Black Canary Archives volume 1


By Bob Kanigher, Gardner Fox, Denny O’Neil, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, Murphy Anderson, Alex Toth & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-734-4 (HB)

Black Canary was one of the first of relatively few female furies to hold a star spot in the DC universe, following Wonder Woman, Liberty Belle and Red Tornado (who actually masqueraded as a man to comedically crush crime – with a couple of kids in tow, too!). She predated Merry, the Gimmick Girl (remember her?) and disappeared with most of other superheroes at the end of the Golden Age, to be revived with the Justice Society of America in 1963.

She was created by Bob Kanigher & Carmine Infantino in 1947, echoing the worldly, dangerous women cropping up in the burgeoning wave of crime novels and on the silver screen in film noir tales better suited to the wiser, more cynical Americans who had just endured a World War and were even then gearing up for a paranoiac Cold one…

Clad in a revealing bolero jacket, shorts, fishnet stockings and high-heeled pirate boots, the devastating shady lady who looked like Veronica Lake even began life as a thief…

This superb full-colour hardback collection was released in 2001 to capitalise on the character’s small screen debut in the first Birds of Prey TV series. It gathers her admittedly short run of tales in Flash Comics (#86-104, August 1947 – February 1949), Comics Cavalcade #25 (February/March 1948), plus two adventures that went unused when the comicbook folded: one of the earliest casualties in the wave of changing tastes which decimated the superhero genre until the late 1950s. Those last only resurfaced at the end of the Second Great Superhero Winnowing and were subsequently published in DC Special #3 and Adventure Comics #399 (June 1969 & November 1970 respectively).

Also intriguingly included are two stellar appearances in Brave and the Bold #61-62 (September & November 1965), therein teamed up with JSA team-mate Starman as part of a concerted but ultimately vain editorial effort by Julius Schwartz to revive the Golden Age squad of champions situated on parallel world Earth-2.

Best of all is the re-presentation of a 2-part solo thriller from Adventure Comics #418-419 (April – May 1972) after she successfully migrated to “our” world and replaced Wonder Woman in the Justice League of America.

Regrettably, all these treasures can only be found here. Incomprehensibly, DC have allowed this entire imprint of reading gold lie fallow for years, both in print and digital formats. Hopefully, events in their cinematic analogues will entice them into reviving the Archive line… and adding to it…

In the heady, desperate days of post-war uncertainty, continuity was meagre and nobody cared much about origins. All that mattered was pace, plot, action and spectacle. As we’ll see, even when the Black Bird got her own strip, where she came from was never as important as who she faced…

Flash Comics #86 was just another superhero anthology publication, suffering a slow downturn in sales, and perennial back-up feature Johnny Thunder had long since passed its sell-by date. Although a member of the JSA, Johnny was an idiot; a genuine simpleton who just happened to control a genie-like Thunderbolt.

His affable good-hearted bumbling had carried him through the war, but changing fashions had no room for a hapless (adult) hero anymore. When he encountered a masked female Robin Hood who stole from crooks, the writing was on the wall. In this introductory yarn, ‘The Black Canary’ tricks him and T-Bolt into acquiring an invitation to a crime-lord’s party, lifts the ill-gotten loot and leaves Johnny to mop up the hoods. It was lust at first sight…

Nothing much was expected from these complete-in-one-episode filler strips. Hawkman and The Flash still hogged all the covers and glory, and although young artists Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella gave it their all as they learned their craft on the job, writer/editor Robert Kanigher was often clearly making it up as he went along…

The next Johnny Thunder instalment in #87 featured the immediate return of the Blonde Bombshell as she again makes the big goof her patsy, leaving ‘The Package of Peril’ in his inept hands. When mobsters retrieve the purloined parcel and secret documents it contains, Johnny follows and, more by luck than design, rescues the Canary from a deadly trap.

She returned in #88 – sans domino-mask now – using trained black canaries to deliver messages as she again finds herself in over her head and is forced to use the big sap and his magic pal to extricate herself before retrieving ‘The Map that Wasn’t There’ from a pack of human jackals.

Flash Comics #89 held the last Johnny Thunder solo tale as ‘Produce the Crime!’ sees the cheerful chump accidentally busting a gem-smuggling scheme without any help from the Girl Gladiator – but she did return in full force for #90 as ‘Johnny Thunder and the Black Canary’ officially team up to thwart a photographic frame-up and blackmail plot in ‘Triple Exposure!’

They resumed the partnership in #91 as gangsters used rockets and ‘The Tumbling Trees!’ in their efforts to trap the svelte nemesis of evil – and just to be clear: that’s her, not Johnny…

The strip became Black Canary with the next issue. She even got to appear on the Lee Elias cover with Flash and Hawkman. Johnny simply vanished without trace or mention and his name was peremptorily applied elsewhere to a new cowboy hero as the rise of traditional genre material such westerns relentlessly rolled on…

In ‘The Huntress of the Highway!’, feisty florist Dinah Drake is being pestered by arrogant, obnoxious but so-very-manly private eye Larry Lance, only to realise that the wreath she is working on is for him. Doffing her dowdy duds to investigate, the Blonde Bombshell is just in time to save him from a wily gang of truck hijackers.

And that’s all the set-up we got. The new status quo was established and a pattern for fast-paced but inconsequential rollercoaster action romps took off…

To celebrate her arrival, the Canary also appeared in catch-all anthology Comics Cavalcade – specifically #25 cover-dated February/March 1948 where she flamboyantly finishes a ‘Tune of Terror!’ inflicted on a rural hick trying to claim an inheritance, but encountering nothing but music-themed menace…

A word of warning: Kanigher was a superbly gifted and wildly imaginative writer, but he never let sense come between him and a memorable visual. The manic Deus ex Machina moment where a carpet of black canaries snatches the eponymous avenger and victim out of a death-plunge is, indeed, utter idiocy, but in those days, anything went…

Back in a more rational milieu and mood for Flash Comics #93, the ‘Mystery of the Crimson Crystal!’ has the Canary tracking down a conman who bamboozled many gullible women into parting with their fortunes for spurious immortality. On the home front, the utterly oblivious Larry had pressured shy Dinah into letting him use her shop as his detective office. Of course, the oaf had no idea his mousy landlady was the lethal object of his crime-busting desires…

The rather pedestrian ‘Corsage of Death!’ in #94 sees them save a scientist’s ultimate weapon from canny crooks, whilst ‘An Orchid for the Deceased!’ spectacularly finds the Avian Avenger framed for murder in an extremely classy Noir murder mystery before #96 combines equestrian robbery with aerial combat as gem thieves risk innocent lives to solve ‘The Riddle of the Topaz Brooch!’

Finally finding a formula that worked, Kanigher had Larry and the Canary investigate textile thieving thugs involved in ‘The Mystery of the Stolen Cloth!’ and murdering stamp-stealers in #98’s ‘The Byzantine Black’, as Infantino’s art grew ever more efficient and boldly effective.

‘Time Runs Out!’ in #99 ups the drama as ruthless radium-stealing gangsters trap the duo in a giant hourglass, and #100 again utilises baroque props and plots as they track down a model-making gang of burglars and are unexpectedly caught in ‘The Circle of Terror!’

Just as the stories were building momentum and finding a unique voice, the curtains were beginning to draw closed. ‘The Day that Wouldn’t End!’ in #101 sees Canary and gumshoe uncover a sinister scheme to drive a rich man mad, Dinah’s shop becomes an unsuspected tool of crafty crooks in ‘The Riddle of the Roses!’, and ‘Mystery on Ice!’ finds the capable crime-crushers suckered by a pack of thieves determined to steal a formula vital to America’s security.

Flash Comics disappeared with #104, making way for new titles and less fantastic thrills. ‘Crime on Her Hands’ ended the Canary’s crusade on a high, however, with an absorbing murder-mystery involving a college class of criminologists. She wouldn’t be seen again until the return of the Justice Society as part of the Silver Age revival of costumed mystery men, when awestruck readers learned that there were infinite Earths and untold wonders to see…

Nevertheless, the sudden cancellation meant two months’ worth of material was in various stages of preparation when the axe fell. The “All-Girl Issue” of reprint series DC Special (#3) subsequently printed one of the Canary yarns in 1969, with Bernard Sachs inking Infantino as ‘Special Delivery Death!’ finds Lance framed for murder and both Dinah and Black Canary using their particular gifts to clear him. Adventure Comics #399 printed the last story as ‘Television Told the Tale!’, revealing how a live broadcast tips off the Blonde Bombshell to a crime in the making…

Once the Silver Age revival took hold, superheroes were everywhere and response to Earth-2 appearances prompted DC to try-out a number of impressive permutations designed to bring back the World’s first team of costumed adventurers.

Try-out comic The Brave and the Bold #61 offered a brace of truly titanic tales by Gardner Fox & Murphy Anderson, pairing the Canary with Ted Knight, the Sentinel of Super-Science known as Starman. The deliriously cool cases began with ‘Mastermind of Menaces’, as vile techno-wizard The Mist returned, using doctored flowers to hypnotise his victims into voluntarily surrendering their wealth.

When he utilised Dinah’s flower shop to source his souped-up blooms, she, husband Larry and visiting pal Ted were soon on the villain’s trail…

Mystery and intrigue gave way to all-out action in #62’s ‘The Great Superhero Hunt!’ as husband-and-wife criminals Sportsmaster and Huntress began stalking superheroes for kicks and profit. By the time Feline Fury Wildcat became their first victim Ted and Dinah were on the case and ready for anything…

These latter classic tales alone are worth the price of purchase, but this splendid tome still has the very best to come as Adventure Comics #418 & 419 provide a scintillating 2-part graphic extravaganza by Dennis O’Neil & the legendary Alex Toth.

Originally an Earth-2 crime-fighter, Dinah was transplanted to our world by the wonders of trans-dimensional vibration after husband Larry was killed (see Justice League of America #73-75 or many assorted JLA compilations). Beginning a possibly rebound romance with Green Arrow, Dinah struggled to find her feet on a strangely different yet eerily familiar world. In ‘The Canary and the Cat! Parts 1 & 2’ she accepts a job teaching self-defence to women. The bereaved Blonde Bombshell has no idea her pupils are hirelings of vicious criminal Catwoman and the martial arts moves she shares will lead to her death and the liberation of a deadly menace…

Augmented by a fond remembrance from co-creator Carmine Infantino in his Foreword and detailed biographies of the many people who worked on the character, this admittedly erratic collection starts slow but builds in quality until it ranks amongst the very best examples of Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy. I hope you get a chance to see it…
© 1947-1949, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1972, 2001 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

A City Inside


By Tillie Walden (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-91039-541-7 (HB) 978-1-91039-520-2 (TPB)

Transitions are important. In fact, they are literally life changing. Here’s another one captured and shared by the amazing Tillie Walden…

We usually attribute wisdom and maturity in the creative arts to having lived a bit of life and getting some emotional grit in our wheels and sand in our faces, but maybe that’s not the case for Texas-raised Tillie, whose incredible string of releases include I Love this Part, Spinning, On a Sunbeam, and Are You Listening? and award-winning debut graphic novel The End of Summer.

A City Inside is another seamlessly constructed marriage of imagination and experience to unflinching self-exploration, constructing a perfect blend of autobiography and fantasy into a vehicle both youthfully exuberant and literary timeless.

Opening in a therapy session, the story delves intimately into a woman’s past, from isolated southern days to bold moments of escape – or is that simply drifting away? – in search of peace and a place to settle. We all leave home and then grow up, and here that transition is seen through the tentative alliance with an ideal first love. That fumbles and fails, thanks to the dull oppression of the Happy Ever After part that no fairy tale ever warns you about…

Eventually life builds you into the being you are – hence the symbolism of a vast internal metropolis – and life goes on, or back, or away, or just somewhere else. That’s pretty much the point…

Supremely engaging, enticingly disturbing and ultimately utterly uplifting, this shared solo voyage to another county is a visual delight no lover of comics can possibly resist. Apart from the graceful honesty on show, the most engaging factor is the author’s inspired rearrangement of visual reality. These dictate mood and tone in a way a million words can’t, supplying a sense of grace and wistful whimsy to the affair.

You’d have to be bereft of vision and afflicted with a heart of stone to reject this comic masterpiece – available in hardback, softcover and digital formats – which no one should miss.
© Tillie Walden 2016. All rights reserved.

A Portrait in Poems: The Storied Life of Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas


By Evie Robillard & Rachel Katstaller (Kids Can Press)
ISBN: 978-1-5253-0056-1 (HB)

We don’t cover nearly enough kids’ books here, nor those with an Arts or educational underpinning, and that’s because I lazily prefer to read stuff that’s entertaining, worthwhile and well-produced. And yes, I know they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive but somehow, so often…

Happily, this gloriously inclusive biographical primer into one of the world’s most interesting and accomplished women and her life partner is all of that and more.

Delivered as a delicious and enthralling picture book for 6 to 9-year-olds, A Portrait in Poems précis’ and shares some notable Parisian moments in the life of author Gertrude Stein and her muse Alice B. Toklas. This unconventional couple led the upcoming arts glitterati of Europe and collected one of the most astounding art collections in history prior to one World War and before another. The book is drafted in episodic free verse by librarian, teacher and writer Evie Robillard and painted with idyllic verve by El Salvadoran illustrator Rachel Katstaller in a superbly subtle manner guaranteed to get youngsters addicted to learning more.

In short order you’ll visit the protagonists’ first home at ‘27 Rue de Fleurus’, observe as ‘Picasso Paints a Portrait’, share ‘Saturday Evenings’ and enjoy ‘The Room with All the Paintings’ before meeting ‘Gertrude Stein, the Genius’

The couple shared their exalted existence with ‘A Dog Named Basket’ (two actually) and we see more of them all in ‘Gertrude & Alice & Basket in a Book’ before wrapping up the history with what happened ‘After’

Adding learning and lustre a ‘Time Line’ supplies dates and hard facts, while glimpses of character shine in a trio of epigrammatic ‘Snapshots’, whilst ‘Sources’ offers some of Gertrude’s best works to check out and a bibliography reveals more books about her, before a final ‘Author’s Note’ deals with the contentious period when the couple abided under Nazi occupation in Vichy France.

It’s never too early to give children a hunger to know stuff, and this bright, inclusive foray into the mind and life of one of our most remarkable thinkers is a welcome addition to any junior library or kids’ book stash because it simply cries out for readers to go absorb more…
Text © 2020 Evie Robillard. © 2020 Rachel Katstaller. All rights reserved.

Marada the She-Wolf


By Chris Claremont & John Bolton (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-0-85768-632-9 (HB) (TPB)

Scantily clad hot chicks swinging swords have been a staple of fantasy comics from their very inception. It’s a meme that has endured even as we (some of us anyway) grew up a bit and discovered it’s just as prevalent in the movies and on TV. If it going to be a thing, at least let’s see it done properly and probably nobody has done it better – certainly visually – than Chris Claremont and John Bolton.

This recycled yet supremely satisfying, luxuriously oversized (302 x 226 mm) hardback compilation of their collaborative fantasy saga will satisfy all aficionados of wild adventure and stirring sagas – especially in a world where faux historical dramas like Game of Thrones and The Witcher are still garnering interest in “Things Old, Things Forgotten”…

As detailed in Jo Duffy’s Introduction and collection Editor Steve Cook’s background essays ‘Birth of a Warrior’, ‘The Art of War’, ‘Epic Tales’ and ‘Legacy’, these stories – set in the cosmopolitan days of Imperial Rome – originated in Epic Illustrated (Marvel’s 1980’s response to Heavy Metal magazine) beginning with #10, February 1982.

Originally the strip appeared in beautiful monochrome wash-&-line, and although I would have preferred them to have been left that way for this collection, Bolton’s sensitive conversion of the art to painted colour is lush, lovely and stunningly effective.

By the way, that possibly waspish crack about recycling doesn’t just refer to the art, superb though it is. The original story started life as a Red Sonja yarn for monochrome anthology Bizarre Adventures, before Claremont & Bolton reworked the thing and, by inserting the whole kit and caboodle into the “real” world of the Ancient Roman – albeit embroidered with Celtic myth and legend – and added a satisfying layer of dramatic authenticity to the mix which still leaves it head-and-shoulders above all other Sword and Sorcery “Bad Girls” tales, as well as most fantasy fiction…

The literary pre-game warm-up also includes an effusive memo from the author as ‘Claremont on Bolton’ offers more creative insight on why these seldom-seen stories are just so darn good before the wonderment unfolds in the initial tale ‘Marada the She-Wolf: The Shattered Sword’.

The ferociously independent warrior woman is a wandering mercenary whose grandfather was Julius Caesar. When her parents fell into political disfavour, she was whisked from the Eternal City to live free and grow wild. Now, years later in the deserts near Damascus she is rescued from slavers by charismatic Warrior-Magician Donal MacLlyanllwyr. Strangely, the indomitable Marada he remembers is gone and all he liberates is a broken doll, traumatised by some unspoken horror and utterly devoid of will and spirit…

Mystically transporting her to the arboreal citadel of Ashandriar, amidst the misty hills of distant Britain, the baffled soldier seeks the aid of patron sorceress Rhiannon to diagnose, if not cure, her malady.

As Marada gradually recovers, she forms a bond with Donal’s daughter Arianrhod; a girl of vast, if unschooled, magical power. Before long, the ghastly secret of Marada’s malaise is revealed when a demonic creature invades the mystic keep, killing Donal and abducting Arianrhod.

Enraged and desperate, Marada braves Hell itself and slashes her way through an army of devils to rescue the child she now considers as much daughter as friend from a wizard and demon conclave. They initially broke the warrior woman as part of a convoluted scheme to reign on Earth…

The re-galvanised She-Wolf is ultimately victorious, but the horrific confrontation leaves her and Arianrhod stranded in East Africa. With no other option, the triumphant duo begin the long exhausting walk home to Albion…

From Epic #12, ‘Royal Hunt’ is a shorter, self-contained tale wherein Marada and Arianrhod, after escaping the Infernal Realm, are taken by Ashake, barbaric Empress of Amazonian nation of Meroë. The Battle Queen offers her captives the dubious distinction of being the quarry in a hunt (a competent if cheekily uninspired variation of Richard Connell’s landmark 1924 short story – and equally influential 1932 movie – The Most Dangerous Game).

Sadly, both predator and prey are unaware malign male mercenaries are lurking about, with the worst of all intentions for the unsuspecting women. Hard-fought combat and the sudden intervention of the sneaking male scum makes allies of Ashake and Marada, leading to the voyagers’ final tale, ‘Wizard’s Masque’ (Epic Illustrated #23-24, April & June 1984) which finds the long-lost Europeans aboard merchant ship Raven, bound for Roman port Massilia. However, impetuous Arianrhod gets bored with their slow progress and tries a transportation spell, opening a portal to nether realms and letting something really ghastly out of hell…

Beating the beast back, Marada falls though the gap in reality to materialise on an Arabic pirate ship currently engaged in a life-and-death clash with soldiers of an Eastern Kaydif. Her sudden presence turns the tide and soon she is partner to flamboyant corsair Taric Redhand, who swears to get her back to her home and lost “daughter”…

Typically, Marada has also been noticed by sinisterly seductive sorcerer Jaffar Ibn Haroun Al-Rashid. Although he purports to be a friend – and potential lover – able to reunite her with The Raven, he conceals a connection to the same demonic alliance that originally targeted the She-Wolf in faraway Rome. He is also, in all things, a creature of passion and self-serving convictions, capable of absolutely anything to achieve his own ends…

Ultimately however, the wanderer knows she can only depend upon herself to find her way back to Arianrhod and home…

Moody, passionate and powerfully evocative, this is a classic work of comics fantasy that will certainly all delight fans of the genre.
© & ™ 2013 John Bolton and Christ Claremont. All rights reserved.

Phoolan Devi: Rebel Queen


By Claire Fauvel, translated by Montana Kane (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-251-9 (HB)

Born in 1988, award-winning graphic novelist Claire Fauvel (À la recherche d’Alvaro Dolor; Sur les pas de Teresa, la religieuse de Calcutta [w/Marie-Noëlle Pichard]; Une Saison en Égypte; Catherine’s War [w/Julia Billet]) studied illustration at Paris’ l’école Estienne and animation at l’école des Gobelins before beginning an illustrious career in bande dessinée. She’s particularly adroit and adept with female historical figures and her latest tome gives her plenty to work with…

Phoolan Devi: Rebel Queen is that rare event, a history that has all the energy and impetus of a great action adventure and pioneering, political tract. Despite being a factual graphic biography, this is the stuff of legend and grand drama, detailing the astounding, appalling, tragic and triumphant life of a woman who bucked India’s ancient, all-pervasive caste system. Victim from birth of poverty and inequality, she sought change through bloody deeds and ultimately political action in a country where prejudice is institutionalised: expressed via cultural violence, and which fostered for millennia a tyrannical social system of inherent, inbuilt corruption where gods and birth status forever dictate one’s position in life…

Phoolan suffered a double blow at birth: born both poor and female. Never educated, she remained illiterate all her life. A life of being shunned and grinding poverty was exacerbated when she was married off at age 11, starting a harrowing pattern of slavery and sexual abuse lasting until she was rescued by a troop of the legendary bandits infesting Uttar Pradesh at the time. They were actually more decent – and heroic – than most respectable citizens (men), civil authorities and police officers of the region. Becoming lover to one of the gang, she suffered even greater abuse when he was murdered by a rival from a different caste.

Surviving these assaults, Phoolan organised an infamous vengeance massacre at the village of Behmai. That slaughter was picked up by the press, who recast her as a rebel queen and her lover a martyr. The public began using the honorific “Devi” for her and, after a mythic career, she surrendered to authorities in 1983. Over eleven years of imprisonment, 48 capital charges including murder, plunder, arson and kidnapping were incrementally dropped before a trial that never came. In 1994, the state government led by Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party withdrew all charges and she walked free. Joining the party, she was elected to national office twice, becoming a strong advocate for radical change, in the caste system and the patriarchal treatment of women. Regarded as the “voice of the oppressed”, on 26th July 2001 her past caught up with her when she was assassinated by relatives of the bandits killed at Behmai.

Fauvel took her inspiration from acclaimed 1996 autobiography Moi, Phoolan Devi, reine des bandits by Phoolan Devi & Marie-Thérèse Cuny, and although not all of those events are included in this stunning and uncompromising account, the supremely enticing and engaging art manages to mix in a few moments of hopeful aspiration, happy romance and family unity to offset the revolting iniquities Phoolan and other women had to survive on a daily basis.

Nevertheless, this brilliant tale is grim and unflinching in the portrayal of the constant assaults and abuses she endured, so you’d better gird yourself for plenty of righteous indignation and outright anger at the catalogue of venality and casual intolerance civilised folk still seem capable of…

Potent, unmissable, and primed to continue the fight, this is a book you must read.
© 2018 Casterman. © 2020 NBM for the English translation.

Phoolan Devi: Rebel Queen will be published on March 19th 2020 and is available for pre-order. NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing at nbmpub.com

Ms. Marvel Epic collection volume 2 1978-1981: The Woman Who Fell to Earth


By Chris Claremont, Peter B. Gillis, David Michelinie, Jim Shooter, George Pérez, Bob Layton, Simon Furman, Jim Mooney, Mike Vosburg, Dave Cockrum, Michael Golden, Carmine Infantino, Frank Miller, Howard Chaykin,Jeff Aclin, Mike Gustovich, Dave Ross & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1802-6 (TPB)

For a very long time, American comics and especially Marvel had very little in the way of positive 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. It was more than 30 years before she became Invisible Woman

We’ve come a long way since then…

Ms. Marvel launched in her own title, cover-dated January 1977. She was followed by the similarly copyright-protecting Spider-Woman in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977, and securing her own title 15 months later) and Savage She-Hulk (#1, February 1980). Then came the music-biz sponsored Dazzler who premiered in Uncanny X-Men #130 the same month, before inevitably graduating to her own book.

Once upon a time Ms. Marvel was United States Air Force security officer Carol Danvers. She was first seen in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (March 1968): the second episode of the saga of Kree warrior Mar-Vell – AKA Captain Marvel – who had been dispatched to Earth as a spy after the Fantastic Four repulsed the alien Kree twice in two months…

That series was written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Gene Colan with the immensely competent Carol perpetually investigating Mar-Vell’s assumed and tenuous cover-identity of Walter Lawson for many months.

This was until Danvers was collateral damage in a devastating battle between the now-defecting alien and his nemesis Yon-Rogg in Captain Marvel #18 (November 1969).

Caught in a climactic explosion of alien technology, she pretty much vanished from sight until revived as and in Ms. Marvel #1 (January 1977), heralding a new chapter for the company and the industry…

This sturdy trade paperback volume (or enthralling eBook if you prefer), brings a close to the first career of Carol Danvers, via Ms. Marvel #1-23, and includes guest appearances from Marvel Team-Up #76-77, Marvel Two-in-One#51, Marvel Super-Heroes #10-11, material from Avengers #197-200, Avengers Annual #19 and Marvel Fanfare #24, cumulatively cover-dated from March 1978 to January 1986, and dives straight in to the ongoing mystery and drama…

Never having fully recovered from her near-death experience, Danvers had left the military and drifted into writing, slowly growing in confidence before relocating to New York City to work for publisher J. Jonah Jameson on his new project Woman Magazine.

During this time Carol learned that she had gained Kree-based abilities, psychic powers and partial amnesia: creating the role of Ms. Marvel without her own knowledge. Eventually her personality split was healed and she became a fully conscious and ferociously competent costumed champion…

With Chris Claremont scripting and Jim Mooney & Tony DeZuñiga providing the art, ‘The Shark is a Very Deadly Beast!’ opens this edition as the two-fisted titan clashes with undersea villain Tiger Shark. The action begins after Carol stumbles over him abducting the Sub-Mariner’s teenaged cousin Namorita. Despite a brief side trip to Avengers Mansion, only Ms. Marvel is on hand to provide succour in cataclysmic concluding ‘The Deep Deadly Silence!’ (inked by Frank Springer).

‘Shadow of the Gun!’ (Mooney & DeZuñiga) then enhances the X-Men connection by introducing shape-shifting mutant Mystique in a raid on S.H.I.E.L.D. to purloin a new super-weapon which then sees impressive service in #18’s ‘The St. Valentine’s Day/Avengers Massacre!’ (inked by Ricardo Villamonte): a blockbuster battle featuring the beginnings of a deadly plot originating at the heart of the distant Kree Imperium…

The scheme culminates in ‘Mirror, Mirror!’ (illustrated by Carmine Infantino & Bob McLeod) as the Kree Supreme Intelligence attempts to reinvigorate his race’s stalled evolutionary path by kidnapping Earth/Kree hybrid Carol Danvers. However, with both her and Kree warrior Captain Marvel hitting hard against his emissary Ronan the Accuser, eventually the Supremor and his plotters take the hint and go home empty-handed…

Ms. Marvel #20 highlights a huge and abrupt makeover as Danvers dumps her Mar-Vell-inspired uniform and finally finds her own look and identity in ‘The All-New Ms. Marvel’, courtesy of Claremont, Dave Cockrum & Bob Wiacek. Here our utterly re-purposed hero tackles a hidden kingdom of predatory, intelligent, post-atomic dinosaurs infesting the American deserts, leading to a catastrophic clash with ‘The Devil in the Dark!’ (inked by Al Milgrom) in the following issue.

Danvers was a key component in an extended adventure in in Marvel Team-Up #76-77 (December 1978 and January 1979). Crafted by Claremont, Howard Chaykin, Jeff Aclin & Juan Ortiz ‘If Not for Love…’  sees Doctor Strangeattacked by old enemy Silver Dagger: a grudge rematch that draws in Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man as well as deadly Marie Laveau. The “Witch-Queen of New Orleans” naturally has her own agenda which comes into play as ‘If I’m to Live… My Love Must Die!’, finds the non-magical comrades battling the deranged exorcist, whilst Strange struggles with his own demonically-altered paramour Clea

Now one of the most hands-on, bombastic battlers in the Marvel pantheon, Ms. M is more than ready for a return match with Death-Bird in her own comic book. Issue #22 offers a ‘Second Chance!’ (art by Mikes Vosburg & Zeck) but sees Danvers thrown for a total loop in her personal life after being fired from Woman Magazine. All these bold changes came too late as the series’ dwindling sales had earmarked it for cancellation.

Inked by Bruce D. Patterson, ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ resolves a long-running plot thread involving the disappearance of old friend Salia Petrie in a tale guest-starring the time-travelling Guardians of the Galaxy, just in time for the end of the road.

The series stopped there but two more stories were in various stages of preparation. They eventually saw print in 1992 (the Summer and Fall issues of oversized anthology publication Marvel Super-Heroes Magazine #10-11). Before them, though, comes a minor classic from Marvel Two-in-One #51.

Scripted by Peter B. Gillis, up-&-coming artist Frank Miller & Bob McLeod, ‘Full House… Dragons High!’ details how a weekly poker session at Avengers Mansion is interrupted by rogue US General Pollock, who again tries to conquer America with stolen technology. Happily, Benthe ThingGrimm and Nick Fury round up Ms. Marvel, Wonder Man and the Beast, who prove to be better combat comrades than poker opponents…

Complete with the cover of unreleased Ms. Marvel #24, Marvel Super-Heroes Magazine #10 presents originally untitled yarn ‘Sabretooth Stalks the Subway’: a ferocious fight against the feral mutant maniac by Claremont & Vosburg. It’s followed by ‘Cry, Vengeance!’ (Claremont, Simon Furman, Vosburg & Mike Gustovich) as Ms. Marvel, now a card-carrying Avenger, faces off against Mystique and her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

This tale incorporates an additional section explaining how Carol is later attacked by young mutant Rogue, permanently loses her powers and memory and is eventually reborn as the cosmic-powered adventurer Binary: which is all well and good but somewhat takes the punch out of the later tales in this collection…

Relegated to an ensemble role in the World’s Mightiest Heroes, Danvers’ life took a strange and disturbing turn in Avengers 197-199 (July to September 1980 and represented here by pertinent extracts from those issues). Written by David Michelinie with art from Infantino & Brett Breeding and George Pérez & Dan Green, the snippets follow a strange and terrifyingly rapid transformation as Carol finds herself impossibly pregnant and bringing an unknown baby to term in a matter of days…

The mystery is solved in ‘The Child is Father To…?’ (Avengers #200, October 1980 by plotters, Jim Shooter, Pérez & Bob Layton and scripter Michelinie, illustrated by Pérez & Green). The mystery baby is born and hyper-rapidly matures as time goes wild, with different eras overwriting the present. The unearthly boy begins building a machine to stabilise the chaos but the heroes misunderstand his motives.

“Marcus” claims to be the son of time-master Immortus, trying to escape eternal isolation in other-dimensional Limbo by implanting his essence in a mortal tough enough to survive the energy required for the transfer. Literally reborn on Earth, his attempts to complete the process are foiled by the World’s Most Confused Heroes and he is drawn back to his timeless realm. Carol, declaring her love for Marcus, unexpectedly goes with him…

Ms. Marvel only plays a peripheral role in ‘By Friends… Betrayed!’ (Avengers Annual #10 (1981, by Claremont, Michael Golden & Armando Gil), as powerless, amnesiac Carol is rescued from drowning by Spider-Woman, prior to Mystique launching an all-out attack on the Avengers whilst attempting to free her Brotherhood from custody. In the melee, Danvers’ mind and abilities were taken by power-leaching Rogue, seemingly ending her adventuring life, and in the aftermath, the Avengers learn the horrific truth of her relationship with Marcus and their part in his doom…

One final sentimental moment comes with Claremont, David Ross & Wiacek’s ‘Elegy’ (Marvel Fanfare #24, January 1986) as Carol – now stellar-energy warrior Binary – returns to Earth to catch up with old friends and learns of the tragic death of Captain Mar-Vell…

Extras in this stellar compendium include a full cover gallery, a Ross alternative cover; ‘The RE-Making of Ms. Marvel’promo article from F.O.O.M. #22, house ads for her 1978 makeover relaunch and original art.

Always entertaining, often groundbreaking and painfully patronising (occasionally at the same time), the early Ms. Marvel, against all odds, grew into the modern Marvel icon of affirmative womanhood we see today.

In both comics and on-screen, Carol Danvers is Marvel’s paramount female symbol. These adventures are a valuable grounding of the contemporary champion but also still stand on their own as intriguing examples of the inevitable fall of even the staunchest of male bastions – superhero sagas…
© 2019 MARVEL.

The Strange Case of Leonardo’s Bicycle – a Graphic Investigation


By John Stuart Clark AKA Brick (A BrickWorks Limited Edition Monograph)
No ISBN

Do you love a mystery? How about conspiracy theories? What about science, truth and common sense, all overwhelmed and overturned by venality, self-seeking scholarly self-aggrandizement and national pride? All that and more are on show in the witty, incisive and superbly engaging exposé of not just Fake News but actual Fake History from Nottingham-based investigative, political cartoonist and campaigning educator Brick.

The name might not be familiar but if you’re politically aware, socially active and can remember the real cost of Thatcherism, you will probably have seen John Stuart Clark’s excoriating artwork for decades-worth of trade unions, NGOs and pressure groups. You might also have seen his masterful graphic novel Depresso.

That’s still available online and digitally, whereas the subject of today’s lesson is not. A forensic deconstruction of the unethical nature of special interests (no matter how minor) and the sheer gullibility of humans in groups of more than one, The Strange Case of Leonardo’s Bicycle is a hefty paperback tome packed with detail, deliberations and deliciously confirmable data that you can – and should – only get direct from the publisher. Fret not: I’ll tell you how at the end…

Using humour as his scalpel, Brick peels back decades of nonsense generated by assorted factions with something to gain and corrects a bizarre blip in the history of knowledge which can be broken down thusly. Around 1820, minor German noble and inveterate inventor Karl Friedrich Christian Ludwig Freiherr Drais von Sauerbronn created the world’s first recognisable bicycle. In 1974, minor Italian historian Professor Augusto Marinoni discovered drawings by intellectual paragon Leonardo Da Vinci that “proved” the old master had perfected all the necessary mechanical principles – and provided a blueprint for the bicycle – 324 years previously. Cue global frenzy, intrigue in the highest levels of the Catholic Church, nationalist upsurges in Italy and a massively profitable boost in the ever-expanding Leonardo Industry…

Broken down into diligently researched, easily digested portions, the wide-ranging story unfolds after meeting our affable, scene-setting host on tour in the Vinci region for ‘The Introduction’. We observe the politically dangerous von Drais at the start of the 18th century as he unleashes ‘The Invention’ and, in 1974 Italy, ‘The Lecture’ by Marinoni that launched the miasma of misinformation…

Connecting dots far and wide, Brick explores the provenance of ‘The Notebooks’ Da Vinci’s bike was “found” in, as well as the parlous time of political unrest in 1960s Italy which led to ‘The Terror’ and a need for a patriotic distraction, before moving on to recount how ‘The Sceptics’ and ‘The Fakes’ thrown up by a prejudicial scan of history muddied the tracks even further…

Some cartoon time travel introduces us to ‘The Maestro’ in his heyday while ‘The Crazies’ he inspired and ‘The Industry’built around him in the 20th century show us how such preposterous notions can take on an unstoppable life of their own (can you say “Anti-Vaxxer”?) after which ‘The Godforsaken Years’ takes us back to 1815 and shows how geological catastrophe sparked the need for the German genius to devise a manpowered substitute for horses in the first place…

‘The Democrat’ Von Drais then gets his time in the sun before ‘The Reveal’ finally investigates who might actually have created Leonardo’s drawing – and why – before ‘The Epilogue’ engages outrage overload with a fresh revelation. Apparently 500 years before the birth of Christ, mythical Chinese artisan Lu Ban built a wooden velocipede. There are even photos…

Like all proper theses, this magnificent filleting of populist nonsense comes fully loaded with ‘The Appendix’: a weighty tract of annotations and acknowledgements adding even more punch to the arguments.

Sharp, smart and truly compelling, The Strange Case of Leonardo’s Bicycle is a rationalist triumph, comprehensively applying Occam’s Razor to the tyres of runaway fabulism and delivering a shockingly unforgettable joy ride along the way.
© John Stuart Clark (AKA Brick) 2019. All rights reserved.

Accepting cheques, BACS bank transfers or Paypal, the book is available from www.brickbats.co.uk/bookshop. You could also enquire about the Signed and Numbered limited edition, if you have a bike fanatic in your life you need to impress or mollify…

Chloe & Cartoon volume 1: When Chloe First Met Her Cat, Cartoon


By Greg Tessier & Amandine, translated by Joe Johnson (/Charmz/Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-5458-0430-8 (HB) 978-1-5458-0431-5 (TPB)

Let’s close cat week (not an actual thing… yet) with another superbly inclusive and entertaining European import, debuting under Papercutz’s new Charmz imprint aimed at a Pre and Early Teen female readership (let’s go with 9-13, but I don’t register on any of those metrics and still enjoyed it immensely).

Chloe & Cartoon is actually a prequel, set before Charmz’s splendid, school series Chloe which originally began in 2017 and 2018 as French series Mistinguette & Cartoon. When Chloe First Met Her Cat, Cartoon compile first two Euro-tomes Chat Arrive! and Deuxieme Chat Pitre into a bold and charming collation of consecutive vignettes detailing how the ever-so-tense Blin family take possession of a 3-month old kitten. Chloe is still in elementary school and her brother Arthur is just a toddler, it’s nearly Christmas and tetchy Mr. Blin is about to reluctantly capitulate to a sustained campaign by his wife and first-born to get a cat. He is NOT KEEN.

Knowing when to give in, he scopes out three likely candidates and make the rookie mistake of picking the chubby, lazy sleeping one, on the absurd assumption that it will cause the least mess and trouble…

Dad learns his lesson over the following months as the little tyke settles in with the exact opposite of the minimum of fuss and destruction. Nevertheless, Cartoon changes Chloe’s life and the family dynamic forever. Days pass in a flurry of little adventures as the girl learns responsibility, how to let go, and patience while dad becomes more and more of an ogre before admitting his own affection for the fuzzy brute….

These short strips are not only fun and supremely entertaining but also subtly reinforce ideas of proper pet care and are augmented by ‘Tips from Chloe’: illustrated text features ‘Welcoming a Kitten to Your Home’ and behavioural hints in ‘Understanding a Kitten’.

Available in Hardback, Softcover and digital editions, When Chloe First Met Her Cat, Cartoon is the brainchild of author Greg Tessier, a relative newcomer who spent much of his career as a cultural and historical development specialist, overseeing public reading projects in France, and veteran illustrator Amandine. She’s been active in the business since 2006, with alternative projects as part of the Nekomix collective; mainstream illustration work for Disney, Hachette Presse, Playbac, Fleurus Presse; children’s series Valentin, and since 2011 Mistinguette.

As well as being a delightful comic for readers of all ages, Chloe & Cartoon is a wonderful argument for the proposition that every kid should grow up a with a pet. If that’s a quandary currently vexing you, consider this as definite tick in the “pro” column…
Mistinguette [CHLOE] & Cartoon volume 1 “Chat Arrive!” © Jungle! 2017 and Mistinguette [CHLOE] & Cartoon volume 1 “Deuxieme Chat Pitre” © Jungle! 2018. All rights reserved. User license. English translation and all other material © 2020 by Papercutz. All rights reserved.

Madame Cat


By Nancy Peña, translated by Mark Bence (Life Drawn/Humanoids)
ISBN: 978-1-59465- 813-6 (PB Album)

Churlish men have joked about women with cats for eternity. Here’s a superbly irrepressible cartoon collection BY a woman about her own cat. It’s hilarious, extremely addictive and among the top five strips about feline companions ever. Laugh that off, guys…

Toulouse-born Nancy Peña probably caught the comics bug off her father: a dedicated comics collector. She studied Applied Arts and became a teacher while carving out a sideline as a prolific creator of magazine strips and graphic novels such as her Medea series, Le Cabinet Chinois, Mamohtobo and many more.

Hectic as all that sounds, she still found time to invite a companion animal to share her life…

Madame is a cute little kitty who shares her house and converses with her. The bewhiskered treasure (Madame, right) has a vivid interior life – probably swiped from a number of deranged mad scientists and would-be world conquerors – and is the mischievous stuff of nightmares all those legally responsible for a pet know and dread. There is nothing the tiny tyke won’t attempt, from drinking artists ink to exorcising the artist’s long-suffering and utterly unwelcome boyfriend.

Madame knows what she is and what she wants and will baulk at nothing – not even the laws of physics – to achieve her aims…

The engaging bombshell bursts of manic mirth are rendered in engaging duotone (black and blue, but I’m sure that’s not symbolic of anything) with titles such as ‘Madame flirts’, ‘Madame suggests’, ‘Madame insists’, and ‘Madame smells’ as the wee beast moves in, makes allies of the other felines in the area and promptly takes charge: wrecking the life and house of her carer and only giving in return permission to be adored. Every cat person alive will identify with that…

Available in paperback and digital editions, Madame Cat is a sparking example of domestic comedy. Mixing recognisably real events with potent imagination and debilitating whimsy, Peña has introduced a classic cartoon character who is charming, appalling and laugh-out-loud funny. If you’ve been thinking of getting a cat, along with all the medical and pet-care books, get this too. You won’t be sorry. Well, not with the book, at least…
“Madame” © 2015-2016 La Boîte à Bulles & Nancy Peña. All rights reserved.

A Man & His Cat volume 1


By Umi Sakurai, translated by Taylor Engel (Square Enix Manga & Books)
ISBN: 978-64609-026-6 (PB)

The relationship between human and pet is endlessly fascinating. Animal lovers always want to know what other people’s non bill-paying companions get up to and they’re also always looking for points of similarity. How many times have we all heard “Yeah, my fuzzball also piddles on electrical points” or “no, Jolly Mister Creampants has never dug up a corpse… as far as I’m aware…”?

That shared compulsion has produced a lot of funny and so-so books and comics, but few have matched the astounding success of cartoonist Umi Sakurai (The Vampire Called God) with her strip Ojisama to Neko. It’s even more remarkable because the humour is gentle and almost all on the side of the rather ugly, pitifully self-deprecating moggy in his narrative asides. The rest of reading experience is more heartwarming than funny. This is a series about honest sentiment and the human rewards of animal companionship.

Ojisama to Neko began life as a self-published weekly webcomic on Twitter and Pixiv before being picked up for strip serialisation in print magazines Monthly Shōnen Gangan and Gangan Pixiv. To date the emotive vignettes have filled four tankōbon tomes and had well over 560 million views. It is astoundingly popular, garnering awards and recommendations wherever it appeared. Now its available in English and I’m beginning to see why…

This slim but well-stuffed volume sets the ball rolling in ‘A Man and a Cat’ as a humble, homely, slightly huge and rather old cat ponders his life in the pet shop. He’s been there an awfully long time, gathering dust but no admirers as younger, prettier cats and kittens come and quite rapidly go…

As his price tag is regularly lowered, he understands and accepts his fate, but everything changes the day a distinguished gentleman comes in and without hesitation picks the flabbergasted veteran. The answer comes in ‘All Alone’ when the gentleman is revealed as a recent widower. He had discussed with his wife getting a cat just before…

The short moments of bonding continue when the new family unit decide on ‘The Cat’s Name’ and stock up on “essential supplies” when ‘The Man Goes Shopping’. Rejoicing in the name Fukumaru, the cat plays that old “I’m hungry” tactic in ‘Super-Mewracle Crunchies’ and the freshness of the learning curve for both is proved when ‘I Have a Cat Now’ sees the Man try to bath The Cat…

Both man and beast are visited by unwelcome memories in ‘Good Night, Fukumaru’, but their co-dependent bond is clearly solidifying. When Fukumaru remembers those distant days of kittenhood in ‘Good Night, Mister’, it leads to an explosive triptych about litter boxes, discreetly dubbed ‘The Noble Feline in the Bathroom’ Parts 1, 2 and ‘Afterward’before ‘Kneady-Kneady Fukumaru’ shares his first human bed…

When ‘The Man Wakes Up’ they discover the wonder of taking cat photos, but when the adoring human leaves for work (he’s a silver fox music teacher, utterly oblivious to his affect upon the younger educators at school), his devoted and grateful new companion experiences abandonment issues in ‘Fukumaru Minds the House’ and responds just as you’d expect at day’s end in ‘Welcome Home’

‘Loyal Kitty Fukumaru’ settles in and they learn the joys of selfies, with only the odd moment of discord when a dog-loving pal asks about the “ugly cat” only to learn ‘My Pet is Number One’.

A household Rubicon is crossed in ‘Fukumaru and the Black Thing’ when a locked room is opened and a magnificent piano is revealed, whilst the trauma of carry cases and collars is confronted in ‘Safe, Worry-free Design’ before the household standing of the black thing vis a vis scratchable items is explored in ‘Attack from the Purriphery’.

‘The View Beyond the Invisible Wall’ is Fukumaru’s first taste of modern gardening, followed by a return outing for the dog-lover who has learned his lesson in ‘Your Precious Cat’, after which ‘I Promise You’ sees the Man – AKA Mr. Fuyuki Kanda – further impress the youthful school staff as ‘Hellos and Good-byes’ flashes back to that pet shop, revealing how lonely Miss Sato almost took the lonely straggler on the day Kanda walked in and proved love at first sight…

Peppered throughout one-page gag moments, this initial outing ends on a low-key yet warm note sharing further revelations about sad Kanda and wife before he chose to share his life ‘With Fukumaru’

Forthright, painfully honest and packing hidden tear-jerking episodes the way a fluffy kitten packs sheathed claws and razor-sharp teeth, A Man & His Cat is a compelling buddy story no pet-carer or comics aficionado should miss.
© 2018 Umi Sakurai/SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. English translation © 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD.