Are you wake?

If you’re like any other guy between 25 and the grave you might want to pay attention. Do not wait for February 13th. Start looking for a St. Valentine’s Day gift for your significant other(s?) now. As I’m going to be reviewing romance-themed graphic novels sporadically between now and then you might think of them as a kind of ticking clock reminder.

PAY EVEN MORE ATTENTION. A graphic novel on its own – no matter how good – is not suitable as a romantic gesture. For Pete’s Sake buy something else – and more thoughtful, too.

AEIOU or Any Easy intimacy


By Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1891830716 (PB)

If you’re a fan of Jeffrey Brown’s cartoon exploits you might understandably admit to a small degree of confusion. In 2012 he scored his first global best-seller with a hilarious spin on the soft and nurturing side of the Jedi experience in Darth Vader and Son, following up with equally charming and hilarious sequels Vader’s Little Princess, Star Wars: Jedi Academy and others. He followed that up by contributing to the franchise’s dramatic comics canon with Star Wars Jedi Academy; Star Wars Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan and Star Wars Jedi Academy: The Phantom Bully (2013-2015).

He has also directed music videos, created film posters, worked for public radio and co-written the feature film Save the Date.

Before that another Jeffrey Brown was the sharply sparkling wit who crafted slyly satirical all-ages funny stuff for The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, Marvel’s Strange Tales, Incredible Change-Bots and similar visual venues.

There is yet another Jeffrey Brown: instigator and frequent star and stooge of such quirkily irresistible autobiographical Indy comics classics as Sulk, Kids Are Weird, Bighead, Little Things, Funny, Misshapen Body, Undeleted Scenesand the four-volume “Girlfriend Trilogy” (of which this is the third), comprising Clumsy, Unlikely, AEIOU and Every Girl is the End of the World for Me

Whichever Brown’s your preferred choice, he’s a cartoonist of rare insight and unflinching integrity who still makes you laugh out loud when not prompting you to offer a big consoling hug…

Brown was raised in Michigan; relocating to Chicago in 2000 to attend the School of the Arts Institute and study painting. Before graduating he had switched to drawing comics and in 2002 Clumsy was released. A poignant and uncompromising dissection of a long-distance relationship, it quickly becoming a surprise hit with fans and critics alike.

In both paperback and digital formats AEIOU describes a succession of painful torments, frustrations and moments of unparalleled ill-considered anticipation as Brown cherry-picks graphic mementos from another doomed relationship. Still it’s times like that which make us all who we are today…

The material is both delicious and agonising in its forthright simplicity: a sequence of pictorial snippets and vignettes detailing how a meek, directionless, horny, inoffensively average film-fan graduate art-student cautiously navigates his first grown-up intimate relationship after finally losing his virginity: that state of confused and constant longing for the “one and only” we all go through and never successfully navigate…

As is always the case, his prospective partner comes with baggage that is at first beguiling and acceptable but which soon becomes an increasingly major sticking point. Of course, what Jeffrey learns about himself in the process is also exceedingly illuminating…

Everyone who’s had itches to scratch and gone for broke with head and heart befuddled by longing and loneliness has been through this, and for every torrid romance that makes it, there are a million that don’t. Those would be you, me and him…

Drawn in his deceptively effective Primitivist monochrome style with masterful staging, a sublime economy of phrase and a breathtaking gift for generating in equal amounts belly-laughs and those poignant lump-in-throat moments we’ve all experienced and regretted forever-after, this is another potent procession of crystallised moments which establish one awful truth. There might not ever be a “The One”…

Through dozens of individual episodes with titles like We Think You’d Have A Lot of Fun Together’, But Does She LIKE ME Like Me’, ‘The Long Pause Before a First Kiss’,Prettiness’,Grass is Greener’,Between Lovers’, ‘The Difference Between Us’, Anybody Can Draw’, Did You’, Broken’, and Nothing Says I Love You Like’ or ‘Lingering’ we follow an eventful half year and a few portentous aftershocks and the life story moments come with a revelatory suggested Soundtrack Side ‘A’ and Soundtrack Side ‘B’

Brimming with remarkable discovery, hopeful confirmation and the shattering angst us oldsters can barely remember now let alone understand, Any Easy Intimacy is a powerful delight for everybody who has confused raging hormones, intimate physical contact and impatient wistfulness with love, and a sublime examination of what makes us human, hopeful and perhaps wistfully incorrigible…
© 2005 Jeffrey Brown. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Green Arrow


By EdFrance” Herron, Jack Miller, Dave Wood, Robert Bernstein, Jerry Coleman, Bob Haney, Gardner Fox, John Broome, George Kashdan, Bill Finger, Jack Kirby, George Papp, Lee Elias, George Roussos, Mike Sekowsky, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)

ISBN: 978-1-4012-0785-4 (TPB)

DC Comics have, over their decades of existence, published an incalculable volume of absolutely wonderful comics tales in a variety of genres and addressing a wide variety of age ranges and tastes.

Sadly, unlike their rival Marvel, these days they seem content to let most of it languish beyond the reach of fans – both devout and vintage or fresh potential new adherents. As a new decade – possibly or last – unfolds I’ll be continuing my one-person campaign to remind them and inform you that – like The Truth – the Fiction is also Out There… even if only still available in older collections…

Green Arrow is one of DC’s Golden All-Stars: a fixture of the company’s landscape (in many instances for no discernible reason) more or less continually since his debut in 1941. He was originally created by Mort Weisinger and George Papp for More Fun Comics # 73 as an attempt to expand the company’s superhero portfolio, and in the early years proved quite successful. The bowman and boy partner Speedy were two of the few costumed heroes to survive the end of the Golden Age.

His blatantly opportunistic recombination of Batman and Robin Hood seemed to have very little going for itself but the Emerald Archer has somehow always managed to keep himself in vogue. He and sidekick Speedy were part of the 1940s Seven Soldiers of Victory, carried on adventuring in the back of other heroes’ comicbooks and joined the Justice League of America at the peak of their fame before evolving into the spokes-hero of the anti-establishment generation during the 1960’s “Relevancy Comics” trend, courtesy of Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams.

Under Mike Grell’s stewardship and thanks to breakthrough miniseries Green Arrow: the Longbow Hunters (DC’s second Prestige Format Limited Series after the groundbreaking success of Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns), the battling bowman at last became a headliner: an urban predator dealing with corporate thugs and serial killers rather than costumed goof-balls.

After his long career and a few venue changes, by the late1950s and Julie Schwartz’s revivification of the Superhero genre, the Emerald Archer was a solid second feature in both Adventure and World’s Finest Comics. As part of the wave of retcons, reworkings and spruce-ups the company administered to all their remaining costumed old soldiers, he enjoyed a fresh start beginning in the summer of 1958…

This splendidly eclectic collection of the peripatetic champion’s perennial second-string exploits gathers pertinent material from Adventure Comics #250-269, World’s Finest Comics #95-140, Justice League of America #4 and his guest-shots in Brave and the Bold #50, 71 and 85; covering the period July 1958 to September 1969.

Part of that revival happily coincided with the first return to National Comics of Jack Kirby after the collapse of Mainline: the comics company he and partner Joe Simon had created as part of the Crestwood/Prize publishing combine (which foundered when the industry was hit by the Comics Code censorship controversy and a sales downturn that hit many creators very, very hard)…

Delivered in stark and  stunning monochrome, the on-target tales start with ‘The Green Arrows of the World’ (by scripter Dave Wood and Jack, with wife Roz Kirby inking) wherein heroic masked archers from many nations attended a conference in Star City, unaware that a fugitive criminal is lurking within their midst, whilst that same month George Papp illustrated the anonymously scripted ‘Green Arrow vs Red Dart’ in World’s Finest Comics #95: a dashing tale of the Ace Archer’s potential criminal counterpart and his inevitable downfall.

Adventure #251 took a welcome turn to fantastic science fiction as Ed Herron & the Kirbys resolved ‘The Case of the Super-Arrows’ wherein GA and Speedy take possession of high-tech trick shafts from 3000AD, whilst WFC #96 (writer unknown) reveals ‘Five Clues to Danger’ – a classic kidnap mystery made even more impressive by Kirby’s lean, raw illustration.

A rare continued case spanned Adventure’s #252 and 253 as Wood, Jack & Roz expose ‘The Mystery of the Giant Arrows’, before the Amazing Archers temporarily become ‘Prisoners of Dimension Zero’ – a spectacular riot of giant aliens and incredible exotic otherworlds. Back to Earth, it’s followed in WF #97 with a grand old-school crime-caper in Herron’s ‘The Mystery of the Mechanical Octopus’.

Kirby was going from strength to strength and Adventure #254’s ‘The Green Arrow’s Last Stand’, written by Wood, is a particularly fine example as the Bold Bowmen crash into a hidden valley where Sioux braves thrive unchanged since the time of Custer, before the next issue sees them battle a battalion of Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender their island bunker in ‘The War That Never Ended’ (also scripted by Wood).

World’s Finest #98 almost ended the heroes’ careers in Herron’s ‘The Unmasked Archers’, wherein a practical joke causes the pair to expose themselves to public scrutiny and deadly danger…

In those heady days, origins weren’t as important as imaginative situations, storytelling and just plain getting on with it, so co-creators Weisinger & Papp never bothered to provide one, leaving later workmen Herron, Jack & Roz (in Kirby’s penultimate tale before devoting all his energies to his fabulous but doomed newspaper strip Sky Masters) to fill in the blanks with ‘The Green Arrow’s First Case’ just as the Silver Age superhero revival hit its stride in Adventure Comics#256 (January 1959).

Here we learned how wealthy wastrel Oliver Queen was cast away on a deserted island and learned to use a hand-made bow simply to survive. When a band of scurvy mutineers fetched up on his desolate shores Queen used his newfound skills to defeat them and returned to civilisation with a new career and secret purpose…

Adventure #257’s ‘The Arrows That Failed’ finds a criminal mastermind tampering with the archer’s equipment in a low-key but intriguing yarn by an unknown scripter, most memorable for being the first artistic outing for Golden Age great Lee Elias. He would become the character’s sole illustrator until its demise following Kirby’s spectacular swan-song in WF #99. ‘Crimes Under Glass’ was written by Robert Bernstein and found GA and Speedy battling cunning criminals with a canny clutch of optical armaments.

Adventure Comics #258 (March 1959) offered a rare cover appearance for the Emerald Archer since he guest-starred in lead feature ‘Superboy Meets the Young Green Arrow’ (by Jerry Coleman & Papp), after which inspiring boyhood on-the-job training the mature bowman then schooled a lost patrol of soldiers in toxophily (that’s posh talk for archery, folks), desert survival and crime-busting in ‘The Arrow Platoon’: another anonymously scripted yarn limned by Elias.

The same month in WF #100 the Emerald Avenger faced light-hearted lampoonery and sinister larcenists in ‘The Case of the Green Error Clown’ by Herron and the now-firmly entrenched Elias, whilst Adventure #259 showed that ‘The Green Arrow’s Mystery Pupil’ had ulterior and sinister motives for his studies whilst #260 revealed ‘Green Arrow’s New Partner’ to be only a passing worry for Speedy in a clever drama by Bernstein.

World’s Finest #101 introduced a crook who bought or stole outlandish ideas for malevolent purposes in ‘The Battle of the Useless Inventions’ (Herron), whereas Adventure #261 and the uncredited fable ‘The Curse of the Wizard’s Arrow!’employs bad luck and spurious sorcery to test the Archers’ ingenuity.

WF #102 provided Herron’s snazzy crime-caper ‘The Case of the Camouflage King!’ whilst in Adventure #262 ‘The World’s Worst Archer!’ (Bernstein) finally gives Boy Bowman Speedy an origin of his own; detailing just how close part-Native American boy Roy Harper came to not being adopted by Oliver Queen. Next month #263 boasted ‘Have Arrow – Will Travel’ (Bernstein) showing the independent lad selling his skills to buy a boat… a solid lesson in enterprise, thrift and good parenting, if not reference-checking….

World’s Finest #103 offered Bob Haney mystery-thriller ‘Challenge of the Phantom Bandit’ after which an anonymous scripter finally bows to the obvious and dispatches the Emerald Archer to feudal Sherwood Forest in ‘The Green Arrow Robin Hood’ (Adventure #264, September 1959) before WF #104 sees GA undercover on a modern Native American Reservation in Herron & Elias’ ‘Alias Chief Magic Bow’.

‘The Amateur Arrows!’ (by Bernstein from Adventure #265) has the Battling Bowmen act as Summer Camp tutors on a perilously perfidious Dude Ranch for kids, #266 again sees their trick-shot kit malfunction in a clever conundrum with a surprise mystery guest-star in Bernstein’s ‘The Case of the Vanished Arrows!’ and WF #105 introduces deceptively deadly toy-making terror ‘The Mighty Mr. Miniature’ (Herron).

In Adventure Comics #267 the editors tried another novel experiment in closer continuity. At this time the title starred Superboy with two back-up features following. The first of these starred equally perennial B-list survivor Aquaman who in ‘The Manhunt on Land’ (not included) discovers villainous Shark Norton has traded territories with Green Arrow’s foe The Wizard. In a rare crossover, both parts of which were written by Bernstein, the heroes worked the same case with Aquaman fighting on dry land whilst the Emerald Archer pursued his enemy beneath the waves in his impressively innovative strip ‘The Underwater Archers’

‘The Crimes of the Pneumatic Man’ (Herron, WF #106) debuts a rather daft balloon-based bandit, whilst Adventure#268 covers another time-trip in ‘The Green Arrow in King Arthur’s Court!’ by Bernstein. He also scripted February 1960’s #269 wherein ‘The Comic Book Archer!’ sees the pair aid a cartoonist in need of inspiration and salvation.

That was the hero’s last appearance in Adventure. From then on the Amazing Archers’ only home was World’s Finest Comics, beginning a lengthy and enthralling run from Herron & Elias spanning #107-112 and  systematically defeating ‘The Menace of the Mole Men’ – who weren’t what they seemed – and ‘The Creature from the Crater’ – which also wasn’t – before becoming ‘Prisoners of the Giant Bubble’: a clever crime caper loaded with action.

WF #110 introduced photonic pillage ‘The Sinister Spectrum Man’ with a far more memorable menace challenging the heroes in ‘The Crimes of the Clock King’ before a lucky felon stumbles upon their hidden lair and becomes ‘The Spy in the Arrow-Cave’: a tale which starts weakly but ends on a powerfully poignant high note…

In WF #113 the painfully parochial and patronising tone of the times seeped into the saga of ‘The Amazing Miss Arrowette’ (scripted by Wood) as a hopeful, ambitious Ladies’ Archery competitor tries her very best to become Green Arrow’s main helpmeet. Moreover, in a series famed for absurd gimmick shafts, nothing ever came close to surpassing the Hair-Pin, Needle-and-Thread, Powder-Puff or Lotion Arrows in Bonnie King’s fetching and stylish little quiver…

The times were changing in other aspects however, and fantasy elements were again popular at the end of 1960, as evidenced by Herron’s teaser in WF #114. ‘Green Arrow’s Alien Ally’ neatly segued into ‘The Mighty Arrow Army’ as the Ace Archers battle a South American dictator and then encounter a sharp-shooting circus chimp in #116’s ‘The Ape Archer’.

A big jump to the majors occurred in Justice League of America #4 (April 1961) when Green Arrow is invited to join the world’s Greatest Super-Heroes just in time to save them all – and the Earth for good measure in Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs’ epic sci fi extravaganza ‘Doom of the Star Diamond’.

The Emerald Bowman returned to quirkiness and mere crime-crushing in WF #117’s‘The Cartoon Archer’ (Wood & Elias) wherein a kidnapped cartoonist uses caricature as a deadly weapon and desperate plea for help…

World’s Finest #118 featured ‘The Return of Miss Arrowette’ (Wood): far less cringeworthy than her debut but still managing to make the Bow Babe both competent and imbecilic at the same time, before Herron penned ‘The Man with the Magic Bow’ in #119, with an actual sorcerous antique falling into the greedy hands of a career criminal, after which Oliver Queen and Roy Harper become victims of ‘The Deadly Trophy Hunt’ in #120 and need a little Arrow action to save the day and their secret identities.

Master scribe John Broome provides a tautly impressive tale of despair and redemption in #121 with ‘The Cop Who Lost his Nerve’ and WF #122 sees ‘The Booby-Trap Bandits’ (Haney) almost destroy our heroes in a tense suspense thriller, whilst Wood wrote one of his very best GA yarns in #123’s ‘The Man Who Foretold Disaster’.

Herron rose to the challenge in WF #124-125 with a brace of bold and grittily terse mini-epics beginning with breathtaking gang-busting yarn ‘The Case of the Crime Specialists’; following up with tense human drama ‘The Man Who Defied Death’ as a doting dad puts his life on the line to pay his son’s medical bills…

‘Dupe of the Decoy Bandits’ by Wood in #126 is another sharp game of cops-&-robbers and George Kashdan reveals the heart-warming identity of ‘Green Arrow’s Secret Partner’ in #127 after which Wood successfully tries his hand at human-scaled melodrama with a retiring cop proving himself ‘The Too-Old Hero’ in #128.

Oddly – perhaps typically – just as the quality of Green Arrow’s adventures steadily improved, his days as a solo star were finally ending. Herron scripted all but one of the remaining year’s World’s Finest exploits, beginning with #129’s robotic renegade ‘The Iron Archer’, after which an author unknown contributed ‘The Human Sharks’ as the heroes returned to battling crime beneath the seas.

A despondent boy is boosted out of a dire depression by joining his idols in #131’s ‘A Cure for Billy Jones’ whilst ‘The Green Arrow Dummy’ is an identity-saver and unexpected crook catcher in its own right.

Subterranean thugs accidentally invade and become ‘The Thing in the Arrowcave’ in #133, before ‘The Mystery of the Missing Inventors’ sees a final appearance and decent treatment of Arrowette, but the writing was on the wall. Green Arrow became an alternating feature and didn’t work again until WF #136 and the exotic mystery of ‘The Magician Boss of the Incas’ (September 1963).

A month later Brave and the Bold #50 saw the Ace Archer team-up in a book-length romp with the Martian Manhunter. ‘Wanted – the Capsule Master!’ pits the newly-minted Green Team in a furious foray against marauding extraterrestrial menace Vulkor; a fast-paced thriller by Haney & George Roussos followed by WF #138’s ‘The Secret Face of Funny-Arrow!’ wherein a formerly positive and good natured spoof-performer takes a sudden turn into darker and nastier “jokes” whilst World’s Finest #140 (March 1964) aptly presents ‘The Land of No Return’ by Bill Finger, with the Battling Bowmen falling into a time-locked limbo where heroes from history perpetually strive against deadly beasts and monsters…

The decades-long careers ended there and they became nothing more than bit-players in JLA and Teen Titans exploits until Brave and the Bold #71 (April-May 1967, by Haney and drawn by his Golden Age co-creator George Papp), wherein Green Arrow helps Batman survive ‘The Wrath of the Thunderbird!’: crushing a criminal entrepreneur determined to take over the wealth and resources of the Kijowa Indian Nation.

This volume ends with the first cathartic and thoroughly modern re-imagining of the character, paving the way for the rebellious, riotous, passionately socially-aware avenger of modern times.

Brave and the Bold #85 is arguably the best of an incredible run of team-ups in that title’s prestigious history and certainly the best yarn in this collection. ‘The Senator’s Been Shot!’ reunites Batman and Green Arrow in a superb multi-layered thriller of politics, corruption and cast-iron integrity, wherein Bruce Wayne becomes a stand-in for a law-maker and the Emerald Archer gets a radical make-over, making him a fiery liberal gadfly champion of the relevancy generation – and every one since.

Ranging from calamitously repetitive and formulaic – but in a very good and entertaining way – to moments of sublime wonder and excitement, this is genuine mixed bag of Fights ‘n’ Tights swashbuckling with something for everyone and certainly bound to annoy as much as delight. All ages superhero action that’s unmissable. Even if you won’t love it all you’ll hate yourself for missing this spot-on selection.
© 1958-1964, 1967, 1969, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Animal Land volume 1


By Makoto Raiku, translated and adapted by Stephen Paul (Kondansha Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-68233-202-3 (PB)

Born in Gifu on August 1974, Makoto Raiku started his manga career as an assistant to Kazuhiro Fujita before creating his own award-winning strips such as Bird Man, Newtown Heroes, Genmai Blade, and the enormously popular Konjiki no Gash!! (which hit American TV screens as Zatch Bell!!). All these were for Shogakukan’s Shōnen Sunday Super and Weekly Shōnen Sunday.

Following a legal dispute in 2008, the artist moved to rival publisher Kodansha and devised Dōbutsu no Kuni (Animal Country) which began in the October 2009 issues of Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. The series ran until February 2014, garnering the Best Children’s Manga Award and filling 14 tankōbon volumes from March 2010 onwards.

The all-ages fable follows the incredible life of a seemingly-human baby abandoned and cast adrift on a river only to wash up in the land of animals: a dog-eat-dog, literally bestial world of raw savagery where the weak always die and only the strong are able to survive.

‘Word 1: Hello, Baby’ opens proceedings with little Monoko, an orphan Tanuki (a tiny raccoon dog indigenous to Japan). Since her parents were eaten by wildcats, she’s been unable to pull her weight in the hard-pressed Tanuki community. The others spend all their time and energy rushing to store enough food for the rapidly approaching winter. It doesn’t look like Monoko’s going to make it…

Her world and existence change forever when she adopts the strange hairless monkey cub which washes up on the river bank one cold day. This is a very strange baby and Monoko insanely decides to become its new mother against all the advice of the village.

In Animal Land all creatures are at odds and cannot understand other species’ cries, but Monoko decides to risk everything – including being eaten by cats such as the fearsome Kurokagi – to steal some milk for the foundling to drink.

Despite the horrifying but successful mission the baby is cold and dying: it has no will to live and the Tanuki elders brusquely tell her to stop wasting everybody’s time and resources. Instead, desperate Monoko cuddles it with her body, sharing her warmth in a futile, lonely struggle to keep it alive one more night. When she awakes, the Tanuki discovers something miraculous and staggeringly game-changing…

The initial episode end with another huge shock: the alien infant can speak her language…

The mystery increases in second instalment ‘Word 2: Baby’s Power’ when the waif reveals that he can converse and understand the speech of all animals – even ultimate predator Kurokagi.

That useful trait leads to the discovery of the dire marauder’s tragic secret and further reshapes the nature and destiny of the savage domain, whilst third and final (for now) chapter ‘Word 3: Baby Cries Over His Name’ sees Monoko’s first maternal crisis as she finds a keepsake from the baby’s biological mother and fears her joyous new world is crumbling around her… until once more the wonder baby comes to her emotional and physical rescue…

Despite what the publishers would have you believe this isn’t just another cute kiddie-book. For starters it’s filled with scatological asides and the audience advisory is 13 and older. Moreover, despite being filled with action, adventure and slapstick/social gaffe humour in the grand manga manner, this tale is filled with scary moments, brutal situations and situations of heartbreaking poignancy. It also has a lot to say about family, community, integration, unity and understanding through plain-talking and communication.

Included in this initial monochrome volume are translator’s notes, a guide to Japanese honorifics, Omake pages (“extra” or “bonus”) of short cartoon strips and a longer piece wherein Makuto Raiku lets us in on the background of and inspiration for the strip: sharing the bittersweet story of his and wife’s best friend Riku – an abandoned, wounded puppy…

More Animal Farm than The Gruffalo or the Tiger Who Came to Tea, this is an enthralling and impressive slice of social fantasy for kids, and would make a great gift for older children getting too big for traditional kids’ stuff.

This monochrome paperback and digital volume is printed in the traditional front-to-back, right-to-left reading manner.
© 2010 Makoto Raiku. English translation © 2011 Makoto Raiku. All rights reserved.

Green Lantern: A Celebration of 75 Years


By Martin Nodell, Bill Finger, Alfred Bester, Robert Kanigher, John Broome, Gardner Fox, Dennis O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Ron Marz, Judd Winick, Geoff Johns, Paul Reinman, Alex Toth, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Mike Grell, Joe Staton, Kevin Maguire, Darryl Banks, Randy Green, Ethan Van Sciver, Darwyn Cooke, Doug Mahnke & various (DC Comics
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5819-1 (HB)

Now a cornerstone of the DC Universe the many heroes called Green Lantern have waxed and waned over the decades and now feels much more Concept than Character.

This stunning compilation – part of a dedicated series introducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of veteran DC icons and concepts – is available in hardback and digital formats and offers an all-too-brief but astoundingly enticing sequence of snapshots detailing how assorted Emerald Gladiators have battled evil and injustice whilst entertaining millions and generations.

Collecting material from All-American Comics #16, Comic Cavalcade #6, Green Lantern volume 1 #30, Showcase #22, Green Lantern volume 2 #7, 11, 16, 40, 59, 76, 87, 188, The Flash #237-238, 240, Justice League #1, Green Lantern volume 3 #50, 51, Green Lantern /Green Lantern #1, Green Lantern: Rebirth #1, Green Lantern Secret Files and Origins 2005, #1 and Green Lantern #0 (cumulatively covering July 1940 to November 2012), the groundbreaking appearances selected are all preceded by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in his/their development, beginning with Part I: The Green Flame Ignites 1940-1950

The first Emerald Avenger debuted in the 16th issue (July 1940) of the company’s flagship title All-American Comics, just as superheroes started to take hold, supplanting newspaper strip reprints and stock genre characters in the still primarily-anthologised comicbooks.

Crafted by Bill Finger & Martin Nodell ‘Introducing Green Lantern’ reveals how ambitious young engineer Alan Scottonly survives the sabotage and destruction of a passenger-packed train due to the intervention of a battered old railway lantern. Bathed in its eerie emerald light, he is regaled by a mysterious green voice with the legend of how a meteor fell in ancient China and spoke to the people: predicting Death, Life and Power.

The star-stone’s viridian glow brought doom to the savant who reshaped it into a lamp, sanity to a madman centuries later and now promises incredible might to bring justice to the innocent and afflicted…

Instructing Scott to fashion a ring from its metal and draw a charge of power from the lantern every 24 hours, the ancient artefact urges the engineer to use his formidable willpower to end all evil: a mission Scott eagerly takes up by promptly crushing corrupt industrialist Dekker who callously caused wholesale death just to secure a lucrative rail contract.

The ring renders Scott immune to all minerals and metals, enabling him to fly and pass through solid objects but, as he battles Dekker’s thugs, the grim avenger painfully discovers that living – perhaps organic – materials such as wood or rubber can penetrate his jade defences and cause mortal harm…

The saboteurs punished, Scott resolves to carry on the fight and devises a “bizarre costume” to disguise his identity and strike fear and awe into wrongdoers…

The arcane avenger gained his own solo-starring title little more than a year after his premiere and also appeared in anthologies such as Comics Cavalcade, All Star Comics and others for just over a decade. From those hectic heydays (and specifically Comic Cavalcade #6, Spring 1944) ‘They Are Invincible’ sees the hero and his comedy sidekick Doiby Dickles tracking thieves in fog and slip into a metaphorical quandary as their writer Alfred Bester (but not & illustrator Paul Reinman) becomes a reality-warping part of the adventure…

Like most first-generation superheroes, the masked marvel faded away in the early1950s, having first suffered the humiliating fate of being edged out of his own strip and comicbook by his pet Streak the Wonder Dog

Green Lantern volume 1 #30, cover-dated February/March 1948 cover-featured ‘The Saga of Streak’ by Robert Kanigher & Alex Toth as a noble, valiant canine (some very important people call them “Daw-uhgs”) tracks his missing owner/companion to the big city only to be gunned down by criminals. Saved by Green Lantern, they jointly rescue US intelligence agent Captain Sara Dale from deranged Dr. Malgoro and the grateful spy asks him to look after Streak until she returns from her next assignment. Within two issues the mutt was the lead feature, proving beyond doubt that the readers were losing interest in masked mystery men… at least for the moment…

A potted history of that interregnum follows in Part II: The Emerald Crusader 1959-1969 before a flash of green light heralded a bold new venture. After their hugely successful revival and reworking of The Flash, DC (or National Comics as they were) were keen to build on the resurgent superhero trend. Showcase #22 hit the stands at the same time as the fourth issue of the new Flash comicbook – #108 – and once again the guiding lights were Editor Julie Schwartz and writer John Broome. Assigned as illustrator was action ace Gil Kane, generally inked by Joe Giella, and the issue reveals how a Space Age reconfiguration of the Golden-Age superhero with a magic ring replaced mysticism with super-science.

Hal Jordan is a young test pilot in California when an alien policeman crashes his spaceship on Earth. Mortally wounded, Abin Sur commands his ring – a device which can materialise thoughts – to seek out a replacement officer, honest and without fear.

Scanning the planet, it selects Jordan and brings him to the crash-site. The dying alien bequeaths his ring, lantern-shaped Battery of Power and his professional vocation to the astonished Earthman.

In six pages ‘S.O.S Green Lantern’ establishes characters, scenario and narrative thrust of a series that would increasingly become the spine of DC continuity, leaving room for another two adventures in that premiere issue. Unlike the debut of The Flash, the editors were now confident of their ground. The next two issues of Showcase carried the new hero into even greater exploits, and six months later Green Lantern #1 was released.

In this new iteration Emerald gladiators are a universal police force (Jordan’s “beat” is Space Sector 2814), and having shown us other GLs, Broome surpassed himself with ‘The Day 100,000 People Vanished!’ (Green Lantern #7, August 1961) bringing the Guardians of the Universe into the open to warn of their greatest error: a renegade Green Lantern named Sinestro who, in league with evil Qwardians from an antimatter universe, had become a threat to our entire reality. This tense shocker introduced one of the most charismatic and intriguing villains in the DCU

Readers were constantly clamouring for more on the alien Corps Jordan had joined and ‘The Strange Trial of Green Lantern’ (#11, March 1962) introduces another half-dozen or so simply to court-martial Hal for dereliction of duty in a saga of cataclysmic proportions, after which issue #16 of Green Lantern volume 2 (October 1962) takes Jordan’s romantic triangle with his boss Carol Ferris and his own masked alter ego to a new level as ‘The Secret Life of Star Sapphire!’ introduces the star-roving alien women of Zamaron.

Readers of contemporary comics will be aware of their awesome heritage but for the sake of this review and new readers let’s keep that to ourselves. These questing females select Carol as their new queen and give her a gem as versatile and formidable as a power ring, and a brainwash make-over too.

Programmed to destroy the man she loves, Star Sapphire would become another recurring foe, but one with a telling advantage.

As the DCU expanded, the past glories of its Golden Age were cunningly incorporated into the tapestry as another dimensional plane was discovered: a parallel universe where older superheroes existed. Alan Scott and his mystery-men comrades still thrived on the controversially named Earth-2.

Although getting in late to the Counterpart Collaborations game, the inevitable first teaming of Hal Jordan and Alan Scott as Green Lanterns is one of the best and arguably second-most important story of the entire era. ‘Secret Origin of the Guardians!’ by John Broome, Gil Kane & Sid Greene (Green Lantern #40, October 1965) introduces the renegade Guardian Krona, reveals the origin of the multiverse, shows how evil entered our universe and describes how and why the immortal Oans took up their self-appointed task of policing the cosmos. It also shows Gil Kane’s paramount ability to stage a superhero fight like no other. This pure comicbook perfection should be considered a prologue to the landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths

In Green Lantern volume 2 #59 (March 1968) Broome introduced ‘Earth’s Other Green Lantern!’ in a rip-roaring cosmic epic of what-might-have-been. When dying GL Abin Sur had ordered his ring to select a worthy successor Hal Jordan hadn’t been the only candidate, but the closest of two. What if the ring had chosen his alternative Guy Gardnerinstead…?

Following that portentous tragedy-in-the-making, changing times and tastes saw a radical diversion in the hero’s fortunes, as described in the essay and tales comprising Part III: In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night 1970-1985

In 1969, after nearly a decade of earthly crime-busting, interstellar intrigue and spectacular science fiction shenanigans, the Silver Age Green Lantern was swiftly becoming one of the earliest big-name casualties of the downturn in superhero sales. Editor Julie Schwartz knew something extraordinary was needed to save the series and the result was a bold experiment that created a fad for socially relevant, ecologically aware, more mature stories which spread throughout costumed hero comics that totally revolutionised the industry and nigh-radicalised the readers.

Tapping relatively youthful superstars-in-waiting Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams to produce the revolutionary fare, Schwartz watched in fascinated disbelief as 13 groundbreaking tales captured and encapsulated the tone of the times, garnering critical praise and awards within the industry and desperately valuable publicity from the real world outside. Sadly, the stories simultaneously registered such poor sales that the series was finally cancelled anyway, with the heroes unceremoniously packed off to the back of marginally less endangered comic title The Flash.

When these stories first appeared, DC was a company in transition – just like America itself – with new ideas (which, in comic-book terms meant “young writers and artists”) being given much leeway: a veritable wave of fresh, raw talent akin to the very start of the industry, when excitable young creators ran wild with imagination. Their cause wasn’t hurt by the industry’s swingeing commercial decline: costs were up and the kids just weren’t buying funnybooks in the quantities they used to…

O’ Neil, in tight collaboration with hyper-realistic artist Adams, assaulted all the traditional monoliths of contemporary costumed dramas with tightly targeted, protest-driven stories. The comicbook was re-titled Green Lantern/Green Arrowwith the Emerald Archer constantly mouthing off as a hot-headed, liberal sounding-board and platform for a generation-in-crisis, whilst staid, conservative, quasi-reactionary Hal Jordan played the part of the oblivious but well-meaning old guard.

America was a bubbling cauldron of social turmoil and experimentation. Everything was challenged and with issue #76 (April 1970 and the first issue of the new decade), O’Neil and comics iconoclast Adams utterly redefined superhero strips with their relevancy-driven stories; transforming complacent establishment masked boy-scouts into uncertain, questioning champions and strident explorers of the revolution.

‘No Evil Shall Escape My Sight!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) broke the mould of the medium, utterly re-positioning the very concept of the costumed crusader as newly-minted ardent liberal Emerald Archer Oliver Queen challenges GL’s cosy worldview when the lofty space-cop painfully discovers real villains wear business suits, operate expense accounts, hurt people just because of skin colour and can happily poison their own nests for short-term gain…

Of course, that the story is a magnificently illustrated brilliant crime-thriller with science-fiction overtones doesn’t hurt either…

O’ Neil became sole scripter with this story and, in tight collaboration with ultra-realistic art-genius Adams, instantly overturned contemporary costumed dramas with their societally-targeted protest-stories. Two years later, the creators shattered another shibboleth with ‘Beware My Power’ (Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87, December 1971/January 1972) O’Neil, Adams & Giordano, histrionically introducing a new player to the DCU. John Stewart is an unemployed architect and full-time radical activist. He is the archetypal angry black man always spoiling for a fight and prepared to take guff from no-one.

Jordan is convinced the Guardians had grievously erred when selecting impatient, impetuous Stewart as Sector 2814’s official Green Lantern stand-in, but after seeing how his proposed pinch-hitter handles a white supremacist US presidential candidate trying to foment a race war, the Emerald Gladiator is happy to change his tune…

Although the heroes provided temporary solutions and put away viciously human criminals, these tales were remarkably blunt in exposing bigger ills and issues that couldn’t be fixed with a wave of a Green Ring; invoking an aura of helplessness that was metaphorically emphasised when Hal was summarily stripped of much of his power for no longer being the willing, unquestioning stooge of his officious, high-and-mighty alien masters…

For all the critical acclaim and innovative work done, sales of Green Lantern/Green Arrow were in a critical nosedive and nothing seemed able to stop the rot. Although the groundbreaking series folded, the heroics resumed a few months later in the back of The Flash #217 (August-September 1972), beginning a run of short episodes which eventually led to Green Lantern regaining his own solo series. O’Neil, remained as chief writer but soon Adams & Giordano moved on…

With Flash #237-238 and 240-243 new art sensation Mike Grell came aboard for a 6-part saga that precipitated Green Lantern back into his own title. Beginning with ‘Let There Be Darkness!’ (inked by Bill Draut) the watchword was “cosmic” as the extra-galactic Ravagers of Olys undertook a sextet of destructive, unholy tasks in Sector 2814. Represented here by the first, second and third chapters, the schemes begin by occluding the sun over planet Zerbon to eradicate the photosynthetic inhabitants. Next our hero picks up a semi-sentient starfish sidekick in ‘The Day of the Falling Sky!’(Blaisdell inks) whilst preventing the artificial world of Vivarium from collapsing in upon itself after which ‘The Floods Will Come!’ brings the Olys to planet Archos, where they attempt to submerge all the landmasses and drown the stone-age dwellers thriving there…

The buzz of the O’Neil/Grell epic assured Green Lantern of his own series once more, and with science fiction a popular mass genre in mainstream media, the Emerald Crusader soldiered on for nearly a decade before the next big change…

As that time progressed, John Stewart popped up occasionally even as the Guardians’ motives and ineffability increasingly came into question by many of their once-devoted operatives and peacekeepers. All too frequently, the grunts began seeing their formerly infallible little blue gods exposed as venal, ruthless, doctrinaire and even capricious…

As his reputation grew, headstrong Hal suffered an extremely tempestuous relationship with his bosses which eventually resulted in them accusing him of neglecting his space sector to concentrate on Earth’s problems and criminals. When he can no longer reconcile his love for Carol Ferris and duty to the Corps, Jordan quits and the Guardians offer Stewart the position…

‘Decent Exposure’ (Green Lantern volume 2 #188, May 1985) heralds a changing of the guard as writer Steve Englehart and illustrators Joe Staton & Bruce Patterson sign on, with TV reporter Tawny Young outing Stewart on national TV, and he – after some early anger and frustration – decides “so what?” whilst dealing with genuine problems such as psychotic madman the Predator on the prowl and Modoran ultra-nationalist Sonar intent on to destroying the new Green Lantern to prove the superiority of his postage-stamp principality Modora…

Part IV: Twilight of a Hero 1986-2003

In the mid-1980s, DC’s editorial hierarchy felt their then-vast 50-year continuity was stopping them winning new readers. The solution was a colossal braided-mega series to streamline, redefine and even add new characters to the mix.

The worlds-shattering, reality-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths resulted in such spectacular commercial success, those movers-&shakers must have felt more than justified in revamping a number of their hoariest icons for their next fifty years of publishing. As well as Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman, the moribund and unhappy Justice League of America was earmarked for a radical revision.

Editor Andy Helfer assembled plotter Keith Giffen, scripter J.M. DeMatteis and untried penciller Kevin Maguire to produce an utterly new approach to the superhero monolith: playing them for laughs…

The series launched as Justice League with a May 1987 cover-date before retitling itself as Justice League International with #7 (November). The new super-team was formed from the ashes of the old on the basis of events comprising follow-up DC crossover-event Legends. The gathering comprised a roster of relative second-stringers as America’s newest champions – Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel, Dr. Fate, and Mr. Miracle with heavyweights Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz as nominal straight-men. Added to the mix was the marmite-tinted Guy Gardner Green Lantern: a “hero” who readers loved or hated in equal amounts since his revival in the dying days of The Crisis.

As the frequently-silly saga unfolds the squad is introduced to charismatic, filthy-rich manipulator Maxwell Lord – who uses wealth and influence to recreate the initial super-team in a dangerous stunt that starts their march to glory by defeating a bunch of rather inept terrorist bombers in initial outingBorn Again’ (Justice League #1 1987, by Giffen, DeMatteis, Maguire & Terry Austin)

Ultimately, Jordan regained his ring and became an elder-statesmen of superheroes but his elevated status – and sanity – was shattered after his hometown Coast City was destroyed by alien overlord Mongul.

In an apocalyptic triptych of tales culminating in ‘Emerald Twilight Part Three: The Future’ (Green Lantern volume 3 #50, March 1994) Ron Marz, Darryl Banks & Romeo Tanghal detail how his war against the Guardians who failed him results in Jordan becoming cosmic-level menace Parallax and destroying the entire Green Lantern Corps.

One month later ‘Changing the Guard’ (Green Lantern volume 3 #51 April 1994) saw the introduction of young Kyle Rayner as the universe’s last and only Emerald Crusader, fighting a one-man war against intergalactic evil…

Revived and refreshed, the franchise expanded again as Rayner rebuilt the Corps with new candidates and rescued old favourites. From Green Lantern and Green Lantern #1 (October 2000 by Judd Winnick, Randy Green & Wayne Faucher and part of the ‘Circle of Fire’ event), ‘Against the Dying of the Light’ sees Rayner and new recruit Alexandra DeWitt hunting down apocalyptic terror Oblivion: a task made harder and more distracting as his new ally is the extradimensional doppelganger of his murdered girlfriend…

After descending into madness and evil, Hal Jordan/Parallax sacrificed his life to save Earth and was divinely rewarded, rebuked and chastised by being linked to ghostly force The Spectre. After serving his penance he was revived for a new generation.

Part IV: Rebirths 2004-Present opens as ‘Blackest Night’ (Green Lantern: Rebirth #1, December 2004, by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Sciver) sees Jordan alive again, no longer merged with the Spectre, and determined to destroy the immortal entity that was responsible for turning him evil and ultimately for his death in the first place. First though, he must convince his old friends in the Justice League and GLC that he’s not still evil…

Next up is a delightful peek into Jordan’s childhood courtesy of Johns & Darwyn Cooke from Green Lantern Secret Files and Origins 2005 #1: an evocative rite-of-passage yarn as Jordan shares with neophyte Kyle Rayner the true meaning of ‘Flight’

Since the 1970s, the Green Lantern concept has been about challenging heroic stereotypes. The Guardians’ stipulations that their agents be honest and without fear has provided plenty of scope to explore prejudice and preconception amongst the readership, and none more so than in the aliens’ selection of latest earthly recruit Muslim Simon Baz as part of the company-wide New 52! reboot of 2011.

‘The New Normal’ (Green Lantern #0, November 2012 by Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne & Mark Irwin) details the consequences – personal and global – of the dispassionate Power Ring choosing as its wearer a man deemed by his peers to be a thief and potential anti-American terrorist…

Adding immeasurably to the wonder is a superb collection of covers by Sheldon Moldoff, Reinman, Alex Toth, Gil Kane, Murphy Anderson, Neal Adams, Staton & Patterson, Maguire & Austin, Banks & Tanghal, Rodolfo Damaggio & Kevin Nowlan, Ethan Van Sciver, Carlos Pacheco & Jesús Merino and Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy.

Green Lantern has a long, proud history of shaking things up and providing dynamic provocative, drama delivered with quality artwork. This compelling assortment of snapshots is staggeringly entertaining and a monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a strong core concept matured over decades of innovation.
© 1940, 1944, 1948, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1976, 1985, 1987, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2012, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The X-Men and the Avengers: Gamma Quest – a Marvel Omnibus


By Greg Cox (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1789093339 (PB) eISBN: 978-1789093346

After a few half-hearted and ultimately abortive attempts in the 1960s and a more strategic – but no less enduring – attempt at the close of the 1970’s, Marvel finally secured a regular presence on prose bookshelves in the 1990s with a select series of hardback novels. Since then, those fans who want to supply their own pictures to gripping MU exploits have enjoyed a successive string of text thrills in all formats…

In recent times, British publisher Titan Books have been repackaging and rereleasing many of those powerhouse prose publications. Latest on the list in their Novels of the Marvel Universe line is this hefty paperback representing a trilogy first released in 1999.

Written by adaptions and licensed properties specialist Greg Cox (all iterations of Star Trek; Buffy The Vampire Slayer; Batman: The Court of Owls; Daredevil; Iron Man, Fantastic Four; Underworld; Warehouse 13; The Librariansand many more) this Titanic tome bundles linked novels Gamma Quest: Lost and Found, Search and Rescue and Friend or Foe? into a vast, action-packed thrill ride.

Although newcomers and casual fans won’t notice, all three books comprising Gamma Quest are deeply embedded in the minutiae of Marvel’s comic book continuity, and relate how mutant sorceress Wanda Maximoff AKA the Scarlet Witch, power parasite Rogue and immortal berserker Wolverine are abducted by a deranged super-scientific megalomaniac and his secret ally, eager to master the genetic anomalies that fuel their incredible powers.

With such prominent members of the world-famous Avengers and outlaw heroes the X-Men, missing it’s not long before their comrades and allies are on the trail.

Tragically, thanks to deviously-planted false clues, both teams are soon erroneously hunting the Gamma-generated gargantuan know as the Incredible Hulk whilst battling each other…

The issue is further complicated when S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury is forced to admit that top secret, illegally-constructed mutant hunting Sentinels have been stolen from his helicarrier…

Starring Iron Man, Captain America, The Vision, The Beast, Cyclops, Storm, Iceman and a wealth of guest stars, this riotous page-turner offers tons of twists, stacks of suspense and an abundance of action as both squads first battle then unite to hunt their true enemies, visiting the most outlandish locations both on and off Earth before everything concludes in the kind of cataclysmic clash Marvel fans and movie buffs expect…

Strong, accurate characterisation, fast-paced, non-stop super-powered conflict and ever-ratchetting tension make this impossible to put down, but picture lovers might be disappointed that there’s no room for interior illustrations this time out…
© 2019 Marvel.

The X-Men and the Avengers: Gamma Quest – a Marvel Omnibus will be released on 21st January 2020 and is available for pre-order now.

Kabul Disco Book 2: How I Managed Not to Become Addicted to Opium in Afghanistan


By Nicolas Wild, translated by Karyn Mencarelli (Life Drawn/Humanoids Inc.)
ISBN: 978-1-59465-469-5 (TPB)

Fiction and reality frequently blur, but stories – True, mostly True, totally True or Officially Confirmed by a Government Official and therefore Utterly Suspect – told in comics form somehow always acquire an instant edge of veracity and patina of authenticity that is hard to dispute or refute.

Kabul Disco is a splendid case-in-point: an example of sophisticated yet simple Euro-cartooning designed to charm and challenge in equal amounts, and a superb addition to trans-Continental publisher Humanoids’ Down-to-Earth, Real-World graphic novel imprint Life Drawn.

How I Managed Not to Become Addicted to Opium in Afghanistan is the second fabulous monochrome travel memoir further detailing the experiences of French writer/artist Nicholas Wild whose quest for regular employment took a wide-eyed political innocent to Afghanistan in 2005…

Remember This: there’s always a war going on somewhere. That’s just the way it is. The enemy are always monsters so our side – there’s no leeway to not take sides anymore – are always justified in what they do. Heaven forfend if you slip up and start thinking of rivals, adversaries, opponents or even those who simply disagree with you as no more than people – with or without grievances or differing opinions…

In January 2005, Wild was in Paris; gripped by ennui and lack of inspiration and only mildly galvanised by lack of money and imminent homelessness. Responding to an online ad he applied to a Communications Agency looking for a comics artist and was astounded to find himself accepted for a short commission. The job was overseas and his culture shock in adapting to a weird job in a wild place involved joining somewhat sketchy and rather dubious NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) Zendagui Media as they worked to bring the war-torn region into the arena of modern nations.

Although the security situation was tense, trouble seems to only strike elsewhere and eventually Nick assimilates: befriending ordinary Afghanis, shopping, visiting Shiite mosques, eating in restaurants and even sightseeing. Ultimately, the artist was more concerned about the kind of people he was working for rather than the evil all-pervasive Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists apparently infesting the country…

All too soon the job was done and Wild had to go home…

Wilde’s adjustment to the primitive conditions and his superb gift for wry commentary afforded the reader a brilliant example of the complex made simple and, after many astounding, heart-warming, ridiculous and often frightening moments, the artist realised his five months were over and it was time to leave, both physically and emotionally…

As Book Two begins, the artist is back in civilisation and chafing. Following his ‘Incomprehensible Summary of Book 1’ – offering a roundup of European history and contemporary experience – ‘Part Three: The War on Opium that Never Took Place’ finds the cartoonist back in Kabul… which he now thinks of as “Home”.

Back at Zendagui Media new hire Angele Lamborghini briefs the team on their next project: weaning the populace away from the only resource they have that anybody wants to buy. The American Embassy wants to end the commercial dependency on opium and needs the team to create a campaign to win minds if not hearts of ordinary folk…

That goes about as well as you’d expect, but in the process of research Wild does meet some fascinating people, visits more beautiful places, hears some scary stories and attends a few more parties…

And then it’s time for national elections…

Packed with quirky interactions and subtly inserting a little history and context into his revelations, Wild and his equally bemused and bewildered associates live from day to day until eventually ‘Part Four: Kabul Burning’ sees events overtake the First-worlders in their little enclave as Afghani deaths at government hands spark brutal riots…

The race to a fortified safehouse is simultaneously terrifying and farcical but the potential consequences are no joking matter…

And so it goes, with fond reveries and razor-sharp observations peppering Wild’s irresistible account of an ordinary job in extraordinary times and a magical place: with idiocy and contradiction piling up but progress somehow being made until it’s time to go home – or at least back to Europe – once more…

But is it really for good?

Rendered in beguiling black and white, Kabul Disco is warm, funny, distressingly informative and unobtrusively polemical: a wittily readable, non-discriminating reverie that informs and charms with surprising effect: the perfect response to the idiocy of war and dangers of corporate imperialism as well as a sublime tribute to the potent indomitability of human nature.
© 2018, Humanoids Inc., Los Angeles (USA). All rights reserved. First published in France as Kabul Disco Tome 2: Comment je ne suis pas devenu opiomane en Afghanistan © 2008 La Boîte à Bulles & Nicholas Wild. All rights reserved.

Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Brent Anderson, Bob McLeod, Dave Cockrum, Terry Austin, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3013-0 (HB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This sixth superb compilation (available in luxurious hardcover, trade paperback and eBook editions) is perfect for newbies, neophytes and even old lags nervous about reading such splendid yarns on fragile but extremely valuable newsprint paper.

Gathering Uncanny X-Men #141-150 – spanning January to October 1981 – the action opens without preamble or hesitation as an evocative and extended subplot opens which would dictate the shape of mutant history for years to come. ‘Days of Future Past’ depicts an imminently approaching dystopian apocalypse wherein almost all mutants, paranormals and superheroes have been eradicated by Federally-controlled Sentinel robots.

The mechanoids rule over a shattered world on the edge of utter annihilation. New York is a charnel pit with most surviving superhumans kept in concentration camps and only a precious few free to fight a losing war of resistance.

Middle-aged Kitty Pryde is the lynchpin of a desperate plan to unmake history. With the aid of telepath named Rachel(eventually to escape that time-line and become the new Phoenix) Pryde swaps consciousness with her younger self in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the pivotal event which created the bleak, black tomorrow where all her remaining friends and comrades are being pitilessly exterminated one by resolute one…

‘Mind Out of Time’ sees the mature Pryde in our era, inhabiting her own 13-year-old body and leading her disbelieving team-mates on a frantic mission to foil the assassination of US senator David Kelly on prime-time TV by a sinister new iteration of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – super-powered terrorists determined to make a very public example of the human politician attacking the cause of Mutant Rights…

Fast-paced, action-packed, spectacularly multi-layered, bitterly tragic and agonisingly inconclusive – as all such time-travel tales should be – this cunning, compact yarn is indubitably one of the best individual tales of the Claremont/Byrne era and set the mood, tone and agenda for the next two decades of mutant mayhem…

With the timeline restored and tragedy averted, things slow down at the X-Mansion as John Byrne left for pastures new. His swan song in #143 was a bombastic romp which finds lonely, homesick Kitty home alone at Christmas… except for a lone N’garai ‘Demon’ determined to eat her. Her solo trial decimates the X-Men citadel and proves once and for all that she has what it takes…

The changing of the guard in X-Men #144 was marked by ‘Even in Death…’, scripted by Claremont and illustrated by Brent Anderson & Joseph Rubenstein wherein heartbroken Scott Summers (who quit the team after the death of Jean Grey AKA the Phoenix) fetches up in coastal village Shark Bay and joins the crew of Aleytys Forester’s fishing boat.

Trouble is never far from the man called Cyclops, however, and when she introduces him to her dad, the hero must draw upon all his inner reserves – and uncomprehending help of the macabre swamp guardian Man-Thing – to repel the crushing, soul-consuming assaults of pernicious petty devil D’spayre

Dave Cockrum returned to the team he co-created in #145, joining Claremont & Rubinstein in an extended clash of cultures as ‘Kidnapped!’ sees the team targeted by Doctor Doom thanks to the machinations of deranged assassin Arcade. With half of the team – Storm, Colossus, Angel, Wolverine and Nightcrawler – invading the Diabolical Dictator’s castle, a substitute-squad consisting of Iceman, Polaris, Banshee and Havoc are despatched to the maniac’s mechanised ‘Murderworld!’ to rescue a kidnapped coterie of innocent family and friends…

Sadly, in the interim Doom has triumphed over the invaders to his castle, but his act of entrapping claustrophobe Ororo has backfired, triggering a ‘Rogue Storm!’ that might erase the USA from the globe…

Issue #148 opens with Scott and Aletys shipwrecked on a mysterious island holding the remnants of a lost civilisation but the main event is a trip to Manhattan for Kitty, accompanied by Storm, Spider-Woman Jessica Drew and Dazzler Alison Blair. That’s a good thing as wandering mutant empath Caliban calamitously attempts to abduct the child in ‘Cry, Mutant!’ by Claremont, Cockrum & Rubinstein…

A major menace resurfaces in #149 to threaten Scott and Aletys, but the X-Men are too busy dealing with resurrected demi-god Garokk and an erupting volcano in ‘And the Dead Shall Bury the Living!’ before all the varied plots combine and coalesce in anniversary issue #150 (October 1981).

Extended epic ‘I, Magneto…’ sees the merciless, malevolent master of magnetism threaten all humanity. with Xavier’s team helpless to stop him… until a critical moment triggers an emotional crisis and awakening of his long-suppressed humanity…

These are some of the greatest X-stories Marvel ever published; entertaining, groundbreaking and painfully intoxicating, offering an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 1980, 1981, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Gotham Central Book 3: On the Freak Beat


By Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, Stephen Gaudiano, Jason Alexander & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2754-8 (HB) 978-1-4012-3232-0 (TPB)

One of the great joys of long-lasting, legendary comics characters is their potential for innovation and reinterpretation. There always seems to be another facet or corner to develop. Such a case was Gotham Central, wherein contemporary television sensibilities cannily combined with the deadly drudgery of the long-suffering boys in blue in the world’s most famous four-colour city.

Owing as much to shows such as Homicide: Life on the Streets and Law & Order as it did to the baroque continuity of Batman, the series mixed gritty, authentic police action with a soft-underbelly peek at what the merely mortal guardians and peacekeepers had to put up with in a world of psychotic clowns, flying aliens and scumbag hairballs who just won’t stay dead.

This compilation – available in hardback, soft cover and eBook editions – collects Gotham Central #23-31 (spanning November 2004-July 2005) and opens with a handy double-page feature re-introducing the hardworking stiffs of First Shift, Second Shift and the Police Support Team of the ‘Gotham City Police Department, Major Crimes Unit’ before the dramas start to unfold.

Gotham City is a bad place to be a cop – even a crooked one. If you’re a straight arrow it’s even worse because then both sides of the street want you dead. When Detectives Crispus Allen and Renee Montoya turn their attention to corrupt Crime Scene Investigator Jim Corrigan it sets them both on a path steeped in tragedy and loss… and bloody betrayal. ‘Corrigan’(originally published in issues #23-24) is by regular team Greg Rucka, Michael Lark & Stephen Gaudiano.

The same team bring us ‘Lights Out’ (issue #25) as, in the aftermath of the War Games debacle and resultant bloodbath (see Batman: War Drums; War Games: Outbreak, Tides, Endgame and War Crimes), new police commissioner Akins severs all official ties to the Batman and has the Bat-Signal removed from Police Headquarters roof.

Ed Brubaker & Jason Alexander take us ‘On the Freak Beat’ (#26-27) as Detectives Marcus Driver and (secretly psychic) Josie MacDonald investigate the murder of a televangelist. Despite all the leads and evidence pointing to Catwoman as the killer, their dedicated efforts take them into a sordid world of hypocrisy, S&M, lies and real estate chicanery before the truth comes out and the real culprit is brought to justice…

“Keystone Cops” (issues #28-31) is another superb blend of the procedural and the outlandish as beat cop Andy Kelly is horrifically mutated by a super-criminal’s booby-trap whilst rescuing kids from a fire. Montoya and Allen must cross jurisdictional boundaries and moral landmarks to obtain the assistance of deranged Flash villain Doctor Alchemy if there’s any hope of curing their comrade…

With the most chilling exploration of a super-villain’s motivation in many a year and a generous tip of the hat to The Silence of the Lambs, this is a moody masterpiece with an unsuspected kick in the tail. Rucka writes and Gaudiano graduates from inks to pencils with the embellishment falling to the capable Kano & Gary Amaro to conclude this stunning deep dive into urban atrocity in unforgettable style.
© 2004, 2005, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Peanuts Dell Archive


By Charles M. Schulz, Jim Sasseville, Dale Hale, Tony Pocrnick & various (KaBOOM!)
ISBN: 978-1-68415-255-1 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-64144-117-9

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal. Cartoonist Charles Monroe “Sparky” (forever dubbed thus by an uncle who saw young Charlie reading Billy DeBeck’s strip Barney Google: that hero’s horse was called “Spark Plug”). Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical epic for half a century, producing 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000. He died, from the complications of cancer, the day before his last strip was published…

At its height, the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, and have ever since his departure. Attendant book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

In case you came in late – and from Mars – our focus (we just can’t call him “star” or “hero”) is everyman loser Charlie Brown who, with increasingly high-maintenance, fanciful mutt Snoopy, is at odds with a bombastic and mercurial supporting cast hanging out doing kid things with disturbingly mature psychological overtones…

The gags and tales centre on play, pranks, sports, playing musical instruments, teasing each other, making baffled observations about the incomprehensible world and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups. The ferocious unpredictability and wilfulness of seasonal weather often impacts on these peewee performers, too…

You won’t find many adults in the mix – which includes Mean Girl (let’s call her “forthright”) Violet, prodigy Schroeder, “world’s greatest fussbudget” Lucy, her strange baby brother Linus and dirt-magnet “Pig-Pen” all adding signature twists to the mirth – because this is essentially a kids’ world.

Charlie Brown has settled into existential angst and is resigned to his role as eternal loser: singled out by fate and the relentless diabolical wilfulness of Lucy who sharpens her spiteful verve on everyone around her. Her preferred target is always the round-headed kid though: mocking his attempts to fly a kite, kicking away his football and perpetually reminding him face-to-face how rubbish he is…

The Sunday page debuted on January 6th 1952; a standard half-page slot offering more measured fare than the daily. Both thwarted ambition and explosive frustration became part of the strip’s signature denouements and these weekend wonders gave Sparky room to be at his most visually imaginative, whimsical and weird…

By that time, rapid-fire raucous slapstick gags were riding side-by-side with surreal, edgy, psychologically barbed introspection, crushing judgements and deep ruminations in a world where kids – and certain animals – were the only actors. The relationships were increasingly deep, complex and absorbing…

None of that is really the point. Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, and one the syndicate forced upon him – changed the way comics strips were received and perceived by showing that cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punchlines. It also became a multimedia merchandising bonanza for Schulz and the United Features Syndicate, generating toys, games, books, TV shows, apparel and even comic books. These days there’s even an educational institution, The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, from which a goodly portion of the archival contributions in this wonderful hardback/digital compilation originate…

Just how and why the comic book versions differ from the strip is explored with incisive and analytical vigour in Derrick Bang’s (of CMS M&RC) Introduction ‘Peanuts in Comic Books’ revealing how, in the early 1950s, reprints in St. John and, later, Dell Comics titles such as Tip Top Comics and United Comics gradually gave way to original back-up material in Fritzi Ritz, Nancy and others.

Very little of it was by Schulz – although he did contribute lots of covers – but rather were ghosted by hand-picked associates like Jim Sasseville, who ably aped “Sparky” Schulz and kept the little cast in character and on message in strips in Fritzi Ritz, Nancy, Tip Top, Nancy and Sluggo,

Sasseville wrote and drew all of the Peanuts try-out issue (Four Color #878, February 1958). Schulz contributed heavily to the second FC Peanuts (#969; February 1959) with Dale Hale and Tony Pocrnick handling subsequent back-up tales and third Four Color tester #1015 (August/October 1959).

The fourth became Peanuts #4: a title that ran for 13 issues, ending in July 1962. By then Dell staff artists and writers were generating the stories and the overall quality was nothing to brag about… although Schulz was drawing the covers, at least.

In terms of calibre and standards, the 75 comic tales here – beginning with the very first by Schulz from Nancy #146, September 1957 to the anonymous last – are all quite enjoyable and some are truly exceptional: such as ‘The Mani-Cure’(Tip Top #211, November 1957/January 1958 by Sasseville) or Dale Hale’s untitled treatise on keeping secrets from Tip Top #217 (May/July 1959).

Admittedly, true fans might have trouble with later yarns as the kids face an amok robot or dare the terrors of an old haunted house, but in the main this collection is a splendid peek at a little known cranny of the franchise and there is the joy of all those lost gems from Sparky to carry the day…

And where else are you going to see the kids in stories you haven’t read yet… you Blockhead!?
Peanuts Dell Archive all contents unless otherwise specified © 2005 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. All rights reserved.