Yoko Tsuno volume 13: The Light of Ixo


By Roger Leloup, coloured by Beatrice/Studio Leonardo, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-392-5 (Album PB)

Indomitable intellectual adventurer Yoko Tsuno began her career in Le Journal de Spirou in 1970 and is still delighting regular readers and making new fans to this day. Her astounding, all-action, excessively accessible adventures are amongst the most intoxicating, absorbing and broad-ranging comics thrillers ever created.

The globe-girdling, space-&-time-spanning episodic epics starring the Japanese technologist-investigator were devised by monumentally multi-talented Belgian maestro Roger Leloup, who began his own solo career after working as a studio assistant on Herge’s Adventures of Tintin.

Compellingly told, superbly imaginative and – no matter how implausible the premise of any individual yarn may appear – always firmly grounded in hyper-realistic settings underpinned by authentic, unshakably believable technology and scientific principles, Leloup’s illustrated escapades were at the vanguard of a wave of strips revolutionising European comics in the mid-1970s.

That long-overdue sea-change heralded the rise of competent, clever and brave female protagonists taking their rightful places as heroic ideals; elevating Continental comics in the process. Happily, most of their endeavours are as timelessly engaging and empowering now as they ever were, and none more so than the trials and tribulations of Miss Tsuno.

Her very first outings (the still unavailable Hold-up en hi-fi, La belle et la bête and Cap 351) were simple introductory vignettes before the superbly capable electrical engineer and her valiant if less able male comrades Pol Paris and Vic Van Steen properly hit their stride with premier full-length saga Le trio de l’étrange in 1971 with Spirou’s May 13th issue…

Yoko’s exploits include explosive exploits in exotic corners of our world, time-travelling jaunts and sinister deep-space sagas – such as this one – with our human troubleshooters working beside the disaster-prone alien colonists of planet Vinea beside devoted best friend Khany: a competent, commanding single mother who combines parenting her toddler Poky with saving worlds, leading her people and chasing cosmic adventure…

There have been 30 European albums to date and today’s tale originally debuted in 1980 as La Lumière d’Ixo, technically the 10th Yoko Tsuno exploit and the fifth to feature the extraterrestrial Vineans. It appears here via UK translation powerhouse Cinebook, offering an interstellar mystery of beguiling power and confirming the dreadful menace of faith in the hands of ruthless manipulators…

In their first outing together, Yoko, Vic and frivolous Pol discovered a pocket of dormant extraterrestrials hibernating for eons in the depths of the Earth. After freeing them from robotic tyranny, the valiant humans occasionally helped the alien refugees (who had fled their own planet two million years previously) rebuild their lost sciences, before ultimately accompanying them on their return to their own star system and presumed-dead homeworld. As the Vineans rebuilt their civilisation and culture, the humans became regular guests…

On this excursion, the trio join an exploratory mission to distant moon Ixo. In ages past, it was a dumping ground for lethal toxic wastes, uncontrollable superweapons and other deadly discoveries, but since reclaiming their homeworld, the Vinean refugee/re-colonisers have observed periodic flashes of luminescence from what should be nothing but a dead ball of ice and rock. Now, the humans, Khany and her ever-present Poky join a science team seeking answers…

As the expedition travels across the eerily beautiful frozen vacuum of the moon, they discover a hidden sub-surface enclave of enigmatic survivors dedicated to a staggering goal. In the millions of years the Vineans slept in the depths of Earth, their primary civilisation collapsed. One of the greatest casualties was a neighbour planet used to house rebels and exiles, which at some distant time was reduced to a field of space debris.

For eons now, the banished dwellers of surviving self-contained orbital city Shyra have been harvesting energy on Ixo and transmitting it at the rubble, where it has been utilized to slowly reconstruct the broken world.

Tragically, the vast generational task has devolved into a holy crusade, governed by dogma and superstition. As an age-old power struggle between engineers and priests reaches boiling point, Khany and her human companions are captured and impressed into service. Plunged right into the heart of the clash, with hostile forces all around, the deeply empathic Yoko overcomes all odds and opposition: dethroning two minor dictators while perfecting the colossal concave ice mirror used to beam power across space to the shattered world, and even brokers a tenuous peace between Vinea and the Shyrans who have for millions of years considered their sister world a demonic, implacable enemy…

Gripping and visually spectacular, The Light of Ixo combines hard science with tense drama and a soupcon of social criticism: delivering another terse, action-packed, “Big Sky” sci fi thriller, once again magnified into magnificence by the astonishingly compelling and staggeringly detailed draughtsmanship and storytelling of Leloup.
Original edition © Dupuis, 1980 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2018 © Cinebook Ltd.

Ant-Man/Giant-Man Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Roy Thomas, Mike Friedrich, Tony Isabella, Bill Mantlo, Chris Claremont, David Micheline, Herb Trimpe, P. Craig Russell, George Tuska, John Byrne, Ross Andru, Jim Starlin, Ron Wilson, Rich Buckler, Keith Pollard & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1079-2 (HB/Digital edition)

Marvel Comics built its fervent fan base through strong and contemporarily relevant stories and striking art, but most importantly by creating a shared continuity that closely followed the characters through not just their own titles but also through many guest appearances in other comics. Such an interweaving meant that even today completists and fans seek out extraneous stories to get a fuller picture of their favourite’s adventures.

In such an environment, series such as these Marvel Masterworks are a priceless resource approaching the status of a public service for collectors, especially when you can now purchase and peruse them electronically from the comfort of your own couch, or the lesser luxury of your parents’ basement, garage or attic…

If you’re of a particularly picky nature – and what comic book superhero fan isn’t? – you could consider the Astonishing Ant-Man to be the second star of the Marvel Age of Comics. The unlikeliest of titans first appeared in Tales to Astonish #27 (cover-dated January 1962, so on sale during the last months of 1961), in one of those splendidly addictive men-vs-monsters anthology titles that dominated in the heady days of Science Fiction Double-Feature B-Movies.

It was intended as nothing more than another here-today, gone-tomorrow filler in one of the company’s madly engaging pre-superhero “monster-mags”. However, the character struck a chord with someone since, and as the DC Comics-inspired superhero boom flourished, and Lee sprung The Hulk, Thor and Spider-Man on the unsuspecting kids of America, Pym was economically retooled as a fully-fledged costumed do-gooder for TtA #35 (September 1962).

You can read about his extremely eccentric career elsewhere, but suffice it to say Pym was never settled in his persona: changing name and modus operandi many times before junking his Ant-Man identity for the reasonably more stable and more imposing identity of Yellowjacket…

This episodic, eclectic and entomologically edifying compendium gathers the last full series of the original Ant-Man, plus the legacy of science adventurer Hank Pym as his size-shifting discoveries were employed by other champions. Contained herein are pertinent portions of Invincible Iron Man #44; Marvel Feature #4-10; Power Man #24-25; Black Goliath #1-5, The Champions #11-13 and Marvel Premiere #47-48, convolutedly spanning January 1972 to June 1979.

There are three heroes on offer here and each comes with an Introduction by his key scripter: Mick Friedrich’s ‘Downsizing Hank Pym’; ‘Professor Bill’s Big Adventure’ by Tony Isabella and David Micheline’s ‘New Kid on the Block’, all sharing insights and reminiscences to delight every true ant-ficionado (yes. I said that, and I’m not sorry!)

The ball starts rolling with a brief back-up vignette from Invincible Iron Man #44 as Roy Thomas, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito light-heartedly deliver ‘Armageddon on Avenue ‘A’’ as Ant-Man Pym clashes again with the sinister Scarlet Beetle. The evil arthropod stills seeks to eradicate mankind, but is too busy battling Pym to notice his new secret citadel catching alight as part of a seedy insurance scam. Bah! Human scum!

Marvel Feature #4 then begins a new series with ‘The Incredible Shrinking Doom!’ (by Friedrich & Herb Trimpe) as a hero history recap segues into ‘The Beginning’ with Peter Parker interviewing Dr Pym before they team up to rescue a kidnapped boy. The son of Curt Conners (The Lizard) has been snatched to force the surrender of a valuable formula. However, while cleaning up M’Sieu Tête’s thugs, Pym is injected with a bacterial enzyme that traps him at the size of an insect and even Spider-Man cannot help him…

The saga proceeds in #5’s ‘Fear’s the Way He Dies!’ as arch enemy Egghead returns even as Ant-Man loses all the precious technology that bolsters his powers. Deprived of his insect-controlling cybernetic helmet, Pym is helpless until the maniac’s niece Trixie Starr makes him new duds. It’s not quite enough to defeat the villain, but at least the shattering explosion of his mobile HQ seems to drive the killer away…

Pym’s wife Janet resurfaces in Marvel Feature #6’s ‘Hellstorm!’ (inked by Mike Trimpe) as the beleaguered hero – thanks to trusty pet hound Orkie the dog – finally reaches his own home only to be attacked by another old foe… Whirlwind. In the aftermath the house is totally destroyed and Mr & Mrs Pym are officially declared dead…

P. Craig Russell, Dan Adkins & Mark Kersey illustrate ‘Paranoia is the Para-Man!’ in #7 as a new android enemy captures Hank and Jan. escape and the mechanoid’s defeat mutates the Wasp into a true insectoid predator for #8’s deadline wracked ‘Prelude to Disaster!’ Russell, Jim Starlin & Jimmy Janes’ framing sequence here originally supported a Lee, Kirby & Don Heck origin flashback but you can just consult the first volume in this series if you’re feeling a little completist…

Here and now, however, Marvel Feature #9 ‘…The Killer is My Wife!’ – limned by Russell & Frank Bolle – finally finds Hank battling his mutated killer wife as Pym’s lab partner Bill Foster and Iron Man investigate their “deaths.” Tragically, not so far from them, the tiny terror is overwhelmed and temporarily cured by her husband, just in time for both to fall victim to new nutcase Doctor Nemesis, before the saga and the series are hastily wrapped up in concluding chapter ‘Ant-Man No More!’ by Friedrich, Russell & Frank Chiaramonte.

Ant-Man faded from view, eventually replaced by Yellowjacket again, and one among many in the Avengers.

Time passed and a new writer decided it was time to try the size-shifting concept again. It began as so often with a try-out taster in an already established title…

While hiding in plain sight as a Hero for Hire in Times Square, escaped convict Luke Cage fell in love with doctor Claire Temple. When she abruptly vanished, Cage and buddy D.W. Griffiths scoured America looking for her. The trek fed directly into a 2-part premier for another African American superhero with the trail leading to the Ringmaster’s Circus of Crime in Power Man #24 (January 1975) where ‘Among Us Walks… a Black Goliath!’ by Tony Isabella, George Tuska & Dave Hunt.

One of the earliest returning black characters in Marvel’s comics, the above-mentioned Bill Foster was a highly educated biochemist working for Tony Stark and with Henry Pym. Foster first appeared in Avengers #32 (September 1966), working to find a cure when – as Goliath – Pym was trapped at a 10-foot height. Foster faded from view when Pym eventually regained his size-changing abilities…

Having continued his own experiments in size-shifting, Foster was now trapped as a freakish colossus, unable to shrink to human proportions. Cage painfully learned he was also Claire’s former husband and when he became trapped at 15 feet, she had rushed back to Bill’s substantial side to help find a cure.

After Luke turns up, passions are stoked, resulting in another classic heroes-clash moment until the mesmeric Ringmaster hypnotises all combatants, intent on using their strength to feather his own three-ring nest. ‘Crime and Circuses’ (Isabella, Bill Mantlo, Ron Wilson & Fred Kida) sees the heroes helpless until Claire comes to the rescue, before making her choice and returning to New York with Luke. Foster soon gravitated to his own short-run series, becoming Marvel’s fourth African American costumed hero under a heavy-handed and rather uninspired sobriquet…

Cover-dated February 1976, and courtesy of Isabella, Tuska & Vince Colletta, Black Goliath #1 reintroduced a far more together hero. Foster was now in complete control of his powers and led an exotic, eccentric Stark International Think Tank in Los Angeles. Sadly, his arrival coincided with a spate of high tech burglaries that revealed how out-of-depth ‘Black Goliath!’ was when the gang boss was exposed as living nuclear nightmare Atom-Smasher, who doled out ‘White Fire, Atomic Death!’ in #2 as scripter Chris Claremont joined Tuska & Colletta.

Barely surviving the first assault, Foster brought in his team of maverick geniuses for the second and decisive round, blissfully unaware the thermonuclear thug was working for a hidden mastermind…

‘Dance to the Murder!’ in #3 offers partial explanations as mystery man Vulcan leads multiple attacks on the Think Tank in an effort to liberate an enigmatic alien artefact. The result is chaos and catastrophe, exacerbated in #4 when ‘Enter Stilt-Man …Exit Black Goliath!’ – with art from Rich Buckler & Don Heck – finds the hero distracted by a supervillain hungry to upgrade his powers and status, and the mystery box swiped from the rubble by a looter…

The series came to an abrupt halt with #5 (November 1976), with Keith Pollard illustrating a tale of ‘Survival!’ as Foster and two bystanders are exiled on a lethal alien planet. Meanwhile on Earth, the Box is beginning to awaken…

The storyline was completed in LA based team title The Champions where #11 (February 1977) opened proceedings with ‘The Shadow from the Stars’ by Mantlo, John Byrne & Bob Layton. Returned without explanation, Foster was building tech for the team (Black Widow, Angel, Iceman, Hercules, Ghost Rider and Dark Star) as a side bar to the main event wherein Hawkeye and Two Gun Kid call for help to repel an alien incursion by vintage villain and sentient shadow Warlord Kaa

Back to the plot for #12, ‘Did Someone say… the Stranger?’ sees Black Goliath ambushed by Stilt-Man as the long-contested Box begins to activate. When universal Elder The Stranger comes to reclaim his planet-destroying Null-Life Bomb, he deems it too late once the device warps reality and dumps the Champions in the realm of former Thor foe Kamo Tharnn, leaving Foster on Earth to prevent ‘The Doom That Went on Forever!’

Foster again faded from sight until revived for 1980s classic the Project Pegasus Saga, where he reclaimed the name Giant-Man, but this collection concludes with arguably the most successful size-shifting centurion: solo superhero, Avenger, entrepreneur, comedy turn and screen superstar Scott Lang… a true legacy hero made good.

Comics creators are six parts meddler and five parts chronic nostalgia buff and eventually somebody convinced somebody else that the concept and property of Ant-Man could be viable again, so we end here with the introduction of reformed thief Lang who debuted in Marvel Premiere #47 (cover-dated April 1979).

Those first somebodies were David Michelinie, John Byrne & Bob Layton who produced ‘To Steal an Ant-Man!’, revealing how a former electronics engineer had turned to crime – more out of boredom than necessity – and, after being caught and serving his time, joined Stark International as a resolutely reformed character. However, when his daughter Cassie developed a heart condition that wiped out his savings, Scott reverted to old ways to save her…

Desperate to find the wherewithal to hire experimental surgeon Dr. Erica Sondheim, he begins casing likely prospects, but is shattered when Sondheim is abducted by psychotic industrialist Darren Cross. The magnate is already using all the resources – legal and otherwise – of his mega-corporation Cross Technological Enterprises to keep himself alive…

Needing cash just to broach the CTE complex, Lang goes back to Plan A, burgling the lab of retired superhero Henry Pym and discovers mothballed Ant-Man gear and size-changing gases. In a moment of madness, Lang decides not to sell the stolen tech but instead use it to break into Cross’ citadel and rescue Sondheim…

That plan doesn’t go so great either, as Lang discovers the dying billionaire – in a desperate attempt to stay alive – has been harvesting the hearts of homeless people to power an experimental device which has mutated him into a monstrous brute…

After learning with horror ‘The Price of a Heart!’ (June 1979), Lang eventually triumphs; unaware until the very last that Pym had allowed him to take the suit and was backstopping him every inch of the way. With Cassie saved, Yellowjacket then invites Lang to continue as the new Ant-Man…

And so it begins again…

Completing this triptych treat are extras including original art pages by Trimpe; pencil art and the unused ending to Marvel Feature #10 by Russell (compared in situ with what actually got published as the series was rapidly concluded); two unused covers to Marvel Premiere #48 (by Layton), biographies of all concerned and peppered throughout with rousing covers by Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia, Joe Sinnott, Trimpe, Starlin, John Romita & Sal Buscema, Russell & Adkins, Rich Buckler, Jack Kirby, Al Milgrom, Layton, Dave Cockrum and Bob McLeod.

These itty-bitty sagas range from lost gems to true classics and will delight Marvel Movie buffs as well as the redoubtable ranks of dedicated comic book readers all cheerfully celebrating Pym’s 60 years of service and inspiration.
© 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Georgia O’Keeffe


By María Herreros; translated by Lawrence Schimel (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-914224-05-8 (TPB/Digital edition)

Georgia Totto O’Keeffe entered the world in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin on November 15th 1887, second of seven children born to a dairy farmer turned (failed) construction entrepreneur. Seized and overwhelmed by the artistic impulse before the age of ten, she overcame financial hardship to secure an impressive traditional artistic education which she promptly rejected in favour of finding her own path.

From 1917 and her first exhibition, to her death in 1986, she made art her way, most famously with series of paintings of flowers, buildings and ultimately desert scenes which became a catalyst of taste and part of global artistic culture. She is regarded as America’s first abstract artist and has been called The Mother of American Modernism.

Innocently controversial from the start, O’Keeffe increasingly sought to understand colour and shape via stark cityscapes and florid blossoms but had to endure censure and gossip over nude photos exhibited by her patron Alfred Stieglitz, and the indignity of having her flower paintings mansplained by critics – even female ones – who continuously likened them to female sexual organs.

Bored with saying “they’re just flowers” and self-important fools, she began a gradual, years-long process of quitting metropolitan civilisation for peace, contentment and endless inspiration under the big skies and vivid deserts of New Mexico.

Over a decades-long career. O’Keefe garnered international acclaim and many awards. These included an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the College of William and Mary (1938); election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences(1966); receiving the M. Carey Thomas Award from Bryn Mawr College (1971) and another honorary degree (from Harvard in 1973) as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977), The National Medal of Arts (1985) and – in 1993 – posthumous induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

As you’d expect of a determined, driven professional woman of that period in that country, making extremely successful headway in a predominantly male preserve, her personal life was something of a trainwreck, but this compelling examination chooses to downplay those aspects.

Sensibly side-lining the more sensationalised moments of O’Keefe’s past in favour of tracing her accomplishments and victories, graphic biographer María Herreros has employed her painterly, primitivistic narrative style which liberally samples O’Keeffe’s copious canon of letters and idiosyncratic writings to bring us inside the head of a profoundly visual and arguably obsessive being.

Based in Madrid, but born in Valencia in 1983, Herreros is a modern multidisciplinary artist. She studied at the University of Fine Arts, San Carlos and since 2011 has combined high level commercial commissions with gallery shows, book collaborations and comics such as Viva la Dolce Vita, Marilyn tenía once dedos en los pies, and Paris sera toujours Paris. Her personal works explore human emotion, societal evolution and the concepts of beauty and normative states.

Although remaining primarily positive and inquisitive here, Herreros touches on O’Keeffe’s mental ill health issues, her Svengali-like attachment (later marriage) to older, already-married Fine Art photographer/gallery owner Stieglitz and her end-of-life companion John Bruce “Juan” Hamilton – both notorious age-inappropriate public scandals that Georgia casually, magnificently, ignored.

Via communications with Georgia’s close female friends and Stieglitz, Herreros takes us inside the painter’s mind, revealing the creative process and progress in navigating society, the public and the poison chalice of simply having to exhibit art to survive, while emphasising making the images she wanted to in places she truly loved which became her greatest joy and solitary citadels.

Less a biography than a carefully crafted appreciation and appraisal of a career and legacy by a fellow fully emancipated, self-determining female creator, Georgia O’Keeffe is a compelling and beguiling glimpse into the forces that shape art and artists.
Text and illustrations © 2021 by María Herreros. All rights reserved. Published by agreement with Astiberri Ediciones and Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza English translation © 2021 SelfMadeHero.

The Boxer – the True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft


By Reinhardt Kleist; translated by Michael Waaler (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-906838-77-5 (TPB/Digital edition)

Multi-award-winning German illustrator, designer, author, cartoonist and comics maker Reinhard Kleist (Berlinoir; Steeplechase; Das Grauen im Gemäuer) has been working in the industry since 1994: setting up a cooperative studio/atelier and beginning his professional career with graphic biography Lovecraft, and supernal dramas Minna, Das Festmahl, and Abenteuer eines Weichenstellers while still a student in Münster.

He has constantly explored and gratified his fascination with notable individuals who have overcome stacked odds and inner darkness in stellar works such as Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness; Elvis – An Illustrated Biography; Castro; An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusaf Omar and Nick Cave: Mercy on Me.

In 2011 he again turned to boxing for inspiration, adapting a Holocaust biography written by the son of a survivor of the death camps. Hertzko/Herschel “Harry” Haft might be regarded amongst the more noteworthy of those benighted souls: a ruthlessly determined individual who overcame every iteration of horror and privation, using his fists and low cunning.

His life was first recounted in 2006 by his son Alan Scott Haft in prose biography Harry Haft: Auschwitz Survivor, Challenger of Rocky Marciano, and as well as the graphic novel under review here, you can absorb the tale in filmic form in Barry Levinson’s movie adaptation The Survivor.

Delivered in stark monochrome, Kleist’s compelling and uncompromising interpretation opens with the protagonist a humble grocer in America, trying to relate to his young son. Harry is a hard man to relate to, but in a moment of contrition he promises to one day share with his boy what made him that way.

Alan waited another forty years to hear the truth and turned it into a narrative for everyone…

The story proper opens in 1939, in the Polish town of Belchatow. Since the Germans came, the Jewish Haft family have become smugglers, and 14-year old Hertzko thinks himself invincible.

His father had sold fruit and veg but found it increasingly difficult to support a wife and eight children. When he died, the family splintered and only Hertzko and brothers Aria and Peretz stayed with their mother. When the invasion took hold, their illicit activities made them all targets, but amidst daily outrages, he found opportunity for love and was betrothed to Leah Pablanski, daughter of the receiver of all the contraband he shifted across the Nazis’ new borders…

When Hertzko was transported to his first labour camp, seeing Leah again one day was the dream that kept him going. Barely literate but strong and determined he had a gift for being useful and, despite toiling in the most horrific circumstances and being present for every atrocity of the regime, he endured – especially after his smuggling experience made him an essential tool of one particular guard officer who was methodically enriching himself at the prisoners’ expense…

Moved from camp to camp as a slave labourer, Hertzko eventually arrived in Jaworzno camp and was reunited with his brother Peretz. Here his sponsor found him less egregious duties. All he had to do was fight other prisoners in Sunday exhibition matches for the officers. Haft had never boxed before, but would do anything for better conditions and what passed for “guaranteed” survival. What he did there remained with him for the rest of his life…

Despite his resilience and adaptability, Haft always found himself at the mercy of superior and more ruthless forces. As the Allies slowly pushed the Nazis back on all fronts, he was left to the “death marches” the SS instigated to empty the camps and hide evidence of their industrialised slaughter factories. Over and again, Haft dodged certain death and committed more sins until finally captured by American troops. Soon his underworld experience was being exploited by the GIs as Hertzko ran a bordello for the soldiers. When Peretz resurfaced, Haft finally had time and enough money to go looking for Leah. That trail led ultimately to America.

While in US-occupied Straubing, Haft had won a boxing competition organised by the Army, and was – after further machinations – allowed to emigrate in 1946. He was 23 years old…

The second half of Haft’s life began in the New World. He still wanted Leah and decided fame would be the key. The fight game in America was popular but increasingly under the control of organized crime. Nevertheless, Haft – now calling himself “Hershel” and “Harry” – pursued his chosen path with relentless zeal.

Overcoming every administrative obstacle, he found a manager, learned how to actually box rather than fight and kept on winning.

The equation was simple. Leah was here somewhere. If he could get his picture in the papers or newsreels or even on this new television thing, she would see him and get in touch. Sadly, it only brought him to the attention of mobsters. After his moment of glory fighting Rocky Marciano in 1949, Haft learned how his chosen world really worked…

Walking away, he married a neighbour’s daughter in November and opened a grocery store in Brooklyn. In 1963 the family took a trip to Florida and young son Alan helped locate a woman named Leah Lieberman…

Please be warned: The Boxer is not just a testament of atrocity or celebration of the human spirit under the most appalling conditions. It’s also a real world love story where the always-inevitable ultimate reunion does not follow the rules of romantic fiction or bring about a happy ending.

Kleist’s graphic tour de force is supplemented by a stunning gallery of sketches and working drawings, and backed up with a picture-packed essay from sports journalist Martin Krauss.

‘Boxing in concentration camps – a report’ details the long-neglected topic of Nazi sports exhibitions in work and death camps and relates it to Haft’s later professional career in America, including a chilling sidebar on ‘US boxing and the Mafia’. Also on the bill are biographies of other ‘Forgotten champions’ of the camps: Victor “Young” Perez; Noach Klieger; Leendert “Leen” Josua Sanders; Leone “Lelletto” Efrati; Salamo Arouch; Jacko Razon; Johann “Rukelie” Trollman; Tadeusz “Teddy” Pietrzykowski and Francesco “Kid Francis” Buonagurio.

Potent, powerful, moving and memorable, this is a quest tale well told and one not easily forgotten.
© Text and illustrations 2012 CARLSEN Verlag GmbH, Hamburg, Germany. © Appendix 2012 Martin Krauß and CARLSEN Verlag. English translation © 2021 SelfMadeHero. All rights reserved.

Crisis on Infinite Earths


By Marv Wolfman & George Pérez, with Jerry Ordway, Dick Giordano, Mike DeCarlo & various (DC Comics) 
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5841-2 (HB/Digital edition) 978-1-56389-750-4 (TPB) 

Once more I’m compelled to dash out another swiftly modified reprinted review to mark the passing of one of our industry and art form’s most prolific and irreplaceable master creators. George Pérez died on May 6th from the complications of pancreatic cancer. He was 67 years old.  

His triumphs as penciller, writer and an always in-demand inker made him a force to be reckoned with and earned a vast number of awards in a career spanning almost fifty years. Pérez worked for dozens of publishers large and small; self-published his own creations, redeemed and restored many moribund characters and features (like the (New) Teen Titans), Nightwing and Wonder Woman) and co-created many breakthrough characters such as The White Tiger (first Puerto Rican superhero), The Maestro, Deathstroke the Terminator, Terra, The Monitor and Anti-Monitor 

He will be most warmly remembered for his incredible facility in portraying big teams and cataclysmic events. Pérez probably drew every DC and Marvel superhero of his era, with major runs on The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, The Justice League of America, Legion of Super-Heroes and numerous iterations of Teen Titans as well as stints on The Inhumans, X-Men, JSA, All-Star Squadron, Thunderbolts and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. He will be immortalised for the comic book series covered below. A fuller appreciation will follow as soon as I can sort it… 

In 1985 the Editorial Powers-That-Be at DC Comics were about to celebrate fifty years of publishing, and enjoying a creative upswing that had been a long time coming. A crucial part of the festivities, and purported attempt to simplify five decades of often conflicting stories, was a truly epic year-long saga that would impact every single DC title and reconstruct the entire landscape and history of the DC Universe, with an appearance – however brief – by every character the company had ever published. Easy-peasy, Huh? 

Additionally, this new start would seek to end an apparent confusion of multiple Earths with similarly named and themed heroes. This – it had been decided – was deterring (sic) new readers. Happily, since then (primarily thanks to movie rom-coms like Sliding Doors) we’ve all become well aware of string theory and parallel universes and can revel in the most basic TV show or kids cartoon proffering the concept of multiples incidences of me and you… 

Way back then, the result of those good intentions was a groundbreaking 12-part miniseries that spearheaded a vast crossover event: eventually culminating in a hefty graphic novel collection (plus latterly three companion volumes reprinting all the crossovers). 

The experiment was a huge success, both critically and commercially, and enabled the company to reinvigorate many of their most cherished properties: many of which had been in dire need or some regeneration and renewal. Many fans would argue that DC have been trying to change it back ever since… 

Plotted long in advance of launch, threads and portents appeared for months in DC’s regular titles, mostly regarding a mysterious arms-and-information broker known as The Monitor. With his beautiful assistant Lyla Michaels/Harbinger he had been gauging each and every being on Earths beyond counting with a view to saving all of Reality. At this juncture, that consisted of uncountable variations of universes existing “side-by-side”, each exhibiting differences varying from minor to monumental.  

Building on long-established continuity collaborators Marv Wolfman and George Pérez – aided and abetted by Dick Giordano, Mike DeCarlo and Jerry Ordway – began by tweaking things fans knew before taking them on a journey nobody anticipated… It transpired that at the very beginning of time an influence from the future caused Reality to fracture. Rogue Guardian of the Universe Krona obsessively sought to unravel the secret of creation and his probing cause a perfect singular universe to shatter into innumerable self-perpetuating cracked reflections of itself… 

Now, a wave of antimatter scythes through the Cosmic All, eradicating these separate universes. Before each Armageddon, a tormented immortal named Pariah materialises on an inhabited but doomed world of each Existence. As the story opens, he arrives on an Earth, as its closest dimensional neighbours are experiencing monumental geo-physical disruptions. It’s the end of the World, but The Monitor has a plan. It involves death on a mammoth scale, sacrifice beyond measure, a gathering of the best and worst beings of the surviving Earths and the remaking of time itself to deflect cosmic catastrophe and defeat the being that caused it… 

Action is tinged with tragedy as many major heroic figures – from the nondescript and forgotten to high, mighty and grand – perish valiantly, falling in apparently futile struggle to preserve some measure of life from the doomed multiverse. 

Full of plot twists and intrigue, this cosmic comicbook spectacle set the benchmark for all future crossover events, not just DC’s, and is still a qualitative high point seldom reached and never yet surpassed. As well as being a superb blockbuster in its own right and accessible to even the greenest neophyte reader, it is the foundation of all DC’s in-continuity stories since 1985, the basis of a TV phenomenon and absolutely vital reading.  

More than any other work in a truly stellar career, Crisis on Infinite Earths is the magnum opus George Pérez will be remembered for: It might not be fair, but it’s inescapably true… 
© 1985, 1986, 2001, 2008, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. 

Bootblack 


By Mikaël, translated by Matt Maden (NBM) 
ISBN: 978-1-68112-296-0 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-297-7 

Certain eras and locales perennially resonate with both entertainment consumers and story creators. The Wild West, Victorian London, the trenches of the Somme, and so many more quasi-mythological locales instantly evoke images of drama, tension and tales begging to be told. In these modern times of doom and privation, one of the most evocative is Depression-era America… specifically the Big City… 

Perhaps because it feels so tantalizingly within reach of living memory, or thanks to its cachet as the purported land of promises and untapped opportunity, America has always fascinated storytellers – especially comics-creators – from the “Old World” of Europe. This inclination has delivered many potent and rewarding stories, none more so than this continentally-published yarn by multi-disciplinary, multi award-winning French-born, Québécois auteur and autodidact Mikaël (Giant; Junior l’Aventurier; Rapa Nui, Promise 

Published in Europe by Dargaud in 2018, Bootblack originated as twin albums before being released as a brace of English-language digital tomes courtesy of Europe Comics. It now manifests as an oversized (229 x 305mm), resoundingly resilient hardback edition that gets the entire story done-in-one. 

We open in Germany in 1945 where a weary G.I. pauses on a corpse-covered, crow-ridden battlefield to reflect on how he got there. Once upon a time, his given name was Alternberg: after the German village his family fled to America from. One day in 1929 – even before his tenth birthday – the boy rejected that name and his family; running away from his New York City ghetto hours before tragedy erased it, making him forever an orphan of the streets. 

As “Al”, he grifted and grafted with other homeless kids, mostly making money by shining shoes. His best pal was James “Shiny” Rasmussen and he adored from afar shopkeeper’s daughter Maggie. That ambitious, self-educated go-getter had no time for him, but her mute little brother William – whom everyone else called Buster – was readily accepted by the street kids who eked out a precarious living. 

Their scavenging for every cent was punctuated by clashes with rival kid gangs whose members had grown up as peewee versions of their nostalgically nationalistic, backward-looking elders. Al’s guys considered themselves True Americans, with no ties to some former “old country” that had no time or place for them…  

Al’s life changed again in 1935 when charismatic boy-pickpocket Joseph “Finger Joe” Bazilsky moved into the district. Soon after, Al became Al Chrysler and shoeshine shenanigans grew into errands – and worse – for local hood/entrepreneur Frankie 

Throughout those years, Al pursued Maggie, gradually wearing her down and building a rapport with his constant promises of a dream trip to Coney Island. However, just when he got close enough to learn what made her tick, another clash with the “German” bootblack kids caused the death of someone they all loved.  

Al and Maggie never really had a chance, not with her home life and Joe always somehow in the way at the most inopportune moments… 

Ultimately, the increasingly hostile situation escalated into crisis, inevitably drawing every player into a tragic confrontation prompting more bad decisions and wrong choices, leading to betrayal and a destiny-drenched denouement in a field that could never have been Al’s homeland… 

Told in a clever sequence of overlapping flashbacks – like Christopher Nolan’s Memento – everything about this stylish Depression-era drama is big, powerfully mythic and tragically foredoomed in a truly Shakespearean manner. Packed with period detail and skilfully tapping into the abundance of powerful, socially-aware novels, plays and movies which immortalised pre-WWII America, this collection also includes a gallery of stunning art tableaus at the back of the book.  

Bootblack is moving, memorable and momentous, another triumph of graphic narrative you must not miss. 
© 2019, 2020 Dargaud-Benelux (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) – Mikaël.    

Boot Black is scheduled for UK release May 19th 2022 and is available for pre-order now. 
Most NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing at nbmpub.com.

The Cisco Kid™ 


By Rod Reed & José Luis Salinas (Ken Pierce Books) 

ISBN: 0-912277-00-9 (PB) 

As with so many classic mass-media heroes, The Cisco Kid began as charismatic villain. Created by O. Henry for short prose tale “The Caballero’s Way”, he first appeared in Everybody’s Magazine in July 1907, and was included in the author’s anthological collection Heart of the West, which was published in the same year. 

Gone but not forgotten, The Kid returned and was gradually rehabilitated via a series of 27 films spanning 1914-1950; a radio serial running from 1942-1956; a one shot comic book in 1944 and – most crucially – a TV series (the first ever shot in colour) comprising 156 episodes, which spanned 1950-1956. Those latter media milestones in particular spawned a Dell Comics series (41 issues from 1950-1958) and informed a spectacular and beautiful comic strip licensed by King Features Syndicate which ran in numerous newspapers and across the world from 1951 to 1968. 

The hero is a dashing Mexican roaming the American west like the Lone Ranger, righting wrongs for no appreciable reason or reward. His comedy sidekick Pancho is fat, jolly, and eternally anxious, but also smart, deceptively brave and extremely capable: a rare example of positive depictions of Latino characters at that time or even by most modern examples… 

In the end, every effort of so many creators across the mass-communications divide couldn’t much help as increasingly polarized views about minorities pretty much cemented a certain view of Mexican characters in American public opinion in the 1960s and 1970, but at least our guys always were heroes, not low-grade villains, and lazy language stereotyping was kept to an absolute minimum.  

Cisco and Pancho spoke floridly, but never like Speedy Gonzales…  

This strip feature, like so many beautiful examples of western adventuring, has been all but forgotten today, but holds up remarkably well in terms of modern sensibilities …and as I’ve indicated, it is so very, very beautifully drawn.  

This impossible-to-find collection comes courtesy of pioneering comics archivist Ken Pierce, whose one-man campaign to preserve the best of newspaper strips throughout the 1970 and 1980s (Abbie an’ Slats; Axa; Danielle; Fred Kida’s Valkyrie) resulted this slim single volume of monochrome daily episodes, fronted by writer Rod Reed’s evocative Introduction. Reed was a veteran golden age scripter whose best work was for Fawcett and Quality Comics, and in the five stories re-presented here (covering January 17th to May 4th 1950), he ingeniously blends traditional family entertainment/action with wry wit and a devilishly wicked sense of the absurd… 

The writing is top notch but the true joy comes from the stunning draughtsmanship and graphic empathy of the illustrator. José Luis Salinas (February 11, 1908-January10, 1985) was Argentinian, beginning as an advertising artist before moving into comics El Tony and Paginas de Columba. In 1936 he created his first strip. Hernán el Corsario in Patoruzu was followed by many more classic adventure escapades. In 1949, he began working for American enterprise King Features Syndicate, who eventually partnered him with Reed. Their partnership – and the strip – lasted eighteen years, and apparently they never ever met or even corresponded even once… 

Individual storylines very much mirror TV episodes of any western of the era – like Hopalong Cassidy, Champion the Wonder Horse; Gunsmoke, Bonanza or the aforementioned Lone Ranger and all the usual tropes are in play, but thanks to Reed’s deft touches and Salinas’ skill, what might to us seem cliched, still sparkles with verve and vivacity… 

The dramas launches with ‘The First Story’ as the heroes help feisty rancher Lucy Baker uncover a swindle perpetrated by the local judge. His malfeasance is initially uncovered because he won’t allow “the wimmen-folk” vote on his new dam project, but all too soon it devolves into murder plots, frantic horse-chases and plenty of gunplay… 

‘The Deadly Stage Ride’ then sees the nomads save a failing stage coach company by replacing the driver and shotgun guard. Even if they had known sinister mastermind The Jagged Dagger was behind the campaign of sabotage and robbery, it would not have stopped them doing the right thing…  

Humour is paramount in ‘The Artist’ as French painter François Palette arrives, determined to capture the action and glamour of the Wild West and its great heroes – like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and The Cisco Kid – only to become the target of a fugitive Barbary Bill: a bullying thug who didn’t like his portrait… 

The Latin Lawgivers stumble across a dying man and carry out his deathbed wish to save an innocent man from execution in ‘The Harmonica Mistake’ before this delicious but dated delight closes down with a heartwarming mystery as Cisco and Pancho aid a poor widow and her son when outlaws kidnap the family pet. It seems there’s lost loot somewhere which old Spot can track in ‘Treasure Dog’…    

Swashbuckling thrills in the flamboyant style of Errol Flynn and Gene Kelly, combining the character dynamics of Don Quixote (& Sancho Panza ) with Holmes & Watson and Batman and Robin, these merry light-adventure yarns are so very moreish, and it’s well past time one of the specialist archival outfits like Hermes Press or IDW brought them all back to us… 

The Cisco Kid™ © 1983 Doubleday & Company. Editorial content and arrangement © 1983 Rod Reed. All rights reserved.

The Savage She-Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 1 


By Stan Lee, David Anthony Kraft, John Buscema, Mike Vosburg, Chic Stone, Frank Springer & various (Marvel) 
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0354-1 (HB/Digital edition) 

Until comparatively recently, American comics – especially Marvel – had very little in the way of strong female role models and almost no viable solo stars. Although there was a woman starring in the very first comic of the Marvel Age, Invisible Girl Susan Storm took years to become a potent and independent character in her own right. She didn’t even become Invisible WOMAN until the 1980s… 

The company’s very first starring heroine was Black Fury, a leather-clad, whip-wielding crimebuster lifted from a newspaper strip created by Tarpe Mills in April 1941. The slinky vigilante was repackaged as a resized reprint for Timely’s funnybooks and renamed Miss Fury: enjoying a 4-year run between 1942 and 1946, with her tabloid incarnation surviving until 1952. 

Miss Fury was actually pre-dated by the Silver Scorpion who debuted in Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941), but was always relegated to a minor position in the book’s line-up. She enjoyed a very short shelf-life. 

Miss America first appeared in anthological Marvel Mystery Comics #49 (November 1943), created by Otto Binder and artist Al Gabriele. After a flurry of appearances, she won her own title in early 1944. Miss America Comics lasted but the costumed cutie didn’t, as with the second issue (November 1944) the format abruptly altered, becoming a combination of teen comedy, fashion feature and domestic tips magazine. Feisty take-charge super-heroics were steadily squeezed out and the publication is most famous now for introducing virginal evergreen teen ideal Patsy Walker. 

A few more woman warriors appeared immediately after WWII, many as spin-offs and sidekicks of established male stars, like female Sub-Mariner Namora (debuting in Marvel Mystery Comics #82, May 1947 and graduating to her own 3-issue series in 1948). She was followed by the Human Torch’s secretary Mary Mitchell who, as Sun Girl, starred in her own 3-issue 1948 series before becoming a wandering sidekick and guest star in Sub-Mariner and Captain America Comics. 

Decked out in mask and ball-gown, detective Blonde Phantom was created by Stan Lee & Syd Shores for All Select Comics #11 (Fall 1946), and (sort-of) goddess Venus debuted in her own title in August 1948, becoming the gender’s biggest Timely/Atlas/Marvel success… until the advent of the Jungle Girl fad of the mid-1950s. This was mostly by dint of the superb stories and art from the incredible Bill Everett, and by ruthlessly shifting genres from crime to romance to horror every five minutes… 

Jann of the Jungle (by Don Rico & Jay Scott Pike) was just part of an anthology line-up in Jungle Tales #1 (September 1954), but she took over the title with the eighth issue (November 1955). Jann of the Jungle then ran until June 1957 (issue #17), spawning a host of in-company imitators like Leopard Girl, Lorna the Jungle Queen ad nauseum… 

During the costumed hero boom of the 1960s, Marvel dallied with a title shot for Madame Medusa in Marvel Super-Heroes (#15, July 1968) and a solo series starring the Black Widow (Amazing Adventures #1-8; August 1970-September 1971). Both were sexy, reformed villainesses, not wholesome girl-next-door heroines… and neither lasted alone for long. 

When the costumed crazies craze started to subside in the 1970s, Stan Lee & Roy Thomas looked into founding a girl-friendly boutique of heroines written by women. Opening shots in this mini-liberation war were Claws of the Cat by Linda Fite, Marie Severin & Wally Wood and Night Nurse by Jean Thomas & Win Mortimer (both #1’s cover-dated November 1972). Modern jungle goddess Shanna the She-Devil #1 – by Carole Seuling & George Tuska – debuted in December 1972; but despite impressive creative teams, none of these fascinating experiments lasted beyond a fifth issue. 

Red Sonja, She-Devil with a Sword, caught every one’s attention in Conan the Barbarian #23 (February 1973), eventually securing her own series whilst The Cat mutated into Tigra, the Were-Woman in Giant-Size Creatures #1 (July 1974), but the general editorial position remained that books starring chicks didn’t sell. 

To be fair, the company kept trying and eventually found the right mix at the right time with Ms. – now Captain – Marvel. She launched in her own title (cover-dated January 1977), to be followed by equally copyright-protecting Spider-Woman in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977, and securing her own title 15 months later).  

Savage She-Hulk #1 came in February 1980, and was followed by music-biz sponsored Dazzler, who premiered in Uncanny X-Men #130 the same month, before graduating to her own book. 

This hulking hardcover volume (or enthralling eBook, if you prefer), collects Savage She-Hulk volume 1 #14, spanning February 1980 to March 1981 and opens with fact-packed, behind the scenes Introduction ‘The Savage Subversive’, courtesy of David Anthony Kraft.  

The new era begins with a publicity-attracting first issue crafted by old guard stars Stan Lee & John Buscema, inked by equally acclaimed veteran Chic Stone. Here, with deliberate tones of the Hulk’s early exploits and in the manner of the mega-hit TV show, we meet crusading Los Angeles lawyer Jennifer Walters, whose latest case is defending minor hoodlum Lou Monkton 

Just as her infamous fugitive cousin hits town, Walters is gunned down by killers working for Monkton’s rival Nick Trask, and saved by a hasty blood transfusion from her kinsman. He is Dr. Bruce Banner and he should have known better… 

Fleeing when the cops arrive, he doesn’t know how the rapidly recovering Jennifer is targeted again in her hospital room or how the stress of the second murder attempt triggers a shocking transformation. Easily thrashing the would-be killers, a gigantic green woman then rampages through the medical facility and the city before reverting to human. However, LA is now fearfully aware that ‘The She-Hulk Lives’ 

The second issue is where the story truly begins as scripter David Anthony Kraft and artists Mike Vosburg & Chic Stone kick off a string of unconventional thrillers slightly askew of standard Marvel Fights ‘n’ Tights fare. Resuming the Monkton case piles on more stress for the recuperating legal eagle, as do smug assistant DA “Buck” Bukowski and her own father Sheriff Morris Walters. Thankfully, iron willpower and strong drugs keep her raging fury at bay until a confrontation with Trask prompts another murder attempt.  

This time though, the mobster’s thugs accidentally snatch her best friend Jill, triggering a second change – just as overly-attentive neighbour Danny “Zapper” Ridge walks by… 

A frantic freeway car chase ensues with the green goliath easily pacing high performance engines, but ends in failure and tragedy at the end of the ‘Deathrace!!’ with a body everyone believes is Jennifer Walters… 

Since Jen had cleared Monkton, her emerald alter ego is now the only thing LA is talking about and ‘She-Hulk Murders Lady Lawyer!’ sees the situation escalate as Trask’s men are assassinated in jail by something with giant green arms that can punch through walls. In hiding and cared for by unwilling confidante Zapper, Walters is traced by Trask’s deadly She-droid (a stolen Stark tech robot painted green and wearing a wig) but proves too much for mere mechanisms. In the aftermath of brutal battle, She-Hulk – savage, super-strong and far smarter than her male counterpart – resolves to deal with Trask once and for all… 

However, as detailed in #4, when ‘The She-Hulk Strikes Back!’ she finds sheriff Walters still believes the monster killed his daughter. Seizing his opportunity, Trask – now revealed as more Bond-villain than local Godfather – offers to join forces with the grief-stricken policeman and provide a superweapon to kill the unsuspecting monster woman… 

Surviving the traumatic family encounter drives She-Hulk to her ‘Breaking Point!’, but her very public terror tantrums simply divert focus as Jennifer Walters quietly re-emerges and resumes her life. Her latest client is Roxxon Oil: suffering inexplicable losses in their storage facilities. When Jennifer investigates, She-Hulk ends up battling Trask’s subterranean theft device and seemingly ends his threat forever. 

‘Enter: The Invincible Iron Man’ sees the Golden Avenger finally hit town to find out who stole his tech, and manoeuvred by Sheriff Walters into going after She-Hulk, even as Jen defends Tony Stark from accusations of criminal collusion with Trask, after which ‘Richard Rory… Winner’ sees Steve Gerber’s everyman loser strike it rich, move to California and – having seen the good side on another green beast – immediately side with the fugitive She-Hulk in her latest clash with the cops. As romance blossoms, Jen returns with Rory to Florida only to stumble, as She-Hulk, into the mystically-tainted swamp that birthed the muck-monster.  

Captured by the last eternally-young occupants of secret retreat La Hacienda – who wish her company forever – She-Hulk’s time ‘Among the Ogres!’ ends in strife when she rejects their bovine passivity and clashes with Rory’s old associate the mossy Man-Thing… 

Danny Bulanadi “and friends” ink #10 as ‘The Power of the Word’ introduces a charismatic preacher/cult leader with vast ambitions and very strange ideas about personal empowerment. College science student Zapper meanwhile, has offered to have Jenifer’s blood secretly tested, and his efforts have brought him to the attention of radical researcher Dr. Michael Morbius 

The Word believes his positive affirmations have unleashed his daughter’s physical and mental potential, but her emotional state is as fragile as any teen and when Ultima mistakes’ Jen Walters’ patient enquiries as a play for her boyfriend it results in brutal battle with the Green Queen and a ‘War of… the Word!’ (inked by Frank Springer) as Jen gets a day in court against the malevolent master of motivation, but – as is increasingly commonplace – loses out to chicanery and her own evermore uncontrollable other self… 

Zapper’s meeting with Morbius revealed a degenerative blood disease in Jen’s sample and that plot thread culminates now ‘In the Shadow of Death!’ as the critically enfeebled gamma transmute collapses and is arrested. At UCLA, Morbius has his own problems. Students have started rioting after learning of his previous life as a blood-drinking “living vampire”. Marked for death by Mr & Mrs LeClerc (parents of one of his victims), the “outed” professor is saved by Zapper in time to treat the recently escaped and almost expired She-Hulk… 

Initially ineffective, the cure eventually resurrects her, but ‘Reason and Rage!’ war uncontrollably within both of her, especially after Jen’s inexplicably hostile father rails at her for representing “mass-murderer” Morbius in court. With nobody satisfied by the eventual verdict, the scientist is released only to be targeted again by the LeClercs who convince philosophically-motivated android Gemini to go after him and Jen in the name of a higher balance. Things go very bad very quickly when She-Hulk tips the scales of justice… 

A long-dangling plot thread is plucked in #13 as Richard Rory’s return completes a romantic triangle with Jen and Zapper, even as trans-dimensional star god Man-Wolf resurfaces and Defenders Hellcat and Valkyrie cameo in ‘Through the Crystal!’  

When the divine wolf’s forces seek to abduct She-Hulk to liberate their leader, the result is a cosmic chain reaction and potential end of existence unless Hellcat Patsy Walker can orchestrate a cleansing clash between wolf and she-beast in ‘Life in the Bloodstream’ 

The fearsomely furious Savage She-Hulk would eventually evolve into a scintillating semi-comedic superstar and tragic paragon but for now these early epics pause with an extras section including original art pages by Buscema & Stone and Vosburg/Stone; original plot ages for #2 and character bio sheet; Vosburg’s pencil thumbnail layouts; unused script pages and a draft for comedic ‘How Dave and Mike Write & Draw the She-Hulk!’ story plus house ads, John Romita’s pencil art and Frank Springer’s inked version for the first ad. 

Lean, mean, and evergreen, these are intriguing and long-overlooked Marvel Masterpieces in need of your attention. Why are you waiting?  
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved. 

High Crimes 


By Christopher Sebela & Ibrahim Moustafa (Dark Horse) 
ISBN: 978-1-61655-472-9 (HB) 978-1-53431-047-6 (TPB/Digital edition) 

Generally I prefer to go into loads of detail regarding the plot of a book under review but sometimes that’s not possible or even fair. This is definitely one of those occasions… 

High Crimes originated as a 12-part digital comic from writer Christopher Sebela (Screamland: Death of the Party, Captain Marvel, Escape from New York) and artist Ibrahim Moustafa (The Pound: Ghoul’s Night Out, The Flash: Season Zero). It was produced by Monkeybrain Comics and its stunning blend of captivating big-sky concept, seedy suspense thriller and chase-movie blockbuster was just too heady an experience to deny fellow action fans. 

The scintillating serial took the industry by storm; garnering immense praise and loads of award nominations and was on completion collected by Dark Horse in its entirety – along with sidebar stories and a wealth of behind-the-scenes and promotional material – into a splendid hardcover and paperback chronicle for a wider, more traditionally-minded, book-loving audience. 

Once upon a time Suzanne Jensen owned the world. Now she’s an exile eking out a shabby life on its metaphorical roof. When she was a world-famous Olympic snowboarder, medals piled up, but after the authorities discovered their public paragon of perfection was an unrepentant recreational drug abuser, “Zan” went to extraordinary lengths to escape punishment, abandoning everything she knew and loved to avoid giving back those glittering but pointless symbols of former greatness. 

Drifting across the globe, she eventually settled in Kathmandu, working as a fly-by-night, cut-rate guide, living life one pharmaceutical hit and geological challenge at a time. Despite countless promises to herself, however, she never quite made it to the top of the granite goddess dominating the view and attention of everyone around her, native, grifter or spoiled obnoxious tourist… 

She found makework and a fellow damaged soul in aged burn-out Haskell Price, who preys on the families of rich idiots and starry-eyed dreamers risking everything to reach the top of Mount Everest. Haskell is a cold-hearted modern-day graverobber, collecting small personal effects and occasionally recovering the bodies of the many climbers who don’t make it. 

More accurately, he initially rescues just their right hands (for fingerprint identification), strong-arming grieving relatives into handing over cash to retrieve the complete cadaver for decent burial. The mountain takes a ferocious toll on the ever-growing mass of thrill-seeking visitors, and even if only one bereaved family in a handful fall for his proffered “service”, it’s enough to get by… 

Everything changes when he finds a corpse-icle lost for years near the summit. When these particular prints are faxed Stateside it unleashes an avalanche of terror in the form of an ultra-secret, black-ops hit-squad determined to find missing super-agent Sullivan Mars and – most importantly – the still-crucial secrets he absconded with so long ago. Haskell can’t help them when they turn up, since Zan has already swiped Mars’s journal and a canister of microfilm, but when she sees the collateral carnage the cleaner-squad are prepared to inflict, she makes the craziest decision of her life. 

As the merciless operatives force Haskell to lead them on the arduous, weeks-long trek to the summit and Mars’ body, she determines that with no place left to run she’s going to clean up her own mess for once. 

Following the killer elite, Zan resolves to rescue Haskell, or barring that, at least finally get to summit of the overpowering mountain and see the world as it truly is before she dies… 

Mirroring her slow and torturous progress with a succession of shocking revelations from Sullivan’s stolen secrets, and clocking up a startling bodycount, this epic odyssey offers a stupendous and breathtakingly vicarious journey of discovery no armchair adrenaline addict could possibly resist, with an emotional pay-off that is a joy to behold and shock to experience. 

Preceded by an Introduction from Greg Rucka, the compulsively enthralling yarn is complimented by a Bonus Features section including commentary by author Sebela; alternate cover sketches; the 3-page trailer vignette ‘Strange Truths’ from Free Comic Book Day 2014’s ‘Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s Defend Comics’; a “declassified” ‘User’s Guide to High Crimes’, loads of character sketches and all the phenomenal, inspired and imaginative promotional postings and briefs issued to rouse interest in the series. 

Epic, arduous and devastatingly addictive, something to treasure for all the right reasons and not just because it’s there… 
High Crimes™ © 2013, 2014 Christopher Sebela & Ibrahim Moustafa. All rights reserved. 

100 Bullets: Book One 


By Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso & various (Vertigo/DC Comics) 
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3201-6 (Deluxe HB) 978-1-4012-5056-0 (TPB/Digital edition) 

What’s your favourite crime movie? TV Show? Novel? Chances are it isn’t 100 Bullets, but trust me, it should be… 

Now that there’s a little distance and the initial furore has died down, it’s time to review one of the most hyped comic sensations of the early 21st century. This initial compilation collects 100 Bullets #1-19 (August 1999- February 2001) and includes a brief tale that first appeared in seasonal anthology Vertigo: Winter’s Edge #3.  

It all begins with eponymous revenge yarn ‘100 Bullets’ 

Isabelle “Dizzy” Cordova is released from prison but isn’t happy. She’s returning to the crime-infested, poverty-wracked streets she came from, dead inside since while she was there her man and her baby boy were killed in a drive-by shooting. 

On the ride back, an old man gets on the train. He looks like a spy from a 1960s movie. Sharp black suit, sunglasses, thin black tie, shiny attaché case: He says he’s Agent Graves. He says he knows all about Dizzy Cordova. He says Hector and Santiago weren’t killed by accident. He says that if she wants to make it right, he has a gun and one hundred rounds of ammunition that will never – EVER – show up in a police investigation. If she wants revenge she can have it free and clear… 

And so begins one of the best crime comics of all time, but this premise, which would surely be enough for five hit seasons on any TV channel, is merely the beginning of a decade-long conspiracy thriller that is dark, engrossing and, after nearly 23 years, still a phenomenal achievement and tribute to the abilities of writer Brian Azzarello and illustrator Eduardo Risso and their loyal accomplices colourists Grant Goleash & Patricia Mulvihill, and letterer Clem Robins. 

After practically constant re-reading, I’m still finding nuggets and gems that confirm its brilliance and the creators’ gift for forward planning and attention to detail. 

Following on from Dizzy’s seemingly self-contained moment of epiphany comes ‘Shot, Water Back’ as we meet a down-on-his-luck barman whose entire life was destroyed by a rich girl’s petty whim. When she walks into his bar one night though, Agent Graves has just walked out, leaving behind him another gleaming attaché case… 

Next follows an 8-page seasonal delight set in a police station. ‘Merry Christmas, Bitches’ is funny and chilling, proving that the short story form is not yet dead, and panel for panel is the best thing in this wonderful, terrifying so-very-adult book. More importantly, the apparent throwaway nature of this brief encounter will have crushing repercussions later on… 

The fascinating proposition of what you would you do with a grudge, a gun, one hundred untraceable bullets and an ironclad guarantee of no comeback is more deeply explored through further seemingly unconnected interactions, consequently but so slowly unravelling the mystery of enigmatic Agent Graves – purveyor of both the ordnance and the inquiry. 

‘Short Con, Long Odds’ introduces hard luck kid Chucky Spinks, a cheap grifter and ex-con who gets a visit from the cadaverous Man in Black. Chucky’s life was ruined when he got drunk and killed some kids: but at least his friend Pony always looked out for him when he got out of prison. Still, what kind of friend would drag your drunken ass out of the passenger seat and behind the steering wheel before the cops show up…  and never tell you? 

In ‘Day, Hour, Minute… Man’ we gain some insight into the manipulative Graves’ long-term goals as he engineers gang-war to draw some old comrades back into his game. There are intriguing hints of an old crew and some very high-powered bosses – operating as “The Trust” – after contact is made with brutal mob enforcer Lono and someone wonders out loud if somebody is reviving something called “the Minutemen”… 

‘The Right Ear, Left in the Cold’ then finds ice-cream vendor Cole Burns – who sells more than popsicles from his van – shocked to discover that his current boss torched an old folks’ home where Cole’s grandmother died. That’s just the start of a vicious round of revelations before Cole is revealed as another “retired” Minuteman. It looks like someone’s putting the band back together… 

A viscerally satisfying one-off story follows as a waitress gets an unwelcome heads-up about her happy home in the chilling ‘Heartbreak, Sunnyside Up’ 

Dizzy Cordova resurfaces next: bundled off to Paris to meet American ex-pat Mr. Branch: a reporter who once dug too deep and uncovered the greatest secret in US history. ‘Parlez Kung Vous’ begins unpicking the mysteries of the Trust, the Minutemen, and especially Agent Graves in a brutal yet delicate manner, engrossing and satisfying: yet manages the magician’s trick of leaving a bigger puzzle and readers hungry for the next instalment. In the meantime though, Dizzy learns some secrets and gets on the job training to die for… 

The best crime comic in decades oh-so-slowly begins transforming itself into the best conspiracy thriller in the business with ‘Hang Up on the Hang Low’ as further hints about The Trust and their unique police squad The Minutemen slip out during the dark, bleak story of Louis “Loop” Hughes, a young street tough swiftly going the way of most of his kind in the streets of Philadelphia… at least until impeccable Agent Graves turns up. He knows exactly where Loop’s father has been for the embittered kid’s entire life, but he’s only telling about the last few years… 

Curtis Hughes collects debts for one of the nastiest old loan-sharks in Philly. The broken down old leg-breaker has been around and seen it all, but wasn’t expecting a street punk to stick one of those guns in his face – and certainly not the son he abandoned all those years ago. Against all odds, he reconciles with his son and starts teaching him business and life; but once family duty and work allegiances come into conflict, there’s only ever one outcome. And just how does Curtis know about Graves and the Minutemen? As always, where Graves has been, lives change, bodies drop and more undisclosed secrets are uncovered… 

The story portion of this book concludes with some scene-setting character portraits as ‘Epilogue for a Road Dog’ sees Loop reconnect with Agent Graves whilst wild card Lono discovers an unsuspected connection with the young gangbangers cousin Carlos. As Graves moves his pieces in a vast but still undeclared game unlikely alliances are forged in anticipation of a coming conflict… 

Rounding out this extremely adult entertainment is ‘Dossier’: a sketchbook by Eduardo Risso offering early character designs of the broad and diverse castoff reprobates thus far embroiled in the unfolding saga… 

These tense, bleak opening dramas have the generational grandeur of The Godfather trilogy, as much febrile resonance as The Wire and more punch than Goodfellas: weaving a tragic tapestry of family, disillusionment and overwhelming necessity, and although readers of the original comic books didn’t know it, laid much of the groundwork for the “Big Reveals” to come.  

Astoundingly accessible and readable in its own right, this gripping tome is just step one on a path of intricate mystery and intrigue: one no fiction-fan (grown-up, paid-up and immune to harsh language and rude behaviour) could resist… nor should you. The slick switch from crime comic to conspiracy thriller is made with superb skill, with no diminution of the extreme violence and seedy sexuality that are hallmarks of this uncompromising series. Savage, brilliantly executed and utterly addictive, this is a landmark book in a landmark series. 
© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2014 Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso and DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.