece Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur which debuted in February 1937. Once the four-month backlog of material he had built up was gone, Foster was succeeded by a precociously brilliant 25-year-old artist named Burne Hogarth: a graphic visionary whose astounding anatomical acumen, cinematic design flair and compelling page composition revolutionised the entire field of action/adventure narrative illustration. The galvanic modern dynamism of the idealised human figure in today’s comicbooks can be directly attributed to Hogarth’s pioneering drawing and, in later years, educational efforts. Burroughs cannily used the increasingly popular comic strip to cross-market his own prose efforts with great effect…

This third titanic tome begins with the prolifically illustrated ‘Hogarth on Burroughs’: George T. McWhorter’s interview with the master draughtsman from 1982’s Edgar Rice Burroughs Quarterly volume 1 #1, after which the timeless adventure resumes. At this time Hogarth had assumed writing the strip too, with veteran collaborator Don Garden leaving to pursue other, more patriotic pursuits.

Running from 30th October 1943 – March 12th 1944 (episodes #660-679), ‘Tarzan Against Kandullah and the Nazis’ is an explosive procession of coiled-spring action and crushing suspense as the Ape-Man, incessantly crisscrossing fabled, unexplored Africa returns to the lands of the Boers. Here he discovers his old friends infiltrated by insidious Nazi deserters. The human monsters have seen the tide of history turn against them and instead of fighting on or surrendering are attempting to secure this desolate enclave from which they can rebuild a Fourth Reich to attack democracy again at some future date…

Their plan is to divide and conquer: fomenting strife between the indigenous Mogalla tribe and the isolationist Afrikaaners. After narrowly averting one blood-stained crisis, Tarzan swears to deliver a military packet for a dying Allied airman, undertaking a staggering trek across the hostile lands before anonymously completing his mission and heading back into the veldt. His travels next bring him into contention with a baroque and murderous slave-master in ‘Tarzan Against Don Macabre’ (#680-699, running from 19th March to 30th July). After rescuing beautiful captive Thaissa from his decadent clutches, the all-conquering Ape-Man decimates the Don’s menagerie of savage beasts – everything from a ravening bull to a giant octopus – and leads a slave revolt deep within his island citadel…

Once back on the mainland there was an extended return engagement for modern history’s most popular bad guys in ‘Tarzan Against the Nazis’ (#700-731, August 6th 1944-March 11th 1945). This clash began innocuously enough with the Jungle Lord saving albino ape Bulak from his own dark-pelted tribe, before being distracted by sadistic Arabian hunter Korojak. The vile stalker was trapping hundreds of animals for his master Emin-Nagra – and secretly mistreating his prizes for his own sick amusement – until Tarzan taught him the error of his ways. Sadly, it was not a lesson which stuck and before long both Bulak and Tarzan became part of the booty being transported to golden-domed city Bakhir

While the Ape-Man chafed in captivity as part of Emin-Nagra’s Circus, agents of Germany and Japan were negotiating for the oil under the cruel potentate’s pocket kingdom and quietly confident of a favourable deal, due to their column of storm troopers. However, when Tarzan faced a tidal wave of starved jungle beasts in the Circus, he turned them into his personal army to bring down the despot. Then he turned his merciless attention to the Nazis and their nearby new oil wells…

With the real-world war winding down, escapist fantasy became a larger part of the Sunday strip environment. ‘Tarzan Against the Gorm-Bongara Monster’ (#732-748, 18th March to July 8th) saw the nomadic Ape-Man encounter a lost tribe of pygmies in a primordial valley, battling against them before becoming their champion against a marauding, voracious dinosaur. His inevitable victory led directly into ‘Tarzan and The Tartars Part One’ (#749-768, July 15th – November 25th) wherein landless Prince Kurdu begged the Ape-Man’s assistance in overthrowing a usurper and saving his oppressed kingdom. The turbulent alliance offered privation, hardship, a quest for mystic relics and – for one of the heroes at least – the promise of true love. This romantic epic is divided into separate chapters because from December 2nd 1945 onwards, Hogarth was replaced as illustrator by Ruben Moreira, who finished the tale from his predecessor’s scripts.

‘Tarzan and The Tartars Part Two’ (pages #769-778) concluded with the February 3rd 1946) instalment, after which Don Garden returned to provide fresh material for Moreira. You won’t find that here…

Hogarth was in dispute with the feature’s owners and had moved to the Robert Hall Syndicate for whom he produced seminal adventure classic Drago and thereafter United Features where he created comedy strip Miracle Jones. During the time away from Tarzan, Hogarth – with Silas Rhodes – also opened the Cartoonists and Illustrators School which later evolved into the School of Visual Arts.

After his two-year hiatus, Hogarth bombastically returned to the Lord of the Jungle in 1947, midway through an ongoing story. For the sake of convenience, Garden & Moreira’s ‘Tarzan on the Island of Ka-Gor Part One’ (#840-856, April 13th-3rd August 1947) is included here, setting the scene as sassy Texan heiress Dallas Doyle journeys to the home of Tarzan and his mate Jane, determined to recruit the famed adventurer in the search for her long-missing father. It takes a lot of persuading, but eventually Tarzan capitulates, due in no small part to the urgings of native mystic Maker of Ghosts

Following an old map of a diamond mine, the expedition proceeds slowly until sneak thief Dirk Mungo and a devious riverboat skipper steal it and frame Tarzan. Jailed by a corrupt police official, the Ape-Man abandons the niceties of civilisation and breaks out, following the villains with Dallas and golden lion Jad-Bal-Ja rushing to keep up. The trail takes them through all manner of incredible horror before culminating in an aeroplane dogfight. Shot down but surviving, the pursuers doggedly press on, until captured by pygmies who trade them to decadent priests…

‘Tarzan on the Island of Ka-Gor Part Two’ (#857-861, August 10th to 7th September 1947) sees Hogarth’s spectacular re-emergence, illustrating Garden’s script as the lost Doyle patriarch is finally found and rescued, just as the entire lost world he ruled succumbs to volcanic destruction. Hogarth then took sole control again for the concluding instalments.

‘Tarzan on the Island of Ka-Gor Part Three’ (#862-874, 14th September-7th December 1947) swiftly wrapped up the saga with the hero saving his companions but almost losing his own life in the process.

Wounded unto death, Tarzan is lost and expiring with rumours of his passing inciting various villains of the jungle lands to begin their raids and depredations again. However, saved by the tender ministrations of Manu the monkey and elephantine comrade Tantor, Tarzan soon storms back to restore his fair if heavy-handed peace…

To Be Continued…

These tales are full of astounding, unremitting, unceasing action with Hogarth and the other contributors spinning page after page of blockbuster Technicolor action over months of non-stop wonder and exoticism. Plot was never as important as engendering a wild rush of rapt and rousing visceral responses, and every Sunday the strip delivered that in spades.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was a master of populist writing and always his prose crackled with energy and imagination. Hogarth was an inspired intellectual and, as well as gradually instilling his pages with ferocious, unceasing action, layered panels with subtle symbolism. Heroes looked noble, villains suitably vile and animals powerful and beautiful. Even vegetation, rocks and clouds looked spiky, edgy and liable to attack at a moment’s notice…

These vivid visual masterworks are all coiled-spring tension or vital, violently expressively explosive motion: stretching, running, jumping, fighting in a surging rush of power and glory. It’s a dream come true that these majestic exploits are back in print for ours and future generations of dedicated fantasists to explore and enjoy.
Tarzan ® and Edgar Rice Burroughs ™ & © Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved. All images Edgar Rice Burroughs, 2015. All text copyright Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc 2015.