O Josephine!


By Jason (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-210-6 (HB)
Jason is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

He won another Sproing in 2001 for his Mjau Mjau strip and the following year turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. Now an established global star, he has garnered numerous major awards from such disparate locales as France, Slovakia and the USA.

Jason’s breadth of interest is capacious and deep: comics, movies, music, high literature, low life, real life and pulp fiction all feature equally with absolutely no inherent sense of hierarchy, and his puckish mixing and matching of such evergreen founts of inspiration always result in a picture-treatise well worth a reader’s time.

A master of short-form illustrated tales, many Jason yarns are released as snappy little albums which are perfect for later inclusion in longer anthology collections such as this one which gathers a quartet of the most recent and very best.

As always, the visual/verbal bon mots unfold in Jason’s beguiling, sparse-dialogued, pantomimic progressions with enchantingly formal page layouts rendered in the familiar, minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Ligne Claire style; solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity. That delight is augmented here by a beguiling palette ranging from stark monochrome to primary yellow duotones…

Available thus far only as a sturdily comforting hardback, the stream of subtle wonderment opens with a suitably understated autobiographical jaunt to the land of Erin and an uneventful but truly mind-blowing progression along ‘The Wicklow Way’. The vacation hikes might be scenic and uneventful, but you’re never alone as long as you’re stuck inside your own head…

With the addition of a jaundiced inky outlook (and employing “yellow journalism” of the most literal kind) ‘L. Cohen: A Life’ then outlines the life and times of the poet, musician and philosopher, with a strong emphasis on whimsical inaccuracy and factual one-upmanship…

Filmic classicism underpins ‘The Diamonds’ as a pair of barely-boiled detectives lose all objectivity as their scrupulous surveillance of a simple family affects their own hidden lives before the low key dramatics slip back into monochrome and into the twilight zone after weary world traveller Napoleon Bonaparte returns to Paris and falls head over shiny heels for infamous exotic dancer Josephine Baker. As with all doomed romances, the path to happiness is rocky, dangerous, and potentially insurmountable, but… c’est l’amour!

Jason’s comic tales are strictly for adults but allow us all to look at the world through wide-open childish eyes, exploring love, loss, life, death, boredom and all aspects of relationship politics without ever descending into mawkishness or simple, easy buffoonery. His buffoonery is always slick and deftly designed for maximum effect…

Jason remains a taste instantly acquired: a creator any true fan of the medium should move to the top of their “Must-Have” list.
All characters, stories, and artwork © 2019 Jason. This edition © Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Justice


By Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Doug Braithwaite & Todd Klein (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3526-0 (TPB)

Once upon a time, comics were instantly accessible, kid-friendly and dealt with pure universal fundamentals like Goodies vs Baddies. All us old, ultra-sophisticated advocates of the mature global art form secretly miss them terribly…

So much so, that in the early days of the 21st century Alex Ross and his frequent collaborators Jim Krueger and Doug Braithwaite celebrated their personal wonder years with this epic clash that originally sold as a 12-issue miniseries before jumping to a number of classy collected editions. This particular re-release is available in trade paperback and digital editions.

Ross and Krueger co-wrote the saga – a tribute to the traditional Fights ‘n’ Tights sagas of childhood, both in 1970s DC Comics and also the animated Super-Friends and Challenge of the Super-Friends TV shows – after which Braithwaite pencilled the amazing action before Ross finished the pages in his painterly manner. Letterer Todd Klein added sense to the proceedings in his usual efficient manner.

Set outside of regular DC continuity (whatever that means, in these multimedia, multi-platform, multiple Earths modern days) this tale begins with widespread dreams of Nuclear Armageddon and the ultimate failure of Earth’s superheroes to save the world. These nightmares similarly plague many of the planet’s vilest super-villains, until – after overcoming their natural distrust of each other – they at last unite under Lex Luthor to finally overcome their arch-enemies once-and-for-all.

Not only do the massed malefactors hunt down and deal with Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the Justice League, but they thereafter also instigate a public charm offensive. The united super creeps undertake and achieve real change: improving the world in proactive interventionist ways the heroes never have.

As deserts are made to bloom, the crippled cured and the hungry masses are finally fed, humanity is blithely oblivious to the fact that their erstwhile champions are being brutally tortured and murdered…

With the superheroes compromised and defeated, lesser valiant lights of the DC Universe come into play whilst the triumphant villains divvy up their cunningly won spoils. However, as the forces of decency begin their fight back, it becomes increasingly clear that Luthor and alien computer intelligence Brainiac have their own agendas: ones that don’t include their erstwhile allies and pawns.

More significantly, the supremely insane Joker is on the loose again. He’s quite unhappy about being excluded from the initial alliance of villains…

The Big Finale is a feast of chaos and carnage, grand spectacle and bombastic set pieces as war between the Super Powers of the DCU exposes the dastardly master-plan of Lex and Brainiac even as the resurgent heroes – each clad in personalised Battle Armour (Gotta Collect ‘em All!) – go into concerted action to save the world… not just from the depredations of the desperate villains, but also the imminent threat of nuclear Armageddon.

Visually astounding and enthralling, in story-terms this overly complex and convoluted tale falls far short of the halcyon material it references, possibly because the target audience is assumed to be too mature for the clear-cut simplicity of those child-friendly days and tales. There’s also a little too much of the prospective “merch” about the whole affair, for my liking: surely it can’t just be all about Toys, Action Figures and Collectables, these days?

I understand that it’s a tough commercial world and that many fans love toys, gadgets, statues and other extras that are now part-and-parcel of comics publishing. I just worry that when peripherals begin to dictate content, you have a core product that’s no longer able to sustain itself.

Although beautiful and pictorially compelling, Justice could have greatly benefited from a little of the clear, clean plot-driven simplicity of those long-ago stories. The saga comes so close to being perfect comics fare, but founders at the last, with its superbly gifted creators spending too much on toy-factory fripperies, yet failing to make the kind of mind-blowing magic memories which inspired them to get into the business in the first place…
© 2005, 2006, 2007, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 13


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, John Buscema, Ross Andru, Ramona Fradon, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5040-4 (HB)

Monolithic modern Marvel truly began with the adventures of a small super-team who were as much squabbling family as coolly capable costumed champions. Everything the company produces now is due to the quirky quartet and the groundbreaking, inspired efforts of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby…

This full-colour compendium – available in hardcover and digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #129-141: spanning December 1972 to December 1972 with Stan Lee leaving his most significant co-creation to his top disciple Roy Thomas – and latterly Gerry Conway – whilst John Buscema & Joe Sinnott did their utmost to remake Jack Kirby’s stellar creation in their own style and image and outdoing themselves with every successive issue.

…And when they weren’t around there was a ready pool of visual talent to tap…

What You Should Already Know: maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged tag-along little brother Johnny miraculously survived an ill-starred private space-shot after cosmic rays penetrated their stolen ship’s inadequate shielding. As they crashed back to Earth the uncanny radiation mutated them all in unimaginable ways…

Richards’ body became astoundingly elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and project forcefields whilst Johnny could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. They agreed to use their abilities to benefit mankind and thus was born the Fantastic Four.

Following an effusive Introduction from Thomas and a candid, context-creating and fact-filled second essay – ‘Foreword into the Past’ – from Conway, the dramatic tensions resume with the team in turmoil as usual. Having just survived a three-way war between Mole Man, Kala, Empress of the Netherworld and immortal dictator Tyrannus, the exhausted team return to their Baxter Building HQ just in time for lovesick, heartsore Johnny to leave for the hidden kingdom of Attilan and explosively confront lost love – and Inhuman Princess – Crystal.

Tragically as he leaves, ‘The Frightful Four… Plus One!’ (by Thomas, Buscema & Sinnott) sees the Thing ambushed by The Sandman, Wizard and Trapster, beside their newest and almost uncontrollable ally… super-strong amazon Thundra.

Happily, Crystal’s sister Medusa is there to pitch in as the clash escalates and spread to ‘Battleground: the Baxter Building!’ wherein baby Franklin Richards begins exhibiting terrifying abilities. Always left holding the baby and fed up with her husband’s neglect, Sue finally leaves Reed, whilst in the Himalayas Johnny has forced his way to Crystal’s side only to find his worst nightmares realised…

Fantastic Four #131 describes a ‘Revolt in Paradise!’ (illustrated by Ross Andru & Sinnott) as Crystal, her new fiancé Quicksilver, and the rest of the Inhumans are attacked by their genetically-bred and programmed slave-race the Alpha Primitives.

At first it seems that insane usurper Maximus is again responsible for the strife but a deeper secret lurks behind the deadly danger of ‘Omega! The Ultimate Enemy!’, and when the rest of the FF arrive Reed soon ferrets it out…

Issue #133 celebrated the holiday season with plenty of fireworks in ‘Thundra at Dawn!’ as the mysterious Femizon returns to battle Ben once more, courtesy of incoming scripter Gerry Conway, guest penciller Ramona Fradon & Sinnott, after which ‘A Dragon Stalks the Sky!’ in #134 (Buscema & Sinnott) finds Reed, Johnny, Ben and Medusa fighting forgotten super-rich foe Gregory Gideon and his latest acquisition the Dragon Man: a bombastic battle which concludes in a struggle to possess ‘The Eternity Machine’

The secret of that reality-warping device is revealed in a two-part thriller as cosmic entity Shaper of Worlds creates a horrific paranoid pastiche of 1950s America: re-running the conflicts between rebellious youth and doctrinaire, paternalistic authority in ‘Rock Around the Cosmos!’ and the surreal conclusion ‘Rumble on Planet 3’ which also taps into the ongoing struggles of the Civil Rights movement…

In the sub-plot arena, the never-ending stress had forced Sue Richards away from her husband but their son’s rapidly-developing strange, undiagnosed cosmic powers and problems were pulling them reluctantly back together …

Mr. Fantastic was not taking the trial separation well and issue #138 finds him left behind in an increasingly disturbed depressive state when old comrade Wyatt Wingfoot comes looking for assistance against impossible, unimaginable disasters.

Madness is… The Miracle Man’ began a period when rocky everyman Ben Grimm became the de facto star of the Fantastic Four and here he, the Torch and Medusa travel to Wingfoot’s tribal lands in Oklahoma to battle a cheesy hypnotist first encounter in their third adventure.

Now, however, thanks to the charlatan’s subsequent studies under mystic Cheemuzwa medicine men, the maniac actually can reshape reality with a thought…

The battle concluded in the next issue as ‘Target: Tomorrow!’ sees the villain able to control matter but not himself spiralling frantically out of control, with our heroes struggling indomitably on until the Miracle Man makes a fatal, world-threatening error…

Reed’s travails take a darker turn in Fantastic Four # 140 as ‘Annihilus Revealed!’ finds the insectoid Negative Zone tyrant of a dying antimatter universe kidnapping the ever-more powerful Franklin before invading the Baxter Building in search of new worlds to ravage.

In triumph, the bug horror discloses his incredible origin to the helpless Wingfoot before dragging all his enemies back to his subspace hell to engineer ‘The End of the Fantastic Four!’

However, even though the beaten heroes counterattacked and gained an unlikely victory, Annihilus’ prior tampering with Franklin triggers a cosmic catastrophe. As the boy’s limitless power spikes out of control, his tormented father is compelled to blast the boy, shutting down his mutant brain and everything else.

Appalled at the callous cold calculations needed to put his own son into a coma, Johnny and Ben joined Sue in deserting the grief-stricken Mr. Fantastic and declaring their heroic partnership defunct.

To Be Continued…?

This power-packed package also includes unused a full cover gallery – including that of all-reprint Annual 10 – by Buscema, Frank Giacoia, Rich Buckler, Jim Steranko and John Romita, as well as many examples of original art and covers to add to the overall Costumed Drama and delight fans everywhere.

Although Kirby had taken the explosive imagination and questing sense of wonder with him on his departure, the sheer range of beloved characters and concepts he had created with Lee served to carry the series for years afterwards and these admittedly erratic and inconsistent stories kept the Fantastic Four ticking over until bolder hands could once again take the World’s Greatest Comics Magazine Heroes back to the stratospheric heights where they belonged.

Solid, honest and creditable efforts, these tales are probably best seen by dedicated superhero fans and continuity freaks like me, but can still thrill and enthral the casual browser looking for an undemanding slice of graphic narrative excitement.
© 1972, 1973, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man Newspaper Strips volume 1: January 3rd 1977-January 28th 1979


By Stan Lee & John Romita, with Frank Giacoia (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8561-1 (TPB)

By 1977 Stan Lee had all but surrendered his role as editor and guiding light of Marvel Comics for that of a roving PR machine to hype-up the company he had turned into a powerhouse. In that year two events occurred which catapulted Marvel’s standout and signature character into the popular culture mainstream. One was the long-anticipated release of the Amazing Spider-Man live action TV show – a mixed blessing and pyrrhic victory at best – whilst the other, and one much more in keeping with his humble origins, was the launch of a syndicated newspaper strip.

Both mass-audience outreach projects brought the character to a wider audience, but the later offered at least a promise of editorial control – a vital factor in keeping the wondrous wallcrawler’s identity and integrity intact. But even this closely-aligned creative medium dictated some tailoring of the Merry Marvel Madness before the hero was a suitable fit with the grown-up world of the “Funny Pages”.

Which is a longwinded way of saying that completists, long-time fans and lovers of great artwork will enjoy this collection of periodical strips, as will any admirer of the stunning talents of the senior John Romita (latterly inked by the great Frank Giacoia); but the stories, tame, bowdlerised and rather mediocre, struggle without the support network of a Marvel Universe, and might feel a tad toned down and simplistic for readers not familiar with the wider cast or long history.

The strip was first posited and peddled around the papers in 1970 (Lee & Romita’s initial proposal and two weeks of trial continuities are included at the back of this book) but The Amazing Spider-Man only began on January 3rd 1977. It ran as a property of the Register and Tribune Syndicate until 1985, briefly switched to Cowles Media Company before becoming part of the King Features Syndicate in 1986. The strip went on hiatus following Lee’s death with the final new strip appearing on March 23rd 2019. Lee was still credited as writer even though Roy Thomas has been the ghost writer since 2000.

Romita illustrated the strip for the first four years, after which Stan’s brother Larry Lieber (in two separate stints), Fred Kida, Dan Barry and Alex Saviuk – all aided by a legion of artistic stand-ins – provided the visuals.

This initial collection – available in both landscape paperback and in digital formats – is a modified rerelease of a hardback tome from 2008, offering extra editorial and commentary as it re-presents the first two years of the strip, with traditional single tier monochrome dailies supplemented by full-colour, full page Sunday strips.

If the reader is steeped in the established folklore of the comicbook Spider-Man, the serials here – solidly emphasising Peter Parker’s personal relationships in the grand manner of strip soap opera drama – introducing Dr. Doom and Dr. Octopus are merely heavy-handed, light on action but intrinsically familiar riffs on what has gone before. However, for the presumed millions of neophyte readers the yarns might have been a tad confusing: presented as if all participants are already fully-established, with no development or real explanation of backstory.

After the full-on Marvel villains are successively trounced, serpentine new baddie The Rattler stalks the city, followed in turn by the more appropriate and understandable (for strips at least) gangster The Kingpin who combines seditious politics with gun-toting thuggery.

Only then do the creators finally get around to a retelling of the origin, albeit one now based on that aforementioned TV show rather than the classic Lee/Ditko masterpiece. It’s safe to say that in those early years the TV series informed the strip much (too much) more than the monthly comicbooks…

A revised Kraven the Hunter debuted next, presenting an opportunity to remove glamourous good-time girl Mary Jane Watson from the strip in favour of a string of temporary girl-friends, more in line with the TV iteration. This also signalled a reining-in of super-menaces in favour of less-fantastic and far-fetched opponents such as a middle-Eastern terrorist.

The launch of a Spider-Man movie (surely the most improbable of events!) then takes photojournalist Peter Parker to Hollywood and into a clash with a new version of deranged special-effects genius Mysterio, before Dr. Doom returns, attempting to derange our hero with robot pigeons and duplicates of Peter Parker’s associates….

This is followed by an exceptional and emotionally-stirring run of episodes as three street thugs terrorise senior citizen Aunt May for her social security money, after which Spider-Man must foil a crazed fashion-model who has discovered his identity and is blackmailing him… These human-scale threats are a far more fitting use of the hero in this more realistic milieu – which pauses here with a protection racket romp set in the (feel free to shudder) discotheque owned by young entrepreneurs Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn, courtesy of newly-returned corpulent crimelord Kingpin…

To Be Continued…

Adding to the time capsule of arachnid entertainment is that aforementioned proposal by Lee & Romita; archival interviews with both creators conducted by John Rhett Thomas and Alex Lear plus a gallery of six Sunday title panels (used to summarise events and set the tone for reader who only read the sabbath colour strips), as well as a classic Romita pin-up page starring the artist and his greatest co-creations…

Sadly, the stunning art can’t fully counteract the goofy stories that predominate in this oddball collection, nor has time been gentle with much of the dialogue, but there is nonetheless a certain guilty pleasure to be derived from this volume, if you don’t take your comics too seriously and are open to alternative existences….
© 1977, 1978, 2019 Marvel. All rights reserved.

Asterix Omnibus Volume 8 Asterix and the Great Crossing; Obelix and Co.; Asterix in Belgium


By Goscinny & Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Children’s Books)
ISBN: 978-1-44400-837-1 (HB) 978-1-44400-838-8 (TPB)

One of the most popular comics features on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut in 1959, with a dozen animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, unsurprisingly…); all stemming from his gloriously absurd exploits.

More than 325 million copies of unforgettable Asterix books have sold worldwide (not counting the five non-canonical tomes most fans also own), making his joint originators France’s best-selling international authors. There is even the tantalising yet frightening promise of a new – 38th – volume sometime this year by follow-up creative team Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad…

The diminutive, doughty, potion-powered paragon of Gallic Pride was created by two of the industry’s greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, as a weekly strip in Pilote, swiftly becoming a national success and symbol. Although their inspirational collaborations ended in 1977 with the death of the prolific scripter, the creative wonderment continued until 2010 from Uderzo and assistants – albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

After nearly 15 years as a comic strip subsequently collected into compilations, in 1974 the 21st tale (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first to be published as a complete original album before being serialised. Thereafter each new release was a long anticipated, eagerly awaited treat for the strip’s countless aficionados…

The comics magic operates on multiple levels: ostensibly, younger readers revel in the action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romps where sneaky, bullying baddies get their just deserts, whilst we more worldly readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, sly satire, especially as enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light touch of translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge, who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul and his gallant companions so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world. (pour moi, though, a perfectly produced physically poetic “Paf!” to the phizzog is as welcome and wondrous as any painfully potent procession of puns or sardonic satirical sideswipes…)

More than half of the canon occurs on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where, circa 50 B.C., a small village of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resisted every effort of the Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul. The land had been divided by the conquerors into the provinces of Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last-cited just refused to be pacified…

The remaining epics take place in various legendary locales throughout the Ancient World, as the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen visited all the fantastic lands and corners of civilisations of the era…

When the heroes were playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat the last bastion of Gallic insouciance, futilely resorted to a policy of absolute containment. Thus, the little seaside hamlet was permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls don’t care: daily defying the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend…

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix the Gaul continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. Moreover, following the civil unrest and nigh-revolution in French society following the Paris riots of 1968, the tales took on an increasingly acerbic tang of trenchant satire and pithy socio-political commentary…

La Grande Traversée was the 22nd saga and second original book release in France, premiering in 1975, with a British hardcover edition – Asterix and the Great Crossing – launching here the following year.

It begins with another typical village kerfuffle as to the true and relative vintage of Unhygienix the fishmonger’s wares before descending into the standard-issue, boisterous, all-comers-welcome brawl.

However, the situation is rather more serious this time as Druid Getafix needs really fresh fish for the magic potion that keeps them all free of Rome…

A merchant but not a fisherman, Unhygienix refuses to catch his own stock so Asterix and Obelix eventually volunteer to take to sea in old Geriatrix’s dilapidated skiff to replenish the wizard’s stores, even though a big storm is brewing. Sadly, our heroes aren’t fishermen either, and after losing the nets the neophyte seamen are blown far from home…

Lost at sea and starving, they encounter their old pals the Pirates, but Obelix eats all their provisions in one go and soon the mismatched mariners – and faithful mutt Dogmatix – are in even direr straits as another storm blows them ever further westward.

Just as death seems inevitable, the Gauls wash up on an island of the Empire they have never seen before. In this strange outpost the Romans have red skins, paint their faces and wear feathers in their hair. Most terrifyingly, there are no wild boar to eat, only big ugly birds that go “gobble, gobble”…

After the usual two-fisted diplomacy with the “Iberians, or perhaps Thracians?”, Asterix and Obelix settle down comfortably enough, but the situation changes when the chief decides the big paleface is going to marry his daughter. Desperately, the Gauls steal a canoe one night and strike out across the Big Water towards home but only get as far as a little islet where they’re picked up by Viking explorers Herendethelessen, Steptøånssen, Nøgøødreåssen, Håråldwilssen and their valiant Great Dane Huntingseåssen, who are all jointly looking for unmapped continents…

Convinced their odd discoveries are natives of this strange New World, the Danes try to entice the oddly eager indigenes to come home with them as proof of Herendethelessen’s incredible discovery. Braving icy Atlantic seas, the dragon ship is soon back in cold, mist-enshrouded Scandinavia where gruff, dismissive Chief Ødiuscomparissen is suitably amazed and astounded…

However, when Gaulish slave Catastrofix reveals they are from his European homeland, tempers get a bit heated and another big fight breaks out…

Taking advantage of the commotion, Asterix, Obelix and Catastrofix – an actual fisherman by trade – steal a boat and head at last for home, picking up some piscine presents for Getafix en route…

This is a wittily arch but delightfully straightforward yarn, big on action and thrills, packed with knowing in-jokes and sly references to other French Western strips such as Lucky Luke and Ompa-pa (Oumpah-pah in French) as well as Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and ultimately formed the basis of the animated feature film Asterix Conquers America.

Strong, stinging satire was the foundation of the next saga. Obélix et Compagnie debuted in 1976 with English-language hardcover Obelix and Co. launching in 1978: once again dealing with frustration-wracked Julius Caesar’s attempting to end the aggravating resistance of the indomitable Gauls.

To that effect the most powerful man in the world dispatches a bold, brash go-getter from the Latin School of Economics to destroy their unity forever. Financial whiz-kid Preposterus has a plan that simply can’t fail and will incidentally pay huge dividends to the Empire.

Meanwhile, the replacing of the Totorum Garrison with fresh troops has allowed the Gauls to give Obelix a truly inspired birthday gift. After beating up the entire contingent on his own and without having to share the soldiers, the delighted big man goes back to carving and delivering Menhirs before meeting a strange young Roman.

Preposterus – a cruelly effective caricature of France’s then Prime Minister Jacques Chirac – intends to destroy the villagers by making them as greedy, lazy and corrupt as any Roman Patrician, all through the introduction of Capitalism and Market Forces…

To that end he pretends to be a Menhir buyer, willing to pay any amount for the giant stone obelisks (which have no appreciable use or worth and were normally swapped for small treats or favours), telling the big gullible oaf that money makes men important and powerful.

Without really understanding, easygoing Obelix begins accepting ever-larger sums for each standing stone, forcing himself to work harder and never stop. He doesn’t know what to do with the money but is caught up in an ever-hastening spiral of production.

Too busy to have fun hunting wild boars or play with Dogmatix, he begins hiring his equally gullible friends and neighbours: first to hunt for him and later to help sculpt Menhirs. All does is work and spend his growing mountain of cash on increasingly daft fancy clothes as he drives himself to miserable exhaustion.

Before long most of the village is caught in the escalating economic bubble, all except wily Asterix, who attempts to bring his old pal to his senses by suggesting to his friends that they set up as rival Menhir manufacturers. The little man is inadvertently helped in this by the status-obsessed village wives who push their men to become as “successful and influential” as the fat oaf…

In Totorum, the megaliths are beginning to pile up as Preposterus proceeds to exhaust all Rome’s funds purchasing Menhirs. Centurion Ignoramus is ecstatic that the plan to destroy the Gauls through cutthroat competition is working, but wants the growing mountain of shaped stones out of his camp, so Preposterous has them shipped back to Rome and starts selling them to rich trendies as indispensable fashion accessories.

The whiz-kid has nearly emptied Caesar’s coffers but his swish and intensive advertising campaign looks sets to recoup the losses with a folk-art sales boom… until sleazy Italian entrepreneur Meretricius starts selling cut-rate Rome-manufactured Menhirs and the Boom leads to a ruthless price war and inevitable Bust which almost topples the Empire…

Meanwhile, success has not made Obelix happy and he’s thinking of quitting, just as the desperate Preposterous returns and inconsiderately, immediately stops buying Menhirs. Of course, being simple peasants the Gauls don’t understand supply and demand or the finer principles of a free market: they’re just really annoyed and frustrated.

Luckily there’s lots of Romans around to help deal with their pent-up tensions…

Soon the air is cleared and the villagers have returned to their old-fashioned ways so Asterix and Getafix can laugh at news of a financial crisis wracking Rome…

This hilarious and telling parody and unashamed anti-Capitalist tract shows Goscinny & Uderzo at their absolute, satirical best, riffing on modern ideologies and dogmas whilst spoofing and lampooning the habits and tactics of greedy bosses and intransigent workers alike. Many politicians and economists have cited this tale – which is as always, stuffed with cameos and in-joke guest shots. I’m reliably informed that the beautiful page 36, which featured Preposterus explaining his ad campaign, was also the 1000th page of Asterix since his debut in 1959.

Asterix travel epics are always packed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal situations and amazingly addictive but generally consequence-free action, always illustrated in a magically enticing manner. Such was certainly the case with Astérix chez les Belges, the 24th adventure and Goscinny’s last. The indefatigable writer passed away in 1977 halfway through the book’s completion. You can even commemorate the tragic event as just as Uderzo did, by drawing sullen, stormy skies for the rest of the tale he was completing: marking the moment, and incorporating one last wry shared dig at Belgian weather…

The story is a grand old romp of friendly rivalries – released in Britain in 1980 as Asterix in Belgium – and begins when a relief troop takes over the garrison of Laudanum. These soldiers are delighted to be in Amorica, because it means they are no longer fighting the Belgians. Those barbarians are even worse than the indomitable villagers in Amorica. Caesar himself has called them “the bravest of all the Gaulish Peoples”…

Perplexed by the laid-back attitude of the new occupiers, who consider their new posting a “rest cure”, Asterix and Obelix question one of the replacement Romans. They report his unbelievable news to Vitalstatistix, who is beside himself with indignation. Most of the others don’t really care, but when the furious Chief storms off for the border to see for himself, the old pals follow to keep him out of trouble…

Soon they have crossed the border and encounter the fabled warriors, led by their chiefs Beefix and Brawnix. They are indeed mighty fighters but awfully arrogant too, and soon Vitalstatistix has become so incensed with their boasting that he proposes a competition to see who can bash the most Romans and prove just who are the Bravest Gauls.

Obelix doesn’t mind: the Belgians are just like him. The only thing they like more than hitting Romans is eating and they seem to do the latter all day long…

Before long, however, there are no more Roman forts in the vicinity and the matter of honour is still unsettled. What they need is an unbiased umpire to judge who is the greatest and – fortuitously – Julius Caesar, moved to action by the terrible news from Belgium and rumours that the Amoricans (three of them at least) are also rising in revolt, has rushed to the frontier with the massed armies of the Empire…

Against such a force the squabbling cousins can only unite to force Caesar to admit who’s best…

Stuffed with sly pokes and good-natured joshing over cherished perceived national characteristics and celebrating the spectacular illustrative ability of Uderzo, this raucous, bombastic, bellicose delight delivers splendid hi-jinks and fast-paced action, and is perhaps the most jolly and accessible of these magical all-ages entertainments: a fitting tribute to the mastery of Goscinny and Uderzo.
© 1975-1979 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2005 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Stan Lee, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4200-3 (HB)

During the Marvel Renaissance of the early 1960’s Stan Lee & Jack Kirby tried a tactic that had reaped huge dividends for DC Comics. Although initially generating mixed results their efforts eventually changed the nature of comicbooks. Julie Schwartz had scored an incredible success with his revised versions of the company’s Golden Age greats, so it seemed natural to try and revive the characters that had dominated Timely/Atlas in those halcyon days.

A new Human Torch had premiered as part of the revolutionary Fantastic Four, and in the fourth issue of that title the Sub-Mariner resurfaced after a 20-year amnesiac hiatus (everyone concerned had apparently forgotten the first abortive attempt to revive an “Atlas” superhero line in the mid-1950s).

The Torch was promptly given his own solo feature in Strange Tales from issue #101 on and in #114 the flaming teen fought an acrobat pretending to be Captain America. With reader-reaction strong, the real thing promptly resurfaced in Avengers #4 and, after a captivating and centre-stage hogging run in that title, was granted his own series as half of the “split-book” Tales of Suspense with #59 (cover-dated November 1964). An unmissable string of classics ensued and in 1968 the Star-Spangled Avenger won his own solo title… but not for long…

This groundbreaking full-colour compilation (available in hardback and digital editions) spans May 1970 to April 1971 and re-presents Captain America #125-#136, with the action and drama occurring at an unprecedented moment of social, political and generational upheaval in the Land of the Free, as evocatively contextualised by historian and archivist Bruce Canwell in his potent Introduction.

Captain America #125 dips into sensational contemporary headline fare as the Sentinel of Liberty seeks to rescue a kidnapped peacemaker only to become ‘Captured… in Viet Nam!’ The mystery villain du jour is anything but politically motivated and the hero’s brief visit – as recounted by Stan Lee, Gene Colan and Frank Giacoia – owes more to super-villainy than nationalistic interventionism…

The Star-Spangled Avenger’s long-anticipated reunion with his erstwhile associate and partner Sam Wilson features in #126’s ‘The Fate of… the Falcon!’: tapping into the blossoming “blaxsploitation” trend to recount an entertaining (although, sadly, not always intentionally) caper of gangsters and radicals in funky old Harlem that still has a kick to it. Just play the (original) theme from Shaft whilst reading it…

Still working off-the-books for super-scientific government spy-agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (which back then stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division), Cap demands ‘Who Calls Me Traitor?’ (#127, July 1970, by Lee, Colan & the astounding Wally Wood).

This pacy romp finds the veteran hero framed and manipulated by friend and foe alike in the search for a double agent in the ranks, after which the embittered warhorse drops out and decides to “discover America” – as so many kids were doing in the era of Easy Rider – on a freewheeling motorcycle.

Inked by Dick Ayers, ‘Mission: Stamp Out Satan’s Angels!’ finds the Red, White and Blue wanderer barely clear the city limits before encountering a nasty gang of bikers terrorising a small-town rock festival, after which his oldest enemy resurfaces to exact ‘The Vengeance of… the Red Skull’ as a simple albeit satisfying by-product of his main plan to start a Middle East war…

Issue #130 finds Cap ‘Up Against the Wall!’ when old foe Batroc the Leaper leads the Porcupine and Whirlwind in a fully paid-for ambush by a hidden villain just as the Sentinel of the Establishment is attempting to defuse an imminent college riot. The mysterious contractor then resorts to a far subtler tactic: launching a psychological assault in ‘Bucky Reborn!’

With the mystery manipulator finally exposed, the tragic true story behind the resurrected sidekick comes out in ‘The Fearful Secret of Bucky Barnes!’ – a powerful, complex drama involving ruthless science terrorists A.I.M., their murderous master Modok and even Doctor Doom

Back in New York, Advanced Idea Mechanics again feature prominently in #133 as Modok foments racial unrest by sending another killer cyborg to create ‘Madness in the Slums!’ The inner-city crisis allows Cap to reunite with his protégé the Falcon – whose name began appearing on the cover from the next issue…

Operating as full-fledged, official partners, the dynamic duo battle ghetto gangsters in ‘They Call Him… Stone-Face!’ (Captain America and the Falcon #134, with Ayers inking), before the Avenger introduces his new main man to S.H.I.E.L.D. in the chilling ‘More Monster than Man!’

Inked by Tom Palmer, this moody spin on the Jekyll and Hyde theme sees a love-struck scientist turn himself into an awesome anthropoid to steal riches, only to end up in ‘The World Below!’

With the Falcon coming to the rescue (and the legendary Bill Everett applying his brilliant inks to Colan’s eerily effective pencils) the battle of man against beast continues with the greedy technologist soon reduced to a collateral casualty of the Mole Man’s latest battle with the champions of the surface world….

With a cover gallery by Marie Severin, Jack Kirby, Herb Trimpe, John Romita and Colan plus the cover to all-reprint Captain America Annual #1 (January 1971) to round out the riotous adventure, this is a titanic tome no Fights & Tights fan could possibly do without…

Any retrospective or historical re-reading is going to turn up a few cringe-worthy moments, but these tales of matchless courage and indomitable heroism are fast-paced, action-packed and illustrated by one of the greatest artists and storytellers American comics has ever produced.

As the nation changed Captain America was finally discovering his proper place in a new era and would once more become unmissable, controversial comicbook reading, as we shall see when I get around to reviewing the next volume…
© 1970, 1971, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Chris Claremont, Mary Jo Duffy, Bob Layton, John Byrne, Terry Austin, John Romita Jr., Bob McLeod, Dave Cockrum, Ricardo Villamonte, John Buscema, Klaus Janson, George Pérez, Alfredo Alcala & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5872-1 (TPB) 978-0-7851-1698-1 (HB)

In the autumn of 1963, The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier.

The teacher was a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo superior; considered by many who knew him as a living saint.

After nearly eight years of eccentrically spectacular adventures the mutant misfits virtually disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just like in the closing years of the 1940s, mystery men faded away as supernatural mysteries and traditional genre themes once more dominated the world’s entertainment fields…

Although the title was revived at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel universe and the Beast was refashioned as a monster fit for the global uptick in scary stories until Len Wein & Dave Cockrum revived and reordered the Mutant mystique with a brand-new team in Giant Size X-Men #1 in 1975.

To old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire was added one-shot Hulk hunter Wolverine, and all-original creations Kurt Wagner, a demonic German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler, African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe AKA Storm, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin, who transformed at will into a living steel Colossus and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

The revision was an instantaneous and unstoppable hit, with Wein’s editorial assistant Chris Claremont writing the series from the second story onwards. The Uncanny X-Men reclaimed their own comicbook with #94 and it quickly became the company’s most popular – and high quality – title.

Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and as the team roster shifted and changed the series rose to even greater heights, culminating in the landmark Dark Phoenix storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved and imaginative character.

In the aftermath team leader Cyclops left but the epic cosmic saga also seemed to fracture the epochal working relationship of Claremont and Byrne. Within months of publication they went their separate ways: Claremont staying with the mutants whilst Byrne moved on to establish his own reputation as a writer on series such as Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and especially his revolutionised and freshly-groundbreaking Fantastic Four

After Apache warrior Thunderbird became the team’s first fatality, the survivors slowly bonded, becoming an infallible fighting unit under the brusque and draconian supervision of Cyclops. When Jean seemingly died to be reborn as a fiery godlike super-psionic, the team’s adventures became unmissable reading as there seemed to be no telling what shocks might come next…

This fifth fabulous compilation (available in luxurious hardcover, trade paperback and eBook editions) is perfect for newbies, neophytes and even old lags nervous about reading such splendid yarns on fragile but extremely valuable newsprint paper. It celebrates the absolute peak of Claremont & Byrne’s collaborative synergy (with regular inker Terry Austin very much a part of the magical experience) as the mutants confirmed their unstoppable march to market dominance through groundbreaking, high-quality stories: specifically, issues #132-140 of the decidedly “All-New, All-Different” X-Men plus Annual #4 – spanning April 1980 to July 1981, plus chronologically askew treats from Phoenix: the Untold Story and Bizarre Adventures #27.

In the previous volume two new mutants – Kitty Pryde and Disco diva Alison “the Dazzler” Blair – debuted as the X-Man clashed with plutocratic secret society The Hellfire Club: a battle the heroes survived by the skin of their teeth, and now the saga resumes in #132 as ‘And Hellfire is their Name!’ brings the Angel back into the fold. Their latest foes are in actuality a centuries-old association of the world’s most powerful and wealthy individuals and Warren Worthington’s family have been members in good standing for generations.

What better way of infiltrating the organisation than with someone already deep on the ultra-privileged inside?

As Wolverine and Nightcrawler scurry through sewers beneath the society’s palatial New York headquarters, Warren inveigles the rest in through the grand front doors into the year’s swankiest soiree whilst he and the Professor await events.

It’s a bold move but a pointless one. Although the rank and file are simply spoiled rich folk, there is an Inner Circle led by mutant powerhouse Sebastian Shaw which comprises some of Earth’s most dangerous men and women… and they have been waiting and watching for the mutants-in-mufti’s countermove…

As soon as the heroes are inside, mystery mindwarper Jason Wyngarde strikes, pushing Jean Grey until she succumbs to a fictitious persona he has woven over months to awaken her darkest desires. With the Phoenix’s overwhelming power added to the Inner Circle’s might, former friends quickly fall before the attack of super-strong Shaw and cyborg human Donald Pierce. Even Wolverine is beaten, smashed through the floors to his doom by mass-manipulating mutant Harry Leland

As the Inner Circle gloat, Cyclops – connected to Jean by their psionic rapport – sees the world through his lover’s corrupted, beguiled eyes and despairs. However, when Wyngarde, revealed as mutant illusion caster Mastermind, apparently stabs Cyclops, the effect on “his” Black Queen is far from anticipated…

Far below their feet, a body stirs. Battered but unbowed, ‘Wolverine: Alone!’ begins to work his ruthless, relentless way through the Club’s murderous minions. His explosive entrance in #134’s ‘Too Late, the Heroes!’ gives the captive heroes a chance to break free and strike back, soundly thrashing the Hellfire blackguards. Sadly for Mastermind, not all his tampering has been expunged, and when Jean catches him, Jason Wyngarde’s fate is ghastly beyond imagining…

As the mutants make their escape the situation escalates to crisis level as the mind-manipulation finally unleashes all Jean’s most selfish, self-serving desires and she shatteringly transforms into ‘Dark Phoenix’

Manifested as a god without qualm or conscience, Jean attacks her comrades before vanishing into space. Soon she reaches a distant system and, cognizant that she is feeling depleted, consumes the star, indifferent to the entire civilisation that dies upon the planet circling it…

Passing the D’Bari system is a vast and powerful ship of the Shi’ar star fleet. Rushing to aid the already extinct world, they are merely a postprandial palate cleanser for the voracious Phoenix…

X-Men #136 opens with the horrified Shi’ar Empress Lilandra mobilising her entire military machine and heading for Earth, determined to end the threat of the ‘Child of Light and Darkness!’ On that beleaguered world Cyclops has called in the Beast to build a psychic scrambler to disrupt Jean’s immeasurable psionic might but when she cataclysmically reappears to trounce the team, the device burns out in seconds.

Sporadically Jean’s gentler persona appears, begging her friends to kill her before she loses control, but Dark Phoenix is close to destroying the world before, in a cataclysmic mental duel, Xavier shuts down her powers and establishes psychic circuit breakers to prevent her ever going rogue again…

With Jean left as little more than mind-maimed human, the exhausted heroes shudder in the aftermath of Earth’s latest close call when suddenly, in a flash of light, they all vanish…

The epic concludes in X-Men #137 as the outraged and terrified Shi’ar arrive in orbit to settle ‘The Fate of the Phoenix!’

With observers from the Kree and Skrull empires in attendance, Lilandra has come to exact justice and prevent the Phoenix from ever rising again. She is not prepared to accept her fiancé Charles Xavier’s word that the threat is already ended…

Summary execution is only avoided when Xavier invokes an ancient rite compelling Lilandra to accept a form of trial-by-combat. Relocating to the enigmatic Blue Area of the Moon (with its artificial pocket of breathable atmosphere) the mutants engage in all-out war with a brigade of cosmic champions the Shi’ar Imperial Guard (an in-joke version of DC’s Legion of Super Heroes). However, despite their greatest efforts they are pushed to the brink of defeat.

With collapse imminent and her friends doomed, Jean’s psychic shackles slip and the Phoenix breaks free again. Horrified at what will inevitably happen, Jean commits suicide to save the universe…

Days later on Earth, the X-Men mourn her passing in #138’s ‘Elegy’ as Cyclops recalls his life with the valiant woman he loved so deeply – and we get a comprehensive recap of the mutant team’s career to date. Heartbroken, the quintessential X-Man resigns just as phase shifting teenager Kitty Pryde moves in…

Breaking from the monthly run, X-Men Annual #4 then describes ‘Nightcrawler’s Inferno!’ (by Claremont, John Romita Jr.& Bob McLeod) as Doctor Strange is called in after Kurt Wagner is targeted by a demonic Lord of Limbo and uncovers a secret family connection to uber-witch Margali Szardos

A new day dawns in issue #139’s ‘…Something Wicked This Way Comes!’ as the Angel returns to the squad just in time to see Nightcrawler join Wolverine in heading north for a reconciliation with the Canadian’s previous team, Alpha Flight. The visit turns into a hunt for carnivorous magical monster Wendigo, culminating in a brutal battle and an increasingly rare clean win in #140’s concluding chapter ‘Rage!’

Wrapping up the mutant mayhem are a selection of tales retroactively crafted for this period of X-history. The first is a marketing oddity of the period. Phoenix: The Untold Story was released in 1984 and reprinted in X-Men #137… mostly.

By all accounts that epic conclusion was originally completed with a different ending and Jean Grey surviving the battle against the Shi’ar. That was before then Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter overruled the outcome and decreed that she should die for her sins. You can judge the merits of the decision for yourself. Also included here are ‘The Dark Phoenix Tapes – a candid conversation between Byrne, Shooter and Claremont’ on the contentious issue.

That’s followed by monochrome magazine Bizarre Adventures #27 (published in July 1981) which offered untold tales under the umbrella heading of ‘Secret Lives of the X-Men’

Preceded by ‘X-Men Data Log’ pages by illustrated by Dave Cockrum, solo tales of idiosyncratic stars begin with Phoenix in ‘The Brides of Attuma’ by Claremont, John Buscema & Klaus Janson. Here the dear departed mutant’s sister Sara Grey recalls a past moment when they were abducted by the undersea barbarian and Jean proved to be more than any mortal could handle…

That’s followed by Iceman vignette ‘Winter Carnival’ by Mary Jo Duffy, George Pérez & Alfredo Alcala, wherein Bobby Drake becomes embroiled in a college heist with potential catastrophic consequences before ‘Show me the way to go home…’ by Bob Layton, Duffy, Cockrum & Ricardo Villamonte pits Nightcrawler against villainous teleporter the Vanisher in a light-hearted trans-dimensional romp involving warrior women, threats to the very nature of reality and gratuitous (male) nudity…

For many fans these tales – and those in the next volume – comprise the definitive X-Men look and feel. Rightly ranking amongst some of the greatest stories Marvel ever published they remain thrilling, groundbreaking and painfully intoxicating and an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 1979, 1980-1984, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke Volume 2: Ghost Town


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-12-0 (PB Album)

It’s hard to think of one of Europe’s most beloved and long-running comics characters being in any way controversial, but when the changing times caught up with the fastest gun in the West (“so fast he can outdraw his own shadow”) and the planet’s most laconic cowboy moved with them, the news made headlines all over the world.

Doughty yet dependable cowboy champion Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured do-gooder able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably roams the fabulously mythic Old West, enjoying light-hearted adventures on his rather sarcastic know-it-all wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. The taciturn nomad constantly interacts with a host of historical and legendary figures as well as even odder folk…

His unceasing exploits over 7 decades years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe – if not the world – generating upwards of 85 individual albums and sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… so far…

That renown has led to a mountain of spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons, a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies and even commemorative exhibitions. No theme park yet but who knows when…?

The brainchild of Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and first seen in Le Journal de Spirou’s seasonal Annual L’Almanach Spirou 1947, Luke sprang to laconic life in 1946, before ambling into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced nine albums of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before teaming with old pal and fellow trans-American tourist Rene Goscinny, who became regular wordsmith as Luke attained dizzying, legendary, heights starting with Des rails sur la Prairie (Rails on the Prairie). This began serialisation in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, joining Goscinny’s own periodical magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach).

Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001, having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus many spin-off sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking their own shot at the venerable vigilante…

Lucky Luke has previous in this country too, having first pseudonymously amused and enthralled British readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun. He later rode back into comics-town in 1967 for comedy weekly Giggle, where he used the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

In each of these venues – as well as many attempts to follow the English-language album successes of Tintin and Asterix – Luke laconically puffed on a trademark roll-up cigarette which hung insouciantly and almost permanently from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – amidst pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, thereby garnering for himself an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization. For historical veracity, that tatty dog-end has been assiduously restored for this particular tale and indeed all of Cinebook’s fare – at least on the interior pages…

The Kent-based Euro-publisher is the most successful in bringing Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves, and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re at 74 translated books and still going strong…

Moreover, apart from that very first adventure, Lucky, to misappropriate a quote applied to the thematically simpatico Alias Smith and Jones “in all that time he never shot or killed anyone”…

Originally collected in 1965 as La Ville fantôme, the 25th adventure and Goscinny’s 16th collaboration with Morris is available in English as an oversized paperback – and digitally too as Ghost Town: the second of the Cinebook series.

It all begins as Luke rides the range and encounters tarred-and-feathered gamblers Denver Miles and Colorado Bill. Despite instantly assessing their scurrilous natures – and naturally they subsequently try to rob him – Lucky gives them assistance and a ride to the nearest outpost of civilisation.

That happens to be the deserted mining town of Gold Hill where they encounter embittered aged miner Old Powell who chases them off at gunpoint.

A little further on they reach Bingo Creek and discover the mad old coot was once the victim of a gold-salting scheme (hiding gold on worthless land and getting a sucker to buy it) but stubbornly refused to quit, convinced that somewhere in his mountain the motherlode still lies hidden…

Denver and Colorado are incorrigible crooks and after Lucky exposes their fleecing of the townsfolk the bent gamblers try to backshoot him, only to fall foul of Powell’s skill with a rifle…

Eternally grateful, Lucky determines to befriend and assist the irascible old coot, despite all his surly protests, whilst Denver and Colorado sketch out the perfect revenge by attempting to steal his mine to re-salt and sell on to some other sucker…

To this end they try to buy up the claim, have Old Powell hanged for witchcraft, frame him for cattle-rustling and even plant the stolen cash-register from the saloon in his mine. The scoundrels haven’t reckoned on the ingenuity of Lucky Luke, however…

Against the masterful wits and wicked wits of our indomitable hero the gamblers are ultimately helpless in this splendidly intoxicating blend of all-ages action, slapstick and wry cynical humour.

Although the dialogue is perhaps a bit dry in places, this is a grand old hoot in the tradition of Destry Rides again and Support Your Local Sheriff (or perhaps Paint Your Wagon,Evil Roy Slade or Cat Ballou are more your style?), superbly executed by master storytellers and offering a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for modern kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of the mythical Wild West.

And in case you’re worried, even though the interior art still has our hero chawin’ on that ol’ nicotine stick, trust me, there’s very little chance of anyone craving a quick snout, but quite a high probability that they’ll want more to binge on loads more Lucky Luke…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2006 Cinebook Ltd.

Green Arrow volume 3: The Trial of Oliver Queen


By Mike Grell, Ed Hannigan, Dan Jurgens, Dick Giordano, Frank McLaughlin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5523-7 (TPB)

Premiering in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941, Green Arrow is one of very few superheroes to be continuously published (more or less) since the Golden Age of American comicbooks. At first glance this blatant amalgamation of Batman and Robin Hood seems to have very little going for him but has always managed to somehow keep himself in vogue.

Probably his most telling of many makeovers came in 1987, when, hot on the heels of The Dark Knight Returns, writer/artist Mike Grell was tasked with making him the star of DC’s second “Prestige Format Mini-Series”.

Grell was one of comics’ biggest guns at the time. Beginning his rise with a laudable run on Legion of Super-Heroes, he went on to draw the revived Green Lantern/Green Arrow and practically saved the company with his Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired fantasy epic Warlord. He had also notched up a big fan following illustrating many Aquaman, Batman and Phantom Stranger stories before establishing his independent creator credentials at First Comics with Starslayer and Jon Sable, Freelance

In the grim ‘n’ gritty late Eighties, it was certainly time for another overhaul of the Emerald Archer. Exploding arrows yes, maybe even net or rope arrows, but arrows with boxing gloves or paint brushes on them just wouldn’t wash with a newer, more sophisticated readership. Thus, in an era of corrupt government, drug cartels and serial killers, the evergreen survivor adapted and thrived under the direction of a creator famed for the uncompromising realism of his work.

The Longbow Hunters focused on the superhero’s mid-life crisis as he relocated to Seattle and struggled to come to terms with the fact that since his former sidekick Speedy was now a dad, Oliver Queen had technically become a grandfather. Beside long-time “significant other” Dinah (Black Canary) Lance he began to simplify his life, but the drive to fight injustice never dimmed for either of them.

Dinah went undercover to stamp out a drug ring whilst Ollie became engrossed in the hunt for a psycho-killer dubbed “The Seattle Slasher”. The archer also learned of a second – cross-country – slayer who had been murdering people with arrows…

Eschewing gaudy costume and gimmicks, Queen reinvented himself as an urban hunter to stop such unglamorous, everyday monsters, stumbling into a mystery which led back to World War II involving the Yakuza, CIA, corporate America and even the Viet Nam war, even as it introduced a deadly female counterpart to the beleaguered bowman: an enigmatic, morally ambiguous archer called Shado

The intricate plot, subtly blending three seemingly separate stories which were in fact one, still delivers a shocking punch even now in its disturbingly explicit examination of torture: a treatment which won the series undeserved negative press when it was first published. Although possibly tame to most modern tastes, this was eye-opening stuff in the 1980’s, which is a shame, as it diverted attention from the real issue… and that was a massive surge in quality and maturity.

The intricate, maturely sophisticated plot – interweaving themes of age, diminishing potency, vengeance and family – highlighted another turning point in American comics and led to an ongoing series specifically targeting that nebulous “Mature Readership”. The treatment and tone heavily influenced and flavoured today’s TV adaptation Arrow and has led to the release of Grell’s entire saga of nigh-forgotten urban predator tales in a range of economical, no-nonsense, full-colour trade paperbacks and digital editions.

This third collection, scripted by Grell with superbly efficient, powerfully understated art from Ed Hannigan, Dan Jurgens, Dick Giordano & Frank McLaughlin, re-presents Green Arrow volume 2 #13-20 (eclectically cover-dated “Holiday” and January-July 1989): a succession of two-part tales offering starkly authentic dramas ripped from headlines that have as much impact and relevance today as they did three decades ago…

Sparse, Spartan and startlingly compelling, the action begins – sans any preamble – with

‘Moving Target’ parts 1 & 2 (Jurgens & Giordano) wherein the hero carries on his crusade against street punks, petty thugs, wifebeaters and neo-Nazis, blithely unaware that only sheer dumb luck has prevented his assassination by a hired gun…

Once he’s caught up, Oliver eliminates all the usual suspects including the CIA and mercenary spy Eddie Fyres and almost misses his chance when the real would-be killer finally breaks cover for a final face-to-face confrontation…

‘Seattle & Die’ (Hannigan, Giordano & McLaughlin) then sees the archer on the trail of a mystery shooter who kills a gang of thieves to prevent a bloodbath in a night club. Determined to find the criminal saviour before the cops do, Queen becomes entangled in a devious web of intrigue involving an Australian Secret Service kill-team and suffers a chilling presentiment of how his own life might end…

Veteran fans in the know will enjoy the subtle tweaking of characters that allow Grell’s archer to notionally team up with his aforementioned indie hit John Sable

Jurgens, Giordano & McLaughlin then combine to depict the sordid bloody saga of ‘The Horseman’ who hits Seattle hard, fast and furious in an uncompromising search for a missing stripper. His campaign of destruction sparks a brutal war amongst the drug dealers and flesh peddlers of the city, but by the time the Arrow gets involved, the conflict has escalated and working girls are being murdered in grotesque and obscene manner…

Before long, however, the mysterious Horseman is proven to have hidden motives for his brutal vendetta and another distasteful alliance is formed to find the real killers…

Always challenging and controversial, the themes hit especially hard in the final story as the Longbow Hunter gets it terribly wrong in a dark dingy alley and a young paintballer gets an arrow in the chest after seemingly shooting a cop.

Broken inside, the vigilante meekly submits to ‘The Trial of Oliver Queen’ (Hannigan, Giordano & McLaughlin) and, although completely exonerated in the eyes of the Law, condemns himself to death by dissipation – until an old friend intervenes in a most unconventional manner to restore Green Arrow’s equilibrium and moral compass…

Terse scripts, intelligent, flawed human interactions, stunning action delivered through economical and immensely effective illustration and an unfailing eye for engaging controversy make these epic yarns some of the most powerful sagas American comics ever produced. Compiled here with a cover gallery by Hannigan, Jurgens & Giordano, this compulsive retooling is yet another long-overlooked highpoint of superhero storytelling no lover of the genre will want to miss.
© 1988, 1989, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Cardcaptor Sakura Collector’s Edition volume 1


By Clamp, translated & adapted by Mika Onishi, Anita Sengupta & Karen McGillicuddy: lettered by Aaron Alexovich (Kodansha Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-63236-751-8 (HB)
After beginning as an 11-strong manga dojinshi (self-publishing or amateur) group in the late-1980s, Kuranpu – better known as CLAMP – eventually stabilised as primarily writer Ōkawa Nanase and artists Igarashi Satsuki, Nekoi Tsubaki & Mokona (Apapa). From 1989 their seamless collaborations on such series as RG Veda, Clamp Detective School, Magic Knight Rayearth, Legal Drug, xxxHolic, Chobits and so many more revolutionised Japanese comics throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century.

Beginning their profession endeavours in the shōjo (teen female) marketplace, the collective quickly began challenging established forms and eventually produced material for far more mature and demanding readerships. They even crafted a shared universe between their many divergent series, and sales in collected tankōbon volumes of their 28 different titles to date far exceeds 100 million copies.

This monolithic hardback celebration launches a line of stunning archival tomes re-presenting one of their most memorable mystic yarns: the series which made CLAMP a global creative force and created a multi-media and merchandising phenomenon which includes films, TV, music, games, apparel, themed cafes and anything else marketers could conceive of.

Kādokyaputā Sakura originally ran in Kodansha’s Nakayoshi (Good Friends Magazine) from May 1996 to July 2000, and was eventually compiled as 12 volumes of magical fantasy.

Cardcaptor Sakura features 10-year old Sakura Kinomoto, roaming the comfortably familiar environs of Tomoeda City while attempting to retrieve semi-sentient magical cards embodying different elemental, natural and physical forces before their unleashed power spells disaster for the world…

In her quest to restore these “Clow Cards” (created by sorcerer Clow Reed and imprisoned in a mighty book until their escape), dauntless Sakura is aided and advised by shapeshifting familiar Cerberus – whom she calls Kero-Chan. As “the Creature of the Seal” he was ensorcelled to keep the cards inside the titanic tome… before somebody’s inquisitiveness let all the totems out…

It helps that little Sakura has manifested natural, if untutored, mystic abilities since the escape, which the guardian beast is teaching her to properly utilise…

Significant others in her complex life include her single parent dad Professor Fujitaka Kinomoto, mean big brother Tōya and older boy-crush Yukito Tsukishiro and that all have secrets of their own that will be made known in the near future. Her greatest ally is friend and classmate (and quite possibly and potentially much more) Tomoya Daidouji: a super-wealthy confidante who diligently films all the recapture missions and provides Sakura with suitable costumes for each astounding adventure…

Elements of tragedy are fostered by the fact that Sakura’s mother is long dead, and that brief happy marriage latterly provoked an acrimonious division in the Kinomoto and Daidouji families that still triggers repercussions to this day…

The episodic escapades gathered here find the neophyte overcoming understandable doubts and fears while surviving on-the-job training by dominating and defeating the Windy, Fly, Watery and Flower cards after increasingly difficult efforts, but blithely unaware that a secret rival for control of the Clow Cards is surreptitiously stalking her…

To Be Continued…

In 2016 a sequel serial – Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – dealing with Sakura’s junior high school years stared running in Nakayoshi. The saga continues…

Following earlier translated editions from Tokyopop, Madman Entertainment and Dark Horse Manga, Kodansha have established their own English-language imprint for this luxurious reissue (complete with free gift) which also offers comprehensive contextualising ‘Translation Notes’. The second volume in this series is set for a mid-September release and would combine with this book as an ideal Christmas present for the next generation of comics – or card – collectors…
© CLAMP® Shigatsu Tsuitachi Co., Ltd/Kodansha Ltd. English translation © CLAMP® Shigatsu Tsuitachi Co., Ltd/Kodansha Ltd. All rights reserved.
This book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ format. Cardcaptor Sakura Collector’s Edition volume 1 will be released on 27th June 2019 and is available for pre-order now.