Modesty Blaise: Cry Wolf

Modesty Blaise: Cry Wolf 

By Peter O’Donnell & Enric Badia Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84023-869-0

This volume kicks off with what seems a most unconventional tale for the reformed super-criminals – investigating an alien invasion. ‘Take Me To Your Leader’ finds Modesty and Willie Garvin asked to verify whether mysterious beings on a tropical Island are what they seem. As past masters of the criminal con-game our Derring Duo should have it all over mere scientists and diplomats. They’re also much better in a fight which is quite fortunate…

When these tales first saw print in the mid 1970s the strange and the supernatural was common parlance in everyday life so naturally a more fantastic playing field was going to intrude into the hard, tough world of entertainment fiction. Hard on the heels of their extra-terrestrial foes our heroes find themselves tackling ‘The Highland Witch’. Although nominally another go-round with the Great Unknown, this is a solid adventure tale involving a beautiful girl nearly murdered by bloodthirsty gangsters, a spectacularly unique villain in the un-comely form of Sister Binks and a classic combat incursion scenario from Modesty and her extended band of helpers.

‘Cry Wolf’ concludes this volume on a high note as a retired cryptographer and friend of the family is kidnapped from his new home in the Arctic Circle. In a unique twist, Willie and Modesty find themselves at odds with their old friend Tarrant as the abductors might be British Intelligence rather than those pesky old KGB types. This is a superb spy caper full of twists and turns, exotic locales, spectacular villains and heart-stopping action. If there ever is another movie, this should top the list for scripts to adapt.

Modesty Blaise is one of the greatest characters in comic strips, and indeed adventure fiction. Why she is not a household name is probably the only mystery she can’t solve. Read this book, or any/all of the others this current series and you’ll see I’m right whilst at the same time helping to correct that situation.

© 2006 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.

James Bond: Octopussy

James Bond: Octopussy 

By Ian Fleming, Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84023-743-0

Octopussy is a classic Ian Fleming tale. Originally a short-story, under the skilful hands of Jim Lawrence and Yaroslav Horak, this smuggling romp in the West Indies blossoms into a complex tale of Nazi Gold, murdered agents and exotic deaths in exotic locales. Bowing to the wave of popularity caused by the films, there are even a few Q Branch gadgets on offer. Horak excels at the extended underwater sequences and the action is frenetic and non-stop.

The sea also plays a large part in the concluding story in this volume. The Hildebrand Rarity tells of a new Royal Navy robot weapon that seemingly fails but has in fact been stolen by flamboyant millionaire and career sadist Milton Krest. Undercover, Bond infiltrates his glamorous circle in a terrific tale full of innovation and intrigue. You won’t believe how many ways there are to kill with fish!

Top tales of adventure and absolutely captivating reading thrills. Get them all!

Strip © Express Newspapers Ltd. 1987. All Rights Reserved.

Modesty Blaise: The Puppet Master

Modesty Blaise: The Puppet Master 

By Peter O’Donnell & Enric Badia Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84023-867-4

The collection of begins by reprinting probably the most controversial story in the strip’s history, and as usual the furore was caused by the tawdry spectre of sex.

‘The Stone-Age Caper’ is a taut, action-packed chase-thriller that has our heroine, Willie Garvin and the mandatory innocent bystanders hunted by a scurrilous pack of thugs through the Australian Outback. It is however, usually remembered – despite being a very exciting and tension-filled episode in the never-dull life of our heroine – as the story where she first got her baps out.

Originally running from July to November of 1971, during a period that saw quite a few censorious doors flung open, the devastating sight of a pair of lady-nipples drawn in full-frontal mid-shot bade fair to bring down governments and topple countries, if the accompanying text feature is to be believed. And yet here we all are safe in the far-future and able to re-read a pretty good story without fainting, forcibly calming the livestock or having to replace the servants.

Next O’Donnell revisits the theme of mind-control (as seen in ‘The Hell-Makers’) with Modesty subjected to the Guantanamo Bay treatment when an old enemy tries to crush her by making her kill Willie Garvin. Despite the seeming repetition, this fresh look at real monsters committing despicable of acts is a sobering balance to some of the more fanciful exploits of this unique duo. ‘The Puppet Master’ is also notable as it features the introduction of home-grown British agent in training, Maude Tiller, of whom more in forthcoming volumes.

One such light romp closes the book in ‘With Love From Rufus’. When Modesty is burgled by a villain who breezes through all her security to leave a bouquet of roses in her safe, she becomes involved with a love-struck criminal prodigy who promptly gets himself, and her, in trouble way over their heads. She needs tact and diplomacy, as much as bullets and bravado to set things right and destroy another vicious gang.

These timeless tales of crime and punishments are as vital and enthralling now as they ever were, and provide much-needed relief in a world increasingly bleak and confusing. At least here you always know who to cheer for and who to boo at.

© 2006 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.

Hellblazer: Lady Constantine

Hellblazer: Lady Constantine 

By Andy Diggle & Goran Sudžuka (Vertigo)
ISBN 1-84576-263-0

Andy Diggle’s premier outing for DC Comics was somewhat lost in the shuffle when originally released as a four issue miniseries, which is a shame rectified by this compilation. This sly, witty and engrossing horror tale features the ancestor of Vertigo’s resident magician in an expansive historical romp.

1875. The temporarily disadvantaged Joanna Constantine and her little sister are failing to make ends meet on the cruel streets of London when commissioned by the King’s Secret Service to retrieve a magical box from the depths of the Ocean and the clutches of England’s enemies, natural and otherwise. In return she will be rewarded by the return of her title and a huge pension for the rest of her life.

Seduced by the lure of a safe life she undertakes a hellish voyage to the frozen North, aided by an intriguing coterie of rogues and monsters, only to find herself battling to save the world with tragic consequences for all involved.

This excellent and all too brief look into the history of one of adult comics’ most fascinating characters and concepts is a heady and impressive blend of terror and derring-do, well able to stand alone, but full of revelatory insights and asides for fans of the parent series. If you are a lover of Hammer Films and traditional thriller fare this might be the ideal first comic book for you.

© 2003, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

James Bond: Man With the Golden Gun

James Bond: Man With the Golden Gun 

By Ian Fleming, Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84023-690-6

By the time of the first story reprinted here (1966), the comic strip Bond had been running for some eight years. Lawrence and Horak had been surpassing themselves almost daily and the super agent had become a World phenomenon, so it’s no surprise that this tale of subversion and assassination was a masterpiece of periodical adventure.

After leaving the Heaven on Earth of a peasant’s life on a Japanese island, Bond is drawn back into the Intelligence game. Brainwashed, he attempts to murder “M”, and while being reconditioned he first encounters the power of Francisco Scaramanga, the world’s deadliest assassin and the top target of all the ‘good’ spy organisations on Earth.

Bond’s make or break mission to destroy the Man with the Golden Gun is a classic duel and captivating reading, which bears little resemblance to the lame film adaptation.

The follow-up tale was also poorly served by the movie industry. The Living Daylights is a tense Cold War thriller that is a metaphor for the conflict itself. Bond is dispatched to the Western side of the Berlin Wall to play a waiting game. A Red sniper is picking off valuable escapees as they try to cross the barrier and 007 is the only man capable of settling the matter. This sniper duel across the Wall is enlivened by the usual double-dealing and there is – naturally – a sexy blonde involved.

These espionage tales from masters of their craft deliver as much punch now as they ever did and should rank alongside the classics of British adventure fiction.

Strip © Express Newspapers Ltd. 1987. All Rights Reserved.

Green Lantern: Rebirth

Green Lantern: Rebirth 

By Geoff Johns, Ethan Van Scriver & Prentis Rollins (DC Comics)
ISBN 1845762134

The only certainties in life are Profits and Taxes if you’re a comic fan. If you take your drama seriously – as either reader or creator – there’s never going to be a moment when you can think “Wow, they killed…”, just a time to reset your alarm clock for the return of whichever heroic “Corpse du Jour” is in the crosshairs.

It must be worse for the writer who has to constantly explain not “why” but “how” the latest resurrection occurred. All over the comic universes there must be little cliques of supporting characters, alternatively worshipping these returnees or waiting for the super-zombies to starting eating the brains of the – putatively – living.

Alive again, and no longer merged with the Spectre, a ghostly force charged with gruesomely punishing – some – of The Guilty, Green Lantern must destroy the immortal entity that was secretly responsible for turning him evil and ultimately responsible for his death in the first place. Can he do it? What do you think?

Whining aside, and accepting that what publishers want, publishers get, the return to life of the Hal Jordan Green Lantern and the incipient reformation of the galactic police force he represented is big, bold, brassy and stuffed full of those clever authorial afterthoughts that old fan-boys love. The little voice inside me advising that it’s pointless trying to recreate the past is sure to be drowned out in the welter of glitzy artwork and spectacular cosmic action. This is a very readable book, if you don’t over-think it.

And if it all flops, you can just kill everybody, count to ten and simply start all over again.

© 2004, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Green Arrow: Moving Targets

Green Arrow: Moving Targets 

By Judd Winick, Phil Hester & Tom Fowler (DC Comics)
ISBN 1-84576-234-7

This big compilation collects almost a year’s worth of adventures featuring mainstream comic’s most libertarian vigilante and his crime-busting family, reprinting issues # 40 –50 of the Green Arrow monthly magazine. The setting is the immediate aftermath of a colossal battle that united superheroes, cops and criminals in a last-ditch attempt to free their city from the clutches of an army of demons (see Green Arrow: City Walls ISBN 1-84576-039-5). As the dust settles the various factions go back to work and a new and particularly ruthless gang-boss known as Brick not only rises to the forefront but succeeds in taking over the slowly recovering city.

The eventual confrontation between hero and mobster only leads to further catastrophe as Brick, who refuses to play by any of those old-fashioned clichéd rules that inexplicably infest these kinds of conflicts, declares total war on the Archers’ nearest and dearest and even hires in other heroes’ villains to perform the dirty work, leading to an all-out battle with guest-stars galore.

If you’re a fan of out-and-out super-hero action this series should be at the top of your reading list. Witty, stylish writing, genuine warmth between the leading characters, strong emotional resonances among the cast and guests and superb breakneck action in an always fresh and challenging attempt to shake up and shake off the accepted conventions is the Standard Operating Procedure. It’s not often you can read a comic book and truly feel that no character is actually safe. You should give it a shot.

© 2004, 2005, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Dramacon

Dramacon 

By Svetlana Chmakova (Tokyopop)
ISBN 1598161296

Lots of people have been to fantasy collector shows and events. Some have even been spotted at that utter zenith of localised naffness and insanity that is the comic-convention. Seldom have the bizarre passions and obsessively tunnel-visioned peccadilloes of such a very peculiar band of people been better captured than in this oddly charming tale from Canada-based Russian émigré Svetlana Chmakova.

With a deceptively light touch and a killer reservoir of sharp one-liners and come-backs, she tells the tale of Christie, a young girl at her first anime/comic convention with her boyfriend, and the manga comic they have created together. Take it from an old lag at these things, the combination of wonder, fascination, disappointment and vertiginous bewilderment portrayed here is spot on – if a trifle toned down. No one who has never actually attended a con would believe what can really happen.

Among the personal heroes, old friends and total weirdoes running wild like a self-contained goblin-horde let loose for a whole weekend in a localised Halloween, is a young man who Christie thinks is obnoxious, brash, rude, cool, good-looking and an increasingly better-seeming prospect than the boyfriend she brought with her, whose feet of clay are becoming more obvious as the hours and minutes unfold. Christie’s dilemmas compound as she meets her all-time manga hero and has to face some unpleasant facets of her own character.

Can this week-end change her life? Should she compromise long-time relationships for people that will be thousands of miles away again in mere hours, or should she put it all on the line and let the cards fall where they may? Whatever happens, it’s a whole year until the next convention, but since this a charmingly addictive slice of fun, I’m hoping the next volume will be available a good deal sooner than that.

© 2005 Svetlana Chmakova and Tokyopop Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Doing Time

Doing Time 

By Kazuichi Hanawa (Fanfare/ Ponent Mon)
ISBN 8493340901

Something of an obscure recommendation, this, but I wanted to add some different Manga, as I’m a little burned out with big eyes, big explosions, and big hair at the moment.

Doing Time doesn’t fall into any perceived Western understanding of Japanese comics. For a start it’s an autobiography/documentary. The creator served three years in prison for owning replica guns, which seems pretty stern to me but Mr. Hanawa clearly feels he deserved every moment of it. It’s a journal along the lines of Samuel Pepys with disquietingly intimate revelations calmly rolled out at every available juncture. It’s a shining insight into the psychology of the Japanese culture and mind set.

The thoughts here portrayed couldn’t come from any other nationality. Mr. Hanawa constantly and genuinely bemoans the quality and quantity of the food. It’s too good for the likes of him.

“Is it right for us to live so well in spite of having perpetrated such misdeeds?” he asks. The attention to detail almost makes this a cookbook. The narrative structure is so fluid that all one comes away with is a fine pattern of detail and no big picture.

I have to admit that I was bewildered and captivated in equal measure with this collection of strips drawn with astounding veracity and authenticity (Japanese prisons apparently allow no records of any sort – even drawings – to be kept by inmates and all the work was produced from memory) but if you’re of an adventurous mien this may brighten your jaded day.

© 2000, 2004 Kaziuchi Hanawa & Ponent Mon

Civil War

Civil War 

By Mark Millar & Steve McNiven (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN 978-1-905239-60-3

The Patriot Act changed America as much as the destruction of the World Trade Towers. I’m not offering any comment on either event. It is simply that popular arts grow from the social climate as much as the target audience. In a post-9-11 America the creators and the consumers now think different thoughts in different ways. Thus the company that first challenged the middle-class suburban status quo of the comic industry in the late 1960s makes Homeland Security the theme of a major publishing event.

After a reality show starring superheroes goes hideously wrong, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of children, popular opinion turns massively against masked heroes. A scheme to licence, train and regulate all superdoers is mandated by the Federal government. A terrified and indignant populace quivers as a proportion of superheroes, led by the ultimate icon of Liberty, Captain America, refuse to surrender their autonomy and in many cases, anonymity.

The Avengers and the Fantastic Four, bedrock teams of the Marvel Universe fragment in scenes reminiscent of the American Civil War, with ‘brother’ pitted against ‘brother’. As the conflict escalates it becomes clear to all involved that they are fighting for souls as much as lives. Both sides fight for the love of their country and Constitution and both sides are right. Only a moral sacrifice seems able to counteract the heritage of atrocity that seems inevitable as battle after inconclusive battle divides and destroys heroes of the World.

Lavishly illustrated, action packed and yet more cerebral and philosophical than you’d imagine, this tale sadly just falls just short of total success. Mark Millar, though not American, ably illuminates the points of view of all concerned, but somehow, the reasons for the conflict just don’t seem enough to convince me that such comrades could so readily abandon their principles and their friendships. Nor do I buy that such tremendous collateral damage could be countenanced by such scrupulous defenders for so long.

Maybe it’s just me though, since the original miniseries was certainly successful enough. Perhaps you should simply pick up the book and decide for yourselves.

© 2006, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.