These Savage Shores


By Ram V, Sumit Kumar, Vittorio Astone, Aditya Bidikar & various (Vault Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-93942-440-2 (TPB/Digital edition)

Rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with in western comics, award-winning writer Ram V has been making waves since 2016. I will surprise absolutely no one by revealing that Ram Venkatesan’s career actually began in his birthland of India as early as 2012, and we in the west barely noticed…

While resident in Mumbai, he created acclaimed series Aghori before moving to Britain to take a Creative Writing MA at the City of London University. Since then he’s co-created series such as The Many Deaths of Laila Starr; Ruin of Thieves; Paradiso; Blue in Green; Black Mumba and Brigands. He’s also made serious inroads into the US superhero mainstream with stints on Marvel’s Venom and DC’s Justice League Dark; Catwoman, the reinvented Swamp Thing and Batman: Gotham Nocturne.

His stellar trajectory was enhanced by two projects for America’s Vault Comics: Radio Apocalypse and – spanning October 2018 to October 2019 – 5-issue miniseries These Savage Shores. Illustrated by Sumit Kumar, coloured by Vittorio Astone and lettered by Aditya Bidikar, this brooding, violent tale of timeless love and undying monsters is an historical drama tainted with horror overtones, combining gothic pastiche with the enticing mystique of colonial India, even if the events actually occur in the years before England officially conquered the “Sub-Continent” and became the British Empire…

Most enticingly and powerfully appealing, it takes the form of a bande dessinée-styled tale with broad cross genre appeal and is tailor-made for conversion to the large or small screen…

It begins in a paradisical garden where dancer Kori teasingly tests her lover Bishan, coquettishly enquiring what he is and how he was made…

The year is 1766 and, miles distant, a sailing ship of the East India Company carries a most unwelcome cargo. Disgraced scion of English Society’s most dangerous secret, Lord Alain Pierrefont has been exiled for breaking the cardinal rule of his class: being found out…

Eternal, patient and few in numbers, vampires have infested the aristocracy for centuries, leading discreet lives of bloody privilege while literally feeding off the poor. Those humans who reluctantly share the secret also know their place and keep quiet about the occasional atrocity. However, there are some mortals who ruthlessly hunt the clandestine overlords.

When one team almost ends the slumming predator, his peers and kin have no choice but to banish him for the shameful indiscretion of continuing to feed under the shocked gaze of crowds of no longer complacently ignorant human cattle…

With the discretion that sustains them as much as blood imperilled, vampire lords convene and Count Jurre Grano is compelled to despatch his favourite offspring to the ends of the Earth. In this case it’s also a promising new outpost of expansion: the squalid, unprepossessing port of Calicut on the Malabar Coast. The prodigal is left to the dubious care of his representative Colonel James Wilson Smith: a man of vision with dreams of controlling the immensely profitable wares previously carried by the fabled Spice Road of the East…

The merchant soldier’s plan is to divide and conquer for mercantile gain by grooming child-prince Vikram of the Zamorin, but impatient, spoiled Pierrefont will not be reasoned with. Calicut is just another playground to him and Kori his next meal. However, when the vampire traps her, his last thought is that he should have paid more attention to the Prince’s hulking masked bodyguard Bishan – a being also pretending to be merely mortal…

By October 2nd 1766, vampire hunter Zachariah Sturn has reached Calicut, determined to finish his business with Pierrefont. He believes the monster has found powerful and wealthy new allies to shield him and is unaware of the vampire’s actual fate. Reporting meagre progress in a letter to his clergyman brother, Sturn lays plans to topple these obstacles, assuming the boy Vikram has already been turned into a royal vampire…

Meanwhile in Mysore, young prince Tipu (Sultan Fatah Ali Sahab Tipu, known historically as Tipu Sultan, The Tiger of Mysore) meets his father Sultan Hyder Ali, Sahab to discuss the East India Company and their blatant plans for the always-warring rival kingdoms of India. The English are already destabilising the regions and are clearly going to use Vikram of the Zamorin as their wedge for further progress. The prophetic debate is derailed when recently-rejected Smith receives word that Pierrefont is dead – permanently dead – and realizes that there will be Hell to pay once the exile’s unholy family in England learn of it…

As the Sultan attempts to parlay with the Zamorim faction, their rebellious Prince Vikram has decreed a royal hunt to catch the “man-eater” that killed Pierrefont and Bishran bids farewell to Kori. The blatant cover-up does not deter Sturn, who stalks Vikram only to discover there are other, greater monsters serving those in the power in this land…

Pierrefont’s death gives the English justification to attack Mysore, but the international crisis has dangerously personal implications too. In England, Grano has learned of his kin’s death and reacts with typically ruthless disregard for human life. As the western invaders cut inland, Hyder Ali’s pleas for aid from Vikram fall on deaf ears, but his immortal guardian Bishram agrees to help fight the English. In March 1767 as a climactic battle looms, the eternal man-beast ponders how his endless ages of existence have been briefly brightened by love for the mortal Kori, before returning to the current war. Two months later, as Wilson’s soldiers remorselessly advance, Calicut greets another ship from Britain, carrying Grano and a contingent of vampires resolved to lay down their law and avenge a slain kinsman…

The fate of a nation is decided without them, as betrayal leads to British triumph. After waiting too long, Bishan unleashes the legendary beast inside him, but now only spiteful vengeance-taking is possible…

It is too little, too late. In November, the battle-ravaged land endures more horror as freshly-turned vampires roam by night: an undead army commanded by Grano who still obsessively hunts Pierrefont’s killer. The arrogant peer underestimates Vikram and his allies, however, almost losing everything in a brutal clash at the palace gates. His forces devasted, the vampire lord nevertheless succeeds, finally learning how his progeny died, and when Bishran returns a month later, he finds the malign bloodletter has returned to England, but left behind him a keepsake: one who will also abide forever…

The spectacular conclusion comes as Bishan voyages to London for definitive confrontation with Grano: one that will change many lives and determine the future of two kingdoms…

Superbly blending a sparkling and terrible time in history with classic horror themes, dark romance with canny political machinations and stunning action, These Savage Shores is a potent examination of power in all forms and its misuses, gloriously realised by illustrator Kumar (Batman; Justice League; Man-Bat) who also provides a large and lovely gallery of covers and variants here.

Beguiling, exotic wonderment for fear-loving older readers, this is a tale of the east no one should miss.
© 2019 Ram V & Sumit Kumar. All rights reserved.

The All-New Atom volume 2: Future/Past


By Gail Simone, Mike Norton, Eddy Barrows & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1568-2 (TPB)

Gail Simone (Wonder Woman; Batgirl; Secret Six; Red Sonja) is one of the best scripters of superhero stories in the business. She handles High Concept attention grabbers, gripping fight scenes and compelling pathos with elegant ease, but where she is truly unsurpassed is in the rounded depth of her characterisations. Combined with solid plotting, bravura whimsy and the sharpest, funniest dialogue money can buy, everything she touches becomes a thoroughly delightful “must-read” item.

That was never more ably demonstrated than in her run on the All-New Atom (most volumes of which remain stubbornly out of print and inexplicably unavailable in digital collections). In second volume Future/Past she continued deftly  detailing the trials and tribulations of a new incarnation of one of the Silver Age’s most enduring heroic brands, in the further adventures of neophyte college professor and scientific adventurer Ryan Choi.

After the tragic, horrific events of crossover epic Identity Crisis size-shifting physics professor Ray Palmer disappeared, leaving this world behind him. However, life – and academia – goes on, and his teaching chair at Ivy University was offered to a young prodigy who just happened to be Palmer’s pen-friend and close confidante: privy to his predecessor’s secrets ever since he was a child in Hong Kong.

Ivy Town has seen better days, however, and continues to go downhill. This collection – reprinting from March-July 2007 issues #7-11 of the much-missed comic book – returns to Ivy Town: a place that has seen better days. Everything continues to go downhill, and the college paradise is no longer the sedate place Palmer always made it sound. Neophyte hero Choi continues to expose a city plagued by temporal anomalies, warring tribes and supernatural freaks and to make matters even worse, the new Dean is an unctuous toad (and possibly a criminal), whilst Choi’s fellow science professors are a bizarre and unconventional band of truly brilliant loons…

The teeny-weenie thrills and chills resume here with a 2-parter illustrated by Mike Norton and Andy Owens. ‘The Man who Swallowed Eternity – The Energy of the Universe is Constant’ and concluding chapter ‘The Entropy of the Universe Tends to a Maximum’ reveal how the recurring time-hiccups that pepper Ivy Town go into overdrive, necessitating an unwelcome intervention from the Temporal police known as Linear Men. Choi’s reluctant attempts to solve the problem soon uncover a tragic secret that draws him uncomfortably closer to his missing mentor.

What’s follows is a gratifying change of pace and tone as the young professor returns to Hong Kong to rescue his sometime true love in ‘Jia.’ Limned by Eddy Barrows & Trevor Scott, the saga kicks off with ‘Her Name Meant Beauty’ as we learn some unpleasant truths about Ryan’s childhood…

‘Unwanted Advances’ show Choi that being a superhero can’t compensate for the girl he loves marrying the bully who made his life hell, and it’s even worse when said brute becomes a vengeful ghost trying to kill them both. Mercifully in ‘The Border Between’, ancient wisdom and unwelcome truths assist the hero in overcoming the supernatural odds…

The utterly enchanting (pre-The New 52) career of Ryan Choi was simultaneously funny, charming, stirring and incredibly addictive: moreover, his gently beguiling, so-skilfully orchestrated hero’s journey to the West was riddled with cunningly planted clues and hints which only made sense once the final volume ended – and Simone had the nerve and confidence to treat the entire venture as a fair-play mystery. The fun just never let up…

Even at this late stage, it is worth whatever effort it takes to follow the All-New Atom, matching wits with the writer and having huge amounts of fun along the way. What are you waiting for?
© 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Death Threat


By Vivek Shraya & Ness Lee (Arsenal Pulp Press Vancouver)
ISBN: 978-1-55152-750-5 (HB/Digital edition)

Vivek Shraya is a poet, musician, educator, writer and performer of immense creativity, as can be appreciated in books such as God Loves Hair; even this page is white; The Boy & the Bindi; I’m Afraid of Men and She of the Mountains or her many albums and films.

On her 35th birthday Shraya publicly announced her status as Trans and requested that she be henceforward addressed with female pronouns. That seems inoffensive enough to me and you, and nobody’s business but hers, but sadly and all too typically these days, the announcement inspired the by-now pro forma response from certain quarters: a tirade of vitriol and harassment from nasty busybodies hiding behind and tainting social media…

Unevolved old jerks like me just get angry and hunger to respond in kind – with vituperative counterattacks – but happily, more civilised people find better ways. This book is perhaps the best of them as, in collaboration with Toronto-based artist and designer Ness Lee, Shraya transformed fear and disappointment into art with a heavy helping of surreal, satirical soul searching.

The liberating act of turning those unsolicited, unreasoning email assaults – all couched in offensive terms by people who hide behind religions whose fundamental tenets they will gleefully cherry pick – into a gloriously incisive and witty exploration of the inexplicable mindless aggression that continues to debase so much of modern society is eyepopping and mind-blowing…

Unlike those who cower behind the cowardly anonymity of keyboards and phones, Shraya & Lee proudly appended their names to this vibrant voyage, detailing how the bile of ignorant bullies (you simply won’t believe just how dumb some bigots can be until you see the hate mail here!) inspired beautiful images and empowering inclusivity.

My generation’s parents told us to ignore or strike back, but today’s ostracised, oppressed and unfairly targeted have found a far better way to respond to bullies: turn their hate into beauty and take ownership of it.
Death Threat: Text © 2019 Vivek Shraya. Illustrations © 2019 Ness Lee. All rights reserved.

Mega Robo Bros: Meltdown


By Neill Cameron with Abby Bulmer & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-281-6 (TPB)

Just in time to keep the kids occupied for the summer break, here’s another sterling all-ages outing for Neill (Tamsin of the Deep, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea) Cameron’s marvellous purpose-built paladins. This time the rambunctious Mega Robo Bros share more of their awesome adventures and growing pains – and even some Secret Origins – in a far darker and more violent tale than their previous fun fare…

It’s the Future!

In a London far cooler than ours, Alex and his younger brother Freddie are (sort of) typical kids: boisterous, fractious, eternally argumentative yet devoted to each other, and not too bothered that they’re adopted. It’s really no big deal for them that they were constructed by the mysterious Dr. Roboticus before he vanished, and are considered by those in the know as the most powerful – and only SENTIENT – robots on Earth.

Dad may be just your average old guy who makes lunch and does a bit of writing, but it’s recently become apparent that when not being a housewife Mum is a also a bit extraordinary. As surprisingly famous and renowned robotics boffin, Dr. Nita Sharma harbours some surprising secrets of her own…

All the same, life in the Sharma household is pretty normal. Freddie is insufferably exuberant and over-confident whilst Alex is at the age when self-doubt and anxiety begin to manifest. Of course, their parents’ other robot rescues can also be a bit of a trial. Programmed as a dog, baby triceratops Trikey is ok, but French-speaking deranged ape Monsieur Gorilla can be mighty confusing, whilst gloomily annoying, existentialist aquatic fowl Stupid Philosophy Penguin constantly quotes dead philosophers and makes most people rapidly consider self-harm or manic mayhem.

The boys have part-time jobs as super-secret agents, but aren’t very good at the clandestine part and now almost the entire world knows of them. Generally, however, it’s enough for the digital duo that their parents love them, even though they are a bit more of a handful than most kids. They live as normal a life as possible: going to human school, playing with human friends and hating homework. It’s all part of their “Mega Robo Routine”, combining dull lessons, actual fun, games-playing, watching TV and training in the covert combat caverns under R.A.I.D. HQ.

Usually, when a situation demands, the lads carry out missions for bossy Baroness Farooq: head of government agency Robotics Analysis Intelligence and Defence. They still believe it’s because they are infinitely smarter and more powerful than the Destroyer Mechs and other man-made minions she usually utilises. Of course, they’re on suspension from R.A.I.D. at the moment, due to the fallout and collateral damage of their last case…

Originally published in UK weekly comic The Phoenix, this revised, retooled and remastered saga opens as the bored, curfewed boys sneak into Mum’s workshop. Whilst defeating a reject robot rebellion sparked by artificial life activist the Caretaker, the Bros met monstrous, cruelly damaged droid Wolfram and learned that he might be their older brother…

Now they’re trying to break into Mum’s locked datafiles to learn the truth, and her part in their creation, as this saga opens with ‘Part 1: Fifteen Years Ago’. When Dr. Sharma catches the little perishers in the act, instead of punishment, she gives them full access.

What unfolds is a shocking story of when their mother was a young, pretty and brilliant roboticist who landed her dream job working beside incomparable (but weird) pioneering genius Dr. Leon Robertus. His astounding advances had earned him the unwelcome nickname Dr. Roboticus. Maybe that was what started pushing him away from humanity…

Over months, Nita grew into her job and eventually convinced Robertus to let her repurpose his individually superpowered prototypes into a rapid-response team for global emergencies. Mum used to be a superhero, leading manmade Rapid Response team the Super Robo Six! While saving lives with them she first met future husband Michael Mokeme who proudly took her name when they eventually wed…

So Dad was also present at the moment everything changed!

Robertus was astoundingly devoid of human empathy but – intrigued by the team’s acclaim and global acceptance – was inspired to create a new kind of autonomous robot. Wolfram was more powerful than any other construct, and also possessed certain foundational directives that allowed him to make choices and develop his own systems. He could think, like Alex and Freddy! Only, as it transpired, not quite…

When Robertus demoted Nita and made his new “child” leader of new Super Robo Seven, the result was an even more effective unit, until the day Wolfram’s three Directives clashed during a time-critical mission. Millions of humans paid the price for his confusion and hesitation…

In the aftermath, RAID was formed and sought to shut down Robertus and decommission Wolfram. When the superbot rejected their judgement, the agency deployed jets and missiles. Following a terrific struggle, they believed him destroyed. They were wrong…

…And while RAID was occupied, Roboticus vanished…

Story told, the amazed Robo Bros realise why Mum called the recently-returned Wolfram their brother. They are all unaware that the damaged, deranged droid is observing and has made a decision that will affect all humanity…

‘Part 2: Meltdown’ opens with an increase in casual human-on-robot abuse. Perhaps this triggers Wolfram’s final solution as Dad heads to the North Pole to interview chief scientist Professor Mahfouz spearheading an attempt to restore the polar ice cap with a colossal freezing machine.

Jötunn Base covers many miles and is carefully rebalancing the world’s climate, but has no defence when Wolfram arrives to reverse the chilling process to burn the Earth and drown humanity…

Alex and Freddy are making the best of their house arrest, playing a game with classmates Mira and Taia when news comes of the attack. Ordered again by Baroness Farooq to stay put and not help, they enlist the girls in an escape plan that takes them through the secret basement lab and far below London, using the abandoned transport tunnels beneath the city.

By the time the Bros reach Jötunn Base, Wolfram has already ruthlessly crushed the RAID force led by their friend Agent Susie Nichols and all that’s possible is to stop their determined and utterly unreasonable brother by any means necessary…

That grim task falls to “older” bro Alex, whilst Freddy works with Dad and Professor Mahfouz to repair and reprogram the giant freezer machine and stop the planet becoming a water world…

With humanity safe again the boys are well rewarded by Farooq, but completely unaware that an old enemy has ensured that the threat of Wolfram is not ended…

Crafted by Cameron and colouring assistant Alice Leclert, this rather more grim adventure still offers exceedingly engaging excitement and hearty hilarity, roaring along like an anti-gravity rollercoaster, offering thrills, chills, warmth, wit and incredible verve. Alex and Freddy are utterly authentic kids, irrespective of their artificial origins, and their antics strike exactly the right balance of future shock, family fun and bombastic superhero action to capture readers’ hearts and minds. What movies these tales would make!
Text and illustrations © Neill Cameron 2022. All rights reserved.

Mega Robo Bros Meltdown will be released on August 4th 2022 and is available for pre-order now.

Ms. Marvel volume 1: No Normal


By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, VC’s Joe Caramagna & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9021-9 (TPB/Digital edition)

In a comic book title, the soubriquet “Marvel” carries a lot of baggage and clout, and has been attached to a wide number of vastly differing characters over many decades. In 2014, it was inherited by comics’ first mainstream first rank Muslim superhero, albeit employing the third iteration of pre-existing designation Ms. Marvel.

Career soldier, former spy and occasional journalist Carol Danvers – who rivals Henry Pym in number of secret identities, having been Binary, Warbird, Ms. Marvel again and ultimately Captain Marvel – originated the role when her Kree-based abilities first manifested. She experienced a turbulent superhero career and was lost in space when Sharon Ventura became the second, unrelated Ms. Marvel. She gained her powers from the villainous Power Broker, and after briefly joining the Fantastic Four, was mutated by cosmic ray exposure into a She-Thing

Debuting in a sly cameo in Captain Marvel (volume 7 #14, September 2013) and bolstered by a subsequent teaser in #17, Kamala Khan was the third to use the codename. She properly launched in full fight mode in a tantalising short episode (All-New MarvelNow! Point One #1) chronologically set just after her origin and opening exploit.

That aforementioned origin saga unfolded in #1-5 of Ms. Marvel (volume 3), and forms the majority of this first collection of light-hearted all-ages adventure originally published between cover-dates April-August 2014.

Collaboratively conceived by editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker, the character was realised by writer and journalist G. Willow Wilson, (Mystic: The Tenth Apprentice, Cairo, Air, The Butterfly Mosque, Alif the Unseen) and illustrator Alphonse Alphona (Uncanny X-Force, Captain Britain and MI13, Runaways) with additional design input from Jamie McKelvie (Suburban Glamour, Long Hot Summer, Young Avengers, The Wicked + the Divine, Phonogram, Rue Britannia), who jointly recast the classic origin and setting of Spider-Man for a new age. The entire epic was coloured by Ian Herring and lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna.

Kamala Khan is a teenager living in Jersey City. Just across the Hudson river lies Manhattan, and the superhero geek frequently enjoys a distant ringside seat to the constant wonders that occur there.

As a Pakistani American growing up Muslim she has her share of daily dramas at Coles Academic High School and elsewhere, but life is generally pretty good. She has good friends like Bruno and Kiki (Nakia), petty annoyances like golden girl Zoe Zimmer and jock Josh or even her loving family. They don’t really understand her obsession with computers, social media and especially with making superhero fan fiction – especially as Kamala is getting older now and needs to start thinking seriously about her future…

Miss Khan’s stolid suppressed status quo abruptly changes in ‘Meta Morphosis’ on the night she breaks a parental embargo and sneaks out to attend a party. Any potential enjoyment is marred by guilt, apprehension and Zoe and Josh, but the real shock comes on the way home when the city is enveloped in a strange fog that causes Kamala to collapse.

During earlier mega-crossover blockbuster Infinity, mad Titan Thanos invaded Earth and clashed with the Inhumans and battled their King Black Bolt to a standstill. As a last resort the embattled sovereign crashed sky-floating city Attilan onto New York and into the Hudson, releasing the Hidden People’s mutagenic Terrigen Mist into the atmosphere.

As it traversed the globe, the gas cloud triggered mutation in millions, proving that Human and Inhuman were not different species and that dormant Inhuman genes reposed everywhere, unsuspected by humankind. All those susceptible to the contaminant either died or metamorphosed into new beings via body-altering cocoons…

Attilan’s crash happened mere hours before and now Kamala is unconscious on a Jersey City street, wracked by bizarre hallucinations of the Avengers and particularly her absolute favourite hero Carol Danvers…

On awakening, she has to smash her way out of a strange shell. When the mists and dust clear Khan is astounded to see she is no longer a “little brown girl” but big, blonde, busty and white. In fact, she looks exactly like the original Ms. Marvel…

In ‘All Mankind’ while experimenting – and puking – Kamala realises she is constantly shapeshifting and body-morphing, but her shock and terror recede after seeing Zoe in danger. Without thinking, Kamala responds to save the Mean Girl, albeit in a manner everybody thinks pretty gross…

Fed up with adventure, Kamala heads home, and is relieved to somehow revert to normal while climbing in her bedroom window. Sadly, ultra-conservative older brother Aamir and her parents are waiting…

‘Side Entrance’ sees Zoe milking her celebrity moment as the media descend on Jersey and Kamala frantically researches her powers – with disastrous results. Desperate to find some way to control them she is spiralling until Bruno comes to her rescue by being held up at his afterschool job. Once again leaping into action as “Carol Danvers”, Kamala learns it’s not that easy a career, after being shot and reverting to her natural form in ‘Past Curfew’

With a certified genius like Bruno on board, Kamala finally understands what she can do and devises her own costume and alter ego, just as the city is targeted by a genuine – but so weird – supervillain, leading the new Ms. Marvel into the wilds to hunt down an exploitative mastermind running troubled teens as his soldiers.

Brimming with confidence, the neophyte hero is unprepared for the deadly mechanical monsters of The Inventor, a brutal showdown with that invisible crook’s gang or the even worse trial of keeping secrets from her increasingly concerned and bewildered family in closing chapter ‘Urban Legend’

The initial story arc won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story – the first of many glittering critical acknowledgements – and is followed here by that aforementioned teaser tale from All-New MarvelNow! Point One #1.

Crafted by Wilson, Aphona, Herring & Caramagna, ‘Garden State of Mind’ finds the hero diverted by a marauding trash monster-bot and late for a major family social gathering…

And thus began a meteoric rise for the new hero. Kamala Khan would steal hearts and minds, become a shining example and become a major player in monumental publishing events such as Last Days, Secret Wars, Secret Empire, Civil War II, Generations and Outlawed, whilst joining or leading teams like the All-New All-Different  Avengers, Champions, and Secret Warriors and inheriting the lead role in a revived Marvel Team-Up title.

Her role as positive role model cannot be overstated – how many female or Muslim superheroes can you think of, or have ever had their own American TV series?

That success is completely due to the comics stories which perfectly marry action and drama to powerfully engaging view of home life, stuffed to the brim with humour and happy moments, rather than the relentless bleakness of so many superhero sagas.

Colour plays a powerful part in telling these tales, subtly supplementing the ostensibly cartoonish art of Adrian Alphona into suitably tense dramatic fare without ever losing the vivacity and charm of the comedic undertones, so especial kudos to Ian Herring for his impressive and sensitive efforts here…

Similar congratulations to letterer Joe Caramagna for handling a rather dialogue-heavy script (absolutely necessary to capture the brilliant interplay and byplay of the teens and parental generation packing G. Willow Wilson’s extremely engaging and beguiling script).

Wrapping up this volume is a covers & variant gallery by Sara Pichelli & Justin Ponsor, McKelvie & Matthew Wilson, Salvador Larocca & Laura Martin, Arthur Adams & Peter Steigerwald, Jorge Molina, Annie Wu and a fascinating look at Alphona’s ‘Sketchbook’ of character designs and ‘inks to color process’.

Still fresh, funny, thrill-drenched and utterly absorbing, the saga of this Ms. Marvel is something you need to see over and over again.
© 2017 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Savage Hulk: The Man Within


By Alan Davis, Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, Mark Farmer, Sam Grainger & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9043-1 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Incredible Hulk is the perfect guest star: both staunch ally and ultimate enemy to any hero or team and always a figure of tragedy and barely suppressed terror. Here’s a very entertaining proof of the dictum…

In 1969, after six years of quirky, deliciously off-kilter adventures, The X-Men comic book folded: a relatively early casualty of the latest periodic, cyclic changing-of-reading-tastes, which saw the buying public again shun superhero stories in favour of traditional genres like war, westerns and, most especially, supernatural horror yarns…

Of course, once the fantasy fad receded again, the team emerged resurgent and unstoppable in 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men #1 to become an unshakable fixture of contemporary comics, TV animation and cinema culture. Nevertheless, when they first folded, a goodly number of us diehard funnybook fans couldn’t believe the loss of such outré and irreplaceable characters.

Despite their reappearance in recycled reprints, a certain magic had gone from the world back then and this mostly modern confection from Alan Davis seeks to redress that loss, albeit more than four decades later…

That final 1960s X-Men exploit was one of those weird quasi-team-ups and, as it pivotally informs the all-original 4-part tale by Davis, inker Mark Farmer & colourist Matt Hollingsworth which comprises the majority of this scintillating chronicle, the editors at Marvel have thoughtfully included it – in all its raw glory – at the back of the book.

I’m reviewing it first because that’s just the way I am…

Crafted by Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema & Sam Grainger ‘The Mutants and the Monster!’ (X-Men volume 1, #66, cover-dated March 1970), was actually the epilogue to an epic clash between the mutants and voracious alien invaders. The campaign had shockingly brought back long-believed dead Professor Charles Xavier, who then nearly killed himself for real by uniting every mind on Earth in a psychic thrust of unparalleled force to repel the already repellent Z’Nox.

The tragic aftermath was seen here: a debilitating coma caused by psychic exertion left the telepath near death, able only to convey a feeble psionic message which sent the team hunting for Bruce Banner in Nevada. Apparently, the two cerebral heavyweights had previously and secretly collaborated on a gamma-powered device which might now save and restore the fallen Xavier…

However, the harried young heroes, in their hasty attempt to save their mentor, forgot one crucial fact: when you hunt Banner what you usually end up with is an immensely irate Incredible Hulk

The resulting destructive debacle wrecked a lot of landscape but throughout the extended brouhaha, the Hulk seemed to be subconsciously leading the titanic teens to his hidden desert lab where the prototype Gamma Stimulator was stashed.

Despite colossal carnage and inevitable US Army interference, the gadget was recovered and the Professor saved…

Flipping now to the front of the book, the main event reveals a previously undisclosed follow-up encounter published as Savage Hulk #1-4 (August-November 2014). ‘The Man Within’ opens with TV coverage of the Nevada battle being carefully scrutinised by Gamma-spawned evil super-genius The Leader. The sinister savant soon gleans a connection between the mutant warriors and their previously unsuspected boss Charles Xavier…

The Hulk meanwhile, is fending off another furious attack by the military even as – back in Westchester County – the recuperating Xavier examines the life-saving device and realises Banner had completed it to cure himself of his emerald alter ego. The benevolent mentor quickly discovers why it didn’t work on the tragic titanic transformer. It needed a telepathic trigger…

Convinced he can return the favour and finally cure Banner, guilty, grateful Professor X accompanies Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, Iceman, Havok and magnetic warrior Lorna Dane to Nevada and Banner’s clandestine lab. They are all blithely unaware that The Leader has already staked the place out…

Elsewhere, the frenzied fugitive at the heart of the matter has been found by a well-meaning elderly couple whose offer of assistance leads to unbridled terror as the timid down-and-out suddenly shapeshifts into a mountain of angry green muscle…

Nearby the X-Men are ambushed by the murderous, monstrous Abomination – also hunting for the Hulk – and their titanic tussle soon intrudes on the Jade Giant’s agonised antics. The 3-way war immediately escalates as the army close in, all guns blazing, but the merely human military are swiftly driven back by the mutants, leaving Hulk to trash his gamma-powered nemesis single handed.

In the quiet aftermath, Marvel Girl uses her own still-developing telepathy to quell the victorious Hulk’s rage and manifest deeply-traumatised Bruce. Soon, the physicist confers with Xavier and prepares to be rid of his ominous other for all time, but as their salvation device is set in motion none are aware another deadly threat is nearby, awaiting the perfect moment to strike…

Shock follows shock as the procedure goes awry with the Hulk’s gamma-energy migrating to Marvel Girl, creating a bellicose female green giantess reeling with incomprehensible psionic power.

…And that’s when The Leader makes his move at the head of an army of mechanoids and a legion of the Hulk’s old foes…

Only Xavier is aware things are not entirely what they seem, and is capable of combating the true source of the threat, aided by the Hulk’s most incredible gamma transformation yet…

Also included in this splendid and explosively entertaining epistle are the original covers by Davis, Farmer, Val Staples, Matt Hollingsworth & Brad Andersen, plus Marie Severin & Grainger’s 1969 classic image.

Cleverly crafted, beautifully illustrated, riotously action-packed and stunningly suspenseful, this tale of triumph and tragedy is pure vintage Marvel Mastery, ably augmented by the original inspirational yarn ending a unique era. It offers readers young and old a magnificent chance to re-experience the glory days of the House of Ideas and must not be missed.
© 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Lulu Anew


By Étienne Davodeau, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/Comics Lit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-972-4 (HB/Digital)

In 2010 Bande Dessinée artist, writer and designer Étienne Davodeau completed a 2-volume tale he’d started in 2008. He was already popular, award-winning and extremely well-regarded for his reality-based and reportage style comics work, but Lulu femme nue was something that was special even for him. Within a year the story had been made into a much lauded and celebrated film by Solveig Anspach.

Davodeau was born in 1965 and, whilst studying art at the University of Rennes, founded Psurde Studios with fellow comics creators Jean-Luc Simon and Marc “Joub” Le Grand. His first album – L’Homme qui aimait pas les arbres (The Man Who Did Not Like Trees) – was released in 1992.

He followed up with a string of thoughtful, passionate and beautifully rendered books like The Initiates, Les Amis de Saltiel, Un monde si tranquille, Anticyclone, Les Mauvaises Gens: une histoire de militants, Le Chien Qui Louches and Le Droit du sol : Journal d’un vertige. Consequently he is now regarded as an integral part of the modern graphic auteur movement in French and Belgian comics.

NBM translated and collected both volumes of the dreamily moody mystery into a stunning hardback edition and Lulu Anew is now regarded as one of the very best graphic novels of its genre…

It begins with a kind of Wake where a number of friends gather to learn the answers to a small, personal but immensely upsetting event which has blighted their lives of late. Xavier is the first to speak and relates what they all already know. Lulu, a frumpy 40-something with three kids and a very difficult husband, has been missing for weeks. She went off for yet another distressing job interview and never came back…

It wasn’t some ghastly crime or horrible abduction. Something simply happened when she was in the city and she called to say she wasn’t coming home for a while…

The sun sets and the attendees calmly imbibe wine and eat snacks. A number of friends and family share their independently gleaned snippets of the story of Lulu’s aberration: a moment of madness where she put everything aside – just for a little while – and what happened next…

Bizarre unsettling phone calls to the raucous family home precede a quiet revolution as Lulu, without any means of support, inexplicably goes walkabout along the magnificent French Coast: living hand-to-mouth and meeting the sorts of people she never had time to notice before. Through interactions with strangers she learns about herself and at last becomes a creature of decisions and choices, rather than shapeless flotsam moved by the tides of events around her…

Related with seductive grace in captivating line-&-watercolours, here is a gently bewitching examination of Lulu’s life, her possible futures and the tragic consequences of the mad moment when she rejects them all. Unfolding with uncanny, compulsive, visually magnetic force, and told through and seen by the people who think they know her. This isn’t some cosmic epic of grand events, it’s a small story writ large with every bump in the road an unavoidable yet fascinating hazard. None of the so-very-human characters are one-sided or non-sympathetic – even alcoholic, often abusive husband Tanguy has his story and is given room to show it.

Ultimately, Lulu’s gradual, hard-earned resolution is as natural and emotionally rewarding as the seemingly incomprehensible mid-life deviation which prompted it…

Slow, rapturous and addictively compelling, Lulu Anew is a paragon of subtlety and a glowing example of the forcefully deceptive potent power of comics storytelling. Every so often a book jumps comics’ self-imposed traditional ghetto walls of adolescent fantasies and rampaging melodrama to make a mark on the wider world. This elegiac petit-epic makes that sort of splash. Don’t hesitate: dive right in.
© Futuropolis 2008, 2010. © NBM 2015 for the English translation.

Letters to Margaret


By Hayley Gold, with Andy Kravis, Mike Selinker & various (Lone Shark Games)
ISBN: 978-1-7356380-2-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

If you read a lot of comics, you’re probably quite used to being puzzled, but probably not in the deliberate, cunningly conceived way cartoonist Hayley Gold (Across and Down) would like you to be…

Once upon a distant time, crossword puzzles were a scandalous obsession, then a passionate compulsion before ultimately becoming part of everyday life – far more so for some than for others. There are many variations, but we’re all big boys, girls and other here, so please assume that henceforward I’m talking about brain-busting cryptic crosswords, unless I say otherwise…

In the USA and other, lesser dominions, a whole subset/tribe of locution-loving smart people – call them “cruciverbalists” and “etymologists” if you like labels – are positively compelled to solve periodical conundra of varying vigour and varieties, with many skilled wordsmiths (amateur or otherwise) making The New York Times legendary crossword their paragon of play.

Every self-identifying tribe – be they comics addicts, cosplayers, petrol heads, film freaks, crossword fans or whatever, are subject to polarising issues specific to their particular passion, and such localised critical controversies underpin the hijinks here as our cast address issues crucial to those billions as they enact the narrative that will change their lives…

All of that is mere background context but is supremely, subtly interwoven into an extremely engaging, handily hands-on interactive rom-com graphic novel devised by Gold: delivered as a digital and/or paper-printed split-book in the manner of the 1960s publishing trend for dual-release paperbacks.

Those bad boys offered a double-bill of individual tales in one package, but here and now that pattern’s evolved into a twin-pronged delivery of a single story, presented back-to-back, drenched in fourth-wall ruptures and augmented by seditious puns, crafty jibes and actual crosswords for each chapter.

These lexicon-busting brain-benders are devised by pro quiz compilers Andy Kravis (The New Yorker) and Mike Selinker (Game theory in the Age of Chaos), and “others” such as Phil Zoffle, John Dough, Beau Kaye, Margie Rynn, Annie Boddy & Hugh Wynne. By solving them, readers can glean upcoming story-hints of the pages that follow.

You never really needed that physics degree to enjoy Star Trek, so please don’t fret if you won’t or can’t complete the grids here: the artwork and story are delightfully sufficient unto themselves, thanks especially to a wickedly judgemental hilarious running commentary. This comes via a contemporary Greek Chorus of graphic symbolism: arrow symbols Ebony and Irony are omnipresent, sassy, smart-assed, pun-obsessed ambulatory footnotes who take no prisoners when exposing the secret subtext of our protagonists and their associates.

The actual narrative consists of a love story wrapped in a mystery, developing between two young people of unflinching ideals and expanded vocabularies but both direly in need of a good shaking…

Our tale primarily offers two widely differing perspectives on the same story and events, as experienced by crossword aficionado/blogger/student Margaret A. “Maggie” Cross and her Teaching Assistant Derry Down: a rival cruciverbalist/scholarly hipster/raconteur and unlikely romantic lead. In pursuit of the perfect puzzle (difficult, innovative, ethically pure, free from bias and not just catering to old white men) they cross swords as much as words over one verbally eventful semester at Columbia University School of Journalism…

Their journey is mirrored, marred and misunderstood by friends, colleagues, and mentors; most crucially Derry’s boss – journalism professor Lewis Dodgson – and Maggie’s force-of-human-nature, investigative junk-food blogging pal Amanda Zucker, both of whom secretly steer the eventual lovers’ courses whilst enhancing their intellectual and ethical advancement and rapprochement…

I won’t say too much more about the relationship as that tale is best savoured by enjoying it first hand, but I will add one last tantalising teaser titbit. A social media war erupts after harsh words in assorted anonymous blog spats, but although feisty, uncompromising Maggie verbally gives as good as she gets, her dream is to turn her coursework into successful submissions to the NYT crossword department.

Happily, her efforts are rewarded with a string of suggestions and comments from the editor. Incredibly, however, that editor is Margaret Petherbridge Farrar, the woman credited with formalising and eventually popularising the crossword during WWII, and who has been dead since 1987…

How that time-bending confusion is ultimately cleared up makes for compelling and deliriously compulsive reading and the whimsical enigmas and pointed wars of words are supported on both sides of the book by a wealth of extras including How it came A. Cross: The Crossword, How it all went Down A. Cross: The Crossword, Solutions, Puzzles, People, Jargon and Resources.

Affiliated Add-ons available include an 8-page minicomic by Gold and crossword legend Robyn Weintraub and even a code-busting Solver’s Bundle pencil set to supplement the tale as you fill in the clues. For those unwilling to mar their pages or leave marks on a screen, copies come with PDF in .puz format for printing off the puzzles…

If you love words, puckish wordplay, playful romance, and especially words skilfully wedded to engaging picture to tell unforgettable stories and are tempted by an interactive comic you can solve, Letters to Margaret should be on your “must-do” list…
© 2021 Hayley Gold, Andrew Kravis and Mike Selinker on behalf of Lone Shark Games, Inc..

Letters to Margaret can be purchased in digital or physical editions direct from Lone Shark Games, at Letters to Margaret – Lone Shark Games

Stay


By Lewis Trondheim & Hubert Chevillard, translated & edited by Mike Kennedy (Magnetic Press)

ISBN: 978-1-54930-771-3 (HB/Digital edition)

Until so very recently, comics in the English-speaking world were largely comedy or genre adventure, with a small but vital niche of breakthrough biography and autobiography such as Maus, Persepolis and The End of the F**king World.

What we have never had, and still largely don’t have, is an equivalent to general fiction and drama/melodrama. That’s not so in Europe, where a literal “anything goes” attitude has always accommodated human-scaled slice of life stories that depict ordinary people in the quiet as well as extraordinary moments.

Think of such comics as the sequential narrative equivalent of watching mainstream broadcast TV (in the UK that would be BBC 1, 2, 4, ITV1 and Channel 4) and it isn’t hard to find almost impossible genres. For example, there’s a wealth of superb material just about going on holiday…

That’s not really a fair comparison for Americans, but quite frankly, your TV networks are a hellhole of your own devising. It’s a miracle that you have generated so many great shows and programmes over the decades and it’s also why I keep banging on about comics. In them, there are always infinite worlds and possibilities…

So, now our own Powers-That-Be (Hopeless) might have arranged it so that it’s now all-but impossible for any UK-based folk to pop across and have une petite vacances in Europe, but over there it’s an inescapable right, and they have some fabulous tales about a simple break. This is probably one of the best you’ll ever read.

A sublime example of what I’m talking about is Lewis Trondheim & Hubert Chevillard’s Je vais rester. Translated by Magnetic Comics as Stay, it challenges the commercial pressures I’ve alluded to above: an intriguing, engaging drama in both print and byte-sized versions for me to recommend and you to fall in love with. It also means that if you’re stuck in road, rail or airport queues you can download it after getting bored with me…

With north of 100 books bearing his pen-name (his secret identity is actually Laurent Chabosy), writer/artist/editor/animator and educator Lewis Trondheim is one of Europe’s most prolific comics creators: illustrating his own work, overseeing cartoons adaptations of previous successes such as La Mouche (The Fly) and Kaput and Zösky or editing young-readers book series Shampooing for Dargaud.

His most famous tales are such global hits as Les Formidables Aventures de Lapinot (seen in English as The Spiffy Adventures of McConey); the Donjon series of nested fantasy epics (co-created with Joann Sfar and translated as conjoined sagas Dungeon: Parade, Dungeon: Monstres and Dungeon: the Early Years); comedy fable Ralph Azham and an utterly beguiling cartoon diaries sequence entitled Little Nothings.

In his spare time – and when not girdling the globe from convention to symposium to festival – the dourly shy and neurotically introspective savant wrote for satirical magazine Psikopat and provided scripts for many of the continent’s most popular artists such as Fabrice Parme (Le Roi Catastrophe, Vénézia), Manu Larcenet (Les Cosmonautes du futur), José Parrondo (Allez Raconte and Papa Raconte) and Thierry Robin (Petit Père Noël).

Ostensibly retired but still going strong, Trondheim is a cartoonist of uncanny wit, outrageous imagination, piercing perspicacity, comforting affability and self-deprecating empathy who prefers to scrupulously control what is known and said about him…

I must admit that, at this moment, from all his vast canon, STAY is probably my absolute favourite…

Born in Angers in 1962, Hubert Chevillard (Le Pont dans la Vase, Corcal, Terra Incognita, Le Facteur, Pavillon Rouge, Donald’s Happiest Adventures) is a French cartoonist now working from Grenoble who studied animation at the Gobelins School and the School of Fine Arts in Angoulême. He worked at Walt Disney Animation France’s Montreuil Studious for almost a decade before switching to comics as illustrator of Didier Crisse’s Luuna. He thereafter branched out and carried on, scripting his own stuff whilst remaining an in-demand artist for others…

Here his softly endearing images paint us a picture of idyllic summer holidays at the seaside for affianced couple Roland Matturet and Fabienne Guillardin. For their trip to the South of France, he has meticulously (it’s his way) planned everything and paid for it all in advance as a build-up to asking her a certain question.

Sadly, the entire sunny escapade is cut short – as is Roland himself – when a bizarre accident leaves Fabienne instantly alone in a strange but welcoming resort of happy strangers…

Shocked and stunned, but still posthumously guided by Roland’s notebook itinerary, she seems to pause inside. Not even informing the families of the change in circumstance, she roams like a ghost, sampling all the prepaid amenities, diligently attending to Roland’s checklist of events and gradually reinventing herself.

Avoiding all past connections and her current situation, Fabienne savours being unknown, alone, and not yet bereaved: pondering the ramifications in her pensive way, as she grudgingly befriends eccentric, exotic and quixotic local Paco… a man unlike any she has ever met before.

With no idea how she feels about anything, Fabienne allows herself to be intrigued as Roland’s hold on her diminishes and fades away…

What’s next…?

Lyrical, laconic, blackly comic and engagingly demure, this gleefully morbid, platonic holiday non-romance unfolds with a minimum of verbiage and powerfully understated silent visuals: exploring life and death, addressing denial, avoidance and coping mechanisms through a soft-focussed lens of friendships in adversity and those ever-present, never-acted upon holiday impulses…

Vacations are built of never-seized moments of seductive might-have-beens and affable strangers, channelled here in astonishingly compelling episodes that make the mundane magical and encapsulating those brief spells of transient opportunity that comprise such “holidays of a lifetime”. This is tale of woe and wonder writ small, and all the more perfect because of it.
Stay published 2019 by The Lion Forge, LLC. © 2019 The Lion Forge, LLC. Originally published in France as Je vais rester, scenario by Lewis Trondheim, illustrations by Hubert Chevillard © Rue de Sevres, Paris 2018. All rights reserved.

Moon Knight Epic Collection volume 1: Bad Moon Rising (1975-1981)


By Doug Moench, David Anthony Kraft, Bill Mantlo, Steven Grant, Roger Slifer, John Warner, Don Perlin, Bill Sienkiewicz, Keith Giffen, Mike Zeck, Jim Mooney, Jim Craig, Gene Colan, Keith Pollard & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2092-6 (TPB/Digital edition)

Moon Knight is probably the most complex and convoluted hero(es) in comics. There’s also a lot of eminently readable strip evidence to support the contention that he’s a certifiable loon.

The mercurial champion first appeared during the 1970s horror boom: a mercenary Batman knockoff hired by corporate villains to capture a monster. Sparking reader attention, the mercenary spun off into a brace of solo trial issues in Marvel Spotlight and welter of guest shots before securing an exceedingly sophisticated back-up slot in the TV inspired Hulk Magazine before graduating to the first of many solo series.

His convoluted origin eventually revealed how multiple-personality-suffering CIA spook-turned-mercenary Marc Spector was murdered by his boss and apparently resurrected by an Egyptian god…

This first epic compilation re-presents Werewolf by Night #32-33; Marvel Spotlight #28-29; Defenders #47-50, Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #22-23; Marvel Two-In-One #52; material from Hulk Magazine #11-15, 17-18 & 20; Marvel Preview #21 and Moon Knight #1-4, spanning 1975 to 1981.

It all began in Werewolf by Night #32 (August 1975) and another stage in a long-running plot thread. Accursed lycanthrope Jack Russell and his sister Lyssa had been targets of criminal capitalists the Corporation for months. The plutocratic cabal believed that by terrorising the public, they could induce them to spend more…

Here Doug Moench & Don Perlin (with assistance from little Howie Perlin) introduced mercenary Marc Spector: a rough and ready modern warrior hired by plutocratic plunderers and equipped with a silver-armoured costume and weapons to capture Russell or his animal other as ‘…The Stalker Called Moon Knight’.

The bombastic battle and its ferocious sequel ‘Wolf-Beast vs. Moon Knight’ received an unprecedented response and rapidly propelled the lunar avenger to prominence as Marvel’s edgy answer to Batman: especially after the mercurial merc rejected his latest loathsome employers’ entreaties and let the wolf, as well as collateral hostages Lissa and Topaz, run free…

Within a year the spectral sentinel had returned for a two-part solo mission that fleshed out his characters (yes, plural!) and hinted at a hidden history behind the simple mercenary façade. Cover-dated June & August 1976, Marvel Spotlight #28-29 ‘The Crushing Conquer-Lord!’ and concluding chapter ‘The Deadly Gambit of Conquer-Lord!’ reveal the mercenary to be a well-established clandestine crimebuster with vast financial resources, a dedicated team of assistants including pilot “Frenchy” and secretary Marlene as well as wide-ranging network of street informants, a mansion/secret HQ, a ton of cool gadgets and at least four separate identities.

This latter aspect would inform Moon Knight’s entire career as various creators explored where playacting ended and Multiple Personality Disorder – if not outright supernatural possession – began…

Thanks to his brush with the werewolf, the masked vigilante had also gained a partial superpower. As the moon waxed and waned, his physical strength speed, stamina and resilience also doubled and diminished.

Here, billionaire Steven Grant, New York cabbie/information gatherer Jake Lockley, repentant gun-for-hire Marc Spector and the mysterious Moon Knight discovered he had been targeted by ruthless mastermind Mr. Quinn, who sought to eliminate a potential impediment in his plane to become a supervillain and rule Manhattan. The cunning criminal had placed a spy in Steven Grant’s inner circle and subsequent research revealed how Spector – a former CIA unarmed combat and weapons expert – had infiltrated the Corporation, gained powers, created alternate identities and, for unknown reasons, declared war on crime…

Sadly, despite this devious scheme and deploying plenty of his own wonder weapons and henchmen, the Conquer-Lord proves no match for the hidden hero in a gripping thriller by Moench & Perlin.

Following a quartet of previous collection covers by Gil Kane & Tom Smith, Perlin & Matt Milla, Bill Sienkiewicz & John Kalisz, and Sienkiewicz, Klaus Janson & Thomas Mason, the spectral sentinel’s next appearance was as a guest in a long running super-team saga.

Beginning with ‘Night Moves!’ in Defenders #47 (May 1977 and running through #50 and beyond), John Warner, David Anthony Kraft, Roger Slifer, Keith Giffen – in full Kirby mimic mode – with inkers Janson & Mike Royer disclose how putative loner Moon Knight is drawn into a war between a supervillain suffering a despondent mid-life crisis and the heroic “non-team” of Nighthawk, Valkyrie, Hellcat and The Hulk.

It begins in New Jersey, as the late-patrolling vigilante stumbles upon an abduction. When S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Nick Fury “arrests” Valkyrie’s former husband Jack Norriss in a most unorthodox manner, Moon Knight rescues Jack, taking him to Doctor Strange. Before long, MK’s somehow fighting Avenger Wonder Man, and thereafter catapulted into an aging Bad Guy’s existential crisis in #48’s ‘Who Remembers Scorpio? Part 1: Sinister Savior’

Certainly not Jack, now a captive audience to Fury’s supposedly dead brother, who bemoans his lot in life while waiting for his new Zodiac team to mature and leave the Life Model Decoy machine currently constructing them…

When the Knight finds them, he’s caught in a deadly death trap, as Nighthawk is captured and added to the whining villain’s unwilling audience. Moon Knight’s escape and dash for reinforcements coincides with Hulk’s latest ‘Rampage’ through Manhattan in #49, allowing MK to lead him back to the Zodiac base, with Hellcat and Valkyrie close behind them.

Everyone meets up just as the artificial Zodiac is prematurely born, with double-length Defenders #50 hosting massive, manic free-for-all ‘Who Remembers Scorpio? Part 3: Scorpio Must Die!’

The clash ends in tragedy and Moon Knight’s departure, but not before an extract from #51’s ‘A Round with the Ringer!’ reveals the shocking secret of Fury’s involvement and exactly how the Knight in White escaped that aforementioned death trap…

You’re not really a Marvel Superhero until you meet the wondrous webslinger, and that initial introduction came in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #22-23 (September & October 1978) as Bill Mantlo, Mike Zeck & Bruce D. Patterson detail an underworld plot to destroy the mysterious vigilante ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon Knight!’

When an informant is gunned down warning the Maggia have ferreted out one of his secret identities, Moon Knight learns the lethal legacy of Conquer-Lord’s files have made targets of his other assets, including diner owner Gena and homeless derelict Crawley. Lockley seeks to save them from assassination as Spider-Man is just passing, and the webslinger intervenes to save lives and keep his neighbourhood friendly…

After the traditional misunderstanding Meet-&-Beat-Up, Spidey and Moon Knight unite just in time to battle the Maggia’s top super-enforcer… French speedster Cyclone!

The saga concludes courtesy of artists Jim Mooney & Mike Esposito as the wallcrawler enviously scopes out MK HQ before joining a punitive counterstrike on the crime combine in ‘Guess Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb!’

Cover-dated June 1979, one last guest shot preceded MK’s transition to a solo series. In Marvel Two-In-One #52, Steven Grant – the real one Spector’s alter ego is teasingly based on – and artist Jim Craig & Pablo Marcos had the mysterious Moon Knight ally with The Thing to stop CIA Psy-Ops master Crossfire from brainwashing the city’s superheroes into killing each other…

Superhero credentials suitably established, Moon Knight began carving out his uniquely twisted corner of the Marvel Universe in a psychologically-themed vehicle aimed at an older, more general audience.

Originally released as newsprint monochrome magazine The Rampaging Hulk, the advent of the company’s “Marvelcolor” process and a hugely successful TV show starring the Green Goliath saw the periodical upgraded to slicker paper stock and obliquely continuity-adjacent storylines to address the needs of casual readers/television converts.

Supposedly a more sophisticated product, the book offered a home to Moon Knight, who moved in for a series of dark modern tales also outside standard superhero parameters. Before those begin here, Hulk Magazine #11 (October 1978) provides Bob Larkin’s wraparound painted cover, a house ad from #10 and a text introduction extolling the virtues of artistic debutante Bill Sienkiewicz from #13…

A new era dawned with ‘Graven Image of Death’ (#11, by Moench, Gene Colan & Tony DeZuñiga) as the hooded hunter stumbles into a murderous war between rival antiquities collectors Joel Luxor and Anton Varro: millionaires vying for possession of a statuette of Egyptian god Horus. As bodies stack up, Moon Knight despatches Grant’s assistant/paramour Marlene to question museum curator Fenton Crane and is barely in time to stop her joining the body count in #12’s ‘Embassy of Fear!’ (Moench, Keith Pollard, Frank Giacoia & Esposito).

On learning the entire affair is simply smoke and mirrors for a larger scheme, with the statue simply moneymaking collateral in an international terrorism plot, Moon Knight buys in as shady millionaire Grant to work undercover. He is unaware that another mastermind has obtained Conquer-Lord’s files and it’s all a trap.

Hulk Magazine #13 (February 1979) was Sienkiewicz’s moment. On ‘The Big Blackmail’ his sleek imitation of classic Neal Adams hyperrealism (and Batman swipe files) combined with Steve Oliff’s advanced colour techniques, were breathtaking as enigmatic Machiavelli Lupinar observed the hero’s friends and allies at dangerously close quarters. Orchestrating nuclear armageddon with Moon Knight as his unwitting dupe, legendary operative Marc Spector was his true target…

After wading through layers of murderous multinational intermediaries, Moon Knight finally confronts his bestial hidden enemy in #14’s ‘Countdown to Dark’ (Bob McLeod inks) in a furious fight to the death as a nuclear clock inexorably counts down…

A smart crossover follows after a gallery of Hulk covers – #12-15 by Joe Jusko, Earl Norem, Larkin & Peter Ledger before June 1980’s #15 hosted a single encounter told from two perspectives. Moench, Sienkiewicz & McLeod explored ‘An Eclipse, Waning’ with Grant indulging a neglected passion for astronomy by visiting an old pal in the countryside on the night of a total lunar occultation.

The event brings brutal burglars out of the woodwork and Moon Knight is required to stop them, but, bizarrely, at the height of the eclipse, during the moment of utter darkness, the Lunar Avenger encounters something huge, monstrous and unbeatable, barely escaping with his life.

Answers come in ‘An Eclipse Waxing’ as on that same night , fugitive Bruce Banner meets burglars breaking into an isolated house and helplessly transforms into the Hulk again. Just as total night falls, the monster briefly encounters an unseen foe of far greater capabilities…

Norem, Larkin and Jusko covers for #17, 18 and 20 precede some longed-awaited revelations of the White Knight’s troubled past, emerging when as regular Moon Knight feature resumed in #17. In a chilling, disturbing sequence inked by Klaus Janson, ‘Nights Born Ten Years Gone Part I-III’ finds Manhattan terrorised by a mad axeman stalking nightshift nurses.

Wearing pyjama bottoms and a clown mask, the “Hatchet-Man” has racked up nine kills before Moon Night’s street agents present evidence indicating a close historical connection to Spector. Always cautious, the Man of Many Parts is parsimonious in sharing knowledge and Marlene convinces him that she can safely act as bait…

The ploy goes appallingly wrong and she is severely injured by both the police and the axe-man, leading to the incensed lunar vigilante going wild amidst the ‘Shadows in the Heart of the City’ as the frustrated maniac spirals out of control

However, although the killer is stopped, the guilt-wracked hero tirelessly works a night of minor life-saving exploits and endures anxious terrors before Marlene is safe in ‘A Long Way to Dawn’

That euphoric fable appeared in Hulk Magazine #20 (April 1980) and was Moon Knight’s swan song there, but he resurfaced in a complex conspiracy mystery in monochrome magazine Marvel Preview (#21, Spring 1980).

Behind the Sienkiewicz, Larkin, Janson & Oliff cover here and preceded by the penciller’s B&W frontispiece ‘The Mind Thieves’ and concluding chapter ‘Vipers’ come from a later colourised reprint, but retain all the sinister paranoic confusion of the Moench, Sienkiewicz, Tom Palmer & Dan Greene original.

When a corpse is delivered to Grant’s mansion, it reactivates Spector’s CIA career and sets Moon Knight on the trail of unfinished business in a “Company” mind control lab supposedly decommissioned years previously…

Following a trail of dead men, dirty secrets, and programable super-killers, MK, Marlene and Frenchy escape barely death in Montreal and Paris while exposing a vicious vengeance plot behind the dirty tricks campaign. It almost costs them everything…

Appended by Ralph Macchio’s editorial ‘Full Phase’, the story closes one chapter in the character’s life and leads into the far mor complex and conflicted career of a man seeking atonement as the November cover-dated premier solo title exposes the secrets of ‘The Macabre Moon Knight!’

Here Moench, Sienkiewicz & Frank Springer reveal how world-weary, burned-out mercenary Spector was working for murderous marauder Raul Bushman but reclaimed his moral compass after his ruthless boss murdered archaeologist Peter Alraune for the contents of a recently excavated Sudanese tomb. The scientist’s daughter Marlene escaped, as did equally disgusted comrade Frenchy, but when Spector attempted to stop Bushman executing witnesses he was beaten and left to die in the desert.

Dying by degrees, Spector crawled for miles and died just as he enters the tomb of Pharoah Seti, where Marlene and her workers were hiding. Dumped at the feet of a statue of Khonshu – god of the Moon and Taker of Vengeance – he inexplicably revived. Clearly deranged, he draped the statue’s white mantle around himself, before going out into the night. By dawn, Bushman’s band are dead and the monster fled…

Skipping forward to now and hinting at a long eventful road to the life of a multi-identity superhero, the origin ends with a fateful showdown with the returned Bushman in his New York lair…

Barely pausing, #2 focuses on pitiful peeping pawn Crawley in a powerful human interest tale. The city reels under the bloody shadow of a butcher hunting bums and indigents. With corpses no one cares about mounting, Moon Knight soon learns ‘The Slasher’ is seeking one specific homeless man, and will not stop until he finds him…

Cover-dated January 1981, #3 sees Sienkiewicz ink himself as ‘Midnight Means Murder’ with the Knight of the Moon facing ruthless thief Anton Mogart/The Midnight Man, before the saga pauses with #4 and the Janson-inked action thriller ‘A Committee of 5’. Here, the Lunar Avenger is hunted by and hunts in return a quintet of specialist assassins. Happily, fortune augments ability and Khonshu’s chosen is more than a match for the killer elite…

Accompanied throughout by covers from Gil Kane, Al Milgrom, Klaus Janson, Perlin, Jack Kirby, Ed Hannigan, Joe Sinnott, Dave Cockrum, Joe Rubinstein, Keith Pollard, George Pérez, Sienkiewicz and others, the extras are supplemented by Sienkiewicz’s wrapround covers from Moon Knight Special Edition #1-3 and the 6-plate character portfolio contained therein, plus Jim Shooter’s introduction.

Also on show are contemporary house ads; printed trivia; previous collection covers; the painted cover to fanzine Amazing Heroes #6 and 11 pages of original art and covers by Milgrom, Cockrum, Rubinstein, Sienkiewicz, McLeod, Springer & Janson.

Moody, dark, thematically off-kilter and savagely entertaining this first volume sees a Batman knock-off evolve into a unique example of the line between hero and villain and sinner and saint all wrapped up in pure electric entertainment for testosterone junkies and
© 2019 MARVEL.