Hubert Reeves Explains BiodiversitY


By
Hubert Reeves, Nelly Boutinot & Daniel Casanave, coloured by Claire Champion and translated by Joseph Laredo (Europe Comics)
No ISBN: digital release only

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Lasting Lessons Lavishly Limned and Laudably Learned… 9/10

It’s sometimes easy to forget that other countries have national treasures, too: popular spokes-folk sharing their passions for the good of us all. Living folk, that is, not pilfered artefacts taken into “protective custody” by most western “explorers” whilst visiting other people’s continents: that’s just shameful and unforgivable…

Sir David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, Professors Brian Cox, Lucy Worsley, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and many others have translated their passions into education, elucidation, mass entertainment and good works, but they are not alone and most nations have their own voices of wonder, reason and sanity. For French-speakers, one of those effulgent natural educators is Professor Hubert Reeves.

Born Quebecois in 1932, raised and educated in Montreal but now resident in Paris, the physicist and professional educator is a major name in Thermonuclear Reactions, Light Nuclei and “Positronium”; advises NASA and has – since 1965 – been Director of Research at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique.

In later life he became the go-to guy for science stuff on French TV and has contrived a series of bande dessinée detailing Earth’s rapidly dwindling and almost expired bounties. Following the translated book featured here – which started life in 2017 as Hubert Reeves explique: La bioversité – he turned his sagacious eye to Oceans and Forests, which I’ll probably get around to later, assuming we still have any next year…

Working with co-writer Nelly Boutinot (vice-president of the Humanity and Biodiversity Association) and publisher/illustrator Daniel Casanave (Shelly; Romantica; Une Aventure rocambolesque) the Man of Letters has here inserted himself into a gentle and laconic nature ramble with a group of school children exploring lush countryside which inescapably includes all our mighty works. Delivered with simple but strictly factual directness in a captivating cartoon style that enchants and seduces, the relationships and shared history of cities, suspension bridges and other technologies is deconstructed in terms of their impact on the natural world.

Clarifying and connecting the link between microorganisms and petrochemicals; weather cycles and climate change; the balance between prey and predators in healthy ecosystems; the impact of invasive species (both deliberately imported and free-roaming); the cost to us all of every extinction and the no-brainer importance and function of the oxygen cycle that keeps us all alive, Le Professeur makes his case and proves his points while exulting in the majesty and complexity of existence…

Explained with stunning clarity using powerful symbols and examples from all across the embattled globe, yet still able to end on an optimistic note, Hubert Reeves Explains Biodiversity affords a superb and satisfying life lesson that belongs in every classroom, library and boardroom. Get it for the kids, or maybe they’ll get it for you…
© 2019 – LE LOMBARD (DARGAUD-LOMBARD s.a.) – CASANAVE, REEVES, & BOUTINOT

Conan the Barbarian Epic Collection: volume 2: Hawks from the Sea 1972-1973


By Roy Thomas & Barry Windsor-Smith, with Michael Moorcock, James Cawthorn, Gil Kane, John Buscema, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2655-7 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sensational Sagas for All Seasons… 9/10

During the 1970’s the American comic book industry opened up after more than 15 years of cautiously calcified publishing practises in response to the censorious oversight of the self- inflicted Comics Code Authority: created to police the publishers’ product after the industry suffered its very own McCarthy-style 1950s Witch-hunt.

One of the first genres revisited was Horror/Mystery comics and from that sprang adapted pulp legend Conan the Cimmerian, via an anthological yarn in Chamber of Darkness #4, whose hero bore deliberate thematic resemblance to the Barbarian. It was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Barry (now Windsor-) Smith, a recent Marvel find, and one who was gradually breaking out of the company’s all-encompassing Jack Kirby house-style.

Despite some early teething problems – including being cancelled and reinstated in the same month – the comic book adventures of Robert E. Howard’s brawny warrior soon became as big a success as the revived prose paperbacks which had heralded a world resurgence in tales of fantasy and the supernatural.

After decades away, the brawny brute recently returned to the Aegis of Marvel, subtitled “the Original Marvel Years” due to the character’s sojourn with other publishers and intellectual properties rights holders. This second selection of groundbreaking action fantasy yarns features the contents of Conan the Barbarian #14-26 spanning March 1972-May 1973 – a period when the character was swiftly becoming the darling of the Comics world – and features two creators riding the crest of that creative wave. Digitally remastered and available in trade paperback or digital formats, these absorbing arcane adventures sparked a revolution in comics and a franchising empire in my youth, and are certainly good enough to do so once again.

As we hurtle back in time approximately 12,000 years into a forgotten age of wonders, the dramas open with a classic map of ‘The Hyborean Age of Conan’ plus an accompanying quote I’m sure every devoted acolyte already knows by heart…

The fabulous pictorial fantasy resumes with a tempestuous transatlantic team-up as Conan meets Michael Moorcock’s groundbreaking icon Elric of Melniboné in a 2-part tale freely adapted by Thomas, Windsor-Smith & Sal Buscema from a treatment by the British cult author and his frequent collaborator James Cawthorn.

Elric was a landmark of the Sword & Sorcery genre: last ruler of a pre-human civilization. The denizens of Melniboné were a race of cruel, arrogant sorcerers: dissolute creatures in a slow, decadent decline after millennia of dominance over the Earth.

An albino, Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of his line, is physically weak and possessed of a brooding, philosophical temperament, caring for nothing save his beautiful cousin Cymoril, even though her brother Prince Yrrkoon openly lusts for her and his throne.

Elric doesn’t even really want to rule, but will execute his duty. He is the only one of his race to see the newly evolved race of Man as a threat to the Empire and owns – or is possessed by – black sword Stormbringer: a magical blade which drinks the souls of its victims to feed their vitality to the albino.

His life is all blood and tragedy, exacerbated by his despised dependence on the black sword and his sworn allegiance to the chimerical Lord of Chaos Arioch

Heady stuff for those simpler comic book times: the “White Wolf “was the complete antithesis of roistering lusty, impetuous Conan, who was drawn into a trans-dimensional conflict after rescuing old associate Zephra from marauding Chaos Warriors in ‘A Sword Called Stormbringer!’

She was the daughter of Zukala: a wizard who strangely bore no animosity towards the barbarian youth who had shattered his power and maimed his face the last time they clashed. In fact, the mage wanted to hire Conan to stop rival wizard Kulan Gath from rousing a sleeping demon queen from another realm…

The promise of much gold convinces the normally magic-averse warrior to accept the commission and soon he and Zephra are riding hard for the lake beneath which lies Terhali of Melniboné. They are unaware that Xiombarg, Queen of Swords (and rival Lord of Chaos) has despatched her own warriors to intercept them. As they near the haunted mere, the humans meet a gaunt, eerie albino with his own reasons for seeking out Terhali.

After a violent misunderstanding, Conan and Elric call a suspicious truce, intent on stopping Kulan Gath, his patron Xiombarg and a small army of Chaos killers. However, once the unlikely trio of world savers reach submerged city Yagala, they find ‘The Green Empress of Melniboné!’ is wide awake and intends making her apocalyptic mark on the Hyborian Age…

It takes the callous intervention of Arkyn, Lord of Order and Zephra’s willing sacrifice to end the emerald menace before the heartsick heroes part: each riding towards his own foredoomed destiny…

Conan #16 featured a sort-of reprint in ‘The Frost Giant’s Daughter’: a haunting, racy tale written by Howard and originally adapted in black-&-white for Savage Tales #1. It was slotted into the monthly schedule here after Windsor-Smith first resigned – citing punishing deadlines and poor reproduction values of the now monthly title.

The original monochrome magazine was an early attempt to enter the more adult market, so when it was reprinted, Smith’s art had to be judiciously censored to obscure some female body parts youngsters might be corrupted by. Even so, it remains a beautiful piece of work job by Smith and comes with another map of ‘The Hyborian Age of Conan’.

The artist’s resignation triggered a frantic scrabble for a replacement, which happily brought forth avid R.E. Howard fan Gil Kane, who lent his galvanic dynamism to a stunning 2-part adaptation of a prose short story originally starring Celtic hero Black Turlogh O’Brien

Inked by Ralph Reese, ‘The Gods of Bal-Sagoth’ opens as Conan clashes once again with former foe and current pirate chief Fafnir, before the ship they ride in founders in a storm. As the only survivors, Cimmerian and Vanirman wash ashore on a mist-enshrouded island and fall into a savage power struggle between ambitious castaway Kyrie – who claims to be the incarnation of goddess Aala – and High Priest Gothan who rules the oldest kingdom in the world through sorcery and his puppet King Ska

Now, the faux deity employs an ancient prophecy concerning two warriors from the sea to make her play, but only slaughter and cataclysm result after the insurgency releases ‘The Thing in the Temple’ (inked by Dan Adkins)…

Clearly refreshed and re-inspired, Windsor-Smith returned with #19 for a defining magnum opus, wherein the Cimmerian and Fafnir – last survivors of drowned Bal-Sagoth – are picked up and pressed into service with the invasion fleet of a power-hungry prince…

Developed and adapted from Howard’s lost historical classic The Shadow of the Vulture, the War of the Tarim was a bold epic embroiling the still-young wanderer in a Holy War between city-state Makkalet and expansionist the Empire of Turan, led by ambitious Prince Yezdigerd. He would become a bitter, life-long enemy of our sword-wielding swashbuckler.

‘Hawks of the Sea’ opens slowly as the outlanders learn the ostensible reason for the conflict – the abduction of the current fleshly receptacle of Living God Tarim – but soon kicks into high gear when Yezdigerd’s initial beachhead in Makkalet is repulsed by sorcery. Only Conan’s inimitable prowess and ingenuity allows any survivors to escape back to the relative safety of their ships…

The Cimmerian later joins a commando raid to steal back the man-god and meets a “temple-wench” who turns out to be the city-state’s embattled queen. The mission goes bloodily awry when Machiavellian high priest Kharam-Akkadunleashes the citadel’s ‘Black Hound of Vengeance!’ Barely surviving the beast’s fury, Conan returns to Yezdigerd’s flagship where – upon discovering what the invaders have done with their own burdensome wounded – he maims the Turanian prince and jumps ship…

Grandeur and terror spike with ‘The Monster of the Monoliths!’ (inked by Adkins, P. Craig Russell, Val Mayerik & Sal Buscema) as Conan – at risk of his life – defects to besieged Makkalet and is promptly commissioned by ineffectual King Eannatum to ride through the lines with a small company of men and seek allies and assistance amongst the Queen’s noble but distant family.

Little does he realise he’s been judged expendable but a worthwhile sacrifice for an arcane antediluvian horror from beyond the mortal realms… but then again, little does the loathsome travesty of nature understand the nature of the man it’s been offered…

Conan the Barbarian #22 was a reprint, represented here by the cover and a ‘Special Hyborian Page Pin-up! before inkers Adkins & Chic Stone and the dream-team restart hostilities in ‘The Shadow of the Vulture!’: setting the scene and introducing trend-setting warrior Red Sonja, a female mercenary who would take fantasy fans by storm, especially since the next chapter, ‘The Song of Red Sonja’ – drawn, inked & coloured by Windsor-Smith – became one of the most popular and reprinted stories of the decade. It went on to win the 1973 Academy of Comic Book Arts Awards in the Best Individual Story (Dramatic) category, but was also the restless illustrator’s colour comic swansong…

On his departure, Thomas commenced a long and fruitful partnership with John Buscema, who, in fact, had been Thomas’s first choice to draw Conan, but was deemed by then-publisher Martin Goodman too valuable to waste on a mere licensed property…

Issue #25 introduced Big John via ‘The Mirrors of Kharam Akkad’ (inked by brother Sal and the legendary John Severin): incorporating a loose adaptation of Howard’s King Kull tale The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune while setting the pieces in play for a spectacular conclusion…

The war ended in raw, grimly ironic fashion in ‘The Hour of the Griffin!’ – inked by Ernie Chua (nee Chan) – and swiftly silenced all the nay-sayers who claimed that Conan would die without its original artist…

Even greater heights would be scaled in the months and years to come…

Also included in this grand grimoire of graphic thrills are another map; 16 pages of original art and covers by Windsor-Smith and Kane plus fascinating documents from the Comics Code Authority, listing art changes needed before they allowed ‘The Frost Giant’ Daughter’ to be published, as well as “before-&-after” changes demanded for ‘The Song of Red Sonja’.

This treasure trove then closes with a selection of past collection covers  by John Buscema & Marie Javins and John Cassaday & Laura Martin.

Stirring, evocative, deeply satisfying, this is one of the best collections in a superb series of a paragon of adventurers. What more does any red-blooded, action-starved fan need to know?
© 2020 Conan Properties International, LLC (“CPI”)

Pulling Weeds from a Cactus Garden – Life is Full of Pricks


By Nathalie Tierce (Indigo Raven)
ISBN: 978-1-73783-260-7 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-734174-4-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Particularly Pointed Party Favours for all those Imminent, Inescapable Get-togethers… 8/10

The marriage of image and text is a venerable, potent and astoundingly evocative discipline that can simultaneously tickle like a feather, cut like a scalpel and hit like a steam-hammer. Moreover, repeated visits to a particular piece of work can even generate different responses depending on the recipient’s mood.

If you’re a multi-talented artist like Nathalie Tierce, who’s excelled in film and stage production for everyone from the BBC to Disney and Tim Burton to Martin Scorsese; music performance design for Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Rolling Stones; gallery art; painted commissions and latterly, graphic narratives such as Fairy Tale Remnants, challenges must be a hard thing to find.

Thankfully, human-watching is frequently its own reward, resulting in books like this slim, enthrallingly revelatory paperback (or digital digest) which forensically dissects human nature: exploring modern times and unchanging human nature through a lens of Lockdown and via the immortal truths of folklore as expressed in Aesop’s Fables.

On show in this handy art boutique are stunning paintings in a range of media, but all rendered in the bizarrely baroque classical manner of Breughel or Bosch, albeit blended with the quixotic energy of cartoon satirists Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman.

Each condemnatory visual judgement is deftly wedded to moving, querulous and frankly often quite terrifying epigrams capturing contemporary crisis points of isolation, confusion, despondency and simple surrender to fate: summarised in fractured haikus and weaponised odes such as ‘Lost in a Supermarket’, ‘Domestic Bliss’, ‘Thoughts on the Outside’,‘Destiny Guides Our Fortunes’, ‘Say No Meore’, ‘The Lamb and the Wolf’, ‘Clown Adrift’, ‘Plucked Grumpy Chicken’,‘Speeding Back to the Comfort of Hell’, ‘Tragic Circus’ and more.

Blending wicked whimsy with everyday paranoia and neighbourly competitiveness, Pulling Weeds from a Cactus Garden is a mature delight for all students of human nature with a sharp eye and unforgiving temperament – and surely, isn’t that all of us?
© 2021 Indigo Raven. © 2021 Nathalie Tierce. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four by Johnathan Hickman – The Complete Collection volume 1


By Jonathan Hickman with Sean Chen, Lorenzo Ruggiero Adi Granov, Dale Eaglesham, Neil Edwards, Andrew Currie, Paul Neary, Scott Hanna & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1336-6 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: World’s Greatest Comic Conceptualists… 9/10

The Fantastic Four is generally considered the most pivotal series in modern comic book history, introducing both a new style of storytelling and a decidedly different manner of engaging the readers’ impassioned attentions.

More family than team, the roster has changed continuously over the years but always returning to the original configuration of Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Thing and Human Torch, who together formed the vanguard of modern four-colour heroic history.

The quartet are also known as maverick genius Reed Richards, his wife Sue, their trusty college friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s obnoxious younger brother Johnny Storm; driven survivors of an independently-funded space-shot which went horribly wrong after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

When they crashed back to Earth, the foursome found that they had all been hideously mutated into outlandish freaks. Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and, eventually, project force-fields, Johnny could turn into living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was mutated into a horrifying brute who, unlike his comrades, could not return to a semblance of normality on command.

The series has always been more about big ideas than action/adventure, and that was never more true than in this compilation when the FF were steered by writer, artist designer and stellar modern imagineer Jonathan Hickman (Nightly News; Pax Romana; East of West; Infinity; House of X; Secret Wars).

This chronological compilation opens during the Dark Reign that followed a successful conquest of Earth, when the draconian Federal mandate known as the Superhuman Registration Act led to Civil War between costumed heroes. Tony Stark was hastily appointed the US government’s Security Czar – a “top cop” in sole charge of the beleaguered nation’s defence and freedom. As Director of high-tech enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D. he became the very last word in all matters involving metahumans and the USA’s vast costumed community…

Stark’s subsequent mismanagement of various crises led to the arrest and assassination of Captain America and an unimaginable escalation of global tension and destruction, culminating in the Secret Invasion by shape-shifting alien Skrulls. Discredited and ostracised, he was replaced by apparently rehabilitated, recovering schizophrenic Norman Osborn – the original Green Goblin – who assumed full control of the USA’s covert agencies and military resources, disbanded S.H.I.E.L.D. and placed the nation under the aegis of his own new organisation H.A.M.M.E.R.

The erstwhile villain had first begun his climb back to respectability after taking charge of the Thunderbolts Project: a penal program which offered a second chance to super-criminals who volunteered to undertake Federally-sanctioned missions…

Not content with legitimate political and personal power, Osborn also secretly conspired with a coalition of major malevolent masterminds to divvy up the world between them. The Cabal was a Star Chamber of super-villains working towards mutually self-serving goals, but such egomaniacal personalities could never play well together for long and cracks soon began to show, both in the criminal conspiracy and Osborn himself…

As another strand of his long-term plan, the Homeland Metahuman Security overlord fired Iron Man’s Mighty Avengers and created his own, more manageable team consisting of compliant turncoats, tractable replacements and outright impostors. Constantly courting public opinion, Osborn launched his Avengers whilst systematically building up a personally loyal high-tech paramilitary rapid-response force.

During this Dark Reign, the rapidly destabilising madman – through means fair and foul – officially worked to curb the unchecked power and threat of meta-humanity, whilst his clandestine cabal of dictators divvied up the planet between them. The repercussions of Osborn’s rise and fall were felt throughout and featured in many series and collections covering the entire Marvel Universe.

Reed Richards had been a major supporter of Stark and key proponent of the Superhuman Registration Act even though his actions tore his family apart; driving his wife Sue and brother-in-law Johnny Storm into the opposing camp of costumed resistors dubbed the Secret Avengers. His best friend Ben Grimm – unwilling to choose sides – left the country to become an exile in France…

This collection opens with 5-issue miniseries Dark Reign: Fantastic Four and portions of Dark Reign: The Cabal (spanning May to September 2009): exploring and explaining Mister Fantastic’s side of the argument, as well as the terrifying motivations which prompted his uncharacteristic behaviour even as the still-wounded family painfully try to reconcile in their old home The Baxter Building……

The drama begins with a prelude a week after the Skrull invasion as Earth’s greatest mind constructs a colossal interdimensional transit threshold. ‘The Bridge’ – illustrated by Sean Chen & Lorenzo Ruggiero – is a pathway to alternate Earths. Demoralised and confused, Richards wants to explore all the other Earths to see if the Civil War and subsequent tragedies which followed happened elsewhere and how a plurality of other Mr. Fantastics dealt with it.

He needs to know how to prevent such a catastrophe ever happening again, but only just convinces Sue, Ben and Johnny that he must go before the metaphorical roof caves in…

Acting with sublime overconfidence and seemingly blessed by good fortune, Osborn chooses that moment to invade the Baxter Building with his H.A.M.M.E.R. troops, determined to shut down the Fantastic Four and confiscate all their incredible technologies.

Outraged and ready for trouble, Invisible Woman, the Torch and the Thing head for the ground floor just as Osborn’s men cut power to the building. The resultant surge in energy interacts with Reed’s Bridge and collapses space-time. When the elevator doors open they find themselves in another realm: a primitive jungle where men, dinosaurs and space gods co-exist…

With the adults out of action, children Franklin and Valeria take charge of the situation, bluffing the H.A.M.M.E.R. heavies into leaving, but little Val knows it’s only a matter of time until Osborn comes in person. She might be only three, but she’s already as smart as her father…

Setting to, Val begins repairing the building’s electrical and defence systems even as somewhen else her devoted guardians battle hordes of time-lost terrors and, in a region where all places meet, her dad views universe after universe and sees few happy outcomes…

As hours pass in the normal world, Sue, Johnny and Ben are bounced from one bizarre alternity to the next, gradually gathering a stout band of like-minded heroes about them.

In fact they are strange variations of themselves: a gentle, noble erudite Thing, chamberlain to the court of the Virgin Queen; a blazing pirate Torch on a flying galleon, sharp-shooting sheriff Black Susan from an extremely wild, Wild West frontier town and so many more, all assisting as they determinedly fight their way to somewhere they can get home from…

After a night on their own, Val and Franklin are awoken by Security Czar Osborn and his forces, accompanied by Dark Avenger “heavy” Spider-Man (actually deranged impostor Scorpion possessed by the Venom symbiote). In a moment of sublime bravado, the forces of Big Bad Government are stalled and legally finessed by the really annoying little girl…

In Collapsed Time, Sue, Johnny and Ben inexorably carve their way through a cascade of colliding realities whilst, in No Space, Reed – having analysed an infinity of alternate Earths – is forced to accept a truly humbling hypothesis…

His switching off The Bridge instantly returns the displaced FF to the Baxter Building where Osborn, having lost all patience, is trying to shoot the kids. After a brief but brutal battle the Federal forces are routed. When Osborn tries to shoot Reed in the back after surrendering, Franklin displays a burst of the dormant power which will make him the terror of reality in years to come…

In the tense aftermath of a temporary, portent-laden standoff, Mister Fantastic dismantles The Bridge at Sue’s insistence, but keeps from her the incredible beings he met before returning and the new resolution he has made: a decision that will also have devastating repercussions for all the universes in the months to come…

Rounding out this spectacular segue into the unknown is a sinister snippet from Dark Reign: The Cabal. ‘And I’ll Get the Land’ (limned by Adi Granov) gives a salutary glimpse into the scary mind of Doctor Doom as he negotiates a side deal with fellow Cabal associate Sub-Mariner whilst pondering what to do with maniac upstart Osborn once his usefulness is ended…

The wonderment resumes with Hickman’s initial arc on the monthly Fantastic Four title – #570 to 574 from October 2009 to February 2010 and dubbed Solve Everything. These first forays of a truly mind-boggling confirmed Hickman as someone who truly lived up to the series’ “Big Sky Thinking” antecedents…

Illustrated by Dale Eaglesham ‘Is It Playing God If You’re Truly Serious About Creation?’ sees certified super-genius Richards – driven by childhood memories of his demanding father – face the greatest challenge and most beguiling seduction of his fantastic life.

After foiling the latest mad assault by scientific criminal Bentley Wittman – AKA the Wizard – involving giant robots piloted by hideously modified clones of the deranged hyper-intellectual, Wittman upsets and destabilises the victorious Richards by challenging him to examine some cold hard facts. He postulates that the world is broken and about to tear itself apart, but everyone is too busy applying band-aids to try fixing it…

The exchange stays with Richards. Even as the family goes about its usual business, Mister Fantastic discusses things with 3-year old Valeria – a prodigy even smarter than he is – before retiring to his private lab to mull things over.

The Room of 100 Ideas is the place where Richards has made his greatest breakthroughs and triumphs, the sanctum from which he has changed the world over and over again, but it also harbours one last dream and goal – Idea 101: Solve Everything…

Now, he contacts a mysterious inter-dimensional organisation of intellectual supermen to help him fix the world and at last discovers that the benevolent Council is completely composed of alternate Earth iterations of himself, all waiting patiently for him to join their elevated ranks. The self-appointed champions of rationality and guardians of the multiverse feel it is time he lived up to his true potential. He is sorely tempted…

The grand tour of perfect possibilities continues in ‘You Stood Beside Me, Larger Than Life and Did the Impossible’ as the newcomer proves his worth by killing a planet-devouring Galactus and army of Silver Surfers on Earth 2012, all before popping home to touch base with his friends and family at breakfast.

They’re preparing for Franklin’s birthday and, even though Richards cannot share his new experiences, Sue knows something big is troubling him. After a frank but vague discussion, the distracted super-mind promises to have everything sorted one way or another in seven days…

His time “in the lab” actually finds him travelling to every incredible corner of Creation where his agglomerated alternates police and improve the lot of all humanities. Over and again their combined efforts have created a fantastic technological paradise but still Richards has unresolved, inexplicable reservations, especially at night in bed, thinking about his family and recalling conversations with his own father…

The intellectual idyll is rudely shattered in ‘We Are Men We Have No Masters’ when the multiversal Council is attacked by Celestials: Space Gods intent on taking control of all realities. The apocalyptic battle decimates the ranks of the Richards before a solution and ultimate victory is achieved. As the cosmic dust settles, Reed at last makes his decision – the only one a really smart man can…

Originally published as ‘Adventures on Nu-World’ (and illustrated by Neil Edwards & Andrew Currie) the next tale focuses on the Thing and Human Torch as they take a long-anticipated vacation-break on an artificial resort much like a cosmic Las Vegas, blithely unaware of two extremely important facts…

The first is that Reed and Sue’s kids have stowed away aboard their transport, but probably more critical is the realisation that the man-made world is in the midst of civil war prompted by the entire planet having slipped into the event horizon of a Black Hole…

With a host of guest including Skaar, Son of Hulk, ‘These Are the End Times’ follows the slow procession and brutal struggle to total obliteration, highlighting the astounding gifts of toddler Valeria who secretly solves the problem and gets (almost) everyone home safely…

The story portion of this splendid celebration of all things Fantastical continues with ‘All Hope Lies With Doom’(Edwards & Currie again) as the boy’s birthday finally arrives and the extended family – including Dragon Man, uncle Spider-Man, the kids from Power Pack and mutant orphans Artie and Leech – enjoy the party of a lifetime. It’s only slightly spoiled when a time-travelling raider crashes the affair, and he’s soon sent packing by the adults – but not before he delivers a secret warning to Valeria and a unique gift for the birthday boy.

Valeria isn’t worried: after all, if there’s one person she can trust, it’s her grown up brother Franklin…

Originally collected as graphic compilation Prime Elements, FF #575 to 578 (October 2009-February 2010) follows, as the author and illustrator Dale Eaglesham set the scene for future epics with a series of exploratory fables classified as ‘This is a Summoning’

It begins as the Mole Man dumps mutated moloids on the Richards’ clan, alerting them to ‘The Abandoned City of the High Evolutionary’ deep beneath the world. Here, hyper-evolved beings are apparently running rampant and will soon be let loose on the surface world…

Alerted to secrets in the Earth, the team head into the oldest lake in existence in #576, encountering incredible ancient beings who claim to be ‘The Old Kings of Atlantis’

In #577, the secrets of primordial Kree genetic tampering seems to signal the end for the lunar colony of Black Bolt: revealing links to four other cosmic species and the rise of all-conquering ‘Universal Inhumans’

The innovation revolution then concludes – for now – with #578 as ‘The Cult of the Negative Zone’ ominously reveals that the insectoid hordes of Annihilus have established a deadly fifth column on Earth, but are unable to maintain dominance in the antimatter realm that spawned them. Are they then prepared for an assault by the new Inhuman alliance’s war-hungry Light Brigade?

Fast-paced, action-drenched, profoundly imaginative and wickedly funny, this sharp sortie into strange worlds includes a covers-&-variants gallery by Simone Bianchi & Simone Peruzzi; Pasqual Ferry & Dave McCaig; Alan Davis, Mark Farmer; Marko Djurdjevic, Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic, Daniel Acuña, John Rausch, Javier Rodriguez, Eaglesham & Paul Mounts, John Cassaday & Laura Martin, Marcelo Dichiara, Christopher Jones & Sotocolor, to deliver the perfect package for all tried-and-true Fights ‘n’ Tights aficionados with a hunger for mind-expanding marvels…

Smart, tense, thrilling and exhibiting genuine warmth and humanity, this is a grand starting point for new or returning readers with a view to recapturing the glory days of fantasy and science fiction, and especially a different kind of Fights ‘n’ Tights theatre…
© 2019 MARVEL

The Bluecoats volume 10: The Blues in Black and White


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-341-3 (Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Read Some Pictures: It’ll Last Longer… 8/10

The myths and legends of the cinematic American West have fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of stagecoaches and gunslingers. Hergé and Moebius were passionate devotees and the wealth of stand-out Continental comics series ranges from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry and tangential all-ages classics such as Yakari. Even colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World and Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt’s Indian Summer fit the broad-brimmed bill.

As devised by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Cauvin – who scripted the first 64 best-selling volumes until his retirement in 2020 – Les Tuniques Bleues (The Bluecoats) debuted at the end of the 1960s, specifically created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic maverick defected from weekly anthology Le Journal de Spirou to rival publication Pilote.

The substitute swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series in Europe.

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour school, and when he died suddenly in 1972, his replacement, Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte slowly introduced a more realistic – but still overtly comedic – illustrative tone and manner. Lambil is Belgian, born in 1936 and, after studying Fine Art in college, joined publishing giant Dupuis in 1952 as a letterer.

Born in 1938, scripter Cauvin is also Belgian and – before entering Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 – studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling – comedy writing – and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou. In addition to Bluecoats he scripted dozens of long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums. The Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies of its 65 (and counting) album sequence.

Our sorry, long-suffering protagonists are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch; a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel & Hardy: hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of fabled America during the War Between the States.

The original format featured single-page gags set around an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but from the second volume – Du Nord au Sud – the sad-sack soldiers were situated back East, fighting in the American Civil War. All subsequent adventures – despite ranging far beyond the traditional environs of America and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history – are set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

Blutch is your run-of-the-mill, whinging little-man-in-the street: work-shy, mouthy, devious and especially critical of the army and its inept commanders. Ducking, diving, even deserting whenever he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s quite smart and heroic if no easier option is available.

Chesterfield is a big, burly professional fighting man; a career soldier who has passionately bought into all the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a medal-wearing hero. He also loves his cynical little troll of a pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers and simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

The Blues in Black and White was the 10th translated Cinebook album (chronologically the 11th European volume) and as Les Tuniques Bleues: Des bleus en noir et blanc was first seen on the continent in 1975, serialised in Le Journal de Spirou #1965 to #1975 before becoming an album collection two years later.

It opens with another spectacular yet pointless battle, with Blutch in fine whining form after a string of horrific near-death experiences. His mood is further tested when he finds a civilian prowling about, pointing a weird box at casualties and other scenes of horror…

The oblivious, self-absorbed stranger is Matthew Brady, who has been sent by President Lincoln to record the war through the strange new medium of photography. After becoming an unwilling subject and accidental laughing stock, Chesterfield is deeply suspicious and, soon after, resentfully resistant as his vain superiors and battle-weary comrades embrace the technological marvel. Before he can react, he and Blutch are appointed bodyguards and dogsbodies: compelled to escort the oblivious, practically-suicidal snapper anywhere and everywhere he wants…

Soon, however, the surly sergeant has all the combat his warrior’s heart can cope with – and even the long-desired prospect of a gong – whilst the sly, shirking corporal has found a way to utterly avoid battle by becoming the photographer’s assistant. He even dresses like a civilian now!

As the daily carnage continues, Chesterfield becomes increasingly irked at the effect of the picture maker. Almost everyone wants to be captured for posterity, to the detriment of actual fighting. While Brady is gone, Blutch “immortalises” everyone, and the sergeant teeters on the brink of madness. He even takes charge of charging whilst his officers are too busy preening and primping for their next heroic pose…

The lethal status quo returns with a bump when the President shows up to decorate Chesterfield. Brady is with him and ready to take his own shots again, meaning Blutch can get back to fighting – just as the Confederate forces rally to retake all the ground they’ve lost while the Sarge was secretly in command…

Things go from bad to worst, as the Rebel response swiftly overwhelms the Union forces. When Lincoln and Brady are almost captured, Blutch and Chesterfield show just what they’re made of… and pay a heavy price…

A shade darker than usual, this wry treatise on fame and pride is a hugely amusing poke at the glory boys of history, deftly delivering an anti-war saga cleverly targeting younger, less world-weary audiences. Historically authentic, and always in good taste despite an uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by our down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly. These are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

Funny, thrilling, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the kind of war-story and Western that appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1977 by Lambil & Cauvin. All rights reserved. English translation © 2017 Cinebook Ltd.

Showcase Presents Wonder Woman volume 2


By Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1373-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Silly Sagas and Some Socially Forbidden Fruits… 8/10

Until DC finally get around to republishing and digitally releasing their vast untapped comic treasures, I’m reduced to recommending some of their superb past printed glories whenever I feel like celebrating a key anniversary of the world’s preeminent female superhero who first caught the public’s attention in October 8 decades ago…

Wonder Woman was created by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston – apparently at the behest of his remarkable wife Elizabeth and their life partner Olive Byrne. The vast majority of the outlandish adventures they collectively penned were limned by classical illustrator Harry G. Peter.

The Astounding Amazon debuted in All Star Comics #8 (cover-dated December 1941) before gaining her own series and the cover-spot in new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later. She was an instant hit, and won her own eponymous title in late Spring of that year (Summer 1942).

Using the nom de plume Charles Moulton, Marston & Co – the women unacknowledged and uncredited for decades – scripted all the Amazing Amazon’s many and fabulous exploits until his death in 1947, whereupon Robert Kanigher took over the writer’s role. The venerable H.G. Peter continued until his own death in 1958. Wonder Woman #97 – in April of that year – was his last hurrah and the end of an era. Ross Andru & Mike Esposito had debuted as cover artists 3 issues earlier, but with the opening inclusion of Wonder Woman #98, took over the visual component as Robert Kanigher reinvented much of the old mythology and even tinkered with her origins.

This second economical monochrome Showcase collection covers issues #118-137: spanning November 1960 to April 1963, a period of increased fantasy frolics and wildly imaginative excess which still divides fans into violently opposing camps…

With the exception of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and a few anodyne back-up features, costumed heroes went extinct at the beginning of the 1950s, replaced by merely mortal champions in a welter of anthologised genre titles. When Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s interest in costumed crime-busters with a new iteration of The Flash in 1956, the fanciful floodgates opened wide once more…

Whilst re-inventing Golden Age Greats such as Green Lantern, Atom and Hawkman, National/DC also updated those hoary survivors who had weathered the backlash – especially the Man of Steel, Caped Crusader and ever-resilient Amazing Amazon…

The fanciful blend of girlish whimsy, rampant sexism, untrue romance, alien invasion, monster-mashing and all-out surreal (some would say-stream-of-consciousness) storytelling continues unabated here from the get-go beginning with ‘Wonder Woman’s Impossible Decision!’ (#118) seeing the comely champion constantly distracted from her mission to wipe out injustice by the antics of her savagely-sparring suitors Colonel Steve Trevor and Manno the merman.

Amazon science (and the unfettered imagination of Kanigher, for whom slavish continuity, consistency or rationality were never as important as strong plots or breathtaking visuals) had already enabled readers to share the adventures of Wonder Girl and latterly Wonder Tot – the Princess of Power as teen and toddler – both in their appropriate time-zones and, on occasion, teamed together on “Impossible Days”.

WW #119 opened with a tale of the Titanic Teen. ‘Mer-Boy’s Secret Prize!’ sees the besotted undersea booby repeatedly risk his life to win his intended inamorata a flashy treasure, whilst in ‘Three Wishes of Doom!’, a capable but arrogant young girl wins a competition and claims Wonder Woman’s Bracelets, Lasso and Tiara with the disastrous notion of using them to out-do the Amazing Amazon…

Issue #120’s ‘The Secret of Volcano Mountain! pits teen and adult Dianas – a decade apart – against the same terrifying threat as an alien elemental twice attempts to conquer the world, after which an “Impossible Day” event sees Wonder Girl, her older self and their mother Queen Hippolyta unite to defeat the monstrous peril of ‘The Island Eater!’

‘The Skyscraper Wonder Woman’ introduces Diana’s pre-schooler incarnation as the Sinister Seer of Saturn seeks to invade Earth with a colossal robot facsimile whilst simultaneously de-aging the Amazon to her younger – but crucially, no less competent – adolescent and pre-adolescent incarnations…

Wonder Woman #123 offered a glimpse of the ‘Amazon Magic-Eye Album!’ as Hippolyta reviewed some of the crazy exploits of her daughter as Tot, Teen and adult, whilst the issue after contrived to team them all together against shape-shifting nuclear threat Multiple Man on ‘The Impossible Day!’

Steve and Manno resumed their war for the princess’ hand in marriage in #125’s ‘Wonder Woman… Battle Prize!’ with the improbable romantic triangle ending up marooned on a beast-&-alien amoeba-men-infested Blue Lagoon…

‘Wonder Tot and Mister Genie!’ was the first of two tales in #126, depicting what might happen when an imaginative super-kid is left on her own, whilst exasperated US Air Force lieutenant Diana Prince gets steamed at being her own romantic rival for Trevor in ‘The Unmasking of Wonder Woman!

The next issue sees her stopping another extraterrestrial assault in ‘Invaders of the Topsy-Turvy Planet’ before ‘Wonder Woman’s Surprise Honeymoon!’ gives usually incorrigible Trevor a terrifying foretaste of what married life with his Amazon Angel might be like…

WW#128 revealed the astounding and charming ‘Origin of the Amazing Robot Plane!’ before things turn (a bit) more serious when the Amazon endures the deadly ‘Vengeance of the Angle Man!’

In #129, another spectacular Impossible Day sees the entire Wonder Woman Family (that would be just her at three different ages with mum alongside to save the day) in ‘The Vengeance of Multiple Man!’ whilst #130 opens with Wonder Tot discovering the ‘Secret of Mister Genie’s Magic Turban!’ and closes with an outrageous and embarrassing attack by Angle Man on her mature self in ‘The Mirage Mirrors!’

WW #131’s, ‘The Proving of Wonder Woman!’ details the origins of her unique epithets (such as “Thunderbolts of Jove”, “Neptune’s Trident” and “Great Hera”) before back-up ‘Wonder Woman’s Surprise Birthday Gift!’ has indefatigable, incorrigible Manno risk all manner of maritime monstrosity to find her a dazzling bauble, whilst the Amazon herself was trying to find her mother a present.

‘Wonder Tot and the Flying Saucer!’ sees the adult Amazon turn herself into a toddler to converse with a baby and discover the secret of a devastating alien atomic attack, whilst a second story reveals ancient romantic encounters which occurred when ‘Wonder Queen Fights Hercules!’

Wonder Woman #133 cover-featured the Impossible Tale of ‘The Amazing Amazon Race!’ wherein Tot, Teen, Woman and Queen compete in a fraught athletic contest with deadly consequences, whilst in Man’s World, Diana Prince takes centre-stage to become ‘Wonder Woman’s Invincible Rival… Herself!’ when a movie-project went dangerously awry.

‘Menace of the Mirror Wonder Women!’ pits her and Steve against the Image-Maker: a deadly other-dimensional mastermind able to animate and enslave reflections, before #134 closes with another disastrous sub-sea date for Wonder Girl when she must prevent ‘The Capture of Mer-boy!’

It was one more time for Multiple Man as he/it returned to battle the Wonder Family in #135’s Impossible Day drama ‘Attack of the Human Iceberg!’, whilst #136 had the Female Fury transformed into a ravenous, colossal threat to humanity after alien machine men infect her with a growth-agent to become ‘Wonder Woman… World’s Greatest Menace!’

This compendium concludes with #137’s classic duel on an ersatz Earth, where mechanical replicas of humanity and metal facsimiles of the Amazons run amok. Here, Earth’s foremost female defender must overcome ‘The Robot Wonder Woman!’

By modern narrative standards these exuberant, effulgent fantasies are usually illogical and occasionally just plain bonkers, but in those days far less attention was paid to continuity and shared universes: adventure in the moment was paramount and these strangely infectious romps simply sparkled then and now with fun, thrills and sheer spectacle.

Wonder Woman is rightly revered as a focus of female strength, independence and empowerment, but the welcoming nostalgia and easy familiarity of such innocuous costumed fairy tales must be a delight for unbiased readers, whilst the true, incomparable value of such stories is the incredible quality entertainment they still offer.
© 1960-1963, 2008 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

A Sea of Love


By Wilfrid Lupano & Grégory Panaccione (Lion Forge/The Magnetic Collection)
ISBN: 978-1-942367-45-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Words Just Aren’t Enough… 10/10

The sheer breadth, variety and creative ambition of comics holds me breathless sometimes. It feels like there’s no subject or blend thereof; no tone or trope; no limits and absolutely no style or admixture that talented individuals can’t turn into heartrending, hilarious, thrilling, educational, evocative, uplifting and/or infuriating stories.

This completely silent saga from prolific French writer Wilfrid Lupano (Old Geezers; Azimut; Blanc Autour; Le Loup; Valerian spin-off Shingouzlooz Inc. and many more) and illustrator Grégory Panaccione (Someone to Talk To; Toby Mon Ami; Match; Âme perdue) somehow offers all of those in one delicious hardback or digital package.

Originally seen au continent as Un Océan d’amour in 2014, this wordless yet universally comprehensible pantomime is an unforgettable saga celebrating the timeless resilience of mature love. Here it is craftily concealed but constantly displayed in a tale of tetchy devotion between an aged diminutive fisherman and his quiet, timid, overly-flappable but formidably indomitable wife.

Every morning before the sun lights their rustic hovel, she makes him a wonderful breakfast before he heads out into the big ocean in his little boat. They have their fractious moments and he can be a trial sometimes, but their relationship is rock solid and never-ending.

This particular morning, however, the old coot finally falls foul of a changing world, when his little vessel is snagged in the nets of a vast trawler factory ship. Saving his idiot apprentice, the old git is soon swallowed up and gone…

At least, that’s what the sole survivor believes when he washes up ashore. However, the matronly fresh widow refuses to accept that and – disregarding decades of homey domestic programming – goes looking for him.

Oh, the incredible adventures she has and the people she meets…

He, meanwhile, is still very much alive. Stranded on his little tub, with nothing but tinned sardines and memories to sustain him, he is washed uncontrollably across the world. Befriended by a sardine-loving gull, he experiences first hand and close up the way we’ve befouled the seas and meets a wide variety of people he’s casually misjudged all his life, before eventually fighting his way back to his little cottage and the faithful one who’s waiting for him. At least, he complacently assumed she is…

Epic, hilarious, terrifying, shocking and sublimely satisfying, this is masterpiece of graphic narrative with so very much to say. Why not give your eyes a treat and have a good listen?
A Sea of Love © 2018 Editions Delcourt. All rights reserved.

Mighty Marvel Masterworks -The Fantastic Four volume 1 : The World’s Greatest Heroes


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, with George Klein, Christopher Rule, Sol Brodsky, Dick Ayers, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2979-4 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: An Immaculate Concoction… 9/10

In August 1961, a rather peculiar new comic hit US newsstands. At first glance it looked not dissimilar from lots of other monster books, but it was the start of an actual revolution. Because it had a November cover-date – specifying when unsold copies had to be returned – I’m celebrating it here and now… and in a rather controversial new format.

I’m partial to controversy so I’m starting off by declaring that Fantastic Four #1 is one of most important American comic book of all time. Feel free to disagree…

After a troubled period at DC Comics – National Periodicals as it then was – and a creatively productive but disheartening time on the poisoned chalice of the Sky Masters newspaper strip (see Complete Sky Masters of the Space Force), Jack Kirby settled into his job at a small, struggling outfit that used to be publishing powerhouse Timely/Atlas.

He crafted mystery, monster, war, romance and western material for a market he suspected was ultimately doomed but, as always, did the best job possible. That quirky genre fare is now considered some of the best of its kind ever seen.

However, his fertile imagination couldn’t be suppressed for long and when DC’s Justice League of America enflamed the readership’s attention, it gave him and writer/editor Stan Lee an opportunity to change the industry forever.

When publisher/owner Martin Goodman ordered his nephew Stan to try a group of super-characters like the one DC was doing, the result quickly took fans by storm. It wasn’t the powers: they’d all been seen since the beginning of the medium. It wasn’t costumes: they didn’t have any until the third issue. It was Kirby’s compelling art and the fact that these new guys weren’t anodyne cardboard cut-outs. In a real and a recognizable location – New York City – fractious, imperfect, raw-nerved, touchy people banded together out of tragedy, disaster and necessity to face the incredible.

The groundwork for all the wonders to come had been laid with 1957’s Challengers of the Unknown (Kirby’s prototype partners-in-peril at National/DC) but that company’s staid, cautious editorial strictures could never have allowed the undiluted energy of the concept to run all-but-unregulated. The Fantastic Four was the right mix in the right manner at the right moment and we’re all here now because of it. These stories are timeless and have been gathered many times before so I’m diverting to talk about format here.

The Mighty Marvel Masterworks line has been designed with economy in mind. Classic tales of Marvel’s key creators and characters re-presented in chronological order have been a staple since the 1990s, but always in lavish, expensive collectors editions. These new books are far cheaper, on lower quality paper and – crucially – are physically smaller, about the dimensions of a paperback book. Your eyesight might be failing and your hands too big and shaky, but they’re perfect for kids and if you opt for the digital editions, that’s no issue at all…

This first compilation represents the tentatively bi-monthly Fantastic Four #1-10, spanning November 1961 – January 1963 and opens as it means to go on. Courtesy of Lee, Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule the introductory adventure is crude, rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement. Thrill-hungry kids pounced on it.

‘The Fantastic Four’ is exactly as seen in that groundbreaking premier issue, with maverick scientist Reed Richardsperemptorily summoning his fiancé Sue Storm, close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother before heading off on their first mission. They are all freakish survivors of a private space-shot that went horribly wrong after Cosmic rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and tragic Ben morphed permanently into a hideous freak trapped in a shambling, leathery body.

The second half of the issue reported how ‘The Fantastic Four meet the Mole Man’: promptly foiling a mad scheme by another outcast who controls monsters and enslaves humanoids from far beneath the Earth.

This summation of the admittedly mediocre plot cannot do justice to the engrossing wonder of that breakthrough issue – we really have no conception now of how different in tone, how shocking it all was.

“Different” doesn’t mean “better” even here, but the FF was like no other comic on the market at the time and buyers responded to it hungrily. The brash experiment continued with another old plot in #2. Inked by Klein, ‘The Skrulls from Outer Space’ were shape-changing aliens who framed the team in the eyes of shocked humanity, before the genius of Mister Fantastic bluffed them into abandoning plans for conquering Earth. The issue concluded with a monstrous pin-up of the Thing, proudly touted as the first in a series…

Sure enough, there was a pin-up of the Human Torch in #3 (inked by Sol Brodsky), which headlined ‘The Menace of the Miracle Man’ whose omnipotent powers had a simple secret. The tale is most notable for the first appearance of their uniforms, and a shocking line-up change, leading directly into the next issue (continued stories were an innovation in themselves) which revived a golden-age great.

‘The Coming of the Sub-Mariner’ reintroduced the all-powerful amphibian Prince Namor of Atlantis, a star of Timely’s Golden Age but one who had been lost for years.

A victim of amnesia, the rowdy relic recovers his memory thanks to some rather brusque treatment by the delinquent Torch. Namor then returns to his sub-sea home only to find it destroyed by atomic testing. A monarch without subjects, he swears vengeance on humanity and attacks New York City with a gigantic monster. This saga is when the series truly kicked into high-gear and Reed was the star of the pin-up section…

Until now the creative team – who had been in the business since it began – had been hedging their bets. Despite the innovations of a contemporary superhero experiment, their antagonists had relied heavily on the trappings of popular trends in the media – and as reflected in their other titles.

Aliens and especially monsters played a major part in the earlier tales but Fantastic Four #5 embraced the unique basics and took a full-bite out of the Fights n’ Tights apple by introducing the first full-blown, unrepentant super-villain to the budding Marvel Universe.

No, I haven’t forgotten Mole Man: but that tragic little gargoyle, for all his plans of world conquest, wouldn’t truly acquire the persona of a costumed foe until his more refined second appearance in #22.

‘Prisoners of Doctor Doom’ (July 1962, and inked by the sublimely slick and perfectly polished Joe Sinnott) has it all. An attack by a mysterious enemy from Reed’s past; super-science, magic, lost treasure, time-travel, even pirates. Ha-Haar, me ‘earties!

Sheer magic! and the creators knew they were on to a winner, as the deadly Doctor returned the very next issue, teaming with a reluctant Sub-Mariner to attack our heroes as ‘The Deadly Duo!’ (inked by new regular embellisher Dick Ayers). It also introduced the concept of antiheroes as the conflicted Sub-Mariner falls out with the demon doctor and saves the day…

Alien kidnappers were the motivating force behind another FF frame-up, resulting in the team becoming ‘Prisoners of Kurrgo, Master of Planet X’: a dark, grandiose, cosmic-scaled off-world thriller in #7 (the first monthly issue), whilst a new returning villain and the introduction of a love-interest for the monstrous Thing were the breakthrough high-points in #8’s ‘Prisoners of the Puppet Master!’

The emotional saga was balanced by a Fantastic Four Feature Page explaining how the Torch’s powers work. The next issue offered another, detailing with endearing mock-science ‘How the Human Torch Flies!’

That issue – #9 – trumpeted ‘The End of the Fantastic Four’ as Sub-Mariner returned to exploit another brilliant innovation in comic storytelling. When had a super-genius superhero ever messed up so much that the team had to declare bankruptcy? When had costumed crimefighters ever had money troubles at all? The eerily prescient solution was to “sell out” and make a blockbuster movie – giving Kirby a rare chance to demonstrate his gift for caricature…

1963 would be a pivotal year in the development of Marvel. Lee & Kirby had proved that their new high concept – human heroes with flaws and tempers – had a willing audience. Now they would extend that concept to a new pantheon of heroes. Here is where the second innovation would come to the fore. Previously, superheroes were sufficient unto themselves and shared adventures were rare. Here, however, was a universe where characters often tripped over each other, sometimes even fighting each other’s enemies! The creators themselves might turn even up in a Marvel Comic!

Although cover-date January 1963, Fantastic Four #10 was released in October of 1962 and featured ‘The Return of Doctor Doom!’. Here, the arch-villain used Stan & Jack to lure Richards into a trap where his mind is switched with the bad Doctor’s. The tale was supplemented by a pin-up of ‘Sue Storm, the Glamorous Invisible Girl’

Although possibly – just a bit, perhaps – somewhat dated in tone, these are still undeniable milestones of comic storytelling illustrated by one of the world’s greatest talents approaching his absolute peak. They are fast, frantic fun and a joy to read or re-read. This comprehensive, joyous introduction (or reintroduction) to these characters is a wonderful reminder of just how good comic books can and should be.

Happy birthday and many, many more please…
© 2021 MARVEL

Pass Me By: Gone Fishing and Pass Me By: Electric Vice



By Kyle Simmers & Ryan Danny Owen, with Derek Simmers (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-98890-359-0 eISBN 978-1-98890-371-2 (Gone Fishing)
ISBN: 978-1-98890-385-9 eISBN 978-1-98890-385-8 (Electric Vice)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Enchanting and Chilling Exploration of Life at the End… 9/10

Once upon a time, comics were all thud & blunder action or spoofing slapstick shenanigans. I will always have a soft spot for those Good Old Days, but the world has moved on and is now a far more complex place with more sophisticated and variegated demands.

Oddly, that’s one of the underlying themes in a gently beguiling, award-winning graphic narrative sequence that began in 2019 with the release of Pass Me By: Gone Fishing – a bittersweet human-scaled reverie constructed by visual artist, author and Queer historian Ryan Danny Owen & artist/illustrator Kyle Simmers.

Both are Canadian and their collaboration is very much in the manner of the perceived national character: the kind of funny, weird, no-holds-barred, heartbreaking yet civil, decent human drama Canadian creators are so adept at pulling off (check out movies and shows like Men With Brooms, Slings and Arrows or Bon Cop, Bad Cop if you need further clarification of the easy je ne se quoi, we’re talking about…).

In a rural Northern Canadian town, old Ed is getting used to some distressing news. After the life he’s led and the things he’s done, it’s hard to adapt to his recent dementia diagnosis. As his innermost history, mental faculties and simple patience daily slip away, the few folk he’s allowed to get close try to watch over him, but that’s never been Ed’s way.

Increasingly, with the demands of his existence pressing in on him, Ed’s mind turns to the past he’s resolutely avoided and tried to forget; the travelling; the men he’s loved and the music he played… but some things can’t be erased by time, distance or desire…

Second volume Pass Me By: Electric Vice picks up the story in 1973 via a deferred coming-of-age/out event as a young, frustrated and confused country musician playing local bars and dives is lured away by an androgenous minor god of the glam rock circuit.

Ed has never met anyone like Lou or the bizarre assemblage of ambivalent personalities comprising Electric Vice. Despite being wracked with doubt, Ed jumps when Lou offers him a spot in the band, and they tour north America, making what then seemed like unforgettable memories…

Now, he can’t tell if it was opportunity or love that made him go and made him stay. Decades later, poor brain-addled old Ed is drowning in memories and still confused when life hits him hard yet again as Lou turns up like a tarnished bad penny…

Compelling, wry and cheerily laconic , this is a slyly seductive paean to being human and the obsession with our “Glory Days”, but conceals an emotional knockout punch ready to slip past your so-sophisticated, drama-hardened heart. Pass Me By allows its characters room to act and lets the pictures tell a simple but captivating story. Kyle Simmers’ illustration is straightforward with a winning charm, always promising more and even better to come.

I just can’t wait…

© 2019, 2021 Kyle Simmers and Ryan Danny Owen. All rights reserved.

JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice


By David S. Goyer, Geoff Johns, Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-937-9 (HB) 978-1-4012-0040-4 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Pristine Perfection for all Superhero Connoisseurs… 9/10

After the actual invention of the superhero – in the June 1938 Action Comics #1 debut of Superman – the most significant event in comic book history was the combination of individual sales-points into a group.

Thus, what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven: consumers couldn’t get enough of garishly-hued mystery men, so combining a multitude of characters must inevitably increase readership. Plus, of course, a mob of superheroes is just so much cooler than one…or one-and-a-half if there’s a sidekick involved…

It cannot be understated: the creation of the Justice Society of America (in All Star Comics #3, cover-dated Winter 1940-1941) utterly changed the shape of the budding industry. Happy 80th Anniversary, chaps!

From the JSA stem all the multifarious thrills and wonders associated with panel-packed pages stuffed with dozens of heroes pounding the stuffings out of each other. …And then again, there are tales like this one…

Some books you can talk about, but with others it’s simply a waste of time. This is one of the latter. Please be aware that here the JSA was and is Earth’s premiere super-team: formed to crush oppression and injustice while raising morale during World War II. They are now an organisation regularly saving the world whilst mentoring the next generation of superheroes.

Their inspired successors, the Justice League of America are currently the World’s Greatest Superheroes – and have all the characters who’ve appeared on TV and in movies. You now have all the background you need to read this wonderful example of costumed hero fiction which remains inexplicably out of print both physically or digitally.

As they have done for years, the JLA and JSA have gotten together to celebrate Thanksgiving when suddenly alien conqueror Despero attacks them and the entire world by releasing the Seven Deadly Sins. These deadly demons promptly possess Batman, Power Girl, Mr. Terrific, Dr. Fate, Green Lantern, Plastic Man and Captain Marvel (as Shazam was called back then)…

Can the remaining heroes defeat the Sins without killing their friends, and save humanity from total destruction?

Of course they can, that’s the point. But seldom have they done it in such a spectacularly, well written and beautifully illustrated manner.

This is a piece of pure, iconic genre Fights ‘n’ Tights narrative that hits every target and pushes every button it should. If you love superhero comics you should own and treasure this lovely tale.
© 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.