Canuck Comics

A Guide to Comic books Published in Canada

Canuck Comics

Edited by John Bell (Matrix Books 1986)
ISBN: 0-921101-00-7

Although not strictly a graphic novel, this slim volume engagingly details the history of the comic book in the various provinces of Canada, and even provides a dual English/French essay on the European style Bande Dessinée produced in Quebec to rival the French language publications exported from Europe since the Second World War ended.

Lavishly peppered with black and white cover reproductions, and a complete listing of every comic ever produced in the country’s history (at least up until this book’s publication), the knowledgeable enthusiasms of Harlan Ellison, John Bell, Robert MacMillan and Luc Pomerleau generate an actual hunger to see more of these beautifully executed “lost ” gems.

Most comic fans are always eager for more, and new, and rare, so this window onto another world gave me a couple of hours of sheer anticipatory delight. Good books about comics are even rarer than good comics themselves, and this one should be welcomed to any fan’s bookshelf.

© 1986 John Bell.

Albion: Origins

Albion: Origins 

By various (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84576-000-X

Here’s another superb collection of British comic strips from the glory days of the 1960s courtesy of Titan Books, with thanks, I’m sure, to the profile-raising of the recent American Albion collection’s success (ISBN 1-84576-351-3).

Here we have four selections from the early careers of some of Britain’s weirdest comic strip heroes. Kelly’s Eye featured ordinary, decent chap Tim Kelly who possessed the mystical ‘Eye of Zoltec’, a gem that kept him free from all harm as long as held on to it. You won’t be surprised to discover that due to the demands of weekly boys adventures, Tim lost that infernal thing pretty darned often – and always at the most inopportune moment.

The spectacular artwork of Argentinean Francisco Solano Lopez was the major draw of this series, and the story reprinted here is of a Seminole Indian uprising threatening modern Florida. Complete with eerie evil with doctor, supernatural overtones from a demonic drum and consumer America imperilled, this story is a classic. Tom Tully and Scott Goodall were the usual scripters for this little gem.

And yes, due to the pressure of these weekly deadlines, occasionally fill-in artists had to pinch-hit a most British strip-series every now and then. Such was the breakneck pacing though, that we kids hardly even noticed and I doubt you will either, now. Still. If you are eagle-eyed you might spot such luminaries as Reg Bunn, Felix Carrion, Carlos Cruz, Franc Fuentesman, and Geoff Campion in this volume. But you probably won’t

House of Dolman was a curious blend of super-spy and crime-buster strip from Tully and the utterly wonderful Eric Bradbury. Dolman’s cover was a shabby ventriloquist (I digress, but an awful lot of our heroes were tatty and unkempt – we had “Grunge” down pat decades before the Americans made a profit out of it!) who had built specialised robots which he disguised as puppets. Using these as his shock-troops he waged a dark and crazy war against the forces of evil.

Featured here are a number of his complete 4 page thrillers wherein he defeats high tech kidnappers, protection racketeers, weapons thieves, blackmailers and the sinister forces of arch super-criminal ‘The Hawk’.

Janus Stark was a fantastically innovative and successful strip. Created by Tully for the relaunch of Smash in 1969, the majority of the art was from Solano Lopez’s studio, and the eerie moodiness well suited this tale of a foundling who grew up in a grim orphanage only to become the greatest escapologist of the Victorian age. The Man with Rubber Bones also had his own ideas about Justice, and would joyously sort out those scoundrels the Law couldn’t or wouldn’t touch. A number of creators worked on this feature which survived until the downsizing of the publisher’s comics division in 1975 – and even beyond – as Stark escaped oblivion when the series was continued in France – even unto Stark’s eventual death and succession by his son. We however, get to see his earliest feats and I for one was left hungry for more. Encore!

The last spot in the book falls to the Spooky Master of the Unknown, Cursitor Doom. This series is the unquestioned masterpiece of Eric Bradbury – an artist who probably deserves that title as much as his visual creation. Ken Mennell, who usually invented characters for other writers to script, kept Doom for himself, and the result is a darkly brooding Gothic thriller quite unlike anything else in comics then or since. If pushed, I’ll liken it most to William Hope Hodgson’s “Karnacki the Ghost Breaker” novelettes – although that’s more for flavour than anything else and even that doesn’t really cover it.

Doom is a fat, bald, cape-wearing know-it-all who just happens to be humanity’s last ditch defence against the forces of darkness. With his strapping young assistant Angus McCraggan and Scarab – a trained (or was it, perhaps, something more…?) – Raven, he destroyed without mercy any threat to our wellbeing. Represented here is the ‘Dark Legion of Mardarax’ as a cohort of Roman Soldiers rampages across the countryside, intent on awaking an ancient and diabolical monstrosity from the outer Dark!

These tales are a thrill for me because I first read them when I was just an uncomprehending nipper. So it’s an even bigger thrill now to realise that despite all the age, wisdom, and sophistication I can now muster, that these strips really were – and are – as great if not better, than most of the comics I’ve seen in fifty-odd years of reading.

© 2005 IPC Media Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales Book 2

Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales Book 2 

By Alan Moore, Steve Moore & Various (America’s Best Comics)
ISBN: 1-4012-0615-8

There’s a delicious zeitgeist permeating comics these days. There was a time in the comic industry when carnivorous copyright attorneys roamed the veldt, able, ready and so much more than simply willing to issue writs at the slightest pretence on behalf of one company against another, or even against small kids in the playroom who’d used half gnawed crayons to make Daddy a picture of Spider-Man. It seemed as if simply being drawn the same height as a company trademarked property was enough for the vultures to swing into a holding pattern.

Those days, it appears, are gone forever. Every company has now bought into a process where a thinly disguised ‘homage’ enables creators to access a greater, shared fantasy meta-culture, whether for unsanctionable guest shots, as cool foils such as “Doc Brass” or “the Four” in Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Planetary, or simply for its own sake as in Alan Moore’s ABC works like Tom Strong.

The second volume of Terrific Tales collects issues #7 – 12 of the comic series and features, as usual, short tales of Young Tom Strong’s early life by Steve ‘no relation’ Moore and Alan Weiss, pulp scienti-fiction romps with the outrageously upholstered Jonni Future (by Steve ‘still no relation’ Moore and Art Adams) and what can only be described as gloriously experimental outings from Alan Moore himself and a variety of top names.

Shawn McManus draws the memorable storybook fable ‘Blanket Shanty’, Jason Pearson illustrates ‘The Tom Strong Cartoon Hour’ whilst Michael Kaluta provides pictures for the prose ‘Millennium Memories’. The highlight for me is ‘Coloring Our Perceptions’ a wordless, primitivist strip spectacularly painted by Avant Garde cartoonist Peter Kuper, although it is a delicious delight to see Bruce Timm’s pastiching of comic book jungle girls trapped in a game preserve (‘Jungle is Massive’). Rounding out the pictorial radicalness is Peter Bagge’s particular brand of post-modern, urbane angst in the domestic chiller, ‘The Strongs’.

This is an interesting book for interesting times but I still can’t help but wonder what you feed Lawyers to keep ‘em docile.

© 2005 America’s Best Comics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales Book 1

Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales Book 1 

By Alan Moore & Various (America’s Best Comics)
ISBN: 1-4012-0030-3

Supplementing the monthly adventures of Superman of Science Tom Strong was a monthly anthology title dedicated to short tales from that hero’s long and chequered career, including his youth on the lost island of Attabar Teru. Alongside were the well-upholstered adventures of Jonni Future, with the occasional comics experiment from some of the biggest names in comics.

This collection starts with an arctic thriller set in 1950, illustrated by the superb Paul Rivoche and scripted by Moore himself, as was the silent, whimsical romp ‘Tesla Time’ with pictures by Jaime Hernandez. Young Tom Strong ‘And the Fiend from the Forgotten Shore’ is a ghost story of sorts from artist Alan Weiss and British comics writer Steve “no relation” Moore, who also writes the traditionally evocative science bimbo Jonni Future, an outrageously pneumatic heroine who travels to the end of time via ‘The Halfway House’. The art here is Adams, Art Adams.

Alan and Paul return in issue #2 with ‘Live Culture’ as Strong and soviet counterpart Svetlana X thwart a multi-dimensional invasion on a space station, Steve and Arthur bring you Jonni Future and the ‘Moth-Women of the Myriad Moons’, and Steve and Mr. Weiss pit Young Tom against ‘The Thunderbirds of Attabar Teru’.

Jerry Ordway illustrates Alan Moore’s ‘The Rule of the Robo-Saveen’, and the usual suspects bring us Jonni Future and ‘The Seraglio of the Stars’ and Young Tom Strong ‘And the View Beyond the Veil’ in the third issue collected here.

Paul Rivoche returns for ‘Leap of Faith’, and Steve Moore writes ‘The Witch of the World’s End’ for Arthur Adams and ‘The Fairy of the Foam’ for Alan Weiss, whose regular assignments are Jonni Future and Young Tom Strong respectively.

Issue #5 brought the wonderfully experimental ‘Collect the Set’ from Alan Moore and Jason Pearson, wherein this entire tale of the Tom Strong Family is about and told in bubble-gum cards. The hero’s sapient Gorilla assistant stars in ‘King Solomon Pines’ by Leah Moore –actually a relation – and cartooning icon Sergio Aragones, and the issue concludes with a sharply funny tale of sexual exploration for Young Tom Strong in ‘The Mysteries of Chukulteh’ by the ever-popular S. Moore and A. Weiss.

The final issue features Tom Strong (by Alan Moore and Jerry Ordway), in the mind-bending ‘Goloka: the Heroic Dose’, Jonni Future visits ‘The Garden of the Sklin’ (S. Moore and Adams) and Young Tom Strong also visits the cerebral realms in ‘The Shadow of the Volcano’ (S. Moore and Weiss).

These tales are stuffed with nostalgic reinvention and familiar comic territories re-explored. Whether that has any meaning for new or young readers – and no, they aren’t necessarily the same thing – is largely irrelevant when the creators work this hard and are this good. Try it yourself and see.

© 2005 America’s Best Comics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Runaways: The Good Die Young

Runaways: The Good Die Young 

By Brian K Vaughan, Adrian Alphona & Craig Yeung (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-7851-1684-2

The third chapter in the saga of six teens on the run from parents who have been revealed as an evil coalition of mutants, alien, sorcerers and super-criminals kicks the tale into high gear as the youngsters stop escaping and start attacking.

In a positive flurry of activity, the Runaways discover the reason behind their parents’ acts, find the traitor in their own midst, save the world and even clear the way for a sequel — should sales warrant — in the best manner of bubblegum drama. There’s even room for plenty of fighting and vast bunches of snogging.

I am a weary old man and it’s ever so easy to be disparaging about a new(-ish) genre-form tailored to the young, hormonal, middle-class and socially advantaged, be it comic books, TV, clothes or music. Yet I’m fairly sure that my unease with much of the fodder aimed at these consumers is the old one of lacklustre creativity rather than merely cynical commercialism.

Soap operas are generally considered to be the ass-end of drama everywhere, and yet can often transcend their base origins to produce work of outstanding quality, shattering depth and lasting worth. And more so in comics where we’ve had this very argument for decades over not just the content but even the very form of our medium. I think I’m still just waiting for it to happen.

Runaways – at least by the end of this book – comes very close. For something that’s a hybridisation of so many strands that’s actually not such a bad thing. I’d advise you to read them and decide for yourselves.

© 2004, 2005 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

CSI: Dominos

CSI: Dominos 

By Kris Oprisko, Gabriel Rodriguez & Steven Perkins (Titan Books)
ISBN: 1-84576-056-5

The fourth adventure of the crack forensic team takes them on a whirlwind of slaughter as the survivor of a mob hit goes on a rampage of vengeance that leaves a stack of corpses littering the glitzy, tawdry environs of Las Vegas.

The previous volumes, written by novelist and crime comics heavyweight Max Allan Collins seem to have proven a hard act to follow, as scripter Kris Oprisko delivers a competent yet lacklustre story devoid of twists or surprises and which often descends into actual predictability.

However, the dual illustration approach of Gabriel Rodriguez and Steven Perkins adds a much needed frisson of tension to the proceedings.

All things considered, this series still provides solid entertainment value for comics fans with a soft spot for hard men and big scores.

© 2000-2005 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Alliance Atlantis Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

CSI: Demon House

CSI: Demon House 

By Max Allan Collins, Gabriel Rodriguez & Ashley Wood

ISBN: 1-84023-936-0

The third compilation from Collins, Rodriguez and Wood featuring that infallible band of criminalists takes them to the peculiarly American venue of a spooky “Inspirational” theme park run by a Fundamentalist, Conservative/Family Values group attempting to scare misspending youths back onto the straight and narrow.

When a robbery and suspicious gun death impinge on each other on the park grounds, the team is faced with a unique challenge. And how does an ongoing convenience-store robbery spree connect to these crimes at the eponymous ‘Demon House’?

This is a compelling and entertaining thriller that is worthy of the attention of any crime fan as well as fans of the TV show it’s derived from.

© 2004 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Alliance Atlantis Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Man of Steel, vol 2

Superman: The Man of Steel, vol 2 

By various (DC Comics)
ISBN 1-84576-390-4

After the six issue miniseries (see Man of Steel ISBN: 1-84576-128-6), volume 2 begins the more or less (narrative permitting) chronological reprinting of the regular monthly titles, (Superman 1-3, Action 584-586 and Adventures of Superman 424-426) – plus relevant pages from the DC Who’s Who Update 1987.

Beginning with ‘Heart of Stone’, a new origin for Metallo, the Terminator-style Cyborg with a human brain and a Kryptonite heart (Superman vol. 2 #1), and rapidly progressing to a team-up with the Teen Titans (Action #584), the accent is completely on breakneck pace and action.

Superman #2 brings ‘The Secret Revealed’ as Luthor makes the biggest mistake of his life, and this is followed by Marv Wolfman and Jerry Ordway’s ‘Man O’ War’ and ‘Going the Gauntlet,’ which introduce the tragic Dr. Emil Hamilton to the mythology, from Adventures of Superman #424 and #425. These high-tech and socially aware dramas would become a truer and more lasting template for the modern Man of Steel after Byrne’s eventual retirement from the character.

The Phantom Stranger guests in ‘And the Graves Give Up Their Dead’ (from Action #585) before the last three chapters are given over to the Superman segment of the multi-part crossover event Legends. Superman #3 produced ‘Legends of the Darkside’, Adventures… #426 gave us an amnesiac Superman on Apokolips in ‘From the Dregs’ and the narrative concludes with ‘The Champion’, as Action Comics #586 guest stars Jack Kirby’s legendary New Gods.

As I’ve previously mentioned, a major problem that most non-fans have with super-hero comics (apart from them actually having super-heroes in them) is the insane convolutions of in-house continuity. This All-Readers-Start-Here opportunity to show doubters how good this genre can be is one all comics missionaries should exploit to the fullest.

So that’s your wife/partner/girl-friend/mother/dad/kid’s next present sorted then, no?

© 1987, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Silver Surfer

The Silver Surfer 

By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby (Fireside Books/Simon & Schuster 1978)
ISBN: 0-6712-4225-3

This possibly ranks as Marvel’s first ever graphic novel proper, and it’s no surprise that the old creative team supreme would reserve such treatment for their critically beloved but commercially disastrous Christ allegory from the stars.

In reworking the character for the “real-world” market place Lee and Kirby eschewed the hip and fabulous Marvel Universe continuity in favour of a stand-alone tale in many ways a prototype for the Lee/Moebius collaboration Parable nearly a decade later.

All the key elements are there. The Silver Surfer is the herald of the planet-devouring Galactus, charged with finding him worlds to eat. When he finds us, despite being appalled at our behaviour he rebels against his God and Master to save us all.

Sadly here is where it all falls apart. Despite defeating his traitorous minion, Galactus decides not to eat us after all but goes off to find his own lunch, then resolves to get the Surfer back by building him a perfect mate. Meanwhile the Surfer is trapped on Earth alternately avoiding humans and trying to become one. It’s a sorry admission to make but the story swiftly becomes a blithering mess, and the dialogue is some of the worst Lee has ever penned.

So why is this book being reviewed at all? Simple.

Comics are a visual medium, and this story comprises some of the greatest artwork ever produced by one of its greatest artists, and inked by Joe Sinnott, one of his greatest inkers. Ignore the word balloons after page 25 and just feast your eyes on graphic majesty.

© 1978 Stan Lee & Jack Kirby. All Rights Reserved.
The Silver Surfer is a Trademark of Marvel Characters Inc.

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead 

By Chris Ryall & Zach Howard (Titan Books)
ISBN: 1-84576-160-X

This eminently readable adaptation of the surprise hit ROMantic ZOMbie COMedy movie is remarkably faithful to the source material, both in staging and in its prodigiously four-letter expletive enhanced script – so parents take note – and is therefore a sharp, blackly humorous horror tale about the bonds of friendship and the deep love of a man for his local (that’s a favoured public house, for overseas readers or natives of restricted social cognizance).

Funny, thrilling and spooky by turns, Ryall’s dialogue adapted from Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s original script, is complimented by Howard’s stylish pictures which never overwhelm the wit with gore and action.

A book well worth hunting down.

© 2005 Universal Studios Licensing LLLP. Shaun Of The Dead is © & ™ Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.