Star Hawks Volume 1


By Ron Goulart & Gil Kane, & various (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-163140-397-2 (HB)
In the later 20th century, comicbook publishers worked long and hard to import their colourful wares to the more popular and commercially viable shelves of bookshops, until the eventual acceptance of the hybrid form we know now as graphic novels. Newspaper strips (and episodic humour magazines like Mad), however, had been regular fare since the 1950s.

By dint of more accessible themes and subjects, simpler page layouts and just plain bigger core readerships, comedy and action periodical serials easily translated to digest-sized book formats and sold by the bucketload to a broad base of consumers. Because of this, the likes of Peanuts, B.C., Broom Hilda, Flash Gordon, Mandrake and many others were an entertainment staple for cartoon-loving, joy-deficient kids – and adults – from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Comedies and gag books far outweighed dramas however. By the TV-saturated 1970s the era of the grand adventure strip in newspapers was all but over, although there were still a few dynamic holdouts and even some few new gems still to come.

One such was this astonishingly addictive space opera/police procedural which debuted on October 3rd 1977. The strip was created by novelist, comics scripter and strip historian Ron Goulart slightly in advance of the science fiction revival and resurgence sparked by release of Star Wars (and later continued by the legendary Archie Goodwin who all-but-sewed up the sci-fi strip genre at that time by also simultaneously authoring the Star Wars newspaper serial which premiered in 1979)…

Star Hawks was graced by the dazzlingly dynamic art of Gil Kane and blessed with an innovative format for such strips: a daily double-tier layout that allowed far bigger, bolder graphics and panel compositions than the traditional single bank of three or four frames.

The core premise was also magically simple: in our future, man has spread throughout the galaxy and now inhabits many worlds, moons and satellites. And wherever man goes there’s crime and a desperate need for policemen and peacekeepers…

As revealed in his picture and photo-packed Introduction ‘In at the Creation’, Goulart began with the working title “Space Cops” but that was eventually editorially overruled and superseded with the more dashingly euphonious and commercially vibrant Star Hawks. He goes on to describe the resistance the strip suffered from its own syndicate, the delays that meant it only launched after Star Wars set the world on fire and how he was ultimately edged out of the creative process altogether…

A brace of mass-market digest paperbacks were released whilst the strip was still running, and at the end of the 1980s, four comicbook-sized album collections were published by Blackthorne, but these are all now out-of-print and hard to acquire, so let’s be thankful for this first sturdy hardback archival edition…

This stirring tome is printed in landscape format with each instalment fitting neatly onto a page: thus the black and white art (almost original publication size) is clean, crisp and tight as Book 1 steams straight in with the premiere episode from October 4th 1977 by introducing the villainous Raker and his sultry, sinister boss child-of-privilege Ilka, scouring the slums and ruins of alien world Esmeralda for a desperate girl plagued by dark, dangerous visions…

Enter Rex Jaxan and burly Latino ladykiller Chavez: two-fisted law-enforcing police officers on the lookout for trouble, who promptly save the lass from slavers only to become embroiled in a dastardly plot to overthrow the local Emperor by scurrilous arms merchants. Also debuting in that initial tale is the cops’ boss Alice K. Benyon (far more than just a sexy romantic foil for He-Hunk Jaxan, and an early example of a competent woman actually in charge), the awesome space station “Hoosegow” and Sniffer, the snarkiest, sulkiest, snappiest robo-dog in the galaxy. The mechanical mutt gets all the best lines…

Barely pausing for breath, the star-born Starsky and Hutch (that’s Goulart’s take on them, not mine) are in pursuit of an appalling new weapons system developed to topple the military dictatorship of Empire 13 – the “Dustman” process (beginning on November 15th 1977). Before long however the search for the illegal and appalling WMD develops into a full-on involvement in what should have stayed a local matter – civil war…

The next sequence (running from March 17th to June 19th 1978) opens with the pair investigating the stupendous resort satellite Hotel Maximus, with Alice K. along to bolster their undercover image. On Maximus every floor holds a different daring delight – from dancing to dinosaur wrangling to Alpine adventure – but the return of the malevolent Raker heralds a whole new type of trouble as he is revealed to be an agent of the pan-galactic cartel of criminals known only as The Brotherhood.

Moreover, the Maximus is the site of their greatest coup – a plot to mind-control the universe’s richest and most powerful citizens. So pernicious are these villains that the Brotherhood can even infiltrate and assault Hoosegow itself…

Foiling the raiders, Jaxan and Chavez quickly go on the offensive, hunting the organisation as a new epic begins on 20th June (which frustratingly leaves this initial collection paused on a tense cliffhanger). The hunt takes them to pesthole planet Selva: a degraded world of warring tribes and monstrous mutations, where ambitiously dogged new recruit Kass seeks to distinguish himself, even as on Hoosegow the Brotherhood is deadly and persistent and new leader Master Jigsaw has a plan to destroy the Star Hawks from within…

Wrapping up the starry-eyed wonderment is the first part of Daniel Herman’s biographical assessment ‘Gil Kane: Bringing a Comic Book Sensibility to Comic Strips’

The Star Hawks strip ran until 1981, garnering a huge and devoted audience, critical acclaim and a National Cartoonists Society Award for Kane (1977 Story Comic Strip Award). It is quite simply one of the most visually exciting, rip-roaring and all-out fabulous sci-fi sagas in comics history and should be part of every action fan’s permanent collection. These tales are a “must-have” item for every thrill-seeking child of the stars and fan of the classic space age
© 1977, 1978, 2017 United Features Syndicate, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 9


By Steve Englehart, Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas, Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Herb Trimpe & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9194-0 (HB)

As the 1970s tumultuously unfolded, the Incredible Hulk settled into a comfortable – if excessively and spectacularly destructive – niche. A globe-trotting, monster-mashing plot formula saw tragic Bruce Banner hiding and seeking cures for his gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and his daughter – the scientist’s unobtainable inamorata – Betty, with a non-stop procession of guest-star heroes and villains providing the battle du jour.

Herb Trimpe had made the character his own, displaying a penchant for explosive action and an unparalleled facility for drawing technology – especially honking great ordnance and vehicles. Beginning with Roy Thomas – unofficial custodian of Marvel’s burgeoning shared-universe continuity – a string of skilful scripters effectively played the afflicted Jekyll/Hyde card for maximum angst and ironic heartbreak as the Jade Juggernaut became a pillar of Marvel’s growing pantheon.

This chronologically-curated hardback and eBook compendium re-presents issues #157-170, encompassing cover-dates November 1972 to December 1973, and opens after a revelatory Introduction from new regular writer Steve Englehart offers a few more intimate behind-the-scenes secrets…

Having just returned to Earth and normal size after a heartbreaking sojourn in a sub-atomic realm, the Jade Goliath promptly and potently battles a brace of old enemies in ‘Name My Vengeance: Rhino!’ (written by Archie Goodwin, with art by Trimpe & Sal Trapani) before being deviously dispatched – thanks to gamma genius The Leader – to the far side of the Sun. Here he discovers bizarre parallel world Counter-Earth and clashes with both the messianic Adam Warlock and his satanic antithesis in ‘Frenzy on a Far-Away World’, courtesy of Thomas, Steve Gerber, Trimpe & Trapani.

Meanwhile, on our planet heartbroken Betty Ross, believing her one true love is forever gone, marries the over-attentive, ever-present military martinet Major Glenn Talbot

Steve Englehart took over the scripting chores with #159 as ‘Two Years Before the Abomination!’ sees Banner and the Rhino explosively returned to our embattled globe only to again be attacked by General Ross’ Hulkbuster forces. The grizzled soldier is more determined than ever to kill Banner – to safeguard America and preserve his unsuspecting daughter’s new marriage. However, the resulting conflagration awakes a comatose Gamma monster even more deadly than the Hulk…

‘Nightmare in Niagara!’ sees the misunderstood man-brute instinctively drawn to the honeymooning couple, only to encounter deranged amphibian outcast Tiger Shark in another blockbusting battle issue, after which his northerly rampage takes the Green Goliath into Canada. Typically, ‘Beyond the Border Lurks Death!’ as the Hulk becomes a reluctant ally of the recently hyper-mutated Hank McCoy – better known as the Bludgeoning Beast – in a battle against the Mimic. This veteran X-foe possesses the ability to absorb the attributes of others, but this gift has become a curse, going tragically, catastrophically haywire and threatening to consume the entire planet…

Still under Northern Lights, Hulk encounters a terrifying carnivorous, cannibalistic horror called the Wendigo in ‘Spawn of the Flesh-Eater!’ but the maniacal man-eater harbours a shattering secret which makes it as much victim as villain…

Pushing ever Pole-ward, the Hulk reaches the top of the world but cannot elude Ross’ relentless pursuit. After a cataclysmic arctic clash, both man-monster and his stalker fall into the super-scientific clutches of Soviet prodigy the Gremlin (mutant offspring of the Hulk’s very first foe the Gargoyle) in ‘Trackdown’ and, although the Gamma Giant breaks free with ease, the American General is left behind to become a highly embarrassing political prisoner…

Shambling into Polar seas, the Hulk then is captured by a fantastic sub-sea colony of human aquatic nomads in #164’s ‘The Phantom from 5,000 Fathoms!’ Decades ago, egomaniacal Captain Omen had created his own mobile submarine nation and roamed the ocean beds at will, and foolishly thought the Jade Goliath would be his latest freakish beast of burden. Sadly, the draconian dictator has no idea how his dissatisfied clan hungers for freedom, fresh air and sunlight and would disastrously rebel to follow ‘The Green-Skinned God!’ to their doom…

Incredible Hulk #166 finally sees the Green Goliath back in the USA, hitting New York just in time to clash with Battling Bowman Hawkeye and a brain-eating electrical monster dubbed Zzzax in ‘The Destroyer from the Dynamo!’ Meanwhile in the sub-plot section, a bold bid to rescue General Ross from the godless Commies succeeds, but seemingly costs the life of his new son-in-law…

Jack Abel took over the inking duties in #167 with ‘To Destroy the Monster!’ as grieving widow Betty Ross-Talbot suffers a nervous breakdown and is targeted by intellectual murder mutant Modok and his agents of Advanced Idea Mechanics who need an infallible weapon to break the Hulk.

Just as ghetto kid Jim Wilson reconnects with the Emerald Behemoth, Bruce Banner’s bestial alter ego effortlessly destroys Modok’s giant robot body but fails to prevent Betty’s abduction. She returns in the next issue as a Gamma-mutated avian horror programmed to destroy her former lover in ‘The Hate of the Harpy!’

Issue #169 finds the temporarily triumphant Harpy and her verdant victim trapped aboard an ancient floating fortress in the sky in ‘Calamity in the Clouds!’ and battling together against a monstrous android Bi-Beast. When Modok attacks, intent on controlling the alien tech of the flying city, the response destroys the last vestige of the sky-citadel, propelling the now-human Banner and Betty onto a lost tropical island inhabited by incredible alien creatures…

The Englehart, Chris Claremont, Trimpe & Abel monster-romp ‘Death from on High!’ cataclysmically concludes this volume in tried and true terrain-trashing style.

Before it all ends, though, there’s one last treat in the form of a gallery of original art pages by Trimpe & Abel…

The Incredible Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, cartoons, TV shows, games, toys and action figures, are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, honestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these yarns.
© 1972, 1973, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity – the Deluxe Edition


By Matt Wagner, with Dave Stewart & Sean Konot (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5690-6 (HC)
Comics fans – especially diehard lifelong aficionados of the superhero genre – have an innate appreciation and love of mythologizing. The hunger lures like a siren, hits like a speeding locomotive and dictates our lives and fate like Doomsday freshly arrived. We just can’t help ourselves…

DC Comics have been responsible for many outstanding tales that have become modern day legends, ever since the primal creation of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman: slowly interweaving the undying fantasy favourites into a rich tapestry of perfect adventure which has taken on a life of its own, inextricably entrenched in the dream-lives of generations of children and the adults – and screen icons – they became.

It was only relatively recently that DC fully acknowledged the imaginative treasure-trove they were sitting on: cannily building on the epic, cross-generational appeal and elder statesman status of their founding stars. One of the most impressive of the efforts is this evergreen fable, originally released in 2003 as a 3-part Prestige Format miniseries.

As seen in Batman and the Mad Monk, Sandman Mystery Theatre, The Shadow: The Death of Margo Lane or Zorro, auteur Matt Wagner has an uncanny gift for re-imagining and updating the raw power of Golden Age classics while celebrating and sustaining the core mystique of the originating concept. With Trinity he revealed a new canonical first collaborative venture of the all-conquering triumvirate, set in the brave new lone universe post-Crisis on Infinite Earths

Following an effusive Introduction from novelist and A-List comics-scribe Brad Meltzer, the brief encounter opens in the Art Deco Metropolis as oafish Clark Kent‘s morning is ruined by an assassin who shoots a commuter train driver and brings the morning rush-hour to a screeching, crashing, cataclysmic halt…

It soon becomes apparent that the subsequent near-disaster has been devised simply to distract and assess the capabilities of the mighty Man of Steel. That night a daring raid on S.T.A.R. Labs is ruthlessly foiled by a silent, caped visitor to the “City of Tomorrow”, but Superman knows nothing about it until it’s all over.

…And at the bottom of the world, more mysterious masked minions at last liberate Superman’s warped and retarded clonal antithesis Bizarro from its icy imprisonment deep beneath the Antarctic mantle…

Another promising day is spoiled for the reporter by a visit from Bruce Wayne, a reluctant occasional ally, and equally obnoxious whether in his playboy charade or as his true self: the dread Batman.

The visit is a courtesy call between distant colleagues. A terrorist group calling itself “The Purge” would have obtained samples of Kryptonite had the Dark Knight not intervened. Now they plan to raid Lex Luthor‘s citadel and professional courtesy demands that Superman be fully apprised…
Meanwhile, in a most secret hideaway a strangely formidable young girl named Diana auditions for the Most Dangerous Man on Earth: a criminal overlord in need of a perfect warrior to lead his massed forces…

Ra’s Al Ghul always gets what he wants and after the charismatic Demon’s Head charms Bizarro with honeyed words of friendship, the freakish doppelganger is only too happy to bring him a present…

Tragically, Russian nuclear submarines are a bit tricky to handle and the super-simpleton manages to drop one of its atomic missiles en route. The lost nuke explodes far from any regular shipping lines, however. Apart from fish, the only creatures affected are a race of immortal women warriors, invisible to mortal eyes and forgotten by Man’s World for millennia…

As mysterious mercenary Diana prepares to carry out The Demon’s orders, in Metropolis another Amazon tracks down Superman and politely enquires why he dropped an A-Bomb on her home. Eschewing rash accusations or pointless fisticuffs they soon come to realise the true nature of the horrific event and unite to track the stolen sub to the Sahara, promptly falling into an ambush by Al Ghul’s fanatical forces. The guns, knives, nerve gas and suicide bombers prove no problem, but a booby-trapped nuke is another matter entirely…

Barely surviving the detonation, Man of Steel and Princess of Power head for Gotham City to seek the grudging assistance of The Demon’s most implacable foe, only to find the Dark Knight is already on the case, having just unsuccessfully engaged with Al Ghul’s Amazonian field commander.

Reluctant to admit a need for allies and inherently suspicious of bright and shiny super-people chronically unable to make hard decisions or get their hands dirty, Batman nevertheless enters into a tenuous alliance with the dilettante champions to stop the insane plans of an immortal madman determined to wipe out modern civilisation and cleanse the Earth of toxic humanity…

Hard-hitting, epic and spectacular, this Wagnerian saga (you have no idea how long and hard I struggled before succumbing to that painful pun) superbly illustrates the vast gulfs between the oh-so-different heroes and how they nevertheless mesh to form the perfect team. Strongly character-driven throughout, the protracted struggle to defeat Al Ghul and his infamous allies offers tension, mystery, genuine humour and powerful plot-twists galore, all wrapped up in a bombastic feast of frenzied action supplemented with savvy cameos and guest shots by other – albeit lesser – keystones of the DCU.

Stunningly illustrated by Wagner, lavishly coloured by Dave Stewart and subtly lettered by Sean Konot, this Deluxe hardcover and digital edition also includes a glorious cover gallery – including the tie-in covers to the miniseries that graced Adventures of Superman #628, Wonder Woman #204 and Batman #627, plus a beautiful Sketchbook section featuring a wealth of the artist’s preliminary drawings, layouts, designs and ideas.

When producing this type of tale there’s always the dilemma of whether to trade on current continuity or to deconstruct and attain a more grandiose, mythic feel, but part-time and casual readers need not worry. Wagner has hewn to the timeless fundamentals to craft a gratifyingly “Big” story which still manages to reveal more about the individual stars involved than a year’s worth of periodical publishing.

Trinity is primal adventure: accessible, exciting and rewarding, with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as they should always be but so seldom are. Team ups and retrofits should all be this good.
© 2003, 2004, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Marble Cake


By Scott Jason Smith (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-47-9 (PB)

I might have mentioned once or twice that I read a lot of graphic novels. Some are awful, many are mediocre and the rest – good, noteworthy or just different from the mass, commercially-driven output of a global art and industry – I endeavour to share with you.

Some publishers make a proud policy of championing that last category (Top Shelf, NBM, Fantagraphics and others) and my favourite of those at the moment is British-based Avery Hill Publishing. I simply haven’t yet seen a duff or homogenised release from them yet. When this review copy plunked onto the mat, I realised that I still haven’t …

Scott Jason Smith hails from the seamy south side of London (as all the best folk do) and has quickly forged a solid reputation with his self-published comics and stories – like ‘Blossom the tall old lady’ and in collaborations with his mainstream-adjacent contemporaries in tomes such as 69 Love Songs Illustrated.

Scott is skilled in depicting people and mundane life and possesses a sharp sense of humour, honed by spending a lot of time listening to how ordinary folk talk. He knows what we all have in common and is extremely deft at using that as a means of building characters and constructing scenarios at once drearily familiar and subtly tweaked and twisted. This all adds a potent veracity to his particular brand of everyday adventuring which here seamlessly slips from a soap-operatic drama of the mundane or “Commedia dell’plebeia” to the suitably underplayed terrors of the Theatre of the Absurd as envisioned by Samuel Beckett or Daniel Clowes…

Marble Cake is his first novel-length tale and relates the intersecting moments of a bunch of strangers and casual near-acquaintances who all interact with till girl Tracy at the local Smartmart store. Her job leaves plenty of time to fantasize about what her customers do when she’s not around, but she really has no idea of what’s really going on. In fact, nobody does…

Life and death, joblessness and social standing, malice and sexual desire, ennui and intolerance, and especially hopelessness and general distrust tinge every real or imagined home-life Tracy ponders – even her own, but when genuine threat and mystery – such as a string of baffling disappearances – begin to grip the community, no one has any idea how to respond…

This compelling, pocket-sized (168 x 212 mm) paperback challenges notion of self-worth and universal rationality in a wry and acerbic manner that will intrigue and charm lovers of slice-of-life yarns and surreal storytelling who don’t mind doing a bit of the cerebral heavy lifting themselves.
© Scott Jason Smith 2019. All rights reserved.

Superman: The Man of Steel volume 2


By John Byrne, Marv Wolfman, Jerry Ordway & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0005-3

In 1985, when DC Comics decided to rationalise and reconstruct their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths, they used the event to regenerate their key properties at the same time. The biggest gun they had was Superman and it’s hard to argue that the change was not before time.

The big guy was in a bit of a slump, but he’d weathered those before. So how could a root and branch retooling be anything but a pathetic marketing ploy that would alienate the real fans for a few fly-by-night Johnny-come-latelies who would jump ship as soon as the next fad surfaced? The popular wisdom amongst fans was that this new Superman was going to suck.

They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Both Superman titles were cancelled or suspended for three months, and yes, that did make the real-world media sit-up and take notice of the character for the first time in decades. But there was method in the corporate madness.

Beginning with 6-part miniseries Man of Steel – written and drawn by mainstream superstar John Byrne and inked by venerated veteran Dick Giordano – the experiment was a huge and instant success. So much so, that when it was first collected as a stand-alone graphic novel in the 1980s it became one of the industry’s premiere ‘break-out’ hits. From this overwhelming start the character returned to his suspended comic-book homes with the addition of a third monthly title premiering that same month.

Superman, Adventures of Superman, and Action Comics (which morphed into a fan-pleasing team-up book that guest-starred other favourites of the DC Universe) were instant best-sellers. So successful was the relaunch that by the early 1990’s Superman would be able to sustain four monthly titles as well as Specials, Annuals, guest shots and his semi-regular appearances in titles such as Justice League. It was quite a turnaround from the earlier heydays of the Man of Steel when editors were frantic about not over-exposing their biggest gun.

This trade paperback and/or digital collection was the first of a far-too-infrequent sequence collecting those early editions, patterned on the Man of Steel compendium. Volume 2 begins a more or less (narrative permitting) chronological representation of the regular monthly titles, with this outing gathering Superman #1-3, Action Comics #584-586 and Adventures of Superman #424-426 covering January to March 1987 and includes relevant pages from the DC Who’s Who Update 1987.

Following co-author Marv Wolfman’s introductory reminisces and commentary in ‘Reinventing the Wheel’ , the never-ending battle recommences with Superman vol. 2 #1, as Byrne & Terry Austin reveal a ‘Heart of Stone’: offering a new origin for Metallo, the Terminator-style cyborg with a human brain and a Kryptonite heart, culminating in a deadly battle and baffling mystery portending big troubles to come. The focus then shifts to Action #584 and ‘Squatter!’ (Byrne & Giordano) as a body-snatching mental force suborns the Metropolis Marvel and necessitates a team-up with the Teen Titans. The accent is predominantly on breakneck pace and all-out costumed conflict here…
Superman #2 (by Byrne & Austin) then describes ‘The Secret Revealed’ as modern-day robber baron Lex Luthor makes the biggest mistake of his life after kidnapping and torturing Clark Kent’s first girlfriend Lana Lang

This is followed by Marv Wolfman & Jerry Ordway’s ‘Man O’ War’ and ‘Going the Gauntlet,’ (Adventures of Superman #424 and #425, and inked by Mike Machlan): introducing the tragic Dr. Emil Hamilton and rival reporter Cat Grant to the mythology. Here the Action Ace battles high-tech terrorists sponsored by rogue state Qurac and proves to be no respecter of international boundaries like his pre-Crisis counterpart…

These politically and socially aware dramas would become a truer and more lasting template for the modern Man of Tomorrow after Byrne’s eventual retirement from the character…

The Phantom Stranger guests in a battle against a deadly manifestation of unquiet spirits in ‘And the Graves Give Up Their Dead’ (Byrne & Giordano from Action #585) before the last three chapters are given over to the Superman segment of multi-part crossover event Legends.

Byrne & Austin’s Superman #3 began with ‘Legends of the Darkside’, as Clark Kent is abducted to Apokolips by its evil master. He escapes to become a rebel leader of the lowly “Hunger Dogs” in Adventures… #426, wherein Wolfman, Ordway & Machlan give us an amnesiac Superman on Apokolips in ‘From the Dregs’ before the rousing yarn concludes with ‘The Champion’, as Action Comics #586 (Byrne & Giordano) reintroduces Jack Kirby’s legendary New Gods Orion and Lightray just in time for a blistering battle royale between the Man of Steel and Darkseid

Closing this collection is a full cover gallery and information pages on reimagined and post-Crisis icons Lois Lane, Amazing Grace, Krypton and Kryptonite, and Metallo.

As I’ve previously mentioned ad nauseum, a major problem most non-fans have with super-hero comics (apart from them actually having super-heroes in them) are the insane permutations and convolutions demanded by in-house continuity. This All-Readers-Start-Here opportunity to show doubters how good this genre can be was one all comics missionaries could exploit to the fullest, and these tales are even more accessible and enjoyable now that they ever were. Thrill-starved Newbies start here… and bring your significant others/mothers/dads/kids and all your super-friends too…
© 1987, 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 11


By Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5885-1 (HB)

With the constantly expanding Marvel Universe growing ever more interconnected as it matured, characters literally tripped over each other in New York City and its environs, but such was not the case with Thor.

The Asgardian milieu and the soaring imagination of Jack Kirby had long drawn the Thunder God away from mortal realms into stunning new landscapes. When the unthinkable happened and the increasingly discontented King of Comics jumped ship from the House of (His) Ideas for arch-rival DC in 1970 an era ended.

Left to soldier on, Stan Lee called in artist John Buscema to carry a seemingly unbearable burden and after initial loss of focus and impetus a new type of tale began to emerge…

In case you came in late: disabled doctor Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway only to stumble into an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, he found an ancient walking stick which, when struck against the ground, turned him into the Norse God of Thunder! Within moments he was defending the weak and smiting the wicked.

Months swiftly passed with the Lord of Storms tackling rapacious extraterrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs, but these soon gave way to a vast kaleidoscope of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces.

This bombastic transitional compendium (available in hardcover and digital formats) reprints Mighty Thor #195-205, spanning January-November 1972, with the puissant Thunder God going both forward and back between mortal and godly realms. By the time of these monthly episodes the Thunderer and his Asgardian companions were slowly devolving into a muddled, self-doubting band of fantasy spacemen roving the outer limits of the Marvel Universe under the earnest governance of young science fiction novelist Gerry Conway and a dedicated, talented but still unsettled string of artists. Now, however, a new path was being forged…

The new era is contextualised by scribe Conway in his Introduction before the action resumes with ‘In the Shadow of Mangog!’ (illustrated by John Buscema & Vince Colletta): the first part of another extended odyssey wherein Thor and friends are dispatched to the ends of the Universe. In his righteous rage All-Father Odin had banished second son Loki to a fantastic world, momentarily forgetting that once there the Prince of Evil might awaken the most vicious, unbeatable monster in the Asgardian universe ….

Now the Storm God, with Warriors Three Fandral the Dashing, Voluminous Volstagg and Hogun the Grim, finds himself lost ‘Within the Realm of Kartag!’ and facing slug-men and bewitching temptress Satrina, even as the All-Father and the hosts of the Shining City struggle to hold the liberated Mangog at bay.

Meanwhile, on the planet Blackworld Lady Sif and her muscular shield-maiden Hildegarde are undertaking another Odinian quest and find themselves caught up in a time-bending nightmare…

Thor #197 witnesses the heroes overcoming all odds to find ‘The Well at the Edge of the World!’, meeting the conniving, all-powerful Norns and recruiting colossal former foe Kartag for their desperate return to shattered Asgard.

On Blackworld, Sif and Hildegarde encounter monsters and men making uncontrollable evolutionary leaps towards an unguessable future, but make an unlikely ally and guide in aged sailor Silas Grant.

The male heroes return to find Asgard in flaming ruins and the cataclysmic confrontation with the Mangog nearing an apocalyptic end, whilst on Blackworld Sif, Hildegarde and Silas met alien Rigellian Colonizer Tana Nile and the horrendous creature behind the evolutionary jumps. Simultaneously, the battle in Asgard reaches a horrific climax when Mangog is at last defeated ‘…And Odin Dies!’

In issue #199, the ravaged home of the gods becomes adrift in a dimensional void, allowing Thor – clutching to a desperate last hope – to cocoon his deceased father in a timeless forcefield. This prevents Death Goddess Hela from claiming his soul, but sadly, she isn’t the only deity hungry for the All Father’s spirit and ‘If This Be Death…!’ reveals Grecian netherlord Pluto invading the broken realm to take Odin into his own dire domain.

…And, on Blackworld, Tana Nile hints at the origin of the monstrous Ego-Prime and how it can force such terrifying uncontrollable time-warps…

Back in free-floating Asgard, things go from bad to worse as brave Balder’s beloved Karnilla deserts him just as invincible Pluto bests Hela and aims a killing blow at Thor…

The denouement was aggravatingly delayed as anniversary issue #200 hit the pause button to flashback to an earlier age.

‘Beware! If This Be… Ragnarok!’ was crafted by Stan Lee, John Buscema & John Verpoorten and spectacularly depicts the fall of the gods through the mystic visions of Volla the Prophetess, with only a bridging Prologue and Epilogue by Conway & Buscema revealing how the Norns save Thor’s life just in time for the concluding battle against Pluto to resume in #201 (with Jim Mooney providing lush finished art over Buscema’s layouts).

When Hela relinquishes her claim to the father of the gods and Odin enjoys a miraculous ‘Resurrection!’, on Earth absentee Asgardians Heimdall and Kamorr began seeking out mortals for a another Odinian master-plan even before the battle with Pluto is fully concluded…

As they scour Midgard, on Blackworld Ego-Prime advances the civilisation into atomic Armageddon and Sif barely transports her companions to Earth in time to escape thermonuclear conflagration.

Luckily Thor, Balder, and the Warriors Three are in New York City to meet the refugees, since the deadly, now self-evolving, Ego-Prime has followed the fugitives…

Thor #202 boasts ‘…And None Dare Stand ‘Gainst Ego-Prime!’ (Colletta inks) although Silas, Tana Nile and the assembled Asgardians try their best as the now-sentient shard of Ego, the Living Planet rampages through the city. It makes monsters and shatters entire streets whilst Odin calmly observes the carnage and Heimdall and Kamorr gather their human targets for the concluding ‘They Walk Like Gods!’

Here all Odin’s machinations are finally revealed as Ego-Prime inadvertently creates a new race of 20th century deities. Sadly, the All-Father’s long and single-minded scheme appals his son and weary, war-torn subjects, and their wholly understandable rebukes lead to them all being ‘Exiled on Earth!’ in #204 (Buscema & Mooney) and immediately targeted by terrifying satanic tempter Mephisto

Soon, only the Thunderer is left to oppose the devil: recklessly invading his private hell and gloriously liberating hundreds of demon-possessed humans from ‘A World Gone Mad!’ (Colletta inks). Their triumphant return, however, is merely to Midgard, not the gleaming spires of forbidden Asgard…

To Be Continued…

This book (which also includes a gallery of Buscema original art pages and a cover by Gil Kane) is an absolute must for all fans of the superhero genre. Although the tales gathered here may lack the sheer punch and verve of The King, fans of cosmic Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy will find this tome magnificently rendered by artists who were every inch his equal in craft and dedication, making this a definite must for all fans of the character and timeless adventure.
© 1971, 1972, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Speechless – World History without Words


By Polyp (New Internationalist/Friends of the Earth International)
ISBN: 978-1-906523-19-0 (Multilingual edition!)

No one can contest or dispute the sheer naked power and immediacy of pictures. A sequential narrative can muster all the force of a Perfect Storm and target hearts and minds the way no manner of high-tech, satellite-enhanced laser-directed ordnance or poorly worded plebiscite ever could…

Hopefully this startlingly bold pictorial treatise from the enigmatic and exceedingly talented Polyp (www.polyp.org.uk) can still shake a few entrenched bastions and rattle some cages as it offers an alternative view of our progress as a species, using the monstrous tragedy of 9/11 as its starting point before scrolling back to the very beginning to show how it all went so wrong for us talking apes…

In vivid primary colours, a jaundiced look at our 6 billion-year relationship with the planet -and the mistakes we keep on making – unfolds with wry, surreal wit, patient exasperation and not a little frantic desperation as our guides and companions. The delivery system is a boldly accessible cartoon style that blends a thousand childhood influences from Vaughn Bode to The Clangers, all the while whispering a warning and offering some few potentially last-minute suggestions via unforgettable imagery.

As it says on the cover, this book eschews words in favour of a broad humorous parade of “dumb-show” and mime: a brave and marvellously effective technique that really pays off. And besides, as a species we’ve been talking a good fight for ages and we’re now at a stage where words simply aren’t enough anymore…

The old adage has it that history is written by the winners, but in this graphic exploration on how the world got into its current state, we have a sharp, incisive and universal tome produced for those of us that have always demanded a recount – and almost probably not, no, never, a new referendum. Buy this book. Give copies to your friends. But most of all read, inwardly digest and just do something. It’s a dead cert those we’ve let make the rules for us so far won’t……
© Paul Fitzgerald 2009. All rights reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz 1943-1944: “He Nods in Quiescent Siesta”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-932-6 (TPB)

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, Krazy Kat is – for most cartoon cognoscenti – the pinnacle of pictorial narrative innovation: a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and elevated itself to the level of a treasure of world literature.

Krazy & Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these gloriously addictive archival Fantagraphics tomes, is a creation which must always be appreciated on its own terms. Over the decades the strip developed a unique language – simultaneously visual and verbal – whilst delineating the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody. Baffled millions, perhaps, but offended… no.

It certainly went over the heads and around the hearts of far more than a few, but Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people: those who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex, multi-layered verbal and cartoon whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy narrative art has ever produced.

George Joseph Herriman (August 22, 1880-April 25, 1944) was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who’d been noodling about at the edges of his domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Mildly intoxicating and gently scene-stealing, Krazy Kat subsequently debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – by sheer dint of the overbearing publishing magnate’s enrapt adoration and direct influence and interference – gradually and inexorably spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (such as Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and more) adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from those circulation-crucial comics sections designed to entice joe public and the general populace.

Eventually the feature found its true home and sanctuary in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s unshakable patronage and enhanced with the cachet of enticing colour, Kat & Ko. flourished unhampered by editorial interference or fleeting fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death on April 25th 1944.

This final collection covers the final days of the feature as Herriman succumbed slowly and painfully to cirrhosis caused by Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Eschewing the standard policy of finding a substitute to carry on the strip, Hearst decreed that Krazy Kat would die with its creator and sole ambassador.

It was no real sacrifice to profit, but the culmination to years of grand tribute to unique mastery. The strip had declined in syndication for years. By the 1930s it was featured in only 35 papers, but despite that the publisher – acting more as renaissance-era artistic patron than hard-bitten businessman – refused Herriman’s every earnest request that his salary be reduced to fit his dwindling circulation. In 1935 Hearst responded to the requests by promoting the feature to the full-page, full-colour glory it enjoyed until the end.

The epic’s basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline, hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse; a venal everyman, rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a truly, proudly unreconstructed male and early forerunner of the men’s rights movement: drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and innumerable children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick. These he obtains singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly. The smitten kitten apparently always misidentifies these gritty gifts as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

By the time of these tales it’s not even a response, except perhaps a conditioned one: the mouse still spends most of his time, energy and ingenuity in launching missiles at the mild moggy’s bonce. He can’t help himself, and Krazy’s day is bleak and unfulfilled if the hoped-for assault doesn’t happen. However, in these concluding episodes even that fiery warped passion has somewhat cooled: often attempted in perfunctory manner and frequently resulting in failure: just like any loving couple in their twilight years together…

The final critical element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp: utterly besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections. Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to the perennially “Friend-Zoned” Pupp’s dolorous dilemma…

Secondarily populating an ever-mutable stage are a big supporting cast of inspired bit players such as terrifying deliverer of unplanned babies Joe Stork; unsavoury huckster Don Kiyoti, hobo Bum Bill Bee, portal-packing Door Mouse, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and snoopy sagacious fowl Mrs. Kwakk Wakk, plus a host of other audacious animal crackers all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (patterned on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, cunningly designed, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language. This last is particularly effective in these later tales: alliterative, phonetically, onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force and delicious whimsy (“goldin moom bims” or “there is a heppy lend, furfur away…”).

Yet for all our high-fallutin’ intellectualism, these comic adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, outrageously hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick. Kids of any age will delight in them as much as any pompous old git like me and you…

There’s been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was first rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This bittersweet final chapter covers all the strips from 1943 to the middle of 1944 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a suitably serene digital edition.

With far fewer strips to catalogue, this edition is bulked up with a veritable treasure trove of unique artefacts: plenty of candid photos, personal correspondence, vast stores of original strip art and many astounding examples of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions (gorgeous hand-coloured artworks featuring the cast and settings), as well as a section on the rare merchandising tie-ins and unofficial bootleg items.

Tribute, commentary and analysis is provided by Bill Blackbeard’s final Introduction ‘The Tragedy of a Man with an Absent Mind’ and Jeet Heer and Michael Tisserand’s heavily-illustrated essay ‘Herriman’s Last Days (or, All Kats are Gray in the Dark)’ offering superb analysis of the unique talent celebrated herein. This inevitably leads to those superb cartoons, resuming with January 3rd 1943 and a tumultuous exchanging of gifts between cast regulars…

Due to the author’s declining health and perhaps the several personal tragedies that afflicted him in later life, the story atmosphere is mostly ruminatory and philosophical. It is also tinged with topical anxieties as World War II touches even the distant hills and mesas of Coconino. The trials of torrid triangular romance still play out as painfully and hilariously ever, but are balanced by more considered gags. Oblique references to the real world abound: a tortoise named Tank shambles about, Krazy is castigated for growing pretty flowers in the Victory Garden, and Ignatz is perforce compelled to handle bricks on a rationed, time-shared basis…

The usual parade of hucksters and conmen still abound, but pell-mell action, devious schemes and frantic chase gradually give way to comfortable chats and the occasional debate before inevitably concluding at the jail house…

Ignatz endures regular incarcerations and numerous forms of exile and social confinement, but with Krazy aiding and abetting, these sanctions seldom result in a reduction of cerebral contusions, whereas the plague of travelling conjurors, unemployed magicians and shady clairvoyants still make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary and the gullible fools they target. Perhaps because of Herriman’s own vintage, many regular characters share a greater appreciation of infirmity and loss of drive, often reflected in the reduction of Krazy to a bit player in many strips.

Pupp suffers with his age, repeatedly trying labour-saving new policing appliances such as electrically booby-trapped or glue-drenched bricks and termites trained to chew on fired clay, and as a steady stream of displaced royals from conquered lands set up in the desert paradise and the phenomenon of zoot-suiters manifests, the forces of law and order seem harder-pressed every day.

Aged busybody Mrs Kwakk Wakk further expands her role of wise old crone and sarcastic Greek Chorus; confirming her status as a leading player. She has a mean and spiteful beak on her too, and whilst laconic vagabonds such as Bum Bill Bee continue their scams and schemes, the primary cast-members seem inclined to sit back and let them all get on with it……

Welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora for humorous or inspiration or simple aesthetic gratification, while all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity. As arthritis, increasing migraines and age took some of the artist’s physical dexterity, it seemed to liberate his eyes and compositional sensibilities. The later strips are astounding sleek graphic exemplars of cunning design and hue on which the regulars play out their final lines…

The wonderment concludes with ore unearthed artistic treasures and one last instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a stupendous and joyous monument to gleeful whimsy: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these strips which have inspired comics creators and auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst fulfilling its basic function: engendering delight and delectation in generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a most accessible way to do so.

© 2008, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Horizontal Collaboration


By Navie & Carole Maurel, translated by Margaret Morrison (Korero Press)
ISBN: 978-1-91274-001-7

World War II – with its world-shaking reordering of society and all the consequent, still-felt repercussions – is very much in people’s minds at the moment and I’d like to offer up this new translated European tale as a counterpoint to the commemorative bombast, and the much-delayed honours finally being paid to the ever-dwindling last of “The Few”.

At least now, as well as the valiant men, we’re finally acknowledging the commonly disregarded contributions of women also caught up in the conflict, not to mention the unsung heroes of all nations who were drawn into the horror.

This particular hardcover, however, is not about heroes. Horizontal Collaboration deals with people: civilians and fugitives, women and invading occupiers: the ones who are seldom celebrated but who also confronted the triumph of global darkness, all in their own small, unnoticed ways…

France fell to the Germans in 1940. The country was occupied and partitioned on June 22nd, with the Germans holding the industrial north and central regions whilst Marshal Philippe Pétain’s puppet protectorate Régime de Vichy was allowed to govern the south and pacified colonies such as Algeria. When the nation was liberated in September 1944, a vicious wave of retaliation began against those who cooperated with the conquerors in ways great and small.

A sordid time of scores settled (real, imagined or fabricated) and cruel abuses almost arbitrarily inflicted on guilty and innocent alike plagued France for years afterwards. The most telling indignities were perpetrated upon women – wives, mothers, sisters or strangers – accused of fraternising with or giving comfort to the enemy.

Such liaisons were called “Collaboration Horizontale” and even the most nebulous or unfounded accusation of such betrayals carried a heavy and immediate price…

Just about now, a grandmother listens to her granddaughter unload about her current amour and her mind drifts back to the war and a secret she has never shared with anyone…

In 1942, a large apartment house on Passage de la Bonne-Graine is filled with families, all dealing with the German conquerors in their own way. Despite the change in their fortunes, they have not found any way to overcome the petty grudges and ingrained social difficulties that kept them at odds with each other even before war broke out…

Surly aged crone Madame Flament is rude to everybody, and spends all her time complaining or disappearing into the cellars to feed her cats. What secret is she really hiding?

Old Camille is deemed the man of the house, but he is gentle, ineffectual and blind; blithely letting life go on around him and apparently noticing nothing. His wife is the building’s concierge. Brusque matron Martine Andrée is a snooping busybody loudly championing decency and family values, but her home life is nothing to envy and her sharp tongue scores points off family, friends and foes indiscriminately.

She despises the younger women and their families in the building, especially pretty Joséphine Borgeon who makes ends meet through her theatre act. Everybody knows what she really does to survive…

Also viewed with suspicion is young mother Rose. Her husband Raymond has been taken away to work for the Nazis, so his friend and neighbour Leon – a gendarme – has been keeping a “friendly” eye on her, even though his own pregnant wife Judith keeps clumsily falling and hurting herself and surely needs proper supervision…

Strangely boyish artist Simone keeps to herself as much as she can and – originally – there was also a Jewess called Sarah Ansburg and her son Anaël. They somehow disappeared before the Germans could find them. That must be the reason Abwehr intelligence officer Mark Dinklebauer spends so much time in the building. It couldn’t possibly be that he has fallen in love with one of the occupants, or that this most forbidden of passions is dangerously, illegally reciprocated, can it?

Crafted with deft incisiveness by media writer and historian (Mademoiselle) Navie and rendered in a beguiling style (powerfully reminiscent of Will Eisner in his later years) by seasoned illustrator and author Carole Maurel (Luisa: Now & Then, Waves, L’apocalypse selon Magda), this is a meditative and uncompromising glance at ordinary lives under relentless pressure: an ensemble piece of human drama that takes as its heart and centre point an unlikely flowering of true but doomed love…

Moving, beguiling and evocatively rewarding, Horizontal Collaboration is a beautiful tragedy and potent reminder that love takes no prisoners while enslaving all it touches.
© Editions Delcourt – 2017. All rights reserved.

Horizontal Collaboration will be released on 18th June 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

The City


By James Herbert & Ian Miller (Pan Books)
ISBN13: 978-0-33032-471-7 (PB Album)

In the early 1990s, a number of British publishers – fired up by the massive mainstream sales of breakthrough sequential narratives such as Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and Maus – dipped their corporate toes in the waters of graphic novel publication, with varying degrees of commercial and aesthetic success.

Macmillan, through its Pan Books imprint, was one that took it all very seriously and it’s a crying shame that they were not better rewarded for their bold efforts. Still and all, with the way the country and the world are going at present, a timely reissue couldn’t be more relevant…

This particular slim, apocalyptic tome built upon an already popular property. Horror author James Herbert began his extensive writing career with The Rats (1974) following up with sequels Lair in 1979 and Domain in 1984. Those three novels told of a post-Holocaust Britain where mutated giant Black Rats have risen as humanity declined. In The City (technically Herbert’s 17th book) – and more of an episode than a narrative – an armoured figure known as The Traveller fights his way into the devastated ruins of London.

The decimated Capital is now the undisputed kingdom of the rats and their truly monstrous queen, but the lone human is set irrevocably on a mission of murder, and he has a secret, personal purpose for going into the hellish ruins…

Dark, simplistic and terrifying, the story is elevated to nightmare heights and depths by the astonishing, grotesquely beautiful art of sculptor, painter, film-designer and illustrator Ian Miller (Ratspike, The Luck in the Head, Green Dog Trumpet, Magic: The Gathering). Armageddon has never been better realised, the skies have never looked uglier and the shabby remains and detritus of civilisations never more familiar. His mutants are appalling to see and his intense line-work and domineering colours will haunt you.

Horror is tough to write and nearly impossible to illustrate. This book manages to tell no real story and make it scarier every time you return to it. Let’s hope some sagacious publisher does so before it’s too late for us all…
©1994 James Herbert. Illustrations ©1994 Ian Miller. All Rights Reserved.