My War


By Szegedi Szüts (Dover)
ISBN: 978-0-486-79925-4 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Profound and Compelling Commemoration… 9/10

From its earliest inception, cartooning and graphic narrative has been used to inform. In newspapers, magazines and especially comicbooks the sheer power of pictorial storytelling – with its ability to distil technical recreations of time, place and personage whilst creating deep emotional affinities to past or imagined events – has been used to forge unforgettable images and characters within us. When those stories affect the lives of generations of readers, the force that they can apply in a commercial, social, political or especially educational arena is almost irresistible…

Thus, the compelling power of graphic narrative to efficiently, potently and evocatively disseminate vast amounts of information and seductively advocate complex issues with great conviction through layered levels has always been most effectively used in works with a political, social or historical component.

Comics have brought the past to life since they began but they were never the only means of pictorial narrative and emotional communication.

Here is another superb and welcome re-release from Dover Comics & Graphic Novels – available in paperback and digital formats – reviving a lost masterpiece of the art form, first published in in 1932 by William Morrow & Company, New York.

The 206 stark and stunning images rendered by István Szegedi Szüts were his way of processing his participation in the Great War, but they were a narrative designed as a gallery show: telling a personal story much in the manor of a Catholic church’s Stations of the Cross.

The show debuted at London’s Gieves Gallery in 1929, and was only collected into book form in 1931, after being seen by a perspicacious publisher. These compelling sequences were perfect material for the brief Depression-era flowering of silent art narratives known as woodcut novels or linocut books.

Other memorable proto-graphic novels of that era include Frans Masereel’s 25 Images of a Man’s Passion, Lynd Ward’s God’s Man and White Collar by Giacomo Patri.

Szegedi Szüts was born in Budapest on December 7th 1893, a Hungarian painter and illustrator who naturally served when his country went to war in 1914. His experiences are rendered here into potent examination of patriotism and folly that are more akin to visual poetry than anything else: sparse, spartan, debilitatingly expressionistic and summed up by a precision-point epigram/title for each single image page.

The seven chapters reel from evocative triggers such as ‘The Little Hussar wakes up’, ‘Expectance’, ‘Approaching storm’, ‘Hide your face, mother!’ and ‘…who command us to kill?’ and the end result is a wave of shocking revelation and inescapable regret…

After the London show, Szegedi Szüts moved to Caunce Head, Cornwall, married artist Gwynedd Jones Parry and lived as part of the creative colony there until his death in 1959.

This splendid and moving monochrome reconstruction includes ‘Our War: a Foreword by Peter Kuper’ (Third World War, Spy vs Spy), the original Introduction by R.H. Mottram and clipped reviews of ‘Szegedi Szüts as an artist’ from The Times, The Daily Mail and PG Konody in The Observer

It’s not often we comics folk can 100% guarantee that we’ve produced capital A Art and it’s really not that relevant. What you should take away here is that My War is a timeless, resonant testimony to the War to End All Wars from someone who was there, came back and said something about his experiences that all successive generations should take heed of.
Foreword © 2015, Peter Kuper. All rights reserved.

Sandman Mystery Theatre: Book One


By Matt Wagner, Guy Davis, John Watkiss, R.G. Taylor, David Hornung & John Costanza (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6327-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Eerie Mystery-Mood Masterpiece… 8/10

Created by Gardner Fox and first depicted by Bert Christman, The Sandman premiered in either Adventure Comics #40 July 1939 (two months after Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27) or two weeks earlier in New York World’s Fair Comics 1939, depending on whether some rather spotty distribution records can be believed.

Head and face utterly obscured by a gasmask and slouch hat; caped, business-suited millionaire adventurer Wesley Dodds was cut from the iconic masked mystery-man mould that had made pulp fictioneers The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet, The Shadow, Phantom Detective, Black Bat, The Spider and so many more such household names. Those dark red-handed heroes were also astonishing commercial successes in the early days of mass periodical publication…

Wielding a sleeping-gas gun and haunting the night to battle a string of killers, crooks and spies, he was accompanied in the earliest comicbooks by his plucky paramour Dian Belmont, before gradually losing the readers’ interest and slipping from cover-spot to last feature in Adventure Comics, just as the cloaked pulp-hero avengers he emulated slipped from popularity in favour of more flamboyant fictional fare.

Possessing a certain indefinable style and charm but definitely no especial pizzazz, the feature was on the verge of being dropped when the Sandman abruptly switched to a skin-tight yellow-&-purple costume and gained a boy-sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy (in Adventure Comics #69, December 1941, courtesy of Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris). All this, presumably to emulate the overwhelmingly successful Batman and Captain America models then reaping such big dividends on the newsstands.

It didn’t help much, but when Joe Simon & Jack Kirby came aboard with #72 that all spectacularly changed. A semi-supernatural element and fascination with the world of dreams (revisited by S&K a decade later in their short-lived experimental suspense series The Strange World of Your Dreams) added a moody conceptual punch to equal the kinetic fury of their art, as Sandman and Sandy became literally the stuff of nightmares to the bizarre bandits and murderous mugs they stalked…

For what happened next you can check out the superb Simon & Kirby Sandman hardback collection…

Time passed and in the late 1980s Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith & Mike Dringenberg took the property in a revolutionary new direction, eventually linking all the previous decades’ elements into an overarching connective continuity under DC’s new “sophisticated suspense” imprint Vertigo.

Within a few years the astounding success of the new Sandman prompted the editorial powers-that-be to revisit the stylishly retro original character and look at him through more mature eyes. Iconoclastic creator Matt Wagner (Mage, Grendel) teamed with artistic adept Guy Davis (Baker Street, B.P.R.D.) and colourist David Hornung to create a grittier, grimier, far more viscerally authentic 1930s, where the haunted mystery man pursued his lonely crusade with chilling verisimilitude.

The tone was darkly modernistic, with the crime-busting playing out in the dissolute dog-days of the Jazz Age and addressed controversial themes such as abuse, sexual depravity, corruption and racism; all confronted against the rising tide of fascism that was sweeping the world then.

This is a warning: Sandman Mystery Theatre is not for kids…

This compendium collections the redefining first three story-arcs from issues #1-12 (April 1993 to March 1994) and commences after an absorbing introduction from veteran journalist, critic and pop culture historian Dave Marsh.

Each chapter preceded by its original evocative faux pulp photo cover created by Gavin Wilson and Hornung, the dark drama opens with The Tarantula, taking us back to New York in 1938 where District Attorney Larry Belmont is having the Devil’s own time keeping his wild-child daughter out of trouble and out of the newspapers.

She’s gallivanting all over town every night with her spoiled rich friends; drinking, partying and associating with all the wrong sorts of people, but the prominent public servant has far larger problems too. One is a mysterious gas-masked figure he finds rifling his safe soon after Dian departs…

The intruder easily overpowers the DA with some kind of sleeping gas – which also makes you want to blurt every inconvenient truth – before disappearing, leaving Belmont to awake with a headache and wondering if it was all a dream…

Dian, after a rowdy night of carousing with scandalous BFF Catherine Van Der Meer and her latest (gangster) lover, awakes with a similar hangover but still agrees to attend one of her father’s dreary public functions that evening. The elder Belmont is particularly keen that she meet a studious young man named Wesley Dodds, recently returned from years in the Orient to take over his deceased dad’s many business interests.

Dodds seems genteel and effete, yet Dian finds there’s something oddly compelling about him. Moreover, he too seems to feel a connection…

The Gala breaks up early when the DA is informed of a sensational crime. Catherine Van Der Meer has been kidnapped by someone identifying himself as The Tarantula

Across town, mob boss Albert Goldman is meeting with fellow gangsters from the West Coast and, as usual, his useless son Roger and drunken wife Miriam embarrass him. Daughter Celia is the only one he can depend on these days, but even her unwavering devotion seems increasingly divided. After another stormy scene the conference ends early, and the visiting crime-lords are appalled to find their usually diligent bodyguards all soundly asleep in their limousines…

Even with Catherine kidnapped, Dian is determined to go out that night, but when Wesley arrives unexpectedly she changes her mind, much to her father’s relief. That feeling doesn’t last long however, after the police inform him that the Tarantula has taken another woman…

When a hideously mutilated body is found Dian inveigles herself into accompanying dear old Dad to Headquarters but is promptly excluded from the grisly “Man’s Business”. Left on her own, she begins snooping in the offices and encounters a bizarre gas-masked figure poring through files. Before she can react, he dashes past her and escapes, leaving her to explain to the assorted useless lawmen cluttering up the place.

Furious and humiliated, Dian then insists that she officially identifies Catherine and nobody can dissuade her.

Shockingly, the savagely ruined body is not her best friend but yet another victim…

Somewhere dark and hidden, Van Der Meer is being tortured but the perpetrator has far more than macabre gratification in mind…

In the Goldman house Celia is daily extending her control over darling devoted daddy. They still share a very special secret, but these days she’s the one dictating where and when they indulge themselves…

With all the trauma in her life Dian increasingly finds Wesley a comforting rock, but perhaps that view would change if she knew how he spends his nights. Dodds is plagued and tormented by bad dreams. Not his own nightmares, but rather the somnolent screams of nameless victims and their cruel oppressors haunt his troubled sleep. Worst of all these dreams are somehow prophetic and unrelenting. What else could a decent man do then, but act to end such suffering?

In a seedy dive, uncompromising Police Lieutenant Burke comes off worst when he discovers the gas-mask lunatic grilling a suspect in “his” kidnapping case and again later when this “Sandman” is found at a factory where the vehicle used to transport victims is hidden.

Even so, the net is inexorably tightening on both Tarantula and the insane vigilante interfering in the investigation but Burke doesn’t know who he most wants in a nice, dark interrogation room…

As the labyrinthine web of mystery and monstrosity slowly unravels, tension mounts and the death toll climbs, but can The Sandman stop the torrent of depraved terror before the determined Dian finds herself swept up in all the blood and death?

Of course, he does but not without appalling consequences…

Scene and scenario suitably set, John Watkiss steps in to illuminate second saga The Face (issues #5-8). Attention switches to Chinatown in February of 1938, where Dian and her gal-pals scandalously dine and dish dirt until Miss Belmont meets again an old lover.

Jimmy Shan once worked in her father’s office but now serves as lawyer and fixer for his own people amongst the teeming restaurants, gambling dens and bordellos of the oriental district…

Dian would be horrified to see Jimmy – or Zhang Chai Lao as his Tong masters know him – consorting with unsavoury criminals, and would certainly not be considering reviving her scandalous out-of-hours relationship with him. All frivolous thoughts vanish, however, when the diners vacate the restaurant and stumble upon a severed head: a warning that the ruling factions are about to go to war again in Chinatown. As usual, white police are utterly ineffectual against the closed ranks of the enclave…

Later at a swanky charity soiree to raise money for a school, Dian meets Jimmy again and agrees to a later meeting. At the same shindig she later sees Wesley, and in the course of their small talk, Dodds reveals that he recognises Shan from somewhere…

And in Chinatown, another beheading leads to greater tension between the Lee Feng and Hou Yibai Societies. When an enigmatic gas-masked stranger starts asking unavoidable questions, he finds that both Tongs deny all knowledge of the killings…

As the grisly murder-toll mounts, The Sandman’s investigations lead to one inescapable conclusion: a third party is responsible. But who, and why…

Before the drama closes, Dian will learn more hard truths about the world and the money-men who secretly run it…

Issues #9-12 (December 1993-March 1994) are illustrated by R.G. Taylor and plumb the darkest depths of human depravity in the tale of ‘The Brute’.

The friendship of Dian and Wesley slowly deepens and life seems less fraught in the city, but that soon ends as hulking degenerate stalks the back-alleys, killing and brutalising prostitutes and their clients…

Dodds is also on the mind of boxing promoter and businessman Arthur Reisling who’s looking for a fresh financial partner in his global exploitations. The effete-seeming scholar is hard to convince, though, unlike Eddie Ramsey. He’s a poverty-stricken pugilist and single parent desperate to make enough money to pay for his daughter Emily’s TB medicine. Riesling’s offer to him is just as scurrilous but the broken-down pug doesn’t have the luxury of saying “no”…

Eventually, with Dian in tow, Wesley accepts a party invitation from the speculator and meets his dynasty of worthless, over-privileged children. None of them seem right or well-adjusted…

Later, when Eddie tries to come clean by informing the authorities of Riesling’s illegal fight events, he’s attacked by the promoter’s thugs and saved by the Sandman – at least until the colossal mystery killer attacks them both and they’re forced to flee for their lives…

As Dodds returns home to recuperate, the punishing dreams escalate to mind-rending intensity.

Eddie, meanwhile, is left with no safe option and takes to the streets with Emily. His decision will lead to revolting horror, total tragedy and utter heartbreak…

The Sandman returns to his covert surveillance, silently unearthing the depths of Reisling’s underworld activities and coincidentally exposing a turbulent and dysfunctional atmosphere in the magnate’s home life to match his criminal activities. In this house corruption of every type runs deep and wide, and the masked avenger decides it’s time to bring his findings to Dian’s father. This time, District Attorney Belmont is prepared to listen and to act…

And as the murders mount and Dodds’ dreams escalate in intensity, the strands of a bloody tapestry begin to knot together and the appalling secret of the bestial killer’s connection to Reisling is exposed, only a detonation of expiating violence can restore order…

Stark, compelling and ferociously absorbing, the bleak thrillers depict a cruel but incisive assessment of good and evil no devotee of dark drama should miss, and the period perils come accompanied by a gallery of the series’ original, groundbreaking comicbook photo-covers and posters by Gavin Wilson plus later collection covers and related art from Matt Wagner, Alex Toth and Kent Wilson
© 1993, 1994, 1995, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor volume 2: The Weeping Angels of Mons


By Robbie Morrison, Daniel Indro, Eleonora Carlini, Slamet Mujiono, Hi-Fi & Comicraft (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-175-4 (HC)                    978-1-78276-657-5 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Wonders… 8/10

Doctor Who first materialised through our black-&-white television screens on November 23rd 1963 in the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’. Less than a year later his decades-long run in TV Comic began with issue #674 and the premier instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

Throughout the later Sixties and early 1970’s strips appeared in Countdown (later retitled TV Action) before shuttling back to TV Comic.

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th) Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly, which became a monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) and has been with us under various names ever since.

All of which only goes to prove that the Time Lord is a comic hero with an impressive pedigree…

In recent years the strip portion of the Whovian mega-franchise has roamed far and wide and currently rests with British publisher Titan Comics who have sagely opted to run parallel series starring the Ninth, Tenth, and later incarnations of the tricky and tumultuous Time Lord.

This volume collects Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor issues #6-10 of the monthly comicbook, set between the conclusion of the Fourth Season starring David Tennant and the start of the Fifth, spanning November 2014 through May 2015.

Scripted by the ever-excellent Robbie Morrison (White Death, assorted 2000 AD series, Batman, Spider-Man and more) this second volume leads with a moving and memorable centenary tribute to a landmark moment from the Great War.

Illustrated by Daniel Indro and coloured by Slamet Mujiono (with letters from Richards Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt), ‘The Weeping Angels of Mons’ finds the Doctor and new companion Gabby Gonzalez confronting a pack of time-devouring Weeping Angels haunting the muddy trenches and blossoming graveyards of the shattered Belgian countryside in August 1914.

In case you’re not au fait, Angels are chronovores, living off the energy of stolen lifespans. Their victims are exiled from their true place in time to live out their lives in some distant past. Angels look like statues and can only move when you’re not looking…

This is a deeply moving tale packed with solid supporting characters all drawn from decent Scots volunteers from Paisley and put through all kinds of hell in both 1916 and the many final destinations of the victims. The saga bubbles over with loss and tragedy to balance the breakneck action and stunning examples of do-or-die valour of the ordinary heroes. That’s all the exposition you get: I’m not going to spoil it for you.

Suffice to say the Doctor is at his trenchantly wily best, observing Man’s continued follies and glorious better nature, dealing with the horrendous ETs in suitably flashy manner, and coming up with snappy solutions in the blink of an eye…

An utter change of pace comes next with ‘Echo’ (art by Eleonora Carlini and colours from Hi-Fi).

Gabby arrives back home in picturesque Sunset Park, Brooklyn, just in time for the arrival of the sonic life form known as Echoes. The poor persecuted star-wandering creatures are being hunted to extinction by the thoroughly nasty Shreekers and the resultant cacophony is shattering even New Yorker ears.

The Shreekers might have Galactic Law on their side but the Doctor and Gabby know when something needs to be done for a greater good…

This wonderfully worthy package – available in hard cover, paperback and digital editions – also offers another vast gallery of Gallifreyan alternate and variant covers (photographic, digitally manipulated, painted and/or drawn) by the likes of Tommy Lee Edwards, AJ, Verity Glass, Mariano Laclaustra, Boo Cook and more, making this a splendid and timely serving of comics magic starring an incontestable bulwark of British Fantasy.

If you’re a fan of only one form, this book might make you an addict to both. It’s a fabulous treat for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for devotees of the TV show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics a proper go…
BBC, Doctor Who (word marks, logos and devices) and Tardis are trade marks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. BBC logo © BBC 1996. Doctor Who logo © BBC 2009. Tardis image © BBC 1963. First edition August 2015.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 11


By Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Harlan Ellison, Chris Claremont, Stan Lee, Steve Gerber, Rich Buckler, Don Heck, John Buscema, George Tuska, Jim Starlin, Dave Cockrum, Sam Kweskin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5038-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Pure Blockbuster Entertainment… 8/10

One of the most momentous events in Marvel Comics history occurred in 1963 when a disparate array of individual heroes banded together to stop the Incredible Hulk.

The Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package. Over the decades the roster has unceasingly changed, and now almost every character in their universe has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket paid off big-time; even when all Marvel’s all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man were absent, it merely allowed the lesser lights of the team to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars regularly featured due to a rotating, open door policy which meant that most issues included one of any reader’s favourites. The increasingly bold and impressively ambitious stories and artwork were no hindrance either even though at this particular time, creators were passing through at an even faster rate than the masked marvels…

Graced with a scene-setting Preface from outgoing scripter Roy Thomas and context-creating Introduction from new kid Steve Englehart, this sturdy hardcover and eBook compilation gathers the astounding contents of Avengers #89-100 (collectively spanning July 1972 – May 1973) and includes a cross-over moment from Daredevil and the Black Widow #99.

Now scripter extraordinaire Thomas was about to hand over the reins to an even more imaginative and groundbreaking author who took the team to dizzying new imaginative and dramatic heights, but before that he and debuting penciller Rich Buckler – doing his best Neal Adams impersonation – shone on a Harlan Ellison tale inked by Dan Adkins.

‘Five Dooms to Save Tomorrow!’ was based on an Ellison novella from 1964 and found the Avengers battling Leonard Tippit, an ordinary man granted incredible power so that he could murder five innocent human beings. To be fair though, those innocuous targets’ continued existence threatened Earth’s entire future…

Determined to stop him whatever the ultimate consequences, the Avengers eschewed the murky moral quandary and were tested to their utmost, before the crisis was averted…

The heroes were on firmer, more familiar ground in #102 when the Grim Reaper returned, offering to place the Vision’s consciousness in a human body in return for the android’s allegiance in ‘What to Do Till the Sentinels Come!’ (Thomas, Buckler & Joe Sinnott). Meanwhile, the mutant-hunting robots kidnapped the Scarlet Witch and started another scheme to eradicate the threat of Homo Superior forever…

A budding romance between the Witch and the Vision revealed tensions and bigotries in the most unexpected places as the cataclysmic tale continued with ‘The Sentinels are Alive and Well!’ as the team search the globe for the monstrous mechanical marauders before being captured themselves whilst invading their Australian Outback hive.

The tale concludes ‘With a Bang… and a Whimper!’ as the assembled heroes thwart the robots’ project to sterilise humanity – but only at the cost of two heroes’ lives…

The grieving Scarlet Witch takes centre stage in #105 as ‘In the Beginning was… the World Within!’ (by new scripter Steve Englehart and veteran artists John Buscema & Jim Mooney) as the team travel to South America and encounter cavemen mutants from the lost world known as the Savage Land, after which the Avengers discover ‘A Traitor Stalks Among Us!’ (illustrated by Buckler, George Tuska & Dave Cockrum) with the revelation that perennial sidekick Rick Jones has become atomically bonded to alien hero Captain Marvel: a revelation that triggers a painful flashback in memory-blocked Captain America, and just as an old foe turns the team against itself.

Avengers #107 reveals ‘The Master Plan of the Space Phantom!’ (with art by Jim Starlin, Tuska & Cockrum) and his complex and sinister alliance with the Grim Reaper even as the love-sick Vision finally accepts the Faustian offer of a human body.

Unfortunately, the corpus on offer is the Star-Spangled Avenger’s…

‘Check… and Mate!’ – illustrated by veteran Avenger artist Don Heck and inkers Cockrum & Sinnott – wraps up the intriguing saga in spectacular fashion as an army of Avengers thrash Phantom, Reaper and assorted hordes of Hydra hoods. However, the true climax is the Vision and Witch’s final acknowledgement of their love for each other.

The announcement provokes a storm of trouble…

In #109 Hawkeye, who’s always carried a torch for the beautiful Wanda, quits the team in a dudgeon and ‘The Measure of a Man!’ (Heck & Frank McLaughlin) find the heartsick archer duped by billionaire businessman Champion and almost responsible for causing the complete destruction of California before wising up and saving the day…

Next the depleted team of Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Vision and Black Panther investigate the disappearance of mutant heroes the X-Men and are thoroughly beaten by an old enemy with a new power.

‘… And Now Magneto!’ (Englehart, Heck, Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito) ends with half the team brainwashed captives of the master villain with the remaining crusaders desperately searching for new allies. We then pop over to San Francisco and a crossover from Daredevil and the Black Widow #99 (May 1973, by Steve Gerber, Sam Kweskin & Syd Shores). ‘The Mark of Hawkeye!’ sees Natasha Romanoff’s old boyfriend fetch up on the Widow’s doorstep, determined to reclaim her. The caveman stunt culminates in the Archer’s sound and well-deserved thrashing, and when the last Avengers arrive, asking him to return and assist, he refuses. DD and the Widow don’t, though…

The saga resumes and concludes in Avengers #111 as, ‘With Two Beside Them!’ (Englehart, Heck & Esposito) the returned heroes and West Coast vigilantes successfully rescue the X-Men and Avengers enslaved by the malevolent Magneto. With the action over, Daredevil returns to California but the Black Widow elects to stay with the World’s Mightiest Heroes…

This titanic tome also offers extra treats: namely an unused page of Buckler’s beautiful pencil art and his Sinnott-inked cover for Avengers #104.

Roy Thomas and his artistic collaborators were always at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of creators: brilliantly building on and consolidating Lee, Kirby and Ditko’s initial burst of comics creativity whilst spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder- machine of places and events that so many others could add to.

These terrific tales are ideal examples of superheroes done exactly right and also act as pivotal points as the underdog company evolved into a corporate entertainment colossus. There are also some of the best superhero stories you’ll ever read and Englehart’s forthcoming concoctions would turn the Marvel Universe on its head and pave the way for a new peak of cosmic adventure…
© 1972, 1973, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Black Max volume 1


By Frank S. Pepper, Ken Mennell, Eric Bradbury, Alfonso Font & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-655-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Astounding Air Ace Action… 9/10

It’s time for another sortie down memory lane for us oldsters and, hopefully a new, untrodden path for fans of the fantastic in search of a typically quirky British comics experience.

This stunning paperback (and eBook) package is another stunning nostalgia-punch from Rebellion’s superb and ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics, collecting all episodes of seminal shocker Black Max.

The strip debuted in the first issue of Thunder and ran the distance – spanning October 17th 1970 – 13th March 1971. It then survived cancelation and merger, continuing in Lion & Thunder until that magazine finally died.

This book carries those stories, beginning with March 20th up to May 8th 1971 and the period perils are rounded out with a brace of longer yarns taken from Lion & Thunder Holiday Special 1971 and Thunder Annual 1972. These eerie enthralments are preceded by a warmly reminiscent Introduction from Font that adds a very human dimension to the freaky flying thrills.

The series is typical of the manner in which weekly periodicals functioned back then: devised by screenwriter, veteran Editor and ubiquitous scripter Ken Mennell (Cursitor Doom, Steel Claw, The Spider and so many more) with the first episode limned by the company’s star turn for mood and mystery Eric Bradbury (Invasion, The Black Crow, Cursitor Doom, Hookjaw, House of Dolman and dozens more). Then the whole kit and kaboodle was handed off to another team to sink or swim with, which they did until 1974: a most respectable run for a British comic

The attrition rate of British comic strips bore remarkable similarities to casualty figures…

This particular serial was well-starred: the developing writer was the legendary Frank S. Pepper. He’d begun his professional comics career in 1926 and by 1970 had clocked up a few major successes such as Dan Dare, Rockfist Rogan, Captain Condor, Jet-Ace Logan and Roy of the Rovers to name but a very, very few.

Even the series illustrator Alfonso Font – a relative newcomer – was a ten-year veteran, albeit mostly for European publications. Based in Spain, he worked not just for Odhams/Fleetway but on strips for US outfits Warren and Skywald and on continental classics such as Historias Negras (Dark Stories), Jon Rohner, Carmen Bond, Bri D’Alban, Tex Willer, Dylan Dog and more…

Because of the episodic nature of the material, generally delivered in sharp, spartan 3-page bursts, I’m foregoing my usual self-indulgent and laborious waffle and leaving you with a précis of the theme… and what a cracker it is…

In 1917 the Great War is slowly being lost by Germany and her allies and in the Bavarian schloss of Baron Maximilien von Klorr, the grotesque but brilliant scientist and fighter ace has devised a horrific way to tip the scales back in favour of his homeland…

His ancient family have long had an affinity with bats and the mad man has bred a giant version that will fly beside him to terrify and slaughter the hated English…

The only problem is that his beloved monsters are vulnerable to gunfire so he must keep that as a most secret weapon…

That scheme is imperilled on a weekly basis by thoroughly decent young Brit Tim Wilson. A former performer in a peacetime flying circus, the doughty lad is possibly the best acrobatic flyer on the Western Front and narrowly escapes his encounter with the colossal chiropteran…

Of course, he cannot convince his superiors of the fearsome bio-weapon’s existence, but the Baron knows he’s out there and devotes an astonishing amount of time and effort to killing the lad – when not butchering Allied fliers and ground troops in vast numbers.

As the cat-&-mouse game escalates, both men suffer losses and achieve victories but the odds seem to shift after von Klorr finally manages to mass-produce his monsters, supplemented by ever more incredible inventions like his flying castle…

Most strikingly, some of Tim’s most fervent support comes from the ordinary German soldiers enslaved to the Baron’s vile program…

As previously stated, this initial collection also includes two longer, complete stories from seasonal specials. The first comes from Lion & Thunder Holiday Special 1971: an extra-sized summer treat which revealed how crashed English aviator Captain Johnny Craig experienced a night of extreme terror in the bio-horror filled home of Black Max, whilst Thunder Annual 1972 revealed how Captain Rick Newland of the Royal Flying Corps sought bloody revenge for the brutal bat-winged butchery of his comrades…

These strip shockers are amongst the most memorable and enjoyable exploits in British comics: smart, scary and beautifully rendered. This a superb example of war horror that deserves to be revived and revered.
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973 & 2018 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. Black Max and all related characters, their distinctive likenesses and related elements are ™ Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: King Ottokar’s Sceptre


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-619-8 (HB)                    : 978-0-31613-383-8 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair, though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécles children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

Originally published as a weekly monochrome strip Le Sceptre d’Ottokar ran from August 4th 1938 to August 10th 1939. The rousing Ruritanian saga of plot and counter-plot was designed as a satirical critique of Nazi Germany’s nefarious expansionist policies, but in a remarkably short course of time real life terrifyingly caught up with fictional hijinks. Another commercial winner, the tale was promptly released in collected book form upon conclusion and Herge’s team moved straight on to new serial Land of Black Gold. That tale was curtailed by the fall of Belgium in 1940 and the closure of Le Vingtiéme Siécle. We’ll talk more about that later…

When the war ended and Tintin led a resurgence of European comics, Le Sceptre d’Ottokar, was revived, reformatted, reconditioned and rereleased in a full-colour album. It was the first book to make the jump to English editions – in 1956 – and was adapted for the small screen by Belvision Studios. Twice in fact, as Canada’s Ellipse/Nelvana crafted their own animated version in 1991.

Older British readers might have another reason to recall this tale. Many of them had an early introduction to Tintin and his dog (then called Milou, as in the French editions) when fabled comic The Eagle began running King Ottokar’s Sceptre in translated instalments on their prestigious full-colour centre section in 1951.

During the Occupation, Hergé continued producing comic strips for Le Soir and in the period following Belgium’s liberation was accused of being a collaborator and even a Nazi sympathiser.

It took the intervention of Resistance hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing the cash to create the magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands.

The story itself is pure escapist magic as a chance encounter via a park bench leads our youthful hero on a mission of utmost diplomatic importance to the European kingdom of Syldavia. This picturesque principality stood for a number of countries such as Czechoslovakia that were in the process of being subverted by Nazi insurrectionists at time of writing.

Tintin becomes a surveillance target for enemy agents and, after a number of life-threatening near misses, flies to Syldavia with his new friend. The sigillographer Professor Alembick is an expert on Seals of Office and his research trip coincides with a sacred ceremony wherein the Ruler must annually display the fabled sceptre of King Ottokar to the populace or lose his throne.

When the sceptre is stolen it takes all of Tintin’s luck and cunning to prevent an insurrection and the overthrow of the country by enemy provocateurs…

Full of dash, as breathtaking as a rollercoaster ride and as compelling as any Bond movie, this is classic adventure story-telling to match the best of the cinema’s swashbucklers and as suspenseful as a Hitchcock thriller, balancing insane laughs with moments of genuine tension.

Clearly just as the world headed into a new Dark Age, Hergé was entering a Golden one…

These ripping yarns for all ages are an unparalleled highpoint in the history of graphic narrative. Their constant popularity proves them to be a worthy addition to the list of world classics of literature.
King Ottokar’s Sceptre: artwork © 1947, 1975 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1958 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Superman/Batman volume 1 (New edition)


By Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines, Pat Lee & Dreamwave Productions, Michael Turner & Peter Steigerwald & various (DC Comics)ISBN: 978-1-4012-4818-5 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Compelling Comics Cavortings… 8/10

For many years Superman and Batman worked together as the “World’s Finest” team. They were best friends and the pairing made perfect financial sense as National/DC’s most popular heroes could cross-sell their combined readerships.

When the characters were redefined for the post-Crisis 1980s, they were remade as suspiciously respectful co-workers who did the same job but deplored each other’s methods and preferred to avoid contact whenever possible – except when they were in the Justice League (but for the sake of your sanity don’t fret that right now!).

After a few years of this new status quo the irresistible lure of Cape & Cowl Capers inexorably brought them together again with modern emotional intensity derived from their incontestably differing methods and characters.

In this rocket-paced, post-modern take on the relationship, they have reformed as firm friends for the style-over-content 21st century, and this is the story of their first outing together. Outlawed and hunted by their fellow heroes, Superman finds himself accused of directing a continent-sized chunk of Kryptonite to crash into Earth, with Batman accused of aiding and abetting…

To save Superman, the world and their own reputations they are forced to attempt the overthrow of the United States President himself. Of course, said President is the unspeakably evil Lex Luthor. Back in 2003 he was considered the least likely leader America could ever elect…

I deeply disliked this tale when I first read it: Plot is reduced to an absolute minimum in favour of showy set-pieces, previously established characterisation often hostage to whatever seems the easiest way to short-cut to action (mortal foes Captain Atom and Major Force work together to capture our heroes because President Luthor tells them to?) but after all these years it’s worthy of another look and I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve changed my opinion somewhat…

This paperback (and eBook) compilation collects issues #1-13 of the hip turn of the century reboot Superman/Batman (and includes a vignette from Superman/Batman Secret Files 2003) collectively spanning October 2003 to October 2004)

The action – written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Ed McGuiness & Dexter Vines – opens with ‘World’s Finest’ as the Dark and Light Knights follow telling leads in separate cases back to shape-shifting cyborg John (Metallo) Corben, discovering evidence to suggest that the ruthless cyborg might have been the at-large-for-decades shooter in the still unsolved double murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne

Even that bombshell seems inconsequential after the mechanoid monster shoots Superman in the chest with a kryptonite bullet before burying the stunned duo under tons of Earth in a Gotham graveyard…

Meanwhile at the Pentagon, President Lex is informed that a toxically radioactive lump of Krypton the size of Australia is on a collision course with Earth. Implausibly adopting (and foreshadowing) the “Fake News” disinformational line that Superman has summoned it, the Federal Government issues an arrest warrant for the Man of Steel and convenes a metahuman taskforce to bring him in…

Escaping certain doom thanks to Batman’s skill and unflappable nerve, the blithely unaware heroes reach medical help in the Batcave in ‘Early Warning’, only to be attacked by an older version of Superman, determined to prevent them making a mistake that will end life on Earth…

After a massive nuclear strike (somehow augmented by embargoed Boom Tube technology from hell-world Apokolips), Luthor overrules Captain Atom’s qualms about the mission and orders his anti-Superman squad to apprehend their target wherever he might be hiding.

The President then goes on television to blame the alien for the impending meteor strike and announces a billion-dollar Federal bounty on the Action Ace…

Man of Tomorrow and Man of Darknight Detective respond by direct assault in ‘Running Wild’, hurtling towards Washington DC only to be ambushed en route by a greed-crazed army of super-villains and mind-controlled heroes before Atom’s group – Green Lantern John Stewart, Black Lightning, Katana, Starfire, Power Girl and certified quantum psychopath Major Force – join the attack…

As the combatants ‘Battle On’, in the Oval Office even fanatical civil servant Amanda Waller – commander of covert Penal Battalion the Suicide Squad – begins to realise something is wrong with the President.

For a start, his behaviour is increasingly erratic, but the real clue is that he is juicing himself with a kryptonite-modified version of super-steroid venom…

The blistering battle between the outlawed heroes and Atom’s unit extends as far as Japan, (where the Cape & Cowl Crusaders are secretly organising a last-ditch solution to the imminent Kryptonite continent crash) before Major Force begins to smell a rat and realises some of his team are actually working with Superman and Batman.

Military martinet Captain Atom is not one of them, but eventually even he is made to see reason – only moments before the deranged Major goes ballistic and nearly turns Tokyo to ashes…

Using his energy-absorbing powers, Atom prevents the holocaust, but the monumental radiation release triggers his “temporal safety-valve” and the silver-skinned soldier materialises in a future where Earth is a barren cinder and only an aged, tragic, broken Superman resides…

Meanwhile in the present, the Presidential Pandemonium has prompted the venerable Justice Society of America to step in; despatching Captain Marvel and Hawkman to apprehend the fugitive Superman and Batman.

Apparently successful, the operation triggers a back-up team (Supergirl, Nightwing, Steel, Superboy, Natasha Irons, Robin, Huntress, Batgirl and even Krypto) who invade the White House only to be defeated by Luthor himself, high on K-Venom and utilising Apokolyptian technology in ‘State of Siege’

With extinction only moments away and a deranged President Luthor on the loose, Superman and Batman prepare to employ their eleventh-hour suicidal salvation machine but are caught off-guard when a most unexpected substitute ambushes them to pilot the crucial mission in ‘Final Countdown’

In so many ways this yarn is everything I hate about modern comics. The story length is artificially extended to accommodate lots of guest stars and superfluous fighting, whilst large amounts of narrative occur off-camera or between issues, presumably to facilitate a faster, smoother read.

On the plus side, however, is the fact that I’m an old fart. There is clearly a market for such snazzy, souped-up, stripped down, practically deconstructed comic fare. And if I’m being completely honest, there is a certain fizz and frisson to non-stop, superficial all-out action – especially when it’s so dynamically illustrated.

Public Enemies looks very good indeed and, if much of the scenario is obvious and predictable, it is big and immediate and glossy like a summer blockbuster movie is supposed to be.

The epic is followed by a stand-alone tale starring Robin – the Tim Drake version – and semi-Kryptonian clone Conner Kent.

‘Protégé’ sees the assistants – don’t call them sidekicks – despatched to Japan to end the threat of a new Toyman. This particular giggling genius is a lethally brilliant kid and their off-the-wall solution to his antics is both smart and effective…

Next follows a tale and situation that only comics could conceive.

For decades DC really couldn’t make up their minds over Supergirl. I’ve actually lost count of the number of different versions that have cropped up over the years, and I’ve never been able to shake the queasy feeling that above all else she’s a concept that was cynically shifted from being a way to get girls reading comics to one calculated to ease young male readers over that bumpy patch between sporadic chin-hair outbreaks, voice-breaking and that nervous period of hiding things under your mattress where your mum never, never ever looks…

After a few intriguing test-runs the first true Girl of Steel debuted as a future star of the ever-expanding Superman pocket universe in Action Comics #252 (May 1959). Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, hurled intact into space when the planet exploded. Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris and her dying parents, observing Earth through their vision-scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they apparently perished.

Landing on Earth, she fortuitously met Superman who created the identity of Linda Lee and hid her in an orphanage whilst she learned of her new world and powers in secrecy and safety.

Her popularity waxed and waned over the years until she was earmarked for destruction as one of the attention-grabbing deaths during Crisis on Infinite Earths.

However, after John Byrne successfully rebooted the Man of Steel, non-Kryptonian iterations began to appear – each with her own fans – until early in the 21st century the company Powers-that-Be decided the real Girl of Steel should come back… sort of…

Thus, this visually intoxicating version (from Superman/Batman #8-13) resets to the original concept and has a naked blonde chick arrive on a colossal Kryptonite meteor, claiming to be Superman’s cousin…

Written by Loeb with captivating art by Michael Turner & Peter Steigerwald, the action commences in ‘Alone’, as a quarantined Superman chafes at enforced detention, the Dark Knight explores a section of the meteor submerged in Gotham Bay.

The JLA have all been active, clearing away the deadly fragments, but this last one is most disturbing. As Batman quickly grasps, it’s a ship, but its single passenger is now missing…

Soon the Gotham Guardian is tracking a wave of destruction caused by a seemingly confused teenaged girl with incredible powers and only Superman’s unwise early intervention stops the mounting carnage.

Their subsequent investigations reveal the comely captive to have all the Man of Tomorrow’s abilities and she claims – in fluent Kryptonian – to be the daughter of his long-dead uncle Zor-El

The mystery further unfolds in ‘Visitor’ as a deeply suspicious Batman and ecstatic Superman continue their researches, arguing their corners as the most powerful girl on Earth becomes increasingly impatient. Fuelling the Dark Knight’s concern is superdog Krypto’s clear and savage hostility to the newcomer and Kara’s convenient claim that she has amnesia…

Then as Clark Kent endeavours to acclimatise his cousin to life on Earth, on the hellish world of Apokolips vile Granny Goodness and her Female Furies are ordered by ultimate evil space-god Darkseid to acquire the pliable naive newcomer…

Before they can strike, however, an attack comes from an unexpected source, as former ally Harbinger, ruthless hunter Artemis and beloved ally Wonder Woman ambush the Kryptonians. …

Princess Diana has acted arbitrarily but from absolute necessity: kidnapping Kara and bringing her to the island home of the Amazons to be trained in the use of her powers as a ‘Warrior’.

Superman’s growing obsession has rendered him unable to see her potential for destruction, despite a cryptic message on her space ship from Zor-El, and Wonder Woman chose to strike first and ask later…

With tempers barely cooled, Dark Knight and Action Ace are invited to observe Kara’s progress weeks later, just as the tropical paradise is assaulted by an army of artificial Doomsdays manufactured on Apokolips…

The wave of slaughter is a feint, but by the time the rampaging horrors are all destroyed, the Furies have done their work, slaughtering Kara’s only friend and stealing away the Kryptonian kid…

In ‘Prisoner’, DC’s superheroic high trinity enlist the aid of Apokolyptian émigré Big Barda and stage a devastating rescue mission to Darkseid’s homeworld, but not before the Lord of Evil apparently twists the innocent Girl of Steel into his tool: making her a ‘Traitor’ to the living…

The Master of Apokolips has never faced a foe as adamant as Batman and the quartet are unexpectedly victorious, but after returning Kara to Earth and announcing her as the new Supergirl, the heroes discover that they are not safe or secure, and in ‘Hero’ Darkseid horrifyingly returns to exact his ultimate revenge…

For me, the most intriguing aspect of this sometimes overly-sentimental tale is Batman’s utter distrust and suspicion of Kara as she is hidden from the world while she assimilates, but there’s plenty of beautifully rendered action – plus oodles of lovingly rendered girl-flesh and titillating fetish outfits jostling for attention amidst the lavish fight-scenes and interminable guest-cameos, should that be to your tastes – and enough sheer spectacle to satisfy any Fights ‘n’ Tights fans.

Even now the goods things have not been exhausted as Superman/Batman Secret Files 2003 provides a charming peek into the past with ‘When Clark met Bruce’ (“A tale from the days of Smallville”) in which bucolic 2-page snippet, Loeb & Tim Sale effectively tease us with the question of what might have been, had the go happy-go-lucky Kent boy actually got to have a play-date with that morose, recently orphaned rich kid from Gotham City…

Filling out the experience are pictorial fact-file on Superman, Batman,

President Lex Luthor, Talia and Metallo, plus a full cover gallery by McGuiness & Vines, Turner & Steigerwald and Jim Lee & Scott Williams and studies and design sketches for Supergirl.

Full of flash and dazzle this mighty tome might well be the kind of Fights ‘n’ Tights thrill you’re looking for this yule season.
© 2003, 2004, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan: The Complete Joe Kubert Years


By Joe Kubert with Burne Hogarth, Hal Foster, Frank Thorne, Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-982-3 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Captivating Classic Comics Entertainment… 9/10

Soon after first publication in 1912 Tarzan of the Apes became a multi-media sensation and global brand. More novels and many movies followed; a comic strip arrived in 1929, followed by a radio show in 1932 with the Ape-Man inevitably carving out a solid slice of the comicbook market too, once that industry was firmly established.

Western Publishing were a big publishing and printing outfit based on America’s West Coast, rivalling and frequently surpassing DC and Marvel at the height of their powers. They specialised in licensed properties and the jewels in their crown were all the comics starring the Walt Disney and Warner Brothers cartoon characters.

The publishers famously never capitulated to the wave of anti-comics hysteria that resulted in the crippling self-censorship of the 1950s. Dell Comics – and latter imprints Gold Key and Whitman – never displayed a Comics Code Authority symbol on their covers. They never needed to…

Dell also sought out other properties like movie or newspaper strip franchises, and would become inextricably associated with TV adaptations once the small screen monopolised modern homes.

In 1948 Dell produced the first all-new Tarzan comicbook. The newspaper strip had previously provided plenty of material for expurgated reprint editions until Dell Four Color Comic #134 (February 1947).

This minor milestone featured a lengthy, captivating tale of the Ape-Man scripted by Robert P Thompson – who wrote both the Tarzan radio show and aforementioned syndicated strip – with art by the legendary Jesse Marsh.

Marsh & Thompson’s Tarzan returned with two further tales in Dell Four Color Comic #161, cover-dated August 1947. This was a frankly remarkable feat: Four Colour was a catch-all umbrella title that showcased literally hundreds of different licensed properties – often as many as ten separate issues per month – so such a rapid return meant pretty solid sales figures.

Within six months the bimonthly Tarzan #1 was released (January/February 1948), beginning an unbroken run that only ended in 1977, albeit by a convoluted route…

After decades as solid Whitman staples, licensing of Edgar Rice Burroughs properties was transferred to DC – not just Tarzan and his extended family, but also fantasy pioneers John Carter of Mars, Carson of Venus, Pellucidar and others – with the new company continuing the original numbering.

Tarzan #207 had an April 1972 cover-date and the series carried on until February 1977 and issue #258. From then on Marvel, Malibu and Dark Horse extended the jungle Lord’s comicbook canon…

The early 1970s were the last real glory days of National/DC Comics. As they slowly lost market share to Marvel, they responded by producing controversial and landmark superhero material, but their greatest strength lay – as it always had – in the variety and quality of its genre divisions.

Mystery and Supernatural, Romance, War and Kids’ titles remained strong or even thrived and the company’s eye for a strong brand was as keen as ever.

The Ape Man and his family had been a mainstay of Dell/Gold Key, as well as a global multi-media phenomenon, so when DC acquired rights they justifiably trumpeted it out, putting one of their top creators in sole charge of the legendary Ape-Man’s monthly exploits, as well as generating a boutique bunch of ERB titles in a variety of formats.

The DC incarnation premiered in a blaze of publicity at the height of a nostalgia boom and was generally well received by fans. For many of us, those years provided the definitive graphic Tarzan, thanks solely to the efforts of the Editor, publisher and illustrator who shepherded the Ape-man through the transition.

They were all the same guy: Joe Kubert.

Kubert was born in 1926 in rural Southeast Poland (which became Ukraine and might be Outer Russia by the time you read this). At age two his parents took him to America and he grew up in Brooklyn. According to his Introduction his earliest memory of cartooning was Hal Foster’s Tarzan Sunday strips…

Joe’s folks encouraged him to draw from an early age and the precocious kid began a glittering career at the start of the Golden Age, before he was even a teenager. Working and learning at the Chesler comics packaging “Shop”, MLJ, Holyoke and assorted other outfits, he began his close association with National/DC in 1943.

A canny survivor of the Great Depression, he also maintained outside contacts, dividing his time and energies between Fiction House, Avon, Harvey and All-American Comics, where he particularly distinguished himself on The Flash and Hawkman.

In the early 1950s he and old school chum Norman Maurer were the creative force behind publishers St. Johns: creating evergreen caveman Tor and launching the 3D comics craze with Three Dimension Comics.

Joe never stopped freelancing, appearing in EC’s Two-Fisted Tales, Avon’s Strange Worlds, Lev Gleason Publications & Atlas Comics until 1955 when, with the industry imploding, he took a permanent position at DC, only slightly diluted whilst he illustrated the contentious and controversial newspaper strip Tales of the Green Berets from 1965 to 1968. From then on, he split his time drawing Sgt. Rock and other features, designing covers and editing DC’s line of war comicbooks.

And then DC acquired Tarzan…

This monumental paperback archive (also available in digital formats) collects the entirety of his work with the Ape-Man: stories from Tarzan #207-235 (April-November 1972 to February/March 1975); a tour de force of passion transubstantiated into stunning comic art, with Kubert writing, illustrating and lettering.

Moreover, the vibrant colours in this epic re-presentation are based on Tatjana Wood’s original guides, offering readers a superbly authentic and immersive experience whether you’re coming fresh to the material or joyously revisiting a beloved lost time.

The only disconcerting things about this stellar compilation are the cover reproductions, which appear in all their iconic glory but manipulated to remove DC’s trademark logos. The mightiest force in the modern jungle is still Intellectual Property lawyers…

The tense suspense begins with Kubert’s Introduction to earlier collections before an adaptation of debut novel Tarzan of the Apes opens with a safari deep in the jungle.

A pretty rich girl is driving her white guide and native bearers at a ferocious pace as she desperately hunts for her missing father.

When a bronzed god bursts into view battling a panther, she watches aghast as human impossibly triumphs over killer cat and then pounds his chest whilst emitting an astounding scream. As the terrifying figure vanishes back into the green hell the girl’s questions are grudgingly answered by the old hunter who relates a legend he has heard…

‘Origin of Tarzan of the Apes’ reveals how, following a shipboard mutiny, John Clayton, Lord Greystoke and his wife Lady Alice are marooned on the African coast with all their possessions, including the vast library of books and Primers intended for their soon-to-be-born baby…

Against appalling odds, they persevered with Greystoke building a fortified cabin to shelter them from marauding beasts, especially the curious and savage apes which roam the region. Despite the birth of a son, eventually the jungle won and the humans perished, but their son was saved by a grieving she-ape who adopted the baby to replace her own recently killed “Balu”…

The ugly, hairless boy thrived under Kala’s doting attentions, growing strong but increasingly aware that he was intrinsically different. He only discovered the how and why after years of diligent effort: through sheer intellectual effort and the remnants of his father’s books and papers, Tarzan learned to read and deduced that he was a M-A-N…

The tale within a tale continues in ‘A Son’s Vengeance: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 2’ as the boy rises to prominence amongst his hirsute tribe and through imagination and invention masters all the beasts of his savage environment. Eventually a brutal, nomadic tribe of natives settle in the area and Tarzan has his first contact with creatures he correctly identifies as being M-E-N like him…

The new situation leads to the greatest tragedy of his life as a hunter of M’Bonga’s tribe kills beloved, devoted Kala and Tarzan learns the shock of loss and overpowering hunger for revenge…

Issue #209 revealed how civilisation finally caught up with Tarzan as ‘A Mate For the Ape-Man: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 3’ saw him meet and save American Jane Porter, her elderly father and his own cousin…

Just as had happened years earlier, these unlucky voyagers were marooned by mutineers. Discovering John Clayton’s cabin, the castaways find the lost peer’s diary, which is of especial interest to William Clayton, the current Lord Greystoke. As tensions rise and humans die, Tarzan takes his golden-haired mate deep into the impenetrable verdure…

It all concludes neatly and tantalisingly in ‘Civilisation: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 4’ wherein the innately noble Tarzan returns Jane to her fiancé William just in time for the westerners to be rescued by Naval Officer Paul D’Arnot.

When the dashing French Lieutenant is captured and tortured by M’Bonga’s tribesmen, Tarzan rescues him and nurses him back to health. In return, the grateful sailor teaches him to speak human languages that up until that moment he could only read and write in…

By then, however, the navy vessel and saved souls have all sailed away, each carrying their own secrets with them…

With no other options, lovelorn Tarzan agrees to accompany D’Arnot back to civilisation. The eternal comrades eventually settle in Paris with Tarzan practically indistinguishable from other men…

Even today ‘Origin of the Ape-Man’ is still the most faithful adaptation of ERB’s novel in any medium: potent and evocative, fiercely expressive, a loving and utterly visceral true translation of the landmark saga.

Kubert’s intent was to adapt all 24 Burroughs novels and intersperse them with short, complete tales but the workload, coupled with his other editorial duties, was crippling. To buy some time #211 combined old with new as ‘Land of the Giants’ partially adapted and incorporated Don Garden & Burne Hogarth’s newspaper classic ‘Tarzan and the Fatal Mountain’: Sunday strip pages #582-595 which had originally ran from May 3rd to August 2nd 1942.

You can see that saga in all its uncut glory by tracking down Tarzan versus the Barbarians (Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 2.

Here, however, a battle with crocodiles lands Tarzan in a lost valley where giant natives are persecuted by deformed, diminutive outworlder Martius Kalban; a sadist who hungers for the secrets of their prodigious size and strength. Even after gaining his dark desire, Kalban finds himself no match for the outraged Ape-Man…

It’s followed by ‘The Captive!’, a latter-day exploit beginning a run of yarns based on the short stories comprising ERB’s book Jungle Tales of Tarzan as the relationship between Ape-Man and elephants is explored with each saving the other from the ever-present threat of the hunters of M’Bonga…

The Jungle Tales reworkings continue with ‘Balu of the Great Apes’ as childhood friends of Tarzan becomes incomprehensibly aggressive after the birth of their first baby and this first astounding compilation ends with ‘The Nightmare’ as starving Tarzan steals and gorges on meat and drink from the native village.

The resultant food poisoning takes him on a hallucinogenic journey never to be forgotten: one that almost costs his life when he can no longer tell phantasm from genuine threat…

Following Kubert’s Introduction to Tarzan #215-#224, the pictorial wonderment resumes with another vintage visual treat as ‘The Mine!’ (Tarzan #215, December 1972) incorporates material originally seen in 1930s Sunday newspaper strips (by Hal Foster & George Carlin) embedded in an original tale by Kubert.

As previously deadline pressure again compelled Kubert to combine original with found material, detailing how the Ape-Man is captured by slavers and pressed into toil deep in the bowels of the earth for a sadistic mine owner.

Naturally, Tarzan soon chafes at enforced servitude and quickly leads a savage workers’ revolt to overturn and end the corporate bondage…

Issue #216 took another route to beating deadlines with old pal Frank Thorne pencilling Kubert’s script for ‘The Renegades’, leaving hard-pressed Joe to ink and complete the story of a murderous raid which wipes out a Red Cross mission.

Investigating the atrocity, Tarzan discovers the “maddened savages” responsible are actually white men masquerading as natives; stealing supplies for a proposed expedition to plunder a lost treasure vault. When he catches the culprits, Tarzan’s vengeance is terrible indeed…

‘The Black Queen!’ is an all-new, all-Kubert affair wherein the Jungle Lord almost saves a man from crocodiles. Acceding to the ravaged victim’s last wish, Tarzan then travels to his distant homeland and overturns the brutal regime of tyrannical Queen Kyra who rules her multicultural kingdom with whimsy, ingrained prejudice and casual cruelty…

The equally selfish choices of American millionaire tycoon Darryl T. Hanson blights his family as his search for ‘The Trophy’ decimates the fauna of Tarzan’s home and leads to a clash of wills and ideologies which can only end in tragedy…

With #219, Kubert began an epic 5-issue adaptation of ERB’s sequel novel The Return of Tarzan. It opens in Paris as the unacknowledged son of long-vanished Lord Greystoke tries to adapt to his new life as a civilised man of leisure.

One night his natural gallantry draws him to the side of a woman screaming for help and he is attacked by a gang of thugs. After easily thrashing the brigands he is astounded to find her accusing him of assault and simply bounds effortlessly away from the gendarmes called to the disturbance.

This entire trap has been engineered by a new enemy; Russian spy and émigré Nikolas Rokoff and his duplicitous toady Paulvitch

The rightful heir to the Greystoke lands and titles silently stood aside and let his apparently unaware cousin William Cecil Clayton claim both them and the American Jane Porter after Tarzan rescued her from attacking apes in the jungle. Missing her terribly, Tarzan had chosen to make his own way in the human world beside French Naval Officer Paul D’Arnot.

In the course of his urbane progression, the Ape-Man had exposed the Russian cheating at cards to blackmail French diplomat Count De Coude and earned himself a relentless, implacable foe forever.

When Rokoff subsequently tries to murder Tarzan, the vile miscreant agonisingly learns how powerful his jungle-bred enemy is…

With physical force clearly of no use, Rokoff’s latest plan is to put the Ape-Man through a ‘Trial by Treachery’; manufacturing “evidence” that Tarzan is having an affair with the Comte’s wife. Once again, the civilised beast underestimates his target’s forthright manner of dealing with problems and is savagely beaten until he admits to the plot and clears the innocent woman’s name…

With news of Jane’s impending marriage to Clayton, Tarzan seeks to ease his tortured mind with action and the next chapter sees him travel to Algeria where, sponsored by the grateful, ashamed Count, he begins working for the French Secret Service in Sidi Bel Abbes, ferreting out a traitor in the turbulently volatile colony…

His hunt soon leads him to a likely turncoat and subsequent brutal battle with Arab agent provocateurs, but things start to turn his way after he liberates a dancing slave who is the daughter of a local sheik.

When word of Jane comes from D’Arnot, Tarzan throws himself even more deeply into his tasks and falls into another ambush organised by Rokoff. This time his ‘Fury in the Desert’ seems insufficient to his needs until his newfound friend the Sheik rides to the rescue…

The intrigue continues to unfold in ‘Return of the Primitive’ as Tarzan finally uncovers a link between Rokoff and the espionage at Sidi Bel Abbes. Mission accomplished, he is then posted to Capetown and aboard ship meets voyager Hazel Strong, a close friend of Jane’s who reveals the heiress had never forgotten her tryst with an Ape-Man.

Unable to watch Jane enter into a loveless marriage, Hazel took off on an ocean cruise…

The story rocks Tarzan’s mind, but not so completely that he fails to notice Rokoff is also aboard and murderously dogging his footsteps. This time, however, the Russian is properly prepared and that night the jungle man vanishes from the ship…

Rokoff’s act of assassination is a purely pyrrhic victory. Soon after reaching Capetown the villain insinuates himself into the Clayton wedding party but when their yacht’s boilers explode next morning, he, Hazel, Clayton, Jane and her father are left adrift in a lifeboat…

Tarzan, meanwhile, has survived being tumbled overboard and spent days swimming hundreds of miles. He now washes up on the same beach his parents were left upon decades ago. Staggering inland, he finds himself in the cabin his father built before being stolen and adopted by Kala the She-Ape.

John Clayton is forgotten, for fate has brought Tarzan home…

A man changed by his time amongst other men, the Jungle Lord instinctively saves a native warrior from certain death and is astonished to find himself declared chieftain of the noble Waziri tribe.

…And off the coast, a lifeboat filled with dying travellers espies land and wearily sculls towards a welcoming beach in the heart of primeval forests…

Revelling in his newfound status, popularity and freedom, Tarzan enquires about the fabulous jewelled ornaments of his new friends and learns of an incredible lost metropolis. Soon he is curiously journeying to ‘The City of Gold’ where he encounters debased, degenerate sub-men led by a gloriously beautiful Queen.

La is high priestess of forgotten Atlantean outpost Opar, but can barely control her subjects enough to allow the perfect specimen of manhood to escape to safety. Both she and Tarzan know they are destined to meet again…

Refusing to be cheated of their sacrifice, the bloodthirsty Oparian males search far into the jungle and soon encounter the Clayton yacht survivors. When the primitives attack the human strangers and carry off Jane, Rokoff shows his true colours, leaving William to his fate. This callous act also inadvertently clears the path for Tarzan to finally claim his inheritance and reunite with Jane…

All the Jungle Lord has to do is break back into Opar, save his one true love from ‘The Pit of Doom!’ and escape the wrath of jealous Queen La…

That mission accomplished, he and Jane return to the beach in time to witness William’s dying confession and accept the succession to the estates and title of Lord Greystoke…

The adaptation is followed by an original adventure codicil, seeing Tarzan rescue a beautiful maiden from attacking apes and discovering she is a messenger from La, who is in peril of her life…

In Opar another insurrection by the Beast Men has left the Queen imperilled by her subjects and threatened by a gigantic mutant whom she tearfully reveals is her sibling in ‘Death is My Brother!’ With no choice, Tarzan regretfully battles the nigh-mindless brute and proves to the insurgents that his wrath is greater than their malice…

A third and final text missive of fond reminiscences from Kubert regarding the material from Tarzan #225-235 then leads into original tale ‘Moon Beast’ which sees a mother and child brutally slaughtered and Tarzan captured: framed for the hideous crime by cunning medicine man Zohar.

When the vile trickster overreaches himself, the captive Ape-Man breaks free but still has to deal with the mutant brute Zohar employed to perpetrate the atrocity…

Kubert only produced the cover for #226 as the crushing deadline pressures finally caught up with him. The contents – not included here – featured a retelling of the Ape-Man’s origins by Russ Manning, taken from the Sunday newspaper strips of 15th November 1970-7th February 1971.

Back for #227, Joe took Tarzan out of his comfort zone as ‘Ice Jungle’ saw young native warrior Tulum endure a manhood rite at the top of a mountain. Also converging on the site for much the same reason is American trust-fund brat J. Pellington Stone III, determined to impress his father by bagging a legendary snow ape. Sensing impending doom, Tarzan follows them both and is proved correct in his assessment…

After single-handedly killing an immense Sabretooth tiger in an unexplored region of the continent, Tarzan is captured by pygmies intent on offering him as sacrifice to a mighty monster who has terrorised them for years. However, his ‘Trial By Blood!’ sees Jungle Lord cleverly outwit giant lizard and teach the tribal elders a valuable lesson in leadership, after which albino queen Zorina seeks to extend her power by making him her consort.

The Ape-Man wants nothing to do with ‘The Game!’, and, after the kingdom descends into savage civil war, sees ironic Fate deal the white queen a telling death blow…

With Tarzan #230 (April/May 1974), the title transformed into a sequence of 100-page giants, mixing new material with reprints of ERB characters and thematically-aligned stars from DC’s vast back-catalogue.

Leading off that issue was a brief all-Kubert vignette as ‘Tarzan’ saves a deer from a lioness. That neatly segues into ‘Leap into Death’ starring Korak, Son of Tarzan and written by Robert Kanigher, with Kubert pencilling and inks from Russ Heath.

Here the titanic teen nomad hunted for his stolen true love Meriem and the barbarian Iagho who had abducted her, before stumbling into a nest of aggressively paranoid bird-people who learn to respect his courage but still fly away with his lover…

The next issue featured the start of another-Kubert-adapted Burroughs novel: possibly the most intriguing conception of the entire canon.

‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part One’ saw a movie company on location in the deep jungle. They are making a picture about a white man raised by animals who becomes undisputed master of all he surveys. The chain of coincidences grows more improbable as actor Stanley Obroski is a dead ringer for Tarzan… which probably explains why he is taken by savages set on torturing him to death…

Rescued by Tarzan, Stanley explains how the expedition was attacked, unaware exactly how much trouble his fellow actors are in. During Obroski’s absence, stand-in Rhonda Terry and starlet Naomi Madison are kidnapped by El Ghrennem’s Arab bandits who believe the production’s prop map leads to an actual valley of diamonds…

When Tarzan find the rest of the film crew he is mistaken for Stanley and drawn into their search for the missing women. The plucky Americans have already made a mad dash for freedom, however, and Rhonda has been captured by creatures she simply cannot believe…

After a fascinating bonus section revealing Kubert’s ‘Layouts and Thumbnails’ for the opening chapter, ‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part Two’ reveals Rhonda taken by apes who speak Elizabethan English, and made the subject of a fierce debate. Half of the articulate anthropoids want to take her to “God” whilst the other faction believes her a proper prize of their liege lord “King Henry VIII”…

After being briefly recaptured by El Ghrennem, Naomi too is taken by the talkative Great Apes. When Tarzan discovers the kidnapper’s corpses, he follows the trail up an apparently unscalable escarpment. Rescuing and returning Miss Madison to her surviving friends, “Stanley” then returns to ascend the stony palisade and discover an incredible pastoral scene complete with feudal village and English castle…

Tracking Rhonda, he enters the citadel and meets a bizarre human/ape hybrid calling himself God. The garrulous savant explains that once he was simply a brilliant Victorian scientist pursuing the secrets of life. When his unsavoury methods of procuring test-subjects forced him to flee England and relocate to this isolated region of Africa, he eventually resumed his experiments and transformed himself into a superior being and apes into fitting servants.

Now they have a society of their own – based on the history books he brought with him – and his experiments are nearing completion. Having already extended his life and vitality far beyond its normal span by experimenting upon himself, God is now ready to attain immortality and physical perfection. All he has to do is consume Tarzan…

Of course, the madman has no conception of his captive’s capabilities, and when the Ape-Man and Rhonda promptly vanish from their dungeon it sends the palace into turmoil and God into a paroxysm of insanity…

The chaos also prompts already ambitious apostate King Henry to begin a revolution to overthrow his creator. As ‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part Three’ opens, the war between Church and State is in full swing and Tarzan battles to rescue Rhonda whilst God’s castle becomes a flaming hell.

Losing her in the chaos Tarzan is forced into a hasty alliance with God, unaware that maniacal monarch Henry has taken her back to the jungles below the escarpment and into a region where God casts his scientific failures…

All too soon Henry is dead and Rhonda is facing beings even stranger than talking apes. Thankfully, ‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part Four’ (preceded by another fascinating Kubert Layout spread) sees the Ape-Man arrive in time to save her from incredible peril before returning her to the film party in the dazzling, tragic conclusion…

Kubert ended his close association with Tarzan in #235’s ‘The Magic Herb’. Here the jungle hero saves a couple from a crashed aeroplane and siblings Tommy and Gail urge him to help them find a legendary flower that might cure the man’s fatal ailment. However, something about them makes Tarzan deeply suspicious…

Nevertheless, he takes them to the primeval lost valley where it grows, only to be betrayed as the intruders frame him: throwing the jungle lord to the resident lizard men whilst fleeing with specimens that will make them millionaires in the outside world.

Sadly, the treacherous pair have completely misunderstood the powers of the plant and pay the ultimate price all betrayers must…

Wrapping up the astounding thrills and captivating artistry (splendidly remastered by Sno Cone Studious & Jason Hvam) are more revelatory treasures from ‘Joe Kubert’s Tarzan Sketchbook’ tracing the art process from page-roughs to competed page

Supplemented by Creator Biographies of Burroughs and Kubert, this tome is another unmissable masterpiece of comics creation and wild adventure no lover of the medium or fantasy fan can afford to be without.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Complete Joe Kubert Years © 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 2005, 2016 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All rights reserved. Trademark Tarzan and Edgar rice Burroughs Inc. All rights reserved.

Thor: Tales of Asgard


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, George Roussos, Don Heck, Paul Reinman, Chic Stone, Vince Colletta & Bill Everett, with Matt Milla & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5189-0

The Mighty Thor was the comic series in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with all things Cosmic was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s examination of space-age mythology began in a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by the fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

That debut tale closes out this selection of mythic masterpieces collectively culled from Journey into Mystery #83, 98-125, and Thor #126 to 145 (August 1962 to October 1967), and available to you in trade paperback and digital formats and all fully recoloured and moodily remastered by hues-master Matt Milla.

Journey into Mystery #97 (October 1963) saw the launch of a spectacular back-up series to the ever-unfolding Thor sagas. Tales of Asgard – Home of the Mighty Norse Gods gave Kirby a vehicle to indulge his fascination with legends.

Initially adapting classic fables of the Elder Eddas but eventually with all-new material particular to the Marvel pantheon, the King built his own cosmos and mythology to underpin the company’s entire continuity. This first yarn, scripted by Lee and inked by George Bell (AKA old Golden Age collaborator George Roussos), outlined the origin of the world and the creation of the trans-dimensional World Tree Yggdrasil.

The next issue proclaimed ‘Odin Battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants!’: a short, potent fantasy romp laying more groundwork for decades of cosmic wonderment to come, inked with brittle mastery by Don Heck.

The next peek at primordial prehistory details Odin’s war with ‘Surtur the Fire Demon’ and latterly (with Paul Reinman inking) crafted an exploit of the All-Father’s so different sons in ‘The Storm Giants – a Tale of the Boyhood of Thor’. As always, Lee scripted these increasingly influential comicbook histories…

JiM #101 shows Kirby & Roussos in epic form for another exuberant tale of the boy Thor. ‘The Invasion of Asgard’ sees the valiant lad fight a heroic rearguard action whilst introducing a host of future villainous mainstays such as Rime Giants and Troll King Geirrodur.

This is followed by a macabre Reinman-inked mood piece wherein ‘Death Comes to Thor!’, with the turbulent teen facing his greatest challenge yet. Two females who would play huge roles in his life debuted in this brief 5-pager; young goddess Sif and fearsome Hela, Queen of the Dead.

Kirby & Chic Stone next revealed ‘Thor’s Mission to Mirmir!’; disclosing how the gods created mankind. That led one month later to a new Tales of Asgard strand focussing on individual Gods and Heroes. ‘Heimdall: Guardian of the Mystic Rainbow Bridge’ was first, with Heck inking a dramatic recap of the sentinel’s astounding gifts…

Having set up the scenario, ‘When Heimdall Failed!’ (Lee, Kirby & Roussos) expanded the legend before ‘Balder the Brave’ (Lee, Kirby & Vince Colletta) further fleshed out the back-story of an Asgardian pantheon deviating more and more from those classical legends kids had to plough through in schools.

Then, next issue the seductive Norn Queen debuted as a reluctant ally to evil Asgardian Loki, in a quirky reinterpretation of the classic myth ‘Balder Must Die!’ illustrated by Kirby & Colletta.

‘Trapped by the Trolls’ showed the power and promise of tales set solely on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge after Thor liberates enslaved Asgardians from subterranean bondage.

In #109 the Young Thor feature ‘Banished from Asgard’ was an uncharacteristically lacklustre effort as Odin and Thor enacted a devious plan to trap a traitor in Asgard’s ranks but the vignette hinted at much greater thrills to follow…

The sequel was crafty vignette ‘The Defeat of Odin!’ with an old and silly plot sweetened by breathtaking battle scenes, after which another short fable co-opts a Greek myth (Antaeus if you’re asking) as ‘The Secret of Sigurd’ by Lee, Kirby & Colletta …

With Colletta firmly ensconced as inker, Journey into Mystery #112 offered an eagerly anticipated origin with ‘The Coming of Loki’, retelling Marvel-style how Odin came to adopt the baby son of Laufey, the Giant King of Jotunheim. One month later the creators exposed ‘The Boyhood of Loki!’: a pensive, brooding foretaste of a villain in the making.

JiM#114 adapted another Asgardian parable – ‘The Golden Apples’ – by way of a certain European fairy tale whereas #115’s back-up mini-myth detailed ‘A Viper in our Midst!’ as young Loki clandestinely cements relations with the sinister Storm Giants – sworn enemies of the Gods….

These one-off yarns are followed by stellar novellas ‘The Challenge!’ and ‘The Sword in the Scabbard!’ in which Asgardian cabin-fever develops into an extended quest to ferret out a threat to the mystic Odinsword, the unsheathing of which could destroy the universe…

In Journey into Mystery #118 the Quest further unfolds with verity-testing talisman ‘The Crimson Hand!’ before ‘Gather, Warriors!’ heralds the arrival of a band of hand-picked Asgardian “Argonauts” enlisting aboard Thor’s flying longship in a bold but misguided attempt to forestall apparently-imminent Ragnarok…

The next instalment of the godly sky-sailors’ voyage sees them all boldly ‘Set Sail!’, only to encounter an uncanny ‘Maelstrom!’ before ‘The Grim Specter of Mutiny!’ (invoked by seditious Loki) is quashed just in time for valiant Balder to save them all from ‘The Jaws of the Dragon!’

Issue #125 was the last Journey into Mystery: the following month saw the title transformed and re-titled The Mighty Thor. The Tales of Asgard carried on regardless as fresh chapters saw the Questers homing in on the cause of all their woes.

‘Closer Comes the Swarm’ pits them against the flying trolls of Thryheim, whilst ‘The Queen Commands’ finds Loki captured until Thor answers ‘The Summons!’ and promptly returns his crew to Asgard to be shown ‘The Meaning of Ragnarok!’

In all honesty these mini-eddas were, although still magnificent in visual excitement, becoming rather rambling in plot, so a narrative reset was neither unexpected nor unwelcome…

Before the next serial started Kirby pulled out all the creative stops to depict the ‘Aftermath!’ of Ragnarok: for many fans the first indication of what was to come in the King’s landmark Fourth World tales half a decade later…

The assembled Asgardians next faced ‘The Hordes of Harokin’ as another multi-chaptered classic began, after which ‘The Fateful Change!’ reveals how the young Thunderer trades places with similarly-visaged, Genghis Khan-like Harokin…

Tales of Asgard – Home of the Mighty Norse Gods gave Kirby space to indulge his fascination with legends and love of fantasy movies by providing complete vignettes or lengthy serialised epics – in every sense of the word. Initially adapted myths, these back-up yarns grew into sagas unique to the Marvel universe wherein The King built his own cosmos and mythology, which would ultimately become a keystone of the company’s entire continuity.

Now, as a band of assembled Asgardians face Harokin’s all-conquering army, Thor is exposed even as his colossal comrade Volstagg steals the enemy’s apocalyptic wizard-weapon ‘The Warlock’s Eye!’, heralding the eerie arrival of ‘The Dark Horse of Death!’

The apocalyptic steed is looking for its next doomed rider and will not leave until it carries him on one last ride to ‘Valhalla!’

Back in Asgard and some undefinable time agone, ‘When Speaks the Dragon!’ and ‘The Fiery Breath of Fafnir!’ then pit Thor and his Warriors Three comrades Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg against a staggering reptilian monstrosity: a threat finally quashed in #136’s ‘There Shall Come a Miracle!’

By this time the Tales of Asgard feature was winding down and wrapping up, but it still offered Kirby a place to stretch his creative muscles. ‘The Tragedy of Hogun!’ grants revelations concerning the gripping and tragedy-drenched history of the dour eastern warrior in an Arabian Nights pastiche which also introduces sinister sorcerer Mogul of the Mystic Mountain.

‘The Quest for the Mystic Mountain!’ finds Hogun and his comrades edging closer to victory and vengeance, culminating in a truly stunning Kirby spectacle in Thor #139 as the wandering warriors discover ‘The Secret of the Mystic Mountain!’ and are attacked by a devastating giant Jinni

In ‘The Battle Begins!’, Hogun and company defeat the mystic monster only to encounter ‘Alibar and the Forty Demons!’ before Kirby’s seamless melange of myth and legend leap into overdrive as ‘We, Who are About to Die…!’ depicts young Thor and the Warriors Three facing all the magical menaces mastered by Mogul.

Issue #143 (inked by the magnificent Bill Everett) declared ‘To the Death!’ as comic relief Volstagg takes centre-stage to seduce Mogul’s sinister sister only to be interrupted by Mogul triggering ‘The Beginning of the End!’ before wrapping up in spectacularly cataclysmic fashion with ‘The End!’.

The feature was replaced in the next issue with short tales of The Inhumans – but that’s a subject of a separate volume…

Filling out this mythic missal is the groundbreaking debut tale from anthological Journey into Mystery #83, which saw a boldly costumed warrior jostling aside the regular fare of monsters, aliens and sinister scientists in a brash, vivid explosion of verve and vigour.

That initial exploit followed crippled American doctor Donald Blake who takes a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Fleeing, he is trapped in a cave where he finds an old, gnarled walking stick. When in his frustration he smashes the stick into a huge boulder obstructing his escape, his puny frame is transformed into the Norse God of Thunder Mighty Thor!

Plotted by Lee, scripted by his brother Larry Lieber and illustrated by Kirby and inker Joe Sinnott (at this juncture a full illustrator, Sinnott would become Kirby’s primary inker for most of his Marvel career), ‘The Stone Men of Saturn’ is pure early Marvel: bombastic, fast-paced, gloriously illogical and captivatingly action-packed. The hugely under-appreciated Art Simek was the letterer and logo designer.

It was clear that they were making it up as they went along – not in itself a bad thing – and all that infectious enthusiasm showed over the following months and years.

Also on show are a wealth of hidden gems: 50 pages of “factual” detail material including maps and historical essays about Asgard; biographies of numerous Asgardian cast-members, infographics of The Nine Worlds; a gallery of the Eternal Realm’s greatest foes, an incredible double-page pin-up of downtown Asgard plus a cover gallery by Kirby and Walter Simonson, remastered by Milla.

The bonus bonanza doesn’t end there but also offers a selection of variant covers and a breakdown of the Thor: Tales of Asgard Cover Process from Olivier Coipel’s initial pencil sketches to published art, as well as a vast character key.

These early sidebar tales of the God of Thunder show the development not only of one of Marvel’s core narrative concepts but, more importantly, the creative evolution of perhaps the greatest imagination in comics. Set your common sense on pause and simply wallow in the glorious imagery and power of these classic adventures for the true secret of what makes Marvel’s most mythic superheroes such a unique experience.
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Boneyard in Color, Volume 1


By Richard Moore (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-427-9

Happy Día de Muertos to all of you who celebrate the occasion. Here’s something that might appeal to you today…

Boneyard was an award-winning comicbook that ran 28 issues between 2001 and 2009. It was subsequently collected as a series of monochrome albums and eventually seven full-colour collections between 2005-and 2010. Most volumes are still readily available online.

It’s been on hiatus since 2010 and I, for one, miss it something fierce. Surely it’s time for a re-issue and even some new stories, yes?

Young Paris – don’t call him Michael, he hates it – may finally have had a turn of good luck. Not only has he inherited some property from his reclusive grandfather, but the residents of picturesque little hamlet Raven Hollow are desperate to buy it from him, sight unseen. Nonetheless he makes his shambolic way there and finds that it’s not all so cut and dried.

The property in question is a cemetery named The Boneyard and not everything within its walls is content to play dead…

There’s Abby, a beautiful vampire chick, a foul-mouthed skeleton, a demon with delusions of grandeur, a werewolf who thinks he’s a cross between James Dean and the Fonz, a witch, a hulking Frankenstein-type monster and even talking gargoyles over the gate.

Most worrying of all: There’s even a voluptuous (married) amphibian who adds worlds of meaning – and assorted shades of grey – to the phrase “predatory man-eater.”

The place is a veritable refuge for the restless dead and every sort of Halloween horror, but somehow the residents all seem far more human in attitude and friendly in manner than the increasingly off-kilter townsfolk whose desperate measures to make Paris sell up prove that not all monsters haunt graveyards.

Reprinting issues #1-4 of the independent comic book in full-process colour, this is a charming, sly, funny and irresistibly addictive book, a warm-hearted comedy of terrors that is one the best humour series to come out of the States since Charles Addams first started reporting from that spooky old house in the 1940s.

This is a must-have for Horrorists, Humorists and especially Romantics with an open mind, which can even be read by younger teenagers. Get hunting, amigos…
© 2002, 2005 Richard Moore. All Rights Reserved.