Y: The Last Man Book One


By Brian K Vaughan, Pia Guerra, José Marzán & various (DC/ Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1921-5 (HB) 978-1-4012-5151-2 (TPB)

Back in 2002, an old, venerable and cherished science fiction concept got a new and pithy updating in the Vertigo comic book Y: The Last Man. These days it’s more relevant than ever as the premise reveals the consequences of a virulent plague. This one is primarily a mystery as it kills every male mammal on Earth – including all the sperm and the foetuses…

If it had a Y chromosome, it died. All except, somehow, for amateur stage magician, escapologist and all-round slacker goof-ball Yorick Brown and his pet monkey, Ampersand. One night, the gormless guy goes to bed pining for absent girlfriend Beth – who’s an anthropology grad on a gig in Australia – and the next day he’s the last functioning seed-dispenser in existence…

As a shady sub-culture of international espionage and conspiracy comes out of the shadows, Yorick’s mother is revealed as part of the new – for which read Female-and-Still-Standing after a failed power-grab by the widows of Republican Congressmen – American Presidential cabinet. This makes her, by default, a stand-in Leader of the Free World until the new President can get to Washington and take office…

Once Yorick makes his desperate, whiny way to her through a devastated urban landscape that used to be Washington DC, some things become clear. The plague hit during rush-hour on the East Coast and, with all the male take-charge types expiring in an eyeblink, the damage to civilisation has been inconceivable.

Planes, Trains, Automobiles and every other machine monopolised by male privilege across the planet stopped being piloted at the same moment and collateral damage was almost instantaneous and cataclysmic…

In the wreckage and ruins of man-kind, the new US leaders try to lock her son in a bunker as a crucial national resource, but he escapes and immediately announces he’s off Down Under.

After some delicate and acrimonious “negotiation”, Mum and Madam President finally allows the world’s only known propagator of the next generation to undertake a hazardous cross-country trek rather than subjecting him to some more rational project… such as milking him for IVF resources…

Off Yorick goes with a lethal and ambiguous secret agent known only as 355 to the secret California laboratory of Dr Allison Mann. This good doctor is a geneticist who secretly fears she might be the root cause of all the trouble…

Also out to stake their claim – and adding immeasurably to the tension and already prodigious body count – are a crack squad of Israeli commandos with a hidden agenda and mysterious sponsor, plus post-disaster cult The Daughters of the Amazon who want to make sure once and for all that there really are no more men. The hardest thing for the final baby-daddy to take is that they’re led by Yorick’s own sister Hero

Throughout all this grief, he remains a contrary cuss. Defying every whim and “Hey, I’m a Guy” stereotype, all he wants is to be reunited with his dearly beloved marooned in Oz. Like a stubborn and now extinct male mule, he will not be dissuaded…

Although this first escapade is mostly set-up, the main characters are engaging and work well to dispel the inevitable aura of familiarity and cliché this series had to initially struggle against.

Second story-arc ‘Cycles’ kicks off with Brown & Ampersand still laboriously trekking across an America now utterly feminised. Even with pitiless psycho-killers hunting him and with only a lethally-skilled government agent and disturbed geneticist to escort him across the devastated, death-drenched landscape to the West Coast, all the young oaf can think of is reuniting with Beth…

As the trio (quartet if we simply count primates) pass from Boston to Ohio, they end up in a curiously stable community in the Midwest where the sight of a male barely ruffles the assembled feathers. Yorick experiences his first instance of genuine sexual temptation. Sadly, the idyll is short-lived as the relentless Amazon Daughters catch up to the wanderers with tragic circumstances…

Moreover, the Israeli commandos hunting Earth’s last sperm-donor are also increasingly going off-book, heralding more chaos to come. And as Yorick and Co. resume their journey, hundreds of miles above Earth, another crisis is brewing…

To Be Continued…

This collection re-presents – in hardback, trade paperback and digital formats – issues #1-10 of Y: The Last Man (which were subsequently released as early graphic novel hits Unmanned and Cycles) and includes a comprehensive art gallery section in ‘Y: The Sketchbook’ courtesy of illustrator Pia Guerra.

Despite the horrific narrative backdrop, Brian K. Vaughn’s tale unfolds at a relatively leisurely pace and there’s plenty of black humour, socio-political commentary and proper lip service paid to the type of society the world would be without most of its pilots, entrepreneurs, mechanics, labourers, abusers and violent felons, but there’s precious little story progression in this tome, so if you’re a regular consumer of mindless action thrillers and blockbuster chase movies you’ll need to be patient. When you ultimately reach high gear, the wait will be worth it…

However, if you’re of a contemplative mien and can enjoy your entertainments unfolding on a human scale with luxuriously barbed wit on their own darkly nasty terms, there is an inconceivably great time waiting for you here…
© 2002, 2003, 2014 Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra. All Rights Reserved.

Eden: It’s an Endless World! volume 1


By Hiroki Endo (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-406-7 (Dark Horse tankōbon PB) 978-1-84576-487-6 (Titan Books Edition)

Here’s an eerily out-of-print but disturbingly topical series from a decade ago that’s worth tracking down, not just because of its sheer depth and entertainment quality, but also because it now qualifies for a growing subgenre of fiction (retroactively seen in prose, film, TV, comics, documentaries and national/international governmental reports and recommendations) that many people are calling “We Bloody Warned You”…

Despite the truly monumental breadth and variety of manga, I suspect that to western eyes Japanese comics are inextricably and inescapably conflated with science fiction in general and cataclysm in particular. That doesn’t mean they aren’t individually good and worthy of merit and acclaim, just saddled with some unfair presuppositions. With that stated and in mind, any fair reader should sit down to Hiroki (Meltdown, Soft Metal Vampire) Endo’s Eden: It’s An Endless World! and be prepared for a treat. The tale was originally serialised in Kodansha’s Monthly Afternoon between 1998-2008, eventually filling 18 tankōbon volumes.

Elijah Ballard is one of a small group of immunes who have survived a global pandemic named the “Closure Virus”. Most of humanity has been eradicated, and those infected who have survived an initial exposure are doomed to a slow deterioration compelling them to augment their failing bodies with cybernetics simply to survive. Thus, they barely qualify as human by most old standards and definitions…

Pockets of survivors immune to the plague are dotted about the planet and as years pass various factions form to take control of the world. Through a series of flashbacks, we see the immediate aftermath of the plague before jumping twenty years to follow this Ballard’s picaresque ramblings through a devastated South America. Accompanied by a robotic bodyguard, he is eking out a precarious existence when captured – or perhaps adopted – by a rag-tag band of soldiers.

When the world died, political society divided into two camps. The fragmented remnants of the United Nations tried to retain some degree of control but found themselves under attack by Propater, a revolutionary paramilitary organisation that had been planning a world coup even before the virus hit. Global war has raged among the survivors ever since…

Now caught up in this conflict, Elijah realises that his long-missing parents are major players in the new world order and day to day survival is no longer his only concern…

Despite the cyberpunk appurtenances and high-octane pace of the narrative, this is in many senses a very English approach to the End of the World. There are echoes of that other Ballard (J. G.: the author, and regrettably never a comic strip scripter), Aldous Huxley, and even Chapman Pincher. The mature themes presented here aren’t simply nudity and violence – although they are here in an abundance that will satisfy any action manga fan – but also a lyrical philosophy and moral questioning of political doctrine that underpins the text in the manner of much Cold War era science fiction and nothing at all like the majority of contemporary investigative journalism…

Subtly engaging, beautifully illustrated and deftly balancing swift action with introspective mystery, this series will appeal to that literate sector that needs their brains tickled as well as their pulse rates raised.
© 2007 Hiroki Endo. All Rights Reserved.

Time Clock (Eye of the Majestic Creature volume 3)


By Leslie Stein (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-930-1 (TPB)

With the once-constant supply of review books understandably curtailed and my latest actual paid work recently completed, I find myself retreating into old favourites to pass the time now. Happily, most of them are still great, and a goodly number of them have finally made the transition to digital editions, meaning you can read them too without risking life, lung or limb. All that threatens you is the strong chance of becoming equally besotted and addicted to great comics…

Help Wanted: Girl cartoonist seeks meaning of contemporary existence and like-minded individuals to share bewilderment and revelations with. Interests/Hobbies include: drinking, counting sand, growing stuff, antiquing for pop culture “trash”, drinking, meaningful conversations with musical instruments, playing board games with same, recreational herbal intoxicants, reminiscing about wild-times with gal-pals and old cronies, drinking, visiting difficult relatives.

Employment: unwanted but regrettably necessary. Although not native to the Big City, is extremely adaptable and will do anything – unless it’s hard, boring or she sucks at it…

After graduating from the New York School of Visual Arts, Leslie Stein began producing astonishingly addictive cartoon strips in the self-published Yeah, It Is. Upon winning a Xeric Grant for her efforts, she then started an even better comicbook entitled Eye of the Majestic Creature, blending autobiographical self-discovery, surreal free-association, philosophical ruminations, nostalgic reminiscences and devastatingly dry wit to describe modern life as filtered through her seductive meta-fictional interior landscape.

She is a creator who sees things as they really aren’t, but makes them authentic and even desirable to anyone willing to pay attention…

This superbly enticing third volume of the …Majestic Creature sequence resumes her airy, eccentric and engaging pictorial mood-music, with her mythologized autobiography continuing to reveal the history and ambitions (for want of a better term) of Larrybear – a girl deliberately and determinedly on her own, trying to establish her own uniquely singular way of getting by.

Eschewing chronological narrative for an easy, breezy raconteur’s epigrammatic delivery, and illustrated in loose, free-flowing line-work, detailed stippling, hypnotic pattern-building or even honest-to-gosh representational line-drawing, Stein operates under the credo of “whatever works, works” – and clearly, she’s not wrong…

Larrybear makes friends easily: bums, winos, weirdoes, dropouts, misfits, non-English-speaking co-workers and especially inanimate objects. Her bestest buddy of all is her talking guitar/flatmate Marshmallow: one of the many odd fellow travellers who aggregate around her, briefly sharing her outré interests and latest dreams.

However, Larrybear doesn’t want an average life, just more experiences, less hassle and affable companions to share it all with.

The self-service graphic dinner party starts with another Friday at work. After scrupulously completing her wage-slave tasks, Larrybear heads off to show her latest creation at the long-awaited Sand Counters Convention. The guy at the next table next is annoying but okay, and she’s touched when venerable old Sand Counter Henry Peet admires her work but, after seeing über-stylist Tim Heerling swanking and lapping up the adulation of the audience, she is mysteriously moved and promptly decides that now she has a new nemesis…

In the meantime, stay-at-home stringed instrument Marshmallow – feeling unfulfilled – takes up baking to shorten the incessant loneliness…

A second untitled segment then finds Larrybear hanging out with old pal Boris, sharing stories and intoxicants, but still blithely unaware of how he feels about her…

After months of prevaricating, and whilst still enduring dreams about that Heerling guy, our aimless star finally relocates to the countryside where she, Marshmallow and the rest of her animated instrument collection enjoy a life of bucolic fulfilment and idle contemplation until they can’t stand it anymore…

This superbly quirky diversion concludes with ‘Boy’ as Larrybear learns that living miles from the nearest bar and being unable to drive is severely impacting her precious drinking time, whilst having competition-quality sand delivered is a huge mistake…

All too soon, she’s back in her natural urban environment, dealing booze to drunks and sharing their buzz, just as the biggest storm in living memory threatens to close up the city…
All delivered in an oversized (292 x 204 mm if you’re still wedded to dead tree ownership) mesmerising monochrome package, these incisive, absurdist, whimsically charming and visually intoxicating invitations into a singularly creative mind and fabulous alternative reality offer truly memorable walks on the wild side.

For a gloriously rewarding and exceptionally enticing cartoon experience – one no serious fan of fun and narrative art can afford to miss – you simply must spend a few hours with a Time Clock.
© 2016 Leslie Stein. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Superman Family volume 1


By Otto Binder, Curt Swan & Ray Burnley, Jerry Coleman, Ruben Moreira, Al Plastino, Don Cameron, Ed Dobrotka & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0787-8 (TPB)

Stress-alleviating Fun is in pretty short supply everywhere these days, but if you’re a comics fan susceptible to charming nostalgia, this item – readily available in paperback, but tragically still not compiled in any digital format yet – might be a remedy for those old Lockdown Blues…

When the blockbusting Man of Tomorrow debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) he was instantly the centre of attention. However, even then the need for a solid supporting cast was apparent and quickly catered to. Glamorous daredevil girl reporter Lois Lane premiered with Clark Kent and was a constant companion and foil from the outset…

Although unnamed, a plucky red-headed, be-freckled kid worked alongside Clark and Lois from Action Comics #6 (November 1938) and was called by his first name from Superman #13 (November-December 1941) onwards. The lad was Jimmy Olsen and he was a major player in The Adventures of Superman radio show from its debut on April 15th 1940: somebody the same age as the target audience in place for the hero to explain stuff to (all for the listener’s benefit) and the closest thing to a sidekick the Man of Tomorrow ever needed…

When the similarly titled television show launched in the autumn of 1952, it became a monolithic hit. National Periodicals thus began tentatively expanding their increasingly valuable franchise with new characters and titles. First up were the gloriously charming, light-hearted escapades of that rash, capable but naïve photographer and “cub reporter” from the Daily Planet. The solo-career of the first spin-off star from the Caped Kryptonian’s ever-expanding entourage began with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1, which launched in 1954 with a September-October cover date.

As the decade progressed, the oh-so-cautious Editors at National/DC tentatively extended the franchise in 1957, just as the Silver Age of Comics was getting underway and it seemed there might be a fresh and sustainable appetite for costumed heroes and their unique brand of spectacular shenanigans. Try-out title Showcase – which had already launched The Flash (#4 & 8) and Challengers of the Unknown (#6-7) – followed up with a brace of issues entitled Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane in #9 and 10. Soon after, she won a series of her own – in actuality her second, since for a brief while in the mid-1940s she had her own solo-spot in Superman.

This scintillatingly addictive monochrome tome chronologically re-presents those experimental franchise expansions, encompassing Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1-22, (September/October 1954 to August 1957) and Showcase #9 (July/August 1957), plus the very first Lois Lane solo strip (from Superman #28 – May/June 1944) as a welcome bonus.

The vintage all-ages entertainment (courtesy of dedicated creative team Otto Binder, Curt Swan & Ray Burnley) begins with ‘The Boy of 1000 Faces’ in which the ebullient junior journalist displays his phenomenal facility for make-up and disguise to trap a jewel thief before heading to timber country and solving the ‘Case of the Lumberjack Jinx’ and latterly masquerading as ‘The Man of Steel’s Substitute’ to tackle public requests too trivial for his Kryptonian chum.

‘The Flying Jimmy Olsen’ opened the second issue with a daring tale of sheer idiocy as the lad swallows an alien power-potion with staggering disregard for the potential repercussions (a recurring theme of those simpler times) after which ‘The Hide and Seek Mystery’ displays his crime-solving pluck as Jim hunts down more jewel thieves. Then, the boy becomes ‘Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Ex-Pal’ to expose a cunning conman.

The red-headed rascal became ‘The Boy Millionaire’ in #3 when a wealthy dowager repaid a kind deed with a vast cash reward. Sadly, all that money brought Jimmy was scammers, conmen and murderous trouble. After that he heads to Tumbleweed, USA to cover a rodeo and somehow is (mis)taken for ‘The Fastest Gun in the West’ before meeting the highly suspect eccentric who is ‘The Man Who Collected Excitement’.

‘The Disappearance of Superman’ perplexes Metropolis in #4 until his valiant pal solves the mystery and saves the Caped Kryptonian’s life, whilst – as ‘The Hunted Messenger’ – Jimmy cheats certain death to outwit gangsters before replacing a regal look-alike and playing ‘King for a Day’ in a far off land threatened by a ruthless usurper.

In issue #5, ‘The Boy Olympics’ shares Jimmy’s sentimental side as he risks his job to help young news vendors from a rival paper and is almost replaced by a computer in ‘The Brain of Steel’, before beguiling and capturing a wanted felon with ‘The Story of Superman’s Souvenirs’…

The cutthroat world of stage conjuring finds him competing to become ‘The King of Magic’ in JO #6’s first tale, after which the diminutive lad endures a punishing diet regime – hilariously enforced by Superman – to cover the sports story of the year in ‘Jockey Olsen Rides Star Flash’. The last tale sees Jimmy bravely recovering ‘100 Pieces of Kryptonite’ that fell on Metropolis, rendering Superman helpless and dying…

Jimmy Olsen #7 finds the boy teaching three rich wastrels a life-changing lesson in ‘The Amazing Mirages’, after which a magic carpet whisks him away to write ‘The Scoop of 1869’ before the lad’s boyhood skills enable him to become ‘The King of Marbles’, catching a crook and even more headlines…

In #8, pride in his investigative abilities and a slick conman compel him to uncover his pal’s secret identity in ‘The Betrayal of Superman’, after which he becomes ‘Superboy for a Day’ sort of) and wows the chicks when a sore throat transforms him into ‘Jimmy Olsen, Crooner’. Issue #9 opens with him disastrously switching jobs to become ‘Jimmy Olsen, Cub Inventor’: a TV quiz mastermind in kThe Million-Dollar Question’ and pilot of a prototype Superman robot in ‘The Missile of Steel’.

In #10, the canny lad turns the tables on a greedy hoaxer in ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Martian Pal’ and suffers amnesia in ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Forgotten Adventure’, before going back to nature as ‘Jungle Jimmy Olsen’, whilst the next issue sees him acting – after a stellar accident – as ‘Superman’s Seeing-Eye Dog’; dumping the neglectful and busy Man of Steel for a more appreciative comrade in kJimmy Olsen, Clark Kent’s Pal’ and – accidentally – exposing a corrupt boxing scam as ‘T.N.T. Olsen, the Champ’.

He helps out a circus chum by becoming ‘Jimmy Olsen, Prince of Clowns’ in #12, thereafter uncovering ‘The Secret of Dinosaur Island’ and falling victim to a goofy – or just plain mad – scientist’s bizarre experiment to reluctantly become ‘The Invisible Jimmy Olsen’. In #13 he tracks a swindler via a half dozen namesakes in ‘The Six Jimmy Olsens’ before criminals then targeted the cub reporter’s secret weapon in ‘The Stolen Superman Signal’ and the lad is himself subjected to a cruel but necessary deception when the Metropolis Marvel perpetrates ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Super Illusions’…

Issue #14 opened with a time-travel western tale as the lad instigates ‘The Feats of Chief Super-Duper’, after which a scientific accident seemingly imbues the bold boy with Clark Kent’s personality and creates ‘The Meek Jimmy Olsen’, before the cub is lost in the American wilderness and outrageously mistaken for ‘The Boy Superman’…

JO #15 finds him demoted and at a dog-show where his infallible nose for news quickly uncovers ‘The Mystery of the Canine Champ’, after which an injudiciously swallowed serum gives him super-speed and he reinvents himself as ‘Jimmy Olsen, Speed Demon’. Thereafter, a strange ailment forces him to dispose of his most treasured possessions in kUnwanted Superman Souvenirs’…

A scurrilous scammer in #16 offers to regress the kid’s consciousness and help him re-live ‘The Three Lives of Jimmy Olsen’, before a series of crazy coincidences compel identity-obsessed Clark to convince Lois Lane that Jimmy is ‘The Boy of Steel!’ Yet another chemical concoction then turns the lad into a compulsive fibber… ‘The Super Liar of Metropolis’.

The next thrill-packed issue featured ‘Jimmy Olsen in the 50th Century’ wherein the lad is transported to an era where history has conflated his and Superman’s lives, whilst in ‘The Case of the Cartoon Scoops’, he rediscovers a gift for drawing – and the curse of clairvoyance – before an horrific accident turns him into ‘The Radioactive Boy’…

In #18, humour is king as ‘The Super Safari’ finds young Jim using a “magic” flute to capture animals for a circus, whilst ‘The Riddle Reporter’ sees him lose scoops to a masked mystery journalist before having to nursemaid his best friend when a criminal’s time weapon turns the Man of Steel into ‘Superbaby, Jimmy Olsen’s Pal’…

In #19 ‘The Two Jimmy Olsens’ introduce a robot replica of the cub reporter whilst in ‘The Human Geiger Counter’ the kid becomes allergic to the Action Ace, after which a brain injury convinces him he is ‘Superman’s Kid Brother’. The next issue opened with ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Super-Pet’ as a prized souvenir hatches into a living, breathing dinosaur. Misguided efforts to save a small-town newspaper then culminate in kThe Trial of Jimmy Olsen’, after which Superman secretly makes his pal ‘The Merman of Metropolis’ in a convoluted scheme to preserve his own alter ego.

Issue #21 reveals an unsuspected family skeleton and a curse which seemingly transforms reporter into pirate in ‘The Legend of Greenbeard Olsen’. Ingenuity – and a few gimmicks – then briefly turn him into junior hero ‘Wonder Lad’ whereas plain old arrogance and snooping are responsible for the humiliation resulting from ‘The Wedding of Jimmy Olsen’ to Lois Lane…

A month later, the lady at last starred in her own comicbook when – galvanised by a growing interest in superhero stories – the company’s premiere try-out title pitched a brace of issues focused on the burgeoning Superman family of features.

Showcase #9 (cover-dated July/August 1957) featured Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane in a trio of tales by Jerry Coleman, Ruben Moreira & Al Plastino: opening with the seminal yarn ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past’ wherein Lois first meets red-headed hussy Lana Lang, childhood sweetheart of Superboy and a pushy, conniving go-getter out to win Lois’ intended at all costs.

Naturally, Miss Lane invites Miss Lang to stay at her apartment and the grand rivalry was off and running…

‘The New Lois Lane’ sees Lois aggravatingly turn over a new leaf and stop attempting to uncover his secret identity just when Superman actually needs her to do so, before the premier concludes with the concussion-induced day-dream ‘Mrs. Superman’ with Lois imagining a life of domestic wedded super-bliss…

When Lois Lane finally received her own shot at solo stardom, it was sadly very much on the terms of the times. I shamefacedly admit to a deep, nostalgic affection for her bright and breezy, fantastically fun adventures, but as a free-thinking, liberal (notional) adult of the 21st century I’m simultaneously shocked nowadays at the patronising, nigh-misogynistic attitudes underpinning many of the stories.

I’m fully aware these stories were intended for young readers at a time when “dizzy dames” like Lucille Ball or Doris Day played to the popular American gestalt stereotype of Woman as jealous minx, silly goose, diffident wife and brood-hungry nester, but to ask kids to seriously accept that intelligent, courageous, ambitious, ethical and highly capable females would drop everything they’d worked hard for to lie, cheat, inveigle, manipulate and entrap a man just so that they could cook pot-roast and change super-diapers is indisputably crazy, downright insulting and tantamount to child abuse…

Oddly enough, the 1940s interpretation of the plucky news-hen was far less derogatory: Lois might have been ambitious and life-threateningly precipitate, but at least it was to advance her own career and put bad guys away… as seen in the superb 4-page vignette which closes this volume.

Back-up series ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter’ debuted in Superman #28 (May/June 1944): a breathless fast-paced screwball comedy-thriller by Don Cameron & Ed Dobrotka wherein the canny lass fails to talk a crazed jumper down from a ledge but saves him in another far more flamboyant manner, reaping the reward of a front page headline.

Before that Golden Age threat, however, there’s one last issue of the junior member of the Superman Family. Jimmy Olsen #22 begins with ‘The Mystery of the Millionaire Hoboes’, as the lad tracks down the reason wealthy men are masquerading as down-and-outs, before exposing the evil secrets behind ‘The Super-Hallucinations’ afflicting the Man of Tomorrow and ending with ‘The Super-Brain of Jimmy Olsen’ wherein resident affable crackpot genius Professor Phineas Potter evolves the boy into a man from 1,000,000AD. That cold, but surely benevolent being has a hidden agenda in play and is able to bend Superman to his hyper-intelligent will…

These spin-off supporting series were highly popular top-sellers for decades: blending action, adventure, broad, wacky comedy, fantasy and science fiction in the gently addictive manner scripter Otto Binder had first perfected a decade previously at Fawcett Comics on the magnificent Captain Marvel and his own myriad mini-universe of associated titles.

As well as containing some of the most delightful episodes of the pre angst-drenched, cosmically catastrophic DC, these fun, thrilling and yes, occasionally deeply moving all-ages stories also perfectly depict the changing mores and tastes which reshaped comics from the safely anodyne 1950s to the seditious, rebellious 1970s, all the while keeping to the prime directive of the industry – “keep them entertained and keep them wanting more”.

I know I certainly do…
© 1944, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Impossible Tales: The Steve Ditko Archives volume 4


By Steve Ditko & various, edited by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-640-9 (HB)

Once upon a time the short complete tale was the sole staple of the comic book profession, where the plan was to deliver as much variety as possible to the reader. Sadly, that particular discipline is all but lost to us today…

Steve Ditko (November 2nd 1927 – c. June 29th 2018) was one of our industry’s greatest talents and probably America’s least lauded. His fervent desire was to just get on with his job telling stories the best way he could. Whilst the noblest of aspirations, that dream was always a minor consideration and frequently a stumbling block for the commercial interests which for so long controlled all comics production and still exert an overwhelming influence upon the mainstream bulk of Funny book output. Let’s see what happens in the months to come now that COVID19 has wrought its horrific effects on the industry…

Before his time at Marvel, the young Ditko mastered his craft creating short stories for a variety of companies and it’s an undeniable joy to be able to look at this work from a such an innocent time. Here he was just breaking into the industry: tirelessly honing his craft with genre tales for whichever publisher would have him, utterly free from the interference of intrusive editors.

This fourth fantastic full-colour deluxe hardback – and potently punchy digital treasure trove – reprints another heaping helping of his ever more impressive works: published between July 1957 and March 1959, and all courtesy of the surprisingly liberal (at least in its trust of its employees’ creative instincts) sweat-shop publisher Charlton Comics. Some of the issues here were actually put together under the St. John imprint, but when that company abruptly folded, much of its already prepared in-house material – even entire issues – were purchased and published by clearing-house specialist Charlton with almost no editorial changes.

And, whilst we’re being technically accurate it’s also important to note that the eventual publication dates of the stories in this collection don’t have a lot to do with when Ditko rendered these mini-masterpieces: Charlton paid so little, the cheap, anthologically astute outfit had no problem buying material it could leave on a shelf for months – if not years – until the right moment arrived to print…

All the tales and covers reproduced here were drawn after implementation of the draconian, self-inflicted Comics Code Authority rules which sanitised the industry following Senate Hearings and a public witch-hunt. They are uniformly wonderfully baroque and bizarre fantasies, suspense and science fiction yarns, helpfully annotated with a purchase number to indicate approximately when they were actually drawn.

Sadly, there’s no indication of how many (if any) were actually written by Ditko, but as at the time the astoundingly prolific Joe Gill was churning out hundreds of stories per year for Charlton, he is always everyone’s first guess when trying to attribute script credit…

Following an historically informative Introduction and passionate advocacy by Blake Bell, the evocative tales of mystery and imagination commence with ‘The Menace of the Maple Leaves’, an eerie haunted woods fable from Strange Suspense Stories #33 (August 1957), closely followed a darkly sinister con-game which goes impossibly awry after a wealthy roué consults a supposed mystic to regain his youth and vitality before being treated in ‘The Forbidden Room’ (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #4 July 1957)…

From November 1957, Do You Believe in Nightmares? #1 offers a bounty of Ditko delights, beginning with the stunning St. John cover heralding a prophetic ‘Nightmare’; the strange secret of a prognosticating ‘Somnambulist’ and the justice which befalls a seasoned criminal in ‘The Strange Silence’ – all confirming how wry fate intervenes in the lives of mortals.

‘You Can Make Me Fly’ then goes a tad off-topic with a tale of brothers divided by morality and intellect after which the issue ends with a dinosaur-packed romp courtesy of ‘The Man Who Crashed into Another Era’

Next up is a tale from one of Charlton’s earliest star characters. Apparently the title came from a radio show which Charlton licensed, and the lead/host/narrator certainly acted more as voyeur than active participant, speaking “to camera” and asking readers for opinion and judgement as he shared a selection of funny, sad, scary and wondrous human interest yarns all tinged with a hint of the weird and supernatural. When rendered by Ditko, whose storytelling mastery, page design and full, lavish brushwork were just beginning to come into its mature full range, the Tales of the Mysterious Traveler were esoteric and utterly mesmerising…

From issue #6 (December 1957), ‘Little Girl Lost’ chills spines and tugs heartstrings with the story of a doll that loved its human companion, followed by a paranoid chase from Strange Suspense Stories #35 (December 1957) as ‘There it is Again’ sees a scientist dogged by his most dangerous invention…

Unusual Tales #10 (January 1958) provides a spooky cover before disclosing the awesome secret of ‘The Repair Man from Nowhere’ and – following wickedly effective Cold War science fiction parable ‘Panic!’ from Strange Suspense Stories #35 – resumes with ‘A Strange Kiss’ that draws a mining engineer into a far better world…

Out of This World #6 (November 1957) provides access to ‘The Secret Room’ which forever changes the lives of an aging, destitute couple. Then cover and original artwork for Out of This World #12 (March 1959) lead to a tale in which a ruthless anthropologist is brought low by ‘A Living Doll’ he’d taken from a native village…

Returning to Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #6 results in three more captivating yarns. ‘When Old Doc Died’ is perhaps the best in this book, displaying wry humour in the history of a country sawbones who is only content when helping others, whilst ‘The Old Fool’ everybody mocked proves to be his village’s greatest friend, and ‘Mister Evriman’ explores the metaphysics of mass TV viewing in a thoroughly chilling manner…

The dangers of science without scruple informs the salutary saga of a new invention in ‘The Edge of Fear’ (Unusual Tales #10, January 1958), after which the cover of This Magazine is Haunted #14 (December 1957) ushers us into cases recounted by ghoulish Dr. Haunt; specifically, a scary precursor to cloning in ‘The Second Self’ and a diagnosis of isolation and mutation which afflicts ‘The Green Man’

The cover and original art for giant-sized Out of This World #7 (February 1958) precedes ‘The Most Terrible Fate’ befalling a victim of atomic warfare whilst ‘Cure-All’ details a struggle between a country doctor and a sinister machine which heals any ailment.

We return to This Magazine is Haunted #14 as Dr. Haunt relates a ghastly monster’s progress ‘From Out of the Depths’ before ‘The Man Who Disappeared’ tells his uncanny story to disbelieving Federal agents. Out of This World #7 in turn provides an ethereal ringside seat from which to view a time-traveller’s ‘Journey to Paradise’…

From Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #7 (March 1958), ‘And the Fear Grew’ relates how an Australian rancher falls foul of an insidiously malign but cute-looking critter, after which ‘The Heel and the Healer’ reveals how a snake-oil peddler finds a genuine magic cure-all, whilst ‘Never Again’ (Unusual Tales #10 again) takes an eons-long look at mankind’s atomic follies and ‘Through the Walls’ (Out of This World #7) sees a decent man framed and imprisoned, only to be saved by the power of astral projection…

Out of This World #12 (March 1959) declared ‘The World Awaits’ when a scientist uncovers an age-old secret regarding ant mutation and eugenics, Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #7 (February 1958) exposes ‘The Angry Things’ which haunt a suspiciously inexpensive Italian villa, and the gripping cover to Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #10 (November 1958) segues into the unsuspected sacrifice of a jazz virtuoso who saves the world in ‘Little Boy Blue’

A tragic orphan finds new parents after ‘The Vision Came’ (Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #8, July 1958) before Dr. Haunt proves television to be a cause of great terror in ‘Impossible, But…’ (from This Magazine is Haunted volume 2 #16, May 1958) – an issue which also discloses the world-changing fate of a Soviet scientist who became ‘The Man from Time’…

Another selfless inventor chooses to be a ‘Failure’ rather than doom humanity to eternal servitude in a stunning yarn from Strange Suspense Stories #36 (March 1958), whilst the luckiest man alive at last experiences the downside of being ‘Not Normal’ (Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #7) after which Unusual Tales #11 – from March 1958 – reveals the secret of Presidential statesmanship to a young politician in ‘Charmed, I’m Sure’, and exposes a magical secret race through an author’s vacation ‘Deep in the Mountains’

This mesmerising collection concludes with the suitably bizarre tale of Egyptian lucky charm ‘The Dancing Cat’ (Strange Suspense Stories #37, July 1958) to ensure the spooky afterglow remains long after the final page and leaves you hungry for more mystic merriment and arcane enjoyment…

This sturdily capacious volume has episodes that terrify, amaze, amuse and enthral: utter delights of fantasy fiction with lean, stripped down plots and simple dialogue that let the art set the tone, push the emotions and tell the tale, from times when a story could end sadly as well as happily and only wonderment was on the agenda, hidden or otherwise. The stories display the sharp wit and contained comedic energy which made so many Spider-Man/J. Jonah Jameson confrontations an unforgettable treat a decade later, making this is cracking collection not only superb in its own right but as a telling examination into the genius of one of the art-form’s greatest stylists.

This is a book serious comics fans would happily kill or die or be lost in time for…
This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. Introduction © 2013 Blake Bell. All rights reserved.

Wonder Woman: The Twelve Labors


By Martin Pasko, Elliot S. Maggin, Cary Bates, Len Wein, Curt Swan, John Rosenberger, Irv Novick, Dick Dillin, Kurt Schaffenberger, Dick Giordano, Jose Delbo & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3494-2 (PB)

The Princess of Paradise Island originally debuted as a special feature in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941), conceived by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston and illustrated by Harry G. Peter in a calculated attempt to offer girls a positive and forceful role model and – on forward-thinking Editor M.C. Gaines’ part – sell more comic books.

She catapulted into her own series and the cover-spot of new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later. An instant hit, the Amazing Amazon won her own eponymous supplemental title a few months later, cover-dated Summer 1942.

Once upon a time on a hidden island of immortal super-women, American aviator Steve Trevor of US Army Intelligence crashed to Earth. Near death, he was nursed back to health by young, impressionable Princess Diana.

Fearful of her besotted child’s growing obsession with the creature from a long-forgotten and madly violent world, Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyte revealed the hidden history of the Amazons: how they were seduced and betrayed by men but rescued by the goddess Aphrodite on condition that they forever isolated themselves from the mortal world and devoted their eternal lives to becoming ideal, perfect creatures.

However, with the planet in crisis, goddesses Athena and Aphrodite instructed Hippolyte to send an Amazon back with the American to fight for global freedom and liberty. She would be chosen by triumphing over all her sisters in a grand tournament. Although forbidden to compete, Diana clandestinely overcame all other candidates to become their emissary – Wonder Woman.

On arriving in the Land of the Free, she purchased the identity and credentials of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, elegantly allowing the Amazing Amazon to stay close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick but poverty-stricken care-worker to join her own fiancé in South America. Diana soon gained a position with Army Intelligence as secretary to General Darnell, further ensuring she would always be able to watch over her beloved. She little suspected that, although the painfully shallow Steve only had eyes for the dazzling Amazon superwoman, the General had fallen for the mousy yet supremely competent and capable Lieutenant Prince…

That set up enabled the Star-Spangled Siren to weather the vicissitudes of the notoriously transient comicbook marketplace and survive the end of the Golden Age of costumed heroes along with Superman, Batman and a few lucky second-stringers who inhabited the backs of their titles.

She soldiered on well into the Silver Age revival under the canny auspices of Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, but by 1968 superhero comics were in decline again and publishers sought new ways to keep audiences interested as tastes – and American society – changed.

Back then, the entire industry depended on newsstand sales and if you weren’t popular, you died. Editor Jack Miller & Mike Sekowsky stepped up with a radical proposal and made a little bit of comic book history with the only female superhero to still have her own title in that turbulent marketplace.

The superbly eccentric art of Sekowsky had been a DC mainstay for nearly two decades, and he had also scored big with fans at Gold Key with Man from Uncle and at Tower Comics in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and war title Fight the Enemy! His unique take on the Justice League of America had cemented its overwhelming success, and in 1968 he began stretching himself further with a number of experimental, young-adult oriented projects.

Tapping into the teen zeitgeist with Easy Rider style drama Jason’s Quest proved ultimately unsuccessful, but with the Metal Men and the hopelessly outdated and moribund Wonder Woman he had much greater impact. Sekowsky would subsequently work the same magic with equally stalled icon Supergirl

The big change came when the Amazons were compelled to leave our dimension, taking with them all their magic – including Wonder Woman’s powers and all her mystic weaponry. Now no more or less than human, she opted to stay on Earth permanently, assuming her own secret identity of Diana Prince, dedicated to fighting injustice as a mortal, very much in the manner of Emma Peel and Modesty Blaise.

Blind Buddhist monk I Ching rather rapidly trained her as a martial artist, and she soon became embroiled in the schemes of would-be world-conqueror Doctor Cyber. Most shockingly, her beloved Steve was branded a traitor and murdered…

Sekowsky’s root and branch overhaul offered a whole new kind of Wonder Woman, but as I’ve already said fashion ruled and, in a few years, without fanfare or warning, everything that had happened since Wonder Woman lost her powers was unwritten. Her mythical origins were revised and re-established as she returned to a world of immortals, gods, mythical monster and super-villains with a new nemesis: an African (or perhaps Hellenic?) American half-sister named Nubia

Such an abrupt reversal had tongues wagging and heads spinning in fan circles. Had the series offended some shady “higher-ups” who didn’t want controversy or a shake-up of the status quo?

Probably not. Sales were never great even on the Sekowsky run and the most logical reason is probably Television.

The Amazon had been optioned as a series since the days of the Batman TV show in 1967, and by this time (1973) production work had begun on the original 1974 pilot featuring Cathy Lee Crosby. An abrupt return to the character most viewers would be familiar with from their own childhoods seems perfectly logical to me…

By the time Lynda Carter made the concept work in 1975, Wonder Woman was once again “Stronger than Hercules, swifter than Mercury and more beautiful than Aphrodite”…

But as Diana returned to mainstream DC continuity, the readers and fans expected her to fully reintegrate, leading to this early and impressive example of a comics miniseries which ran in Wonder Woman #212 through 222 (cover-dates July 1974 – March 1976), detailing how the Amazing Amazon rejoined the JLA.

Scripter Len Wein and artists Curt Swan & Tex Blaisdell got the ball rolling with ‘The Man Who Mastered Women!’ as our Hellenic Hellion thwarts a terrorist attack at New York’s United Nations building… where Diana Prince now works as a translator. In the aftermath she surprisingly meets old friend Clark Kent.

Over the course of the conversation she realises her memories have been tampered with and suddenly understands why her JLA colleagues haven’t called her to any meetings… She had resigned years ago…

Although her former comrades beg her to re-enlist, she declines, fearing her memory lapses might endanger the team and the world. After much insistent pleading, she relents enough to suggest the League should covertly monitor her next dozen major cases – in the manner of Hercules’ twelve legendary tests – until she proves herself competent and worthy, for her own peace of mind, if not the JLA’s…

Once they grudgingly agree, she leaves and Superman begins the surveillance, observing her flying to Paradise Island in her Invisible Plane. Correctly deducing she has been subjected to Amazonian selective memory manipulation, Diana confronts her mother and learns of her time as a mere mortal… and of Steve’s death.

Although the past has been removed by her well-meaning Amazon sisters, Diana now demands that every recollection excised be returned…

Back in Man’s World, a crisis is already brewing as costumed crazy The Cavalier exerts his uncanny influence over women to control female Heads of State. Ultimately, however, his powers prove ineffectual over Wonder Woman…

As a result of that case, Diana Prince changes jobs, going to work as a troubleshooter for dashing Morgan Tracy at the UN Crisis Bureau, and her first mission isn’t long in coming…

Wonder Woman #213 was crafted by Cary Bates, Irv Novick & Blaisdell, detailing how an alien robot removes all aggression from humanity in one stroke. As the Flash helplessly observes, however, ‘The War-No-More Machine!’ also quashes all bravery, determination, confidence and capability. The species faced imminent – if long and drawn out – extinction.

Happily, Diana, a teenaged girl and a murderous criminal are all somehow immune to the invader’s influence…

Elliot S. Maggin, Swan & Phil Zupa then disclose Green Lantern Hal Jordan’s undercover observations after a lost Amazon gem in unwitting, unscrupulous hands almost starts World War III and the Princess of Power must avert nuclear holocaust triggered by a ‘Wish Upon a Star!’

The superb and vastly undervalued John Rosenberger pencilled Bates’ tale of the ‘Amazon Attack Against Atlantis’ (inked by Vince Colletta) as Aquaman watches Wonder Woman unravel a baroque and barbaric plot by Mars, God of War to set Earth’s two most advanced nations at each throats, after which #216 finds Black Canary uncovering the Amazon Sisterhood’s greatest secret in ‘Paradise in Peril!’ (Maggin, Rosenberger & Colletta).

The tale concerns an obsessed multi-millionaire risking everything – including possibly the collapse of civilisation – to uncover exactly what would happen if a man sets foot upon the hidden Island of the Amazons…

One of Wonder Woman’s oldest foes resurfaces in ‘The Day Time Broke Loose!’ (Maggin, Dick Dillin & Colletta) and Green Arrow is caught in the crossfire as the Duke of Deception attacks the UN with temporally torturous images and hallucinations designed to create madness and death on a global scale.

Produced by Martin Pasko & Kurt Schaffenberger, issue #218 offers two short complete tales. Firstly Red Tornado reports on the ‘Revolt of the Wonder Weapons’ as an influential astrologer uses mind-control techniques to gain power and accidentally undermine Diana’s arsenal, after which The Phantom Stranger stealthily witnesses her foil a mystic plot by sorcerer Felix Faust which animates and enrages the Statue of Liberty in ‘Give Her Liberty – and Give Her Death!’

This was a time when feminism was finally making inroads into American culture and Pasko, Swan & Colletta slyly tipped their hats to the burgeoning movement in a wry and fanciful sci-fi thriller. Thus, WW #219 sees Diana preventing a vile incursion by the dominating males of Xro, a ‘World of Enslaved Women!’, with stretchable sleuth Elongated Man covertly traversing the parallel dimensions in Wonder Woman’s wake.

With the epic endeavour almost ended, scripter Pasko added a patina of mystery to the affair as the Atom watches Diana tackle ‘The Man Who Wiped Out Time!’ Illustrated by Dick Giordano, Wonder Woman #220 found temporal bandit Chronos eradicating New York’s ability to discern time and time pieces: a plot foiled with style and brilliance by the on-form, in-time Power Princess.

The only problem was that during that entire exacting episode Hawkman had been simultaneously watching Diana tackle another potential disaster hundreds of miles away…

The Feathered Fury’s report details how Crisis Bureau operative Diana Prince was targeted by Dr. Cyber and Professor Moon – old enemies from her powerless period – who combine a hunger for vengeance with a plan to steal a UN-controlled chemical weapon in ‘The Fiend with the Face of Glass’ (illustrated by Swan & Colletta).

How she could be in two places simultaneously was revealed by Batman, who wraps up the twelve trials in ‘Will the Real Wonder Woman Please… Stand Up Drop Dead!’ (illustrated by Jose Delbo & Blaisdell), detailing how a beloved children’s entertainment icon has been subverted into a monster feeding off people whilst replacing them with perfect duplicates…

With covers by Bob Oksner, Nick Cardy, Mike Grell, Dick Giordano & Ernie Chan, this is a spectacular slice of pure, uncomplicated, all ages superhero action/adventure starring one of comics’ true all stars.

Stuffed with stunning art and witty, beguiling stories, here is Wonder Woman at her most welcoming in a timeless, pivotal classic of the medium: one that still provides astounding amounts of fun and thrills for anyone interested in a grand old time.
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Papyrus volume 3: Tutankhamun, the Assassinated Pharaoh


By Lucien De Geiter, coloured by G. Vloeberghs & translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-90546-084-7 (Album PB)

British and European comics have always been happier with historical strips than our American cousins (a pugnacious part of me wants to say that’s because we have so much more past to play with – and yes, I know they’re responsible for Prince Valiant, but he’s an exception, not a rule).

Our Franco-Belgian brethren in particular have made an astonishing art form out of days gone by. The happy combination of familiar exoticism, past lives and world-changing events blended with drama, action and especially broad humour has resulted in a genre uniquely suited to enchanting readers of all ages and tastes. Don’t take my word for it – just check out Asterix, Adèle Blanc-Sec, The Towers of Bois-Maury, Iznogoud or Thorgal to name but a few which have made it into English, or our own much missed period classics such as Olac the Gladiator, Dick Turpin, Janus Stark, Heros the Spartan or Wrath of the Gods; all far too long overdue for collection in archival form, I might add…

Papyrus is the magnificent magnum opus of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. He first saw the light of day in 1974 in legendary weekly Le Journal de Spirou, running to 35 albums thus far, as well as a wealth of merchandise, a television cartoon show and a video game.

De Gieter was born in 1932 and studied at Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels before going into industrial design and interior decorating. He made the jump into sequential narrative in 1961, first through ‘mini-récits’ (fold-in, half-sized-booklets) inserts for Spirou, starring his jovial little cowboy ‘Pony’, and later by writing for art-star regulars such as Kiko, Jem, Eddy Ryssack and Francis. He then joined Peyo’s studio as inker on Les SchtroumpfsAKA The Smurfs – and took over the long-running newspaper strip Poussy .

In the 1960s, De Gieter launched South Seas mermaid fantasy Tôôôt et Puit whilst Pony was promoted to the full-sized interior pages of Spirou, deep-sixing the Smurfs gig to expand his horizons working for Le Journal de Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey.

From 1972-1974 De Gieter assisted cartooning legend Berck on Mischa for Germany’s Primo, whilst applying the finishing touches to his dream project: a historical confection which would occupy his full attention and delight millions of fervent fans for the next forty years…

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieus, blending Boys’ Own adventure with historical fiction and interventionist mythology, gradually evolving from traditionally appealing “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content towards a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration. The journey came through light fantasy romps leavened and flavoured with the latest historical theories and discoveries and starring a fearlessly forthright boy fisherman favoured by the gods to become a hero of Egypt and friend to Pharaohs…

As a youngster the plucky “fellah” was blessed by the gods and given a magic sword courtesy of the daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek, and the lad’s initial task was to free supreme god Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos: thereby restoring peace to the Double Kingdom, but his most difficult and never-ending duty was to protect Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and safety-averse daughter Theti-Cheri – a princess with an unparalleled gift for seeking out trouble…

Now available digitally as well as in traditional paperback album format, Tutankhamun, the Assassinated Pharaoh was the third Cinebook translation – 17th in the series and originally released in 1994 as Toutânkhamon, le Pharaon assassiné. The sand and sandals mystery skilfully blends fact and fantasy into a strange and disturbing tale of grave robbery, unquiet ghosts and madness…

It all begins with a squabble between the Mayor of the City of the Dead and his equivalent civil servant for the City of Thebes. The vast, desolate region of imperial tombs, sepulchres and lesser burials is being systematically ransacked by blasphemous thieves and, whilst the aforementioned Executive of the Interred Paur claims the sacrilegious raids must be the work of roving Bedouins, Thebes’ Mayor Paser posits that the vile defilers’ knowledge of the holy sites indicates they must be Egyptians… perhaps even some of Paur’s workers or tomb guards…

Bored with the interminable bickering, Theti-Cheri drags Papyrus and court jester Puin away, demanding they join her father’s lion hunt in the deep desert. Amidst the hustle and bustle, the jolly dwarf is left behind and forced to frustratingly follow on his astoundingly smart donkey Khamelot.

Naturally, this leads to him being attacked by the self-same decrepit man-eater Pharaoh is trying to eradicate, but as Puin frantically flees the hungry cat he sees chariot-borne scout Papyrus save a fellah from brutal grave guards. The grateful peasant is a plant, however, and secretes a golden tomb treasure on the boy hero before knocking him out…

When Papyrus comes to, he is surrounded by soldiers and accused by Paur’s captain Rhama of tomb-robbing. A crowd of suspiciously overly-incensed citizens even try to stone him to death and Pharaoh has no choice but to have the boy imprisoned for trial. However, before the doughty lad can gather his wits, Paur attempts to assassinate the boy hero with snakes and then kidnaps him from his temple cell, hiding his drugged, unconscious form in a secret access shaft to the grave of tragic boy king Tutankhamun

Falling through into the tomb proper, Papyrus’ spirit is suddenly accosted by the ghost of Ankhsenamun and discovers from Tutankhamun’s beloved child-bride how his own peasant great-grandfather played a major role in their tragic romance and the brief, complex reign of the murdered Boy-King…

As Papyrus learns the incredible, unpalatable truth about the legendary ruler’s fate, in the physical world Puin – and Khamelot – have informed Theti-Cheri of the plot. The impetuous Princess rushes to the site and subsequently traps herself in the tomb whilst gold-crazed Paur’s men close in to murder everybody who knows of the Mayor of the City of the Dead’s perfidy. However, the blasphemous bandits have not reckoned on Pharaoh’s cunning perspicacity or a certain donkey’s loyal ingenuity…

This astounding, amazing adventure will thrill and enthral fans of fabulous fantasy – although some of the finer points of Pharaonic marriage customs might distress fainter-hearted parents and guardians – and De Gieter’s clever merging of archaeological revelation with gothic romance and ghost story make for a particularly impressive treat…

Papyrus is a brilliant addition to the family-friendly pantheon of continental champions who marry heroism and humour with wit and charm, and anybody who has worn out those Tintin, Asterix or Lucky Luke volumes would be wise beyond their years in acquiring all these classic chronicles. Even smarter would be publisher Cinebook finally releasing the rest of the translated canon before much more sand passes through the hourglass…
© Dupuis, 1994 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

God is Dead Volume One


By Jonathan Hickman, Mike Costa, Di Amorim & Rafael Ortiz (Avatar Press)
ISBN: 978-1-59291-229-2 (TPB)

Launched in September 2013, Jonathan Hickman and Mike Costa’s God is Dead spectacularly began extrapolating on the age-old question “What if God(s) were real?” in a wry and deliciously dark summer blockbuster style.

Illustrated by Di Amorim and others, the first six issues were latterly collected into a bombastic bludgeoning bible – available in paperback and digital formats – of senses-shattering Apocalyptic apocrypha that can’t help but cheer up the most downhearted voluntary internee during our own private Armageddons…

It all begins one day in May 2015 when the pantheons of ancient Egypt, Greece, Viking Scandinavia, the Mayans and Hindu India all explosively return: shattering monuments, landscapes and nations and rapturously slaughtering millions of mortals; faithful and disbelievers alike…

Within two months the ineffable gods have fully re-established themselves, pushing rational, scientific mankind to the brink of extinction, reclaiming their old places of worship and terrified congregations of adherents.

On the run from the new faithful, Dr. Sebastian Reed is rescued from certain death by the captivating Gaby and joins The Collective, an underground thinktank of fugitive scientists, even as the Gods savagely revel in their bloody return to power and glory.

In a secret bunker, the suicide of the American President leaves an obsessively aggressive General in charge of the US military. He has no intention of letting any primitive usurper run roughshod over the Greatest Nation on Earth…

As rationalist deep thinkers and innocuous PhDs Thomas Mims, Airic Johnson and Henry Rhodes welcome the fresh recruit, in the heavens above, Odin convenes a grand congress to settle the final disposition of the mortal world and all its potential worshippers…

The fable resumes as the American Army goes nuclear. However, although the atomic strike vaporises an army of mortal converts, it cannot harm sublime Quetzalcoatl and merely provokes a punishing response from the assembled and arrogant Lords of the Air.

Far beneath the earth, the scientists are engaged in heated debate over the nature of their enemies. Eventually they agree that they have insufficient data and resolve to capture one of the returned gods…

In America, resistance ends when the common soldiery convert en masse to the Mayan religion and sacrifice their stubbornly atheist general, but this only leads to greater strife as the Pantheons – with humanity subdued – now inevitably turn on each other. Gods are not creatures willing to share or be long bound by pacts and treaties…

Over the Himalayas, Gaby and her security consultant dad Duke are ferrying the test tube jockeys when their irreplaceable jet is downed by a monstrous dragon. Simultaneously, in newly holy sites around the globe, the war of the gods gorily eliminates one greedy pantheon after another. It’s a blessed circumstance for the surviving scientists who find an immolated Hindu deity and promptly harvest the carcass for investigation and experimentation…

With mythological monsters increasingly repopulating the world, our gaggle of geniuses rapidly reverse-engineer the godly genetic soup and decide to make their own deities: Gods of Science to take back the world for rational men…

The first attempt is an unmitigated catastrophe, savagely eviscerating one of the boffins before Duke can kill it. Terrified but undaunted, Gaby leads the way to the next, inevitable step: human trials using what they have gleaned to transform themselves…

Up above, the god-war is almost over and Odin, Thor and Loki turn their vastly depleted forces towards Mount Olympus and a showdown with Zeus who has – until now – sagaciously kept clear of the devastating internecine conflict. The sole divine survivor of that staggering clash – now omnipotent on Earth – then discerns the experiment of the mortal inventors and flashes to their secret lab…

He is too late. The end results of the religion of rationality have already travelled to Olympus and when the ancient, frustrated. arrogant all-father returns, he is confronted by a triumvirate of new gods born of needles and serums, ready to finally decide who will rule the world…

That astoundingly vicious clash is then followed by a portentous Interlude (by Costa & Rafael Ortiz) following that oriental dragon into previously unmentioned China to meet entrepreneurial Sammi whose future seems ‘Gloriously Bright’

Then, the newly re-emergent gods of that ‘Middle Kingdom’ have their own crucial confrontation with the golden Wyrm of the Heavens

With additional art by Jacen Burroughs and Hickman, God is Dead spectacularly delivers a brutally engaging, uncompromising, brilliantly vicarious dark-edged romp to satisfy any action-loving adult’s need for comics carnage and breathtaking big-concept storytelling. Just the ticket to take the mind off real-world problems, and if this vision calls out to you there are sequels to satiate your hunger for fulfilment…
© 2014 Avatar Press Inc. God is Dead and all related properties ™ & © 2014 Jonathan Hickman and Avatar Press Inc.

The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer: Atlantis Mystery


By Edgar P. Jacobs, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-107-5 (PB Album)

When I was a little kid, the nuns at the convent constantly banged on about reading. The cornerstone of all knowledge, it would also transport one to any place or time, depending on the quality of the book, they reckoned.

Loath though I am to agree with those terrifying, bullying-yet-scholarly penguins – about anything – that lesson stuck and it’s still true. Even in lockdown, no place or time on Earth or beyond is outside the realm of an extensive library and book collection. It also pleases me to use their philosophy to promote comics: a little delayed payback for all the great stuff they confiscated over the years…

If we’re talking wonderment and imagination delivered with potent veracity and graphic credibility there’s no better source material than master raconteur Edgar P. Jacobs. Over painstaking decades he pitted his distinguished duo of Scientific Adventurers Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake against a wide variety of perils and menaces in stunning action thrillers which blended science fiction, detective mysteries and supernatural thrillers in the same timeless Ligne Claire style which had done so much to make intrepid boy reporter Tintin a global sensation.

The strip debuted in Le Journal de Tintin #1 (26th September 1946): an international anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland. The magazine was edited by Hergé, with his eponymous star ably supplemented by a host of new heroes and features for the modern age, and Jacobs’ efforts were a welcome delight there until his death in 1987. Since then diverse hands have continued the casebook and expanded the series’ horizons. A 22nd adventure is scheduled for release in 2022…

L’enigme de l’Atlantide was Jacobs’ fourth electrifying exploit starring the peerless pair: originally serialised from March 30th 1955 to May 30th 1956, and subsequently collected in a single chronicle as the seventh drama-drenched adventure album.

The stunning secret history saga became the 12th translated release from UK-based Cinebook, and opens here with vacationing Intelligence operative Francis Blake arriving in the Azores. His journey to idyllic island Sao Miguel is at the urgent request of devoted comrade-in-peril Philip Mortimer, currently engaged in exploring deep caves in his ceaseless search for new knowledge. From the moment he lands, the British Agent is under constant scrutiny by mysterious gangsters and no sooner does he join his old friend than petty acts of vandalism and outright sabotage begin to occur, making their return to Mortimer’s home a living nightmare. Unbeknownst to the pair, whilst they are distracted, a mysterious intruder searches the Professor’s palatial lodgings only to be blasted by an even more fantastic figure with a ray-gun…

The delayed detectives only arrive in time to observe an astounding escape, leaving the frustrated bellicose boffin to explain how he has apparently discovered a new mineral of incredible potential in the vast cave system far below the surface of the island. He suggests it might be the wonder metal described by Plato as “Orichalcum”: the most prized element of the fabled Atlanteans…

Undeterred by the break-in, the bold Brits lay plans to further evaluate Mortimer’s mammoth cavern, and before long a small but dedicated team are scrambling through daunting crevices to terrifying depths in search of more mystery. The “mad English” are no longer the main topic of conversation on the island, however: everybody else is glued to newspaper reports of flying saucer sightings…

Heartened by their fortuitous return to obscurity and utterly unaware that one of their team has been replaced by a deadly old enemy, the valiant subterranean explorers struggle on against formidable and oppressive odds underground, but when the Professor’s Geiger Counter begins to react wildly and they recover a huge chunk of the mystery mineral, the saboteur makes his move.

As a sudden storm threatens to wash the entire expedition away, the infiltrator intercepts warnings from the surface, swipes the samples and – cutting the rope ladders – abandons Blake and Mortimer to their deaths…

His big mistake is pausing to gloat. A well-aimed rock hurled by the Secret Serviceman seemingly seals the scoundrel’s fate too…

Unable to go back, the plucky duo chance everything on following a subterranean river under the island in the vanishingly small hope of finding an exit. Instead, after an astounding under-earth odyssey, what they discover is mercilessly marauding pterodactyls and a fantastically advanced civilisation of super-scientists…

Soon the pair are recuperating in the vast bastion of Poseidopolis – thriving last outpost of legendary Atlantis. They are befriended by young noble Prince Icarus who happily shares the epic true history of Ancient Earth and his still space-faring nation with them, secure in the knowledge that they will never leave the subterranean metropolis for as long as they live…

Unfortunately, with their customary impeccable timing, the British bravos have arrived just as the city’s most trusted civil servant Magon attempts to usurp the hereditary rulers’ millennia of unchallenged power. All too soon, the surface-worlders are embroiled in a shattering civil war at the earth’s core.

Not only is the entire kingdom of noble Lord Basileus at stake, but the schemer and his allies also have designs upon the Atlanteans’ outer space dominions and the hapless, ignorant surface nations in between…

Packed with astounding action, double-doses of dastardly duplicity and captivatingly depicting the cataclysmic end of a fabulous secret civilisation, this is one of the Distinguished Duo’s most glorious exploits and one no lover of lost world yarns should miss.

Addictive and fantastic in the truest tradition of pulp sci-fi and Boys’ Own Adventures, the annals of Blake and Mortimer are the very epitome of dogged heroic determination; the natural successors to such heroic icons as Professor Challenger, Bulldog Drummond and Richard Hannay: infallibly delivering grand, old-fashioned Blood-&-Thunder thrills and spills in timeless fashion and with mesmerising visual punch. Any kid able to suspend modern mores and cultural disbelief (call it alternate earth history or bakelite-punk if you want) can and will experience the adventure of their lives…

This Cinebook edition – available in paperback and digital formats – also includes tantalising excerpts from companion albums The Curse of the 30 Pieces of Silver and The Strange Encounter, plus a short biographical feature and chronological publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts to offer further proof that The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer is a series no comics fan can do without…
Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1988 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2011 Cinebook Ltd.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 16

By Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, Scott Edelman, Bill Mantlo, Stan Lee, George Pérez, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Herb Trimpe, Sal Trapani, Don Heck, George Tuska, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9542-9 (HB)

The Avengers have always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time: even when all Marvel’s classic all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy, which means that every issue includes somebody’s fave-rave – and the boldly grand-scale impressive stories and artwork are no hindrance either. With the team now global icons, let’s look again at the stories which form the foundation of that pre-eminence.

Re-presenting Avengers #150-163, Avengers Annual #6 and Super-Villain Team-Up #9 (spanning August 1976 to September 1977), these stories again see the team in transition. That was a much a result of creative upheaval as narrative exigency – as explained in Gerry Conway’s Introduction When Chaos was King – detailing a time of editorial turbulence at Marvel. Times were changing for the company which would soon become a plaything for relentless corporate forces…

In the simple world of goodies and baddies, however, #150 saw an official changing of the guard in ‘Avengers Assemble’ by Steve Englehart, George Pérez, John Tartaglione & Duffy Vohland. The anniversary epic was supplemented part-way through by half of ‘The Old Order Changeth!’ (reprinted from Avengers #16 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers) as it settled the membership drive question begun way back in #137. It made way for new scripter Conway in #151 whose ‘At Last: The Decision’ (with additional scripting by Jim Shooter & Englehart and art from Pérez & Tartaglione) set the group off on new, less cosmic adventures.

No sooner had the long-delayed announcement been made, though, than a mysterious crate disgorges the long-dead body of Wonder Man who shockingly shambles to his feet and accuses the stunned android Vision of stealing his mind…

Long ago, Simon Williams had been turned into a human powerhouse by arch-villain Baron Zemo and used as a Trojan horse to infiltrate the team. He eventually turned on his monstrous creator, giving his life to redeem himself. After he was buried, Williams’ brain patterns were used to provide an operating system for The Vision, inadvertently creating a unique human personality for the cold thing of plastic, wires and metal…

In #152 ‘Nightmare in New Orleans!’ kicks the simmering saga into high gear as the team start hunting for Wonder Man’s grave robber/re-animator, in a tale by Conway, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott which soon finds the team facing voodoo lord Black Talon in New Orleans…

‘Home is the Hero!’ then reintroduces 1940 Marvel sensation Bob Frank (AKA former Invader The Whizzer). In a tragic tale of desperation, the aged speedster seeks the heroes’ help before he is seemingly possessed and attacks the team…

Avengers Annual #6 reveals why, and answers all the meandering mysteries, wrapping up the storyline with ‘No Final Victory’ (illustrated by Pérez, Mike Esposito, Tartaglione & Vohland), as a conspiracy involving the Serpent-helmed Living Laser, Whizzer’s government-abducted mutant son Nuklo and rogue US Army General Pollock almost succeeds in conquering California, if not America – at least until the resurgent Avengers lay down the law…

Also included in the annual – and here – is by Scott Edelman & Herb Trimpe’s ‘Night Vision’: a stirring solo story of the Android Avenger battling super swift psychopath Whirlwind.

In Avengers #154, Conway, Pérez & Pablo Marcos begin a blockbuster battle bonanza which was in part a crossover with Super-Villain Team-Up. That series followed the uneasy coalition of Dr. Doom and Namor the Sub-Mariner, and this initial chapter ‘When Strikes Attuma?’ finds the Vision captured by subsea barbarian Attuma even as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are ambushed and defeated by the warlord’s augmented Atlantean thrall Tyrak the Treacherous. The scheme is simple enough: use the enslaved surface champions as cannon fodder in an assault against Namor…

At this time, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had recently signed a non-aggression pact with the Dictator of Latveria, with Doom subsequently blackmailing the Sub-Mariner into serving as his unwilling ally. One American vigilante observed no such legal or diplomatic niceties. The Shroud thought he had freed the Atlantean from his vow by “killing” Doom, but the villain had survived the assault: rescued and secretly imprisoned by Sub-Mariner’s cousin Namorita and alien girlfriend Tamara under the misguided apprehension that they could force the Metal-shod Monarch into helping Atlantis and their lost Prince.

Simple, no?

SVT-U #9 expanded on the epic encounter with the heroes now ‘Pawns of Attuma’ (scripted by Bill Mantlo, with art by Jim Shooter & Sal Trapani). As the Avengers are unleashed upon the Atlanteans, they discover Doom is now in charge and easily able to thwart their half-hearted assault. In Avengers #155 (Conway Pérez & Marcos), the beaten heroes are abjectly enslaved, leaving only confused, despondent and battle-crazed Namor ‘To Stand Alone!’ Before long, though, he is joined by lone stragglers the Beast, Whizzer and Wonder Man to hunt down the triumphant barbarian sea lord.

The epic conclusion comes in ‘The Private War of Doctor Doom!’ (Avengers #156, by Shooter, illustrated by Sal Buscema & Marcos) wherein the liberated and furious heroes join forces to crush Attuma whilst simultaneously preventing Doom from turning the situation to his own world-conquering advantage…

A change of pace begins in #157 as kA Ghost of Stone!’ (Conway, Don Heck & Marcos) addresses a long-unresolved mystery. As seen in the Avengers/Defenders war, the Black Knight’s body had been petrified whilst his soul was trapped in the 12th century, but now a strange force reanimates the statue and sets it upon the weary heroes, after which ‘When Avengers Clash!!’ (Shooter, Sal Buscema & Marcos) sees the revived, restored, compos mentis and now fully-recovered Wonder Man clash with an impossibly jealous Vision over the Scarlet Witch.

That Wanda loves the android Avenger is seemingly forgotten as his “borrowed” brain patterns fixate on the logical assumption that eventually his flesh-and-blood wife will gravitate to a “normal” man with his personality rather than stay married to a mere mobile mechanism…

Domestic tantrums are quickly laid aside when the entire team – plus late arrivals Black Panther and Thor) battle research scientist Frank Hall following a lab-accident which grants him complete control over the forces of gravity…

Apparently unstoppable, Graviton almost destroys New York in #159 as the ‘Siege by Stealth and Storm!’ (Shooter, Sal B & Marcos) results in a savage clash and the unbeatable villain defeating himself…

Avengers #160 spotlights Eric Williams, the deranged Grim Reaper. With portentous hints of a hidden backer and his dead brother seemingly returned, he conducts ‘…The Trial!’ (Shooter, Pérez & Marcos) to see whether Wonder Man or the Vision is the “true” Simon Williams… but doesn’t like the answer he gets…

The next issue extends the sub-plot as ‘Beware the Ant-Man’ finds the team attacked by a frenzied Henry Pym, whose mind has somehow regressed to mere days after the Avengers first formed. The crazed hero has allied with the homicidal robot he no longer remembers creating and is unwittingly helping it build ‘The Bride of Ultron!’ (#162): pitifully oblivious that for the almost completed Jocasta to live his own wife Janet has to die…

At the close, the Avengers believe they have finally destroyed the murderous mechanoid, but yet again they are wrong…

This classic collection of costumed clashes closes with Shooter, George Tuska & Marcos’ stand-alone tale ‘The Demi-God Must Die!’, wherein mythological maniac Typhon returns to capture the team. Despite forcing Iron Man to attack Hercules to save his imperilled Avenging comrades – and even after lots of spectacular smashing – the scheme naturally fails and the World’s Mightiest are triumphant again…

Available in hardback and digital iterations, and supplemented by contemporary House Ads and an original art gallery by Pérez and John Buscema, this archival tome and this type of heroic adventure might not be to every reader’s taste but these – and the truly epic yarns that followed – set the tone for fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights dramas for decades to come and can still boggle the mind and take the breath away, even here in the quietly isolated and no less dangerous 21st century…

No lovers of Costumed Dramas can afford to ignore this superbly bombastic book, and fans who think themselves above superhero stories might also be pleasantly surprised…
© 1976, 1977 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.