Albion Origins
Medium: comic
Year: 2007
Keywords: historical, fantasy, superhero
Writer: Tom Tully, Scott Goodall, Ken Mennell
Artist: Francisco Lopez, Eric Bradbury
Format: 102 pages
Website category: Comics
Review date: 15 February 2021
In 2005, Alan Moore helped create a mini-series called Albion, starring lots of old UK comics characters. Two years later, Titan Books released this collection of some original 1960s strips. Is it good? Well, um, not really. The characters and ideas are great, but the stories are pure adventure, with no depth. The original episodes were 2-4 pages long. They weren't meant to be collected like this and they're probably not being shown at their best (although admittedly I was only reading them because Titan had published this).
You wouldn't recommend this book to anyone not already interested in this comics era.
That said, though, they can be weird. It's also an example of a comics form that no longer exists in the UK, in any form whatsoever. Just reading it is odd. 2000 AD is longer-form storytelling, although the characters in here could stand up to 2000 AD in any era for being memorable, violent and dark. You could do a lot with them and it's just the weekly storytelling format that's a problem. I'd be excited if someone said they were being brought back.
Also, the art is excellent. It's UK newsstand format, not US format, so there's lots of brooding monochrome detail and each page takes twice as long to read as a page of a modern comic.
KELLY'S EYE (44 pages)
Tim Kelly can't be hurt while he's holding an Aztec jewel called the Eye of Zoltec. This is a brilliant twist on the Superman problem, actually. How do you endanger an indestructible hero? Answer: have him drop the stone, or put it down, or not realise that it's no longer around his neck (and so mistakenly thinks himself indestructible), or drop him in a pit with steep walls he can't climb, or have him meet a South American magician with powers that trump Zoltec's, or... wow.
Kelly can look slightly sinister while strolling through burning helicopters. At the same time, though, he's regularly in mortal danger and it's a strong adventure serial. (It drags a bit at 44 pages, though. Each episode is exciting, but it's not attempting anything beyond that.)
There's also casual racism, although it could have been far worse. Kelly's based in South America and the Seminole tribe he meets here are portrayed sympathetically and well. (The artist, Francisco Solano Lopez, had been born in Argentina and was running a studio in Buenos Aires.) Nonetheless, Kelly himself is capable of lines like, "Those Seminoles are going to kill a couple of white men!"
Also, oddly, the mind-controlling villain is called Delgado. I think this strip was published before Roger Delgado was cast as the Master in Doctor Who, but it still amused me.
THE HOUSE OF DOLMANN (24 pages)
Possibly the weirdest series here (although Cursitor Doom exists on a different axis). Dolmann is basically the Puppet Master from those super-cheap Full Moon horror movies, but heroic. He has conversations with his puppets... but it's all done with ventriloquism and he's really talking to himself. (Is he mad, or does he just have an unusual sense of humour?) The puppets aren't even capable of independent movement. They're remote controlled. If Dolmann gets knocked out, his puppets stop moving.
The baddies are pretty well done, if you can forgive their somewhat silly evil organisation, D.A.R.T., the Department for Arson, Revolution and Terrorism. Some of them are superhero-level surreal, e.g. the Hawk. (Eric Bradbury's art brings him to strange life when screaming, "No, no... not that! I couldn't stand a cage!")
The puppets are the stars, though. Giggler makes a straightforward gangster tale almost disturbing. Mole looks more villainous than any of the villains. Trailer has freaky bush baby eyes, plus eye beams.
I liked this one a good deal. If I got the chance to write one of this book's four series, I might choose Dolmann.
JANUS STARK (17 pages)
That's a weird face. (I like it.) Imagine an evil combination of the Mekon and Star Trek's Odo. Stark's a rubber-boned magician, illusionist and thief from Victorian London, successfully treading a fine line between hero and villain. He's a master thief, but also a victim/survivor of the workhouses who gives his illegal profits to those who haven't been as lucky as him. Besides, these days he's a highly successful stage magician and escape artist. He just happens to have a hidden skill set.
He also has a hypnotic gaze that can make a lion cower. Anyway, he's cool and these are memorable stories.
CURSITOR DOOM (17 pages)
Completely different from all the other series here. Cursitor Doom is a bald, rich old bloke with a manor house and a face of thunder. He's a necromancer who can summon dead kings from over a thousand years ago for a chat about his current enemy. His foes include Dark Age magicians and resurrected Roman legions.
Bloody hell.
OVERALL
There's a lot to like here. The characters are cool. (Brian Bolland's cover makes them look downright disturbing, incidentally.) The artwork is dark, gothic and detailed. It's just that the storylines have no ambition beyond the next cliffhanger. I can't fault the ideas, though.
I'm looking forward a lot to the Moores' Albion.