Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Comics (Special Mention)




In my top tens, I reserve special mention for a category of entries that are typically iconic or noteworthy but have some special quality that sets them apart from the top ten (or honorable mentions). Obviously.


What is that special quality? Well it varies, although it tends to be thematic or idiosyncratic (but I make my own rules and break them anyway).



(1) LOIS LANE & MARY JANE (DC 1938 & MARVEL 1965)

Few female figures in comics are more iconic than Superman’s love interest, Lois Lane, who has endured as a core part, indeed even the heart, of the Superman mythos – and has followed the Man of Steel through his screen incarnations in film and television.




But surprise! She’s tied for special mention with a Marvel redhead (and another superhero love interest) – Mary Jane (“MJ”) Watson, and of course, ultimately Mary Jane Parker or Mrs Spiderman. She may not be quite as iconic as Lois in wider popular culture (outside of Marvel Comics fans) but she certainly has better appearances in comics art. Of course, it helps that Mary Jane is canonically a model (and actress) by profession – and perhaps even more that comics artists seem to be enamored of redheads. (It would be easy to compile a top ten girls of comics from redheads alone).




What cements her place in this special mention is her famous catchphrase, possibly the most famous line of any female character in comics, which was her very first line to Spiderman himself as Peter Parker when he sees her for the first time and is stunned by her striking appearance:

“Face it, Tiger! You’ve just hit the jackpot!”






Although she has become an important character in her own right (and with her own titles in comics, film and television), Supergirl earns special mention as she was originally a derivative character of Superman – created to be a female counterpart of Superman in 1959. After all, an opposite gender counterpart is an easy way to double the potential of a character.


(And as Rule 63 of the internet demonstrates, it’s also an easy gender-bending way to increase the sexual or fetishistic potential of character. Rule 63 is that for every male and female character, there is a variation of the opposite gender of that character. Of course, Rule 63 is related to the more infamous Rule 34, which reflects the bottomless pit of p0rn that is the internet – if it exists, there is p0rn of it. No exceptions. But I digress).


Supergirl has had various incarnations in different costumes, “with the most popular and enduring version of the character being Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin, who shares his super powers and vulnerability to Kryptonite”.




To some extent, Supergirl represented the start of Superman’s Silver Age silliness, the first crack in the wall of Superman’s status as sole survivor of Krypton, which expanded to let in a whole flood of survivors – Supergirl, Krypto the Super-Dog, Beppo the Super-Monkey (I’m not kidding – there was a whole Legion of Super-Pets), General Zod and other Kryptonian criminals in the Phantom Zone, the bottled city of Kandor (again I kid you not – it was miniaturized and bottled by supervillain Brainiac), the entire city of Argo blown off-planet, and eventually the real parents of both Supergirl and Superman…


I mean – it gets to the point where I wonder if anyone actually died in the destruction of Krypton, or whether the entire population just moved to Earth. Or the Phantom Zone (come to think of it – why didn’t they just all move to the Phantom Zone, since it saved Zod and his colleagues?). Or Kandor, Argo and every other city or dimension DC Comics pulled out of its ass.


(Mind you, I have the same thoughts about the Terminator franchise. In the first movie, the time travel was meant to be limited to just two travelers – the Terminator itself and Kyle Reese – as the Human Resistance destroyed the time machine. But in the second movie, no – we find out that there were two more time travelers – the bad liquid metal T-1000 and the good reprogrammed Arnie-style Terminator. And in the third movie, no again – there were still two more time travelers, the sexy bad girl TX and another good reprogrammed Arnie-style Terminator. By the time we reach the Terminator TV series or Terminator Genisys, that time machine’s like a damn train station, with cyborgs and humans commuting through time. But again I digress).




Anyway, Supergirl is Superman’s hot blonde Kryptonian cousin, who wears incredibly short skirts while flying. Up, up and away indeed!



Close runner-up to Supergirl is Power Girl.


Mainly because she IS Supergirl – Supergirl from an alternate dimension in the convoluted multiverse of DC Comics. (Although in fairness, what multiverse wouldn’t be convoluted?). She became trapped in DC Comics’ ‘home’ dimension after one of DC Comics’ characteristic dimensional crises, coexisting with her alternate self Supergirl.


Though they are biologically the same person, Power Girl has a different superhero moniker, public identity (Karen Starr), personality, costume and appearance.


As Supergirl’s alternate dimensional counterpart, she shares Supergirl’s origin as a cousin of Superman, along with all the usual Kryptonian superpowers (in short, everything – the superpower kitchen sink or superpower lottery). Of course, her most prominent superpower is that dubbed by TV Tropes as the most common superpower (a voluptuous bust) – indeed, she literally embodies it, as “quite possibly the Most Common Superpower incarnate” and certainly the most buxom superheroine of the DC Comics Universe.


What’s more, she flaunts it to match – with her costume’s famous (or infamous) cleavage window (in the place of the Superman logo in Superman’s or Supergirl’s costume). No wonder “my eyes are up here” is almost her catchphrase.


She has been depicted as a member of a number of superhero teams, as well as being paired up with other female characters – with perhaps the most striking odd couple as her partnership with Harley Quinn (in the so-called New 52 DC Universe reboot).






Spiderwoman is yet another special mention as a derivative character from a male superhero. Marvel Comics’ major domo Stan Lee even admitted her creation was to secure the copyright for a Spiderwoman character. Like Supergirl and Batgirl, Spiderwoman has had various incarnations – indeed, there has been a bewildering proliferation of Spiderwomen and Spidergirls, including alternate versions of both Spiderman’s most famous love interests, Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy (Spider-Gwen!).




For that matter, I don’t want to alarm you kids, but there may be a Spiderman or Spidermen in the house – there has been a bewildering proliferation of Spiderpeople in general, a virtual Spiderverse that makes even the ridiculously expanded Kryptonian world of Superman and Gotham family of Batman look positively restrained. At least Superman and Batman tend to consistently be Kal-El (or Clark Kent) and Bruce Wayne respectively, except in weird Elseworld stories), but Spiderman isn’t always Peter Parker, even in the ‘mainstream’ Marvel universe – not to mention the abundance of Spiderclones. And that’s not getting into the arachnophobic nightmare of spider-themed characters or superheroes throughout comics.


Although I was very disappointed by the film Kiss of the Spider Woman. Where the hell was Spiderwoman?

Although I was very disappointed by the film Kiss of the Spider Woman. Where the hell was Spiderwoman?


Anyway, the original Spiderwoman remains the classic character of that name – the costumed alter-ego of Jessica Drew with her comics debut in 1977. In her first appearance, she was to be an actual spider evolved into human form. Eww! Fortunately, Marvel decided that would simply be too implausible for comics readers – as opposed to, say, Spiderman’s origin from being bitten by a radioactive or genetically engineered spider. (Let’s face it – we’re talking technofantasy magic spiders here). Spiderwoman’s origin story has varied between a spider-blood serum experimental cure and her mother’s womb being hit by a laser beam containing the DNA traits of several different species of spiders. Wait – what? That makes Spiderman’s origin seem rigorously scientific by comparison. Just…forget it. Jessica’s Spiderwoman powers are similar to Spiderman’s powers (and equally as variable), except that she also exudes pheromones that attract males (well – more than her skintight costume and figure) because of course she does. She can also fly or glide, which may or may not be related to her weird web-like wings.



Jessica Drew’s Spiderwoman has had a fluctuating history of publication, with the character being resurrected like every true comics superhero for a revived solo title – unfortunately not without controversy, as Marvel engaged artist Milo Manara (better known for his erotic art) for the cover, resulting in a strikingly sexual superheroine pose that broke the internet. She has also been an Avenger – so it will be interesting to see if the Marvel Cinematic Universe includes her in their roster. Black Widow could do with the skintight-suited spider-themed superheroine company!




(4) SHE-HULK (MARVEL 1980)


And yet another special mention for a derivative female character from a male superhero, albeit somewhat more unexpected than our previous superheroines – Marvel Comics’ lean, green She-Hulk. She’s also my last special mention for a major superheroine counterpart of a superhero. There are other such counterparts – Mary Marvel (from Captain Marvel – Shazam!), Miss Martian (from the Martian Manhunter) and Hawkwoman (from Hawkman) – but they are minor.


Refreshingly, unlike my other superheroine counterpart special mentions – Supergirl, Batwoman and Spiderwoman – and their bewildering proliferation of characters, She-Hulk has consistently been Jennifer Walters, cousin of the Hulk’s Bruce Banner. Of course, being comics, there are other She-Hulks, to some extent corresponding to other versions of the Hulk such as Red Hulk.




However, like Clark Kent as Superman or Bruce Wayne as Batman, Jennifer Walters has been She-Hulk since her appearance in 1980 – in her own title, Savage She-Hulk. She, uh, hulked up after receiving an emergency blood transfusion from her cousin, which led to her acquiring a milder version of the Hulk condition – where she becomes a large powerful green-hued version of herself, while still largely retaining her personality, intelligence and emotional control. This might also explain why her artistic depiction varies from muscular to petite (and her clothes remaining more intact).




Apart from her own solo adventures, she has also teamed up with other Marvel Comics teams – the ubiquitous Avengers, of course (is there any Marvel Comics character who hasn’t been in the Avengers, especially when you throw in all the Avengers spin-offs?), but more unusually she has also replaced the Thing in the Fantastic Four.




She also has a few other distinctive features. She broke the fourth wall before the more notorious Deadpool. And what’s more – she’s a lawyer! Perhaps the best lawyer in the Marvel Comics universe, as she successfully argued for the universe’s continued existence before the Living Tribunal. Voluptuous, green and a lawyer – she’s my dream girl!






The Jungle Girl and Cave Woman is not an individual character (although there ARE characters with each of those titles) but a type of character, which could have a list of its own, if Wikipedia hadn’t done it for me already.




The Jungle Girl is an archetypal character of fiction, particularly recurring in comics or fantasy – a female adventurer, superheroine or even damsel in distress in a jungle setting. Essentially, she’s the female equivalent of Tarzan or Tarzanesque characters – or an actual Tarzan character, in the case of Tarzan’s jungle bride, Jane Porter. Very often, she originated as a feral child or girl, abandoned or orphaned in the jungle like Tarzan. She typically wears a scanty animal fur bikini (leopard more often than not), the tropical equivalent of Red Sonja’s chain mail bikini, and is armed with primitive weapons such as a knife or spear (instead of my jungle weapon of choice – a gun). Interestingly, she also often tends to be blonde, perhaps because it is more exotic, as well as impossibly statuesque and well groomed (just like Tarzan always seems to be clean-shaven).




Very often, the Jungle Girl is in a prehistoric or ‘lost world’ setting, typically (and anachronistically) with dinosaurs, because everything’s cooler with dinosaurs, or at least some sort of megafauna, and hence the Jungle Girl overlaps with the Cavewoman. Raquel Welsh’s iconic pose is the classic cinematic example in One Million Years BC.




Jungle Girls were the first superheroines in comics, predating even Wonder Woman with characters such as Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, and continuing through to characters such as Shanna She-Devil, Marvel Comics’ own Jungle Girl in the Savage Land, a prehistoric jungle lost world within Antarctica. (It’s complicated).




Indeed, there is even an eponymous Jungle Girl and Cavewoman in comics, or Jana Sky-Born (published by Dynamite Comics) and Meriem Cooper (published by various independent publishers) respectively. The latter at least has an explanation for her superhuman statuesque form – narratively in that it was part of her time travel back to the age of dinosaurs, and less narratively in that her creator Budd Root was influenced by Playboy comics.


Bikini model Lindsay Pelas cosplaying as a Jungle Girl

Bikini model Lindsay Pelas cosplaying as a Jungle Girl


And of course there’s Jungle Girl cosplay. After all, you just need that animal skin bikini…






Special mention must go to the blonde and brunette corners of the longest running love triangle in comics – Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge, better known simply by their first names, Betty and Veronica.


Betty and Veronica are the competing love interests – “best friends and worst enemies” – of lucky redhead Riverdale High School student, Archibald “Archie” Andrews, of Archie Comics fame. And it is this love triangle of Betty, Veronica and Archie that became the hallmark of the Archie comics, both in their storylines and their wider impact on popular culture, so much so that it has its own TV trope named after it. Indeed, it became one of the great dichotomies of popular culture – as to which one prefers, Betty or Veronica.




There is the matter of hair color – blonde vs brunette – but it is also a matter of personality. After all, Betty is easily the nicer of the two (perhaps befitting a character named for a former girlfriend of her creator) or proverbial ‘good girl’ – “the sweet, reliable, everyday girl next door type (which could mean kind of a dull”). Sadly, she just can’t seem to compete (at least in Archie’s affections) with the allure of proverbial ‘bad girl’ (not to mention rich Daddy’s girl) Veronica (fittingly named for film star Veronica Lake) – “alluring, exotic and edgy, but has more of a mischievous or icy personality (which could mean kind of a bitch”). Sigh – who can resist a bad girl?

bettyB&V1 (2)


Betty and Veronica have even scored their own ongoing title within Archie Comics. Of course, the ‘cartoon’ art style of traditional Archie comics may not have quite the same appeal as other female figures in comics art.

Well, maybe just a little

Well, maybe just a little


Fortunately, other artists – led by Adam Hughes – have tried their hand at depicting the duo and I have used these artists throughout this feature.





Judge Anderson – or Psi-Judge Cassandra Anderson – is Judge Dredd’s (and anthology publication 2000 AD’s) most iconic and enduring female character, something which may be related to her status as the comic’s primary pinup girl. (A status that may also be in the actual narrative or ‘in-universe’ in the comic as well, depending on how seriously we take the advertisements with her as model for Yess Trousers, the contractor for those judicial leather uniforms).



She was introduced, along with the comic’s most iconic and enduring supervillain, in the Judge Death story arc, as the primary female character in Judge Dredd – in both senses of the first major female character (discounting the fleeting childhood appearance of Dredd’s niece Vienna, as she was only substantially re-introduced as an adult two decades later) and the most substantial major female character, even spinning off in storylines in her own name.



She also served as the introduction to Mega-City One Justice Department’s ‘psychic’ judges against such supernatural threats as the titular Judge Death, although they use the characteristically science fiction nomenclature of ‘psi’ for the Psi-Division or Psi-Judges. Anderson is introduced as Psi Division’s leading telepath (and precognitive), with her appearance originally modelled on contemporary singer Debbie Harry.


Well I suppose when you put it like that…


She was also introduced as something of a foil to Dredd, albeit not in the same villainous way as Judge Death – as opposed to Dredd’s laconic and taciturn expression, she has a cheery disposition (regarded by Dredd as flippant), which lends itself to cracking jokes, often at Dredd’s expense. Then again, this is part of her nature as a Psi-Judge, as they all tend towards eccentric personalities by Justice Department standards (and tolerated as part of their useful abilities). In Anderson’s case, her ability earned her the enduring trust of Dredd – and she remains one of the few people who regularly calls him by his first name Joe or that he trusts enough for his most important missions. It wasn’t just her ability that earned his trust, but her strength of character and courage, however hidden under her ‘flippant’ disposition – demonstrated in her introductory story arc by her heroic self-sacrifice to save the city, sealing herself and the villainous Judge Death within a protective encasement Mega-City One’s ‘miracle’ plastic boing.



Of course, both she and Judge Death were far too interesting and popular characters to remain wrapped in plastic…



Such was her iconic popularity that she featured in the 2012 Dredd movie, portrayed by Olivia Thirlby, as Dredd’s rookie in a somewhat non-canonical narrative departure, although otherwise reasonably faithful to the character.



Much to my surprise, given her low profile outside of Judge Dredd or 2000 AD fandom, there’s even cosplay of her.



Although I’m not entirely sure her cosplay decolletage is Justice Department regulation uniform…




(8) BARONESS – GI JOE (1981)


And now you know (and knowing is half the battle) – Baroness is the femme fatale villain in Cobra, the antagonists organization to G.I. Joe. Of course, with their serpentine title (as well as the various names within their organization), they’re hardly going to be good guys.


GI Joe is more distinctive for being a line of toys (or action figures as G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero) but the franchise has extended into comics (initially as a series by Marvel Comics), animated TV series and live-action movies. Baroness, the femme fatale villain for antagonist organisation Cobra, actually originated in the Marvel Comics series – which is appropriate for a special mention in my top ten girls of comics – although she has also featured in other media (and as an action figure).


baroness (1)


Baroness serves as Cobra’s intelligence officer and lieutenant to its Cobra Commander, as well as being in a romantic (and presumably kinky) relationship with its resident tinhead, Destro. She began as Anastasia, the spoiled offspring of European aristocrats, who drifted from student radicalism into international terrorism (as you) – acquiring an impressive CV terrorist curriculum vitae as an expert in cryptography, psychological warfare, bio-chemical weapons and firearms (as well as being a helicopter and fixed wing pilot).




Of course she wears the obligatory form-fitting black leather catsuit of female comics characters – in the style of Catwoman, Black Cat or perhaps her closest counterpart, Black Widow. Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Although she does mix it up a little with glasses – “with long black hair, black-rimmed glasses, and a black leather outfit, Baroness is a dark, sensual femme fatale whose beauty is matched only by her ruthlessness”.




She even has a trope named for her in TV Tropes as the Baroness, although she is not so much the origin of the trope as she is a striking example of it (and inspiration for the name) – “a female baddie with a chilly disposition and more than a touch of the dominatrix about her”, with the latter often tending to sadism. Needless to say, Baroness is the sexpot style of the trope.



Hail Cobra indeed.




She is readily depicted by cosplayers, as it is a matter of recycling the usual black leather catsuit (albeit with red cobra flourishes).




And she was depicted by Sienna Miller in the live-action movies.






In these days when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been an enduring media franchise for two decades, it is easy to forget that they originated in comics in 1984. (In fairness, the franchise did peak in the 1980’s and 1990’s, although it has been questionably revived by the recent live-action movies).


Although she is understandably overshadowed by the protagonist Turtles, April O’Neil originated with them in the comics, but she wasn’t as recognizable as in subsequent media adaptations. She was a computer programmer – and worked for their adversary Baxter Stockman programming his robots, although she was not aware of his villainy (until she did find out and fled, pursued by the robots into the sewers, where she was saved by the Turtles).




But who knows about any of that? No one knows about April (and few know about the Turtles for that matter) from the comics – the April we all know is from the animated series (hence her special mention), where she was a television news reporter for Channel 6 News (in New York City), in her distinctive yellow jumpsuit. Once again rescued by the Turtles – this time by street punks working for their most iconic adversary, Shredder – she became one of their closest allies and collaborator (along with hockey-masked vigilante Casey Jones).




That distinctive yellow jumpsuit made April relatively easy for cosplay, although some cosplayers do her better than others.




April has remained with the Turtles through their various media incarnations, albeit with some variations on the theme – most recently, portrayed by Megan Fox in the live-action movies, although sadly without the yellow jumpsuit.


Nancy Callahan 2




“Skinny little Nancy Callahan. She grew up. She filled out.”


Possibly the sexiest black-and-white line drawing in comics – and Frank Miller’s finest artwork apart from blood splatter, something (both finest artwork and blood splatter) which recurs frequently in Miller’s “absurdly macho” comic noir Sin City. Its black and white line art is matched only by its black and grey morality. (And we’re talking a pretty dark grey!) It’s a mystery how the city of the title, Basin City, isn’t completely depopulated, as its economy seems to consist entirely of sociopathy and of course whoreswhoreswhores…


From the webcomic Shortpacked!

From the webcomic Shortpacked!


It helps Sin City’s population that virtually every woman in Sin City is strikingly beautiful – twins Goldie and Wendy, Gail, deadly little Miho, Delia “Blue Eyes”, Ava Lord “A Dame to Kill For. And it’s not entirely fair to say that they’re all whores – some of them are strippers. Nancy Callahan dances as a cowboy-themed stripper in the seedy Kadie’s Bar to pay her way through law school.




Indeed, she’s the shining light not only of Kadie’s Bar, where everyone is utterly absorbed by her routine when she dances, but also of Sin City generally – one of the few genuinely decent characters, “an angel living in a wretched hive”. It helps that she has her guardian angels – John Hartigan, the other of those few genuinely decent characters, and Marv, a hulking man mountain made of iron. After all, it needed two shocks of the electric chair (and one of my favorite lines) to kill him – “Is that the best you can do, you pansies?!”




Her line drawing was memorably embodied by Jessica Alba in the cinematic adaptations. Filled out nicely indeed…






For my next special mention, I just couldn’t resist an entry that is perhaps more dishonorable mention – the star from Tarot Witch of the Black Rose, one of the worst comics in the world. Now I can’t say it is THE worst comic. For one thing, it is so compellingly bad at times that it transcends mere comics and becomes sort of inverse high art. For another, part of what makes Tarot Witch of the Black Rose so compellingly bad is that you can see that there is a level of art or craftsmanship that has gone so wildly awry.


Its creator, Jim Balent, who writes and draws this ongoing bimonthly comic, obviously has talent as an artist and is particularly drawn to the female form, as demonstrated by his years as an artist for Catwoman. However, his art in this comic is exploitative on a scale that makes other comics, not known for their modesty, blush – and indeed made it something of a challenge to find images that were the least exploitative. And in an industry where cup size unofficially tends to be the most common superpower (among female superheroes or characters in general), his art fetishizes this aspect of the female form to truly impossible proportions – Balentine proportions as it were.


As for the writing, Balent constantly undershoots the potential of its neopagan fantasy storyline and modern witch heroine – such as by seemingly depicting every fantasy or mythical creature in the form of a pinup girl, sometimes to terrifying effect, intentionally or otherwise.


And of course his art and writing is on full display in the female cast of the comic. There’s our witchy heroine herself, red-headed and green-eyed Rowan, or to use her adopted ‘magical’ name as swordmaiden of the Black Rose Coven – Tarot. Her ‘witch’ costume might best be described as two strings and a wish – although one has to give full credit to her awesome but impractical spiked boots, which would seem to potentially endanger not only herself but anyone around her. Of course, that is when she actually wears her costume, as she often is ‘sky-clad’ or naked, although there is little difference between that and her costume in any event.


A more realistically drawn Tarot by artist Colleen Coover

A more realistically drawn Tarot by artist Colleen Coover


In fairness, Tarot does resemble an idealized depiction of Balent’s wife Holly Golightly (who also does the lettering and coloring in the comic) – while Tarot’s partner, Jon Webb or ‘Skeleton Man’, perhaps the most useless superhero ever, uncannily resembles Balent himself.




All this in a comic which Balent has touted for “his interest in both entertaining and educating his readers about the folklore and actual theology of Wicca and witchcraft with interviews with leading witch authors and spells from witches around the world”. May the Goddess have mercy on them all!






Empowered is the titular heroine of Adam Warren’s ‘sexy superhero comedy’ graphic novel series. Empowered, the character and series, originated from commissioned ‘bondage’ sketches of a comics superheroine ‘damsel-in-distress’, which then became the basis for the episodic shorts for the commencement of the series, illustrated in Warren’s characteristic ‘manga’ influenced style. The series started (and still continues to some extent) as a playful deconstruction of superhero comics tropes, particularly those involving female superheroes, along with (in the words of TV Tropes) “healthy doses of bondage, fanservice and comedy”.




Empowered herself is a “plucky D-list superheroine”, who is precariously dependant and constantly betrayed by the fragile, fickle source of her superpowers – her skin-tight ‘hypermembrane’ suit. It gives her superpowers while it is mostly intact, it tears easily – leaving her without powers at critical moments (although as the series progresses, the full nature of her suit and its powers becomes more complex and mysterious). As a consequence, Empowered spends most of her time with her suit in tatters or various states of undress, bound and gagged by supervillains or even common criminals (in accordance with the unspoken code of conduct towards captured superheroines), a joke to her superhero peers and supervillains alike (albeit something of status symbol as arm candy to the latter). As the series has progressed however, it has developed deeper, darker and longer story arcs – and Empowered has emerged as an increasingly formidable superheroine, relying on her wits and strength of character to overcome the flaws of her suit.

Friday Night Funk – Top 10 Music (Mojo & Funk): (8) Norman Cook / Fatboy Slim (Funk) – Rockefeller Skank 1998 (Pizzaman – Happiness 1995)




Right about now – the funk soul brother! Check it out now – the funk soul brother!


And again we’re in the electronic dance funk end of the funk scale, so don’t look for lyrical depth – or any lyrics beyond the above.


A prolific producer or mixer of dance music, Norman Cook has an appealing array of musical funk sub-genres attributed to him by Wikipedia – electronica, acid house, trip hop, nu-funk and the nomenclature with which I identify him, big beat.


Of course, not many people identify him as Norman Cook – he is best known by the moniker he adopted in 1996, Fatboy Slim, and under which he released the album which represented perhaps the height of his acclaim, You’ve Come a Long Way Baby. And that album featured this entry, Rockefeller Skank.



I am also partial to the following Fatboy Slim album Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars, particularly the single Weapon of Choice and its video, because who doesn’t love Christopher Walken dancing?



And for that matter, I have a soft spot for Cook’s previous moniker Pizzaman and his album Pizzamania, particularly the singles S€x on the Streets and Happiness

Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Animation (Special Mention): Velma Dinkley – Scooby Doo







To reiterate, we all know Scooby Doo, that enduring animated franchise centered on four teenage hippies and the titular talking Great Dane driving around in their “Mystery Machine” van, getting high and hallucinating monsters (not to mention their dog’s speech). “And I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!” (Not likely, since the villainous plans always involved impersonating a supernatural being with basic special effects). It’s a cultural icon. Even the infamous Scrappy Doo couldn’t kill it, although he came close and became the ultimate archetype of unlikable characters in the process. Of course, Daphne Blake is my pinup girl of Scooby Doo and second entry in my Top 10 Girls of Animation (as well as one of my enduring childhood crushes), but honorable mention should go to Velma Dinkley. And yes, I know that I have informally mentioned Velma before when talking about Daphne, but I’ve been spring-cleaning my Top 10 Girls of Animation and have decided upon a formal honorable mention in Daphne’s entry.




In fairness, when you get right down to it, the most useful member of the Scooby Doo gang – and the one who tended to solve the mysteries – was Velma. Indeed, she could have driven around solving the mysteries by herself. It may even have been faster, if not funnier – I mean, the comic relief highlights were Scooby and Shaggy. Daphne may have been the face of the group (and she tended to be more decorative than functional and typically damsel in distress ‘danger-prone Daphne’ earlier episodes), but Velma was the brains. Even if she was prone to losing her glasses and blindly groping for them, often to comic effect with the monster of the week.



So it’s a little unfair that Velma was overshadowed by Daphne, although that’s probably what you get for wearing a dumpy sweater. Of course, Daphne was always drawn to a more pinup appearance, while Velma was drawn in a less flattering manner and dressed to match – with her customary orange baggy turtleneck sweater, pleated skirt, knee socks and Mary Janes.


Interestingly, there has been something of a reinvention of her character, perhaps reflecting the rise of s€xy nerd girls. After all, it doesn’t take too much to s€x up her traditional appearance – shoes with a little more heel, a shorter skirt, a tighter sweater. Keep the knee socks (or perhaps a little longer for that true zettai ryouiki style) and of course the glasses – and voila!





Of course, it also helps if you ditch the skirt altogether – and your cosplay model is Jessica Nigri


Indeed, Velma has tended to scrub up nicely in live action versions, played fetchingly by Linda Cardinelli (even if overshadowed by Sarah Michelle Gellar as Daphne) in the cinematic releases and by Hayley Kiyoko (much cuter than Kate Melton’s Daphne in my eyes) in the Cartoon Network live-action films.


And that has carried over into cosplay (and art), as featured in this honorable mention – there’s just something about Velma that adapts so much better from animation to cosplay. Perhaps it’s the glasses?



Yes, probably the glasses…

Mega-City Law: Pirates of the Black Atlantic 4 (Complete Case Files Volume 4 Prog 201)





Out of the frying pan, into the…tentacles of a giant mutant octopus. Mmm…calamari.


Okay, that’s not how the saying goes, but Judge Dredd certainly finds himself fending off more tentacles than your average anime, as the mutant sea-beast Captain Skank calls mother comes to Skank’s rescue.


These tentacles are particularly savage as each has its own carnivorous head. Dredd hacks his way through them with a stray cutlass (having lost his Lawgiver pistol in the first onslaught), but the sheer number threaten to overwhelm him until he severs an electric cable – electrocuting both Captain Skank and his monstrous ‘mother’ (while Dredd is protected by his suit’s insulation).


Meanwhile, his fellow Judges have taken the pirate base. Firstly, Dredd releases the captured Mega-City scientists and Jenno Matryx confesses that she built the warheads as Skank would have killed her and her colleagues. Dredd is not impressed – “And now millions are dead. You had a hard decision to make, Citizen Matryx. You made the wrong one. Take her away”. I tend to agree with Dredd on this one.


Secondly – and more fundamentally for the future – it was a Sov plot all along!


As Dredd is musing what could have led Skank to launch the attack on Mega-City with no conceivable benefit, Judge Giant recovers some sort of remote control from Tuskarosa – a remote control for Captain Skank! Although that begs the question of how Skank seemed to act independently of Tuskarosa just last episode – did Tuskarosa forget to push the button or something? Anyway, the plot thickens when Tuskarosa’s mutations are revealed to be artificial – and surgically removed to reveal…Nikita Kramm, one of the Sov-Blok’s top agents! Although I suppose that Soviet red star tattooed on his forehead is a bit of a giveaway…



As Dredd returns to Mega-City One, the death toll is four million and counting (somewhat small fry for one of Mega-City’s epic disasters). As Dredd informs the Chief Judge and Mega-City Security  Council (somewhat misnamed for Mega-City One’s Security Council, rather than the suggestion of something like the United Nations Security Council) – “The Sov-Blok thought they could hit us through Skank without retaliation”. Ominously, Dredd intones “As I see it, there’s only one course of action to take now” and Chief Judge Griffin agrees.


No, it’s not all-out nuclear war but something of an exchange in equivalence. That afternoon, a Justice Department craft arrives in Sov-Blok airspace and lowers a coffin. Inside is of course Nikita Kramm and also “a curt note” from Dredd himself – ready when you are, reds!



Soon, the top-ranking Sov Judges meet to discuss their lack of options – “What can we do? We are not ready for a full-scale war – not yet!”. And so the Sov Judges agree – “They must be appeased. We must make a…gesture!”. And that gesture is detonating one of their own ten-megaton warheads in East-Meg One.


Hmm, not exactly détente. And the old Cold War looks like getting hot in the future – or again, given there’s already been the Atomic Wars. There’s that ominous emphasis by the Sov Judges that they are not ready for full scale war…yet. And Dredd too urges that Mega-City One will need to look to its defenses – “Sooner or later, the Sov Block will feel strong enough to strike again. Then the solution may not be so simple!”. Try sooner rather than later, Judge Dredd. Indeed, next volume…




Top 10 Fantasy (Special Mention) – Cult & Pulp




And now we round out my Top 10 Fantasy Books (and Top 10 Fantasy Stories & Works) with my roll call of cult & pulp favorites, short of my honorable mentions of ongoing interest or my special mentions of iconic status.







“The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true”


James Branch Cabell was a fantasy author held in high regard in the early twentieth century, but one that has largely receded from public consciousness since – which is a pity, because he was influential in inspiring the comic fantasy genre with his “dreamy but snarky tales of adventure”. Cabell perhaps achieved most of his notoriety with his novel Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice, as it was the subject of an obscenity trial after its publication. Of course, by today’s standards, it is very mild – much of the ‘obscenity’ consisted of double entrendres about the titular hero’s ‘sword’ (or similar object) by the women seduced by him. In the end, the presiding judge dismissed the case as “the most that can be said against the book is that certain passages therein may be considered suggestive in a veiled and subtle way of immorality but such suggestions are delicately conveyed” – an observation that also summarizes Cabell’s elegant prose style.


The novel itself involved the titular pawnbroker (one hesitates to call him hero, as he is somewhat more anti-hero) seducing his way through ever more fantastic realms, ultimately even to Hell and Heaven. His journey to Hell (where he even seduces the Devil’s wife) was of course the obligatory underworld passage for any aspiring solar deity or hero. Indeed, his sojourn in Hell is one of the highlights – I particularly enjoyed that Hell is a democracy (as opposed to the monarchy of its adversary Heaven) but one which has been suspended during its war with Heaven, or that its occupants make their own Hell through their power of belief (with Jurgen’s father in the fire and brimstone hell of his belief).








L. Sprague de Camp is sadly somewhat obscure these days, despite being a major figure – and prolific writer – of the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction in the 1930’s and 1940’s, chumming around with better remembered writers such as Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. (Similarly to de Camp in Lest Darkness Fall, Asimov retold the history of the fall of the Roman Empire in his Foundation series – his Galactic Empire in turn influenced the Empire in Star Wars).


I encountered L. Sprague de Camp in a Golden Age of Science Fiction anthology from school. His present obscurity seems particularly undeserved, as I preferred his playful comedic story style to Asimov’s robotics (I’m referring to his characters and plots, not the actual robots) and whatever it was Heinlein was on – as much as I did like both Asimov and Heinlein. As opposed to Asimov and Heinlein, de Camp’s stories – and he excelled in shorter fiction, typically for the magazine publication of the Golden Age – are elusive to find, with the notable exception of his most notable stories.




The first of these are his light fantasy Harold Shea or Compleat Enchanter stories, written in collaboration with Fletcher Pratt. The premise of those stories is that the protagonist (and companions) use symbolic logic or the ‘mathematics of magic’ to travel to parallel worlds in which fantasy, myths and legends are real – Norse mythology, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (where Shea meets his wife Belphebe), Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kublai Khan, Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, the Finnish Kavela and Irish mythology. These stories had a certain resonance for me as they seemed to symbolize the magic of reading fantasy itself.




However, it is the second that has had the more lasting influence, in my enduring love of alternate histories, particularly alternate histories created by time travelers from our own time – his novella Lest Darkness Fall. Written in 1939, it “is certainly one of the earliest and most influential” of the alternate history genre (although it in turn is similar to Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court).


Visiting the Pantheon in Rome, protagonist Martin Padway finds himself transported by a mysterious storm to sixth century Rome – and sets out to singlehandedly stave off the impending Dark Ages. The western Roman Empire has fallen, but the Ostrogothic Kingdom that has replaced it in Italy is suitably stable for Padway’s purpose. (Indeed, this mirrors a historical viewpoint that traces the true onset of the Dark Ages not to the fall of the western Roman Empire, but to the destruction of the Ostrogothic kingdom in the disastrous so-called Gothic Wars with the resurgent eastern Roman Empire. I’ve previously looked at the Gothic Wars through its leading general Belisarius).


Fortunately, Padway is a capable individual for this tall task – I’d have been royally screwed. For one thing, he is a scholar of the period (hence his visit to Rome) and speaks Latin. He sets out to acquire money for his task from a moneylender – if you thought modern interest rates were usurious, you should see the Roman moneylending rates. However, Padway negotiates for the waiver of the usurious interest rates by showing the moneylender how to make his business much more profitable – through Arabic numerals and double entry book-keeping. Padway then invests in his own profitable business in a revolutionary new product – distilling brandy. Padway then uses his money to create, by trial and error, the technologies of communication that he sees as the means to prevent the Dark Ages (printing press and a crude semaphore telegraphic system) – while becoming increasingly involved (and predominant) in politics and war as he seeks to preserve the Ostrogothic kingdom from its opponents, particularly the eastern Roman Empire.


As I said, Lest Darkness Fall inspired my long-lasting love for alternate histories, particularly alternate histories through time travel, which become even more fun when you don’t just send individuals back in time, but whole groups or even towns – such as John Birmingham’s Axis of Time trilogy (in which a twenty-first century naval battle group is transported back to the Battle of Midway and find themselves fighting a very different Second World War) or Eric Flint’s 1632 series (in which the whole town of Grantsville in modern Virginia finds itself transported back to Germany in the Thirty Years War).





(3) JACK VANCE – DYING EARTH (1950-1984)


Jack Vance was a prolific writer of fantasy and SF. And also eloquent, with a dry sense of humor:


“What are your fees?” inquired Guyal cautiously.

“I respond to three questions,” stated the augur. “For twenty terces I phrase the answer in clear and actionable language; for ten I use the language of cant, which occasionally admits of ambiguity; for five, I speak a parable which you must interpret as you will; and for one terce, I babble in an unknown tongue”.


Although he wrote “a massive amount of incredibly diverse science fiction and fantasy”, probably his most well-known is his Dying Earth series – which in turn influenced a whole Dying Earth subgenre of fantasy. In the words of TV Tropes:


“Welcome to Earth, a few million years in the future. Magic is back, mostly displacing science, and it is both After the End and Just Before the End: Civilization has pretty much collapsed, and the Sun is close to going out. Earth’s remaining inhabitants are generally aware of this but have no means to escape their increasingly hot and barren Crapsack World. Those that haven’t become religious zealots are largely nihilistic fatalists, engaging in what debauchery they can in the time left.”


And of course there are demons and eldritch abominations, the former of which are the coagulated mass of humanity’s debauched desires, fantasies, and vices given form by magic.



As for the magic, Vancian magic (as it is styled) has had an influence throughout the fantasy genre, mainly because it was adopted as the system of magic in Dungeons & Dragons, for the utility of its ‘fire and forget’ mnemonics as a game mechanic. Essentially, wizards could memorize a set number of spells to use (depending on various factors such as their intelligence or level of skill), but which were depleted upon use until they were renewed by re-memorizing them.





(4) MICHAEL MOOROCK – ELRIC (1965-2005)


Michael Moorcock is a prolific fantasy and SF writer (who famously dismissed The Lord of the Rings in his essay Epic Pooh), most of whose work revolves around the concept of the Eternal Champion – “a being who undergoes repeated incarnations throughout time, and is destined to maintain the balance between Law and Chaos— whether he wants to or not”. Indeed, the Eternal Champion is somewhat Moorcock’s monomyth – typically vying for an Eternal Consort against an Eternal Enemy with the assistance of an Eternal Companion. (Moorcock’s concept of Law and Chaos also influenced the moral ‘alignment’ system of Dungeons and Dragons).


Although his surrealistic James Bond-style Cornelius Chronicles or his decadent Dancers at the End of Time come close, his most well-known series is that of Elric of Melnibone. Elric is a deconstruction of heroic fantasy in general – and Conan in particular. Indeed, Elric is almost a complete inversion of Conan. Their worlds of a mythic prehistoric Earth are similar, but whereas Conan is a powerful warrior, Elric is a sickly albino wizard. Elric is the prodigal son of the decadent and evil Melnibonian kingdom, fighting for his patron Lord of Chaos Arioch with his soul-sucking sword Stormbringer – which enthusiastically devours the souls of his companions as much as, if not more so than, his enemies, and if anything is even more evil than Elric himself (who is more angst-ridden than evil).







I have a soft spot for fantasies of the Apocalypse, as in the Biblical Apocalypse or Book of Revelations, but deconstructed or subverted (or otherwise not played straight).


Black Easter (or Faust Aleph-Null) is a classic Nebula-nominated work by James Blish, in which an arms dealer contracts with a black magician by the name of Theron Ware to literally let all hell break loose for one night on earth – out of curiosity to see what would happen and to boost profits from arms sales. Most of the narrative is an intricate exploration of the ritual involved, based on actual books of such rituals, although there is a pleasant diversion involving a rather fetching succubus.


The white magicians of the Catholic Church are also involved, but are limited to observations of protocol due to their non-aggression compact with the forces of black magic. However, what everyone, including Ware himself, was implicitly relying on to contain the ritual, falls apart in the concluding punchline to the novel (I’d give a spoiler alert, but it’s a little late for a novel now almost fifty years old) – the demon Baphomet takes the time to gloat to them that the War is Over and God is dead, so that the forces of Hell cannot be compelled to return…


There is a sequel – The Day After Judgement – but it never truly rises to the force of the concluding punchline of the first novel (which in turn would probably have been more effective as a shorter work). A one-sided apocalypse ensues, but the demons mysteriously seem restrained in their destructive force. The original characters from the first novel attempt to reverse the apocalypse, on a quest to the City of Hell that has risen in the place of Las Vegas (where else? Although Stephen King had a similar idea in The Stand…). The mystery is uncovered when a mournful Satan gives his Miltonian speech – that in the absence of God, he will have to take God’s place, and that winning the war was not as much to his taste as fighting it. This is the final and most fell of all his fell damnations – he never wanted to be God at all, and so having won all, all has he lost.







Like most modern literary fantasy, particularly high fantasy, Stephen Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant occupies much of the same space as Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Unlike most modern literary fantasy, the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant unforgettably deconstructs or subverts it.


On the face of it, the fantasy world, known simply as The Land, seems similar to Tolkien’s Middle Earth, albeit more directly connected to our world – particularly in its Dark Lord adversary, known amongst other names as Lord Foul the Despiser, albeit one that makes Tolkien’s Sauron seem warm and fuzzy by comparison (as well as much less dangerously competent). Not to mention his demonic lieutenants, the Ravers, that operate by possessing the bodies of their adversaries. However, readers face their moment of deconstruction or subversion soon into the First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant trilogy. That moment may vary from reader to reader, but the primary candidate is anti-hero Thomas Covenant’s despicable act upon entering the Land. (In fairness, he believes it to be a mad fevered dream and is also overwhelmed by a magical return of sensation to his diseased body). Well, either that or when the Land’s military champion fails in his campaign against Lord Foul’s armies in the second book of the trilogy.


The biggest deconstruction or subversion is in its protagonist, Thomas Covenant – a distinctly anti-heroic figure. Covenant is a “bitter, divorced leper shunned by his community due to his illness”. The symptoms of that illness can only be managed by rigorous discipline (including an almost ritualistic practice of visual surveillance of extremities or VSE because of his lack of sensation in them) – above all, as his doctor has told him, that there is no cure and he will only survive by rejecting any fantasy of a cure. And so when he finds himself summoned to the Land, where magic can cure his illness (at least in the Land itself), he cannot accept it or believe in it – ironically calling himself the Unbeliever, even as the denizens of the Land look to him as their prophesied chosen one or savior (with the wild magic in the white gold of his wedding ring), dismissing the Land as a dream. Indeed, at least in the First Chronicles, it is not clear whether it is dream or reality – with the Land potentially symbolizing Covenant himself, inexorably succumbing to the corruption of his disease. Covenant’s unbelief never really changes, but he ultimately decides that it is a dream that he cares about – although it helps that Lord Foul is so, well, foul. After all, “he laughs at lepers”…





(7) GENE WOLFE – BOOK OF THE NEW SUN (1980-1983)


Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun might well be placed in the Dying Earth subgenre of fantasy – although it is more accurately science fiction disguised as fantasy. Actually, pretty much everything is disguised in the Book of the New Sun, including the unreliable narrator in the first person, Severian of the Torturer’s Guild – and for that matter, the plot, as one is repeatedly left wondering what the hell is going on in its mind screw of a narrative. It is not an easy read, dense and complex, with very little explained outright and of which most is only hinted.


It is however full of vivid images which remain with the reader – a far future and almost unrecognizable Earth, lit by a dim red sun and green moon (as the latter has been terraformed to grow vegetation), with declining technology barely understood as magic as well as time travel and alien creatures or people. Images that have remained with me most are the New Sun itself, as well as the green-skinned time traveler from even farther in the future (in which humanity have genetically engineered themselves with chlorophyll) posing as an oracle, the soldiers of the Orwellian Ascian state who speak only in their governmental slogans and perhaps most of all, the alzabo, the alien predator that can absorb the memories of its prey (a characteristic that plays an important part in the plot) and can speak with their voices to lure new prey…










And now we come to the first of my pulp fantasy entries – and it doesn’t get much, uh, pulpier than Piers Anthony. There always seems to be something adolescent about his writing – and I say that as a perpetual adolescent. Fortunately, I encountered (and eagerly devoured) his writing in my actual adolescence, and although I have outgrown it, I can’t deny its influence. He certainly seems quite personable as an author and his writing certainly does seem to have a comic sensibility – both in terms of humor (perhaps the focus of that aforementioned adolescent quality) and in terms of often feeling like the script for a comic. (It would certainly be interesting to see it in the form of the latter).


In the words of TV Tropes, “he has a pattern of starting a new series with a fresh innovative idea”, although the execution of that idea tended not to live up to its full potential or promise, typically because he extended it in too many sequels – or again in the words of TV Tropes, “and then never stopping it unless the publisher begs him to”.  (Accordingly, the best way to read Piers Anthony is in measured doses, either in his shorter series and standalone novels or only reading each series to the point of optimal satisfaction).


A case in point is his Xanth series, named for the magical land of Xanth (suspiciously similar to a name derived from a phonetic combination of the author’s first and second names). When I read the first novel A Spell for Chameleon, it indeed seemed a fresh innovative idea unlike that I had read in other fantasy. Firstly, the land of Xanth itself is a magical extra-dimensional peninsula, that overlaps with similar peninsulas in our world (known within Xanth as Mundania due to the absence of magic) throughout space or time – most notably the author’s home state of Florida (which it resembles in the book maps), but also Italy and Korea in historical invasions by Mundanians (Carthaginians and Mongols respectively). The land itself is populated by virtually every creature of magic or mythology (indeed, as the source of such creatures in our folklore or mythology). The particular fresh innovative idea of the series is that every single native-born Xanth human has a unique magical ‘talent’, so that everyone is magic. Of course, not all magic is equal, with talents ranging from weak or virtually useless (the so-called ‘spot on a wall’ talents, such as literally creating a spot on a wall) to powerful and versatile (such as being able to communicate with inanimate objects or to transform creatures – including humans – into any other creature). The latter are the Magicians, from which the aristocracy and royalty of Xanth is drawn. Unfortunately, the premise of the series only sustains it to a point (varying with taste), as it has been drawn out over so many sequels – and worse, puns, increasingly sourced from fans, so that it starts to resemble some sort of rambling fan forum thread. However, the premise worked, at least for this reader in his adolescence, in the first novel and for a few after that.


Close runner-up is his somewhat more adult Tarot trilogy, set on the human space colony of Tarot (and in the backstory of his galactic Cluster series), settled by all sorts of bizarre fringe religious cults – and on which mysterious manifestations and visions may just answer humanity’s questions about the nature of God. Certainly my views of religion were never the same again after reading it.







Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger series is in a similar vein of pulp fantasy to the works of Piers Anthony (and the latter’s Xanth series in particular), or perhaps C. S. Lewis in a much more lighthearted vein. Again, the premise involves a magical world separate from our own, but with various magical links between them. That world is a world in which humans are only a small minority with other animals, mammalian or avian (larger than their equivalents on our world) that otherwise have the abilities or attributes of humans – walking upright, manual dexterity to make or use clothing and tools, sapience and speech. (They don’t eat each other – their niche in the economy would appear to be occupied by reptiles, so that the non-sapient animal population resembles the world of smaller dinosaurs). Their antagonists are the giant intelligent insects or Plated Folk – the protagonist is mistakenly summoned from our world by a tortoise sorcerer to counteract his insect counterpart’s summoning of some mysterious source of power from our own world to aid their conquest of the other animals once and for all. Although the protagonist does not prove to be the ‘engineer’ sought by the wizard, he does prove to have a mysterious magical ability that may just be their salvation after all – a ‘spellsinger’ with the ability to conjure magic through music.


Again, the premise is best sustained in the first two books (essentially two halves of the one narrative), but declines in the sequels



Mega-City Law: Pirates of the Black Atlantic 3 (Complete Case Files Volume 4: Prog 200)





No one nukes the Big Meg and gets away with it!


Well, at least in these episodes – the point may be more arguable in later episodes, particularly in these post-Chaos Days, that Mega-City One doesn’t always give as good as it gets.


For now, however, Judge Dredd is commanding the Justice Department’s patrol craft (that doubles as aircraft and submarine), bent on exacting one thing upon the mutant pirates of the Black Atlantic – retaliation!


Not surprisingly, the Justice Department cuts through these ragtag pirates easily, like those special forces we always see cutting through henchmen in James Bond film finales. However, Captain Skank seems curiously unconcerned when chief mate Tuskarosa alerts him to the Judges boarding his submarine base. What is concerning is Tuskarosa’s thought bubble as he decides discretion is the better part of valor – “Crazy devil! Well, Skank’s served his purpose. I’m getting out while the getting’s good!”


Skank’s served his purpose? Obviously, there’s more to this – and Tuskarosa – than meets the eye. No more thought bubbles though for Tuskarosa as he is gunned down by the Judges.


Meanwhile, Dredd goes after Skank personally – and after an initial tangle with Skank’s cyborg dreadlocks, Dredd seems to get the better of him. However, Skank has one last trick up his sleeve – in the form of his giant mutant octopus ‘mother’ waiting for his call…




Top 10 Classic Children’s Fantasy




Within my Top 10 Fantasy lists, I reserve my Top 10 Fantasy Special Mentions for a category of entries that are typically of special iconic quality. However, it is striking how many of the iconic works of fantasy are (nominally) for children – so much so and in such number that they deserve their own top ten list…





As an arachnophobic child, I hated spiders (and still do, as an arachnophobic adult) – except Charlotte. I loved that spider. Even if I still eat bacon – sorry, Wilbur. You’re just too delicious.


Yeah, that’s pretty much the plot – the nicest spider you’ll ever meet tries to save the pig Wilbur from growing up to become bacon through some rad web graffiti tags







Who can forget the Jungle Book, with its animals of India and the ‘man-cub’ Mowgli? Well actually, perhaps most people – as the original book has been somewhat displaced in modern popular culture by the Disney adaptations, particularly the recent live-action adaptation. Kaa the python was one of the good guys, damn it, saving Mowgli from marauding monkeys – even if I don’t mind the live-action version being sexily voiced by Scarlett Johansson! Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book was inspired by it – only even more awesome, as a human child raised by ghosts and other graveyard denizens, and it adapted Kaa more faithfully to the original book.


Funnily enough, I prefer the animal and other modern beast fables of Kipling’s Just So Stories – poetic ‘just so’ origin stories (How the Leopard Got His Spots and so on – with my favorite being how the kangaroo got his legs) that you really have to read out aloud.







The Arabian Nights, or the One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of Fairy Tales typically associated with the Middle East but also drawn from sources ranging as far afield as India or China – with all the features typically associated with the elements of Middle Eastern folklore, such as genies and flying carpets. Only a handful of its stories are widely known in modern popular culture, although these tend to be iconic through subsequent adaptations – with Aladdin being the most iconic, followed by Ali Baba and Sinbad to some extent.


Of course, the most iconic character should be Scheherazade or Shahrazad. Although you may not know her by name, you may know her by narration – as the narrator of the Arabian Nights itself and heroine of its frame story. The king of her realm discovered that his first wife had been unfaithful. Of course, the king executed that wife but then conceived of the most insanely misogynistic plan outside of certain modern internet forums – he resolved to marry a new virgin wife each night and execute her the following day. Rinse, lather and repeat with a new bride – so that no woman would ever betray him again. And so he did for about three years – or executing over 1,000 brides.


Schehrazade, or as I prefer the Persian variant, Shahrazad, was the vizier’s daughter – and against her father’s wishes, volunteered to be a bride. However, she had a plan for her own survival, as well as the protection of other women as future brides. On her wedding night, she told a story, such that the king listened in awe and anticipation – but left it unfinished on a cliffhanger by morning. Eager to hear the ending, the king postponed her execution for another night – but when she finished that story, she started another story, which again was left unfinished on a cliffhanger by morning, so that the king again postponed her execution. And so on, for all the stories of a thousand and one nights, until she finally said that she had no more stories and was ready to die – but by that time, the king had genuinely fallen in love with her and kept her as his queen.


And sometimes things don’t work out quite so well for Scheherazade – from the webcomic Oglaf







Ancient animal fables from Greece – we’re talking BC, baby! They were originally oral tales – and not necessarily by Aesop either as opposed to being attributed to him – until they were written down centuries later. They’re also the original tales with a moral to the story.


Aesop’s Fables deserve a top ten list of their own, as they include iconic stories which have endured for centuries – The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Fox and the Grapes (to which we owe the expression ‘sour grapes’), The Ants and the Grasshopper, The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg and our feature image The Tortoise and the Hare. Although I’m still betting on the hare…







If modern society were to restore a pantheon of animal deities, it could do worse than the menagerie in Winnie the Pooh and its sequel House at Pooh Corner.


There’s the eponymous bear himself, that bear of little brain and sweet tooth (although he underestimates his intelligence) – who is perhaps the most balanced of the animals (and deserving of his place at the head of the pantheon) – and his companions, who might be said to represent various psychological disorders, from the anxious Piglet to the depressed Eeyore and the manic Tigger.


The books are famously inspired by the author’s son, Christopher Robin Milne, and his collection of stuffed animals (as well as one or two others, not to mention heffalumps). The iconic status of the books is somewhat displaced by their Disney adaptation – which is apparently more lucrative than Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto combined! (So much for THAT animal pantheon).


And if you dismiss the spiritual nature of this latter-day animal pantheon, just try Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh, and its sequel, The Te of Piglet.





(5) J.M.BARRIE – PETER PAN (1904 PLAY; 1911 NOVEL)


J.M. Barrie is best known for the eponymous trickster hero Peter Pan in his original play and novels, as well as a source of subsequent adaptations, allusions and inversions in popular culture – “a playful demigod, with aspects of Puck and Pan” (the latter even in his name) and “a cultural symbol of youthful exuberance and innocence”.


The elements of Peter Pan have lent themselves readily to adaptation and popular imagination – Neverland, the Lost Boys, Captain Hook, the crocodile, mermaids and fairies (with their magical pixie dust), not to mention Wendy and Tinker Bell.  Indeed, as the unofficial mascot of Disney, Tinker Bell might even be argued to be more iconic than Peter Pan himself. In the original stageplay, she was played by lights and voiced by bells, but the book sexed her up a little (for an Edwardian children’s book) – where she is “exquisitely gowned in a skeleton leaf, cut low and square, through which her figure could be seen to the best advantage”. Her most iconic visual imagery owes itself to the Disney character, which took that description and ran with it.







“I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”


Although influenced by Alice in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz comes close to rivalling the former’s iconic status, even if that is more from the 1939 cinematic adaptation than the original novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.


Through its protagonist Dorothy Gale’s adventures with their vivid imagery and characters, not least the central trio of her companions in the original novel and cinematic adaptation (the Scarecrow, the Tinman, and the Cowardly Lion), the Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been a source of adaptations and allusions throughout popular culture.


Whereas Alice is quintessentially (Victorian) English, Dorothy is fundamentally (mid-western) American, befitting the protagonist of what was intended as a modern American fairy tale – as L. Frank Baum introduced his novel, “the story of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was written solely to pleasure children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left out.”


Dorothy is a Kansas farm girl (although she subsequently becomes a princess of Oz and lives there – in the numerous sequels), an orphan raised by her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, with her equally iconic dog Toto. Famously, she and Toto are swept up in a tornado to the Land of Oz, which has lent itself to similar allusions to Alice’s Wonderland. However, Dorothy is more iconic in popular culture through the 1939 cinematic adaptation (portrayed by Judy Garland) than her original novels. Her appearance was never set out in the books, so that her cinematic appearance has become iconic – although it did retain the literary description of her clothing as her trademark blue and white gingham dress. Otherwise, the film condensed the novel – but most significantly altered the ending, that it was all just a dream – unlike the original novel, where it was all definitely real (but ironically like the literary adventures of Alice).


Interestingly, although the Wicked Witch is Dorothy’s iconic adversary from the first novel and film, she is rarely even referred to in the literary sequels and it is the Nome King who is the principal adversary. Again, the Wicked Witch derives her iconic status – complete with flying monkeys and an inexplicable tendency to have her weakness, water, at hand – from her cinematic portrayal by Margaret Hamilton, which also introduced her green skin. Subsequent adaptations have often retained the green skin – as in the revisionist novel Wicked by Gregory Maguire, in which she is the protagonist.








The Chronicles of Narnia is not quite as definitive of modern literary fantasy as The Lord of the Rings (although it may well loom somewhat larger in children’s fantasy and between them, Tolkien and Lewis codified modern high fantasy). Narnia lacks the same grandeur as Middle-Earth and is of course much more directly allegorical of the Christianity Lewis shared with Tolkien. Yet for me it will always have a charm and place close to my heart – the epic fantasy of children drawn from our world through various portals into the magical world of Narnia, presided over by the great Lion Aslan (if only he did so in our world, as I would find it much easier to believe in Aslan). The Chronicles of Narnia range from Aslan’s sacrifice and resurrection in the first published novel (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) through to the very creation and apocalypse of Narnia. And so enchanting that after reading them, what young reader doesn’t search wardrobes for other worlds? (Or hot White Witches with turkish delight? Except I’ll pass on the Turkish delight). I know I still do…







“Curiouser and curiouser”…


Few works of fantasy are as iconic as Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass (although the two books are often merged in popular culture). Ultimately, the first is based on a pack of cards and the second on a game of chess, but they both go deeper than that, even if it’s all just a dream – “a parade of the surreal, with all the logic of a dream — and invoking the madness of quite a lot of mankind’s so-called “logic”. Through the vivid imagery or encounters of her adventures, as well as their potential symbolic allusions, Alice has lent herself readily to adaptation and popular imagination.


Allusions to Alice have earned their own trope on TV Tropes, which notes that the original novels can be associated with surreal or psychedelic fantasy, drug imagery (as in Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit), gothic horror and other aspects of Victorian England, such as steampunk.


As TV Tropes notes, “the name ‘Alice’, when used in a reference to Alice in Wonderland, therefore tends to be used for fantastical, ethereal characters or concepts, and that goes double if her last name is a variation on Carroll” (or Liddell – her namesake from real life but more about that later). Other frequent references include white rabbits or going down the rabbit hole (as in The Matrix) – into a world of the hero’s journey that doesn’t conform to real world logic (and in which our heroine has to use intuition, a good heart, and an ability to acquire allies). Not to mention Cheshire cats, mad hatters and tea parties…


As for Alice herself, Lewis Carroll described her (when writing on her personality in “Alice on the Stage”) as “wildly curious, and with the eager enjoyment of Life that comes only in the happy hours of childhood, when all is new and fair, and when Sin and Sorrow are but names — empty words signifying nothing!”. I can’t think of a better – or more endearing – description than that.


For Carroll, there was, at least to some extent, a real Alice – Alice Pleasance Liddell, who inspired Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, when she asked Carroll to tell her a story on a boating trip in Oxford. The extent to which his character can be identified with Alice Liddell is not clear (and the brunette Liddell certainly did not resemble the blonde illustrations in the original book by cartoonist Sir John Tenniel). However, there are direct links to Liddell in the books – they are set on her birthday and her half birthday six months later (with the corresponding age), they are dedicated to her and the letters of her name are featured in an acrostic poem in the sequel.


As Catherine Robson wrote in Men in Wonderland – “In all her different and associated forms—underground and through the looking glass, textual and visual, drawn and photographed, as Carroll’s brunette or Tenniel’s blonde or Disney’s prim miss…in novel, poem, satire, play, film, cartoon, newspaper, magazine, album cover or song—Alice is the ultimate cultural icon, available for any and every form of manipulation, and as ubiquitous today as in the era of her first appearance.”







Few works are so iconic on a worldwide scale as fairy tales (which deserve and will get their own top ten list).


Of course, that term needs a little clarification. For one thing, few fairy tales actually feature fairies, even from those European countries with a developed fairy folklore, and tend to use talking animals or something else instead. Some modern versions of classic stories, such as Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault, do involve fairy figures (while other stories such as Rumpelstiltskin allude to the darker fairies of folklore) – although Perrault’s Cinderella “is an oddball” as “normally the Cinderella figure is helped by her dead mother” (which in some ways has a better ring to it). Modern literary fairy tales originate in oral folk tales, some of which go back a long way indeed (potentially even thousands of years) and which are found in cultures around the world – although “only a tiny handful of them are known in modern culture” or feature in the best known classic stories. “The name of the genre can be traced to Madame d’Aulnoy’s Les Contes de Fées, which appeared only after literary fairy tales became all the rage” and “folklorists have made valiant attempts to give the category more accurate names, such as “wonder tale”, or the Grimms’ original term “household tale” or Märchen, but the name sticks”. Ironically, Tolkien used the term for modern literary fantasy in his essay “On Fairy Stories”, but the name didn’t stick there – too many associate fairy tales with the classical stories of that name.


However, fairy tales do have a number of distinctive features. At heart, they are stories which depict “a fantastic sequence of events”, usually taking place “once upon a time” with few (if any) references to real or historical people, places or events. They are often told in a spare and laconic style, often in terms of catchphrase rather than description and archetype rather than character. “Fairy tale is often used in modern times to depict an idealized romance or ending, although many classic fairy tales are much darker than many people realize” – and were even darker in their original or alternate versions. Modern literary fairy tales tend to be presented as children’s stories, particularly in their most famous Disney adaptations, but they were originally intended for all ages.


There has been extensive attention paid to fairy tales, from the fascinating Aarne-Thompson system of classification to fairy tale tropes and motifs as well as functions of folktales. Modern literary fairy tales are in turn adaptions (often lighter and fluffier) of their original folk tales  – and in turn, they have been further adapted, deconstructed, fractured, parodied and subverted.


As for my favorite fairy tales, I tend to focus on the classic trinity of Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.



Mega-City Law: Pirates of the Black Atlantic 2 (Complete Case Files Volume 4: Prog 199)




Mega-City One gets nuked!


Not the whole city, mind you – just sector 403, with the aptly named Bob Oppenheimer Block in the epicenter of it, as “a Class K nuclear projectile penetrates Mega-City One’s laser defense screen” and the poor Bob Oppenheimer Citi-Def force looks haplessly on. And they had hazmat suits and everything.


Also mind you, it won’t be the last time Mega-City One gets nuked. Just saying.



The episode then flashes back to the source of the missile – cyborg pirate Captain Skank using the kidnapped nuclear scientist Jenno Matryx to install warheads in thirty missiles. Of course, it might have occurred to her to think what exactly pirates of the Black Atlantic would do with thirty nuclear missiles, as there would only seem to be one target close at hand, Mega-City One, and perhaps Iron Man herself out of her hostage situation. You know, rig up the warheads to detonate within the pirate base itself and hold the pirates to ransom (to release her and her colleagues), or just taking out the pirates in a worst-case scenario of heroic self-sacrifice. Even Captain Skank seems surprised at her lack of foresight (and distress) when he gives the order to nuke Mega-City One – “What’d ye think I wanted the warheads for, little lady? Zzz! Shooting mutiegulls?”



The thirty missiles fly past a Justice Department patrol aircraft, commanded by Dredd – its lasers intercept two of the missiles, but the others are then out of range and en route to Mega-City One: “Alert the city! Priority double red!”.


Along Mega-City One’s Atlantic Wall, the laser defense teams are waiting (although I would have thought that it was predominantly computers or robots) – “We’ve got to vape them before they splinter!”. Splinter that is, into the fifty independently functioning warheads for each missile. (Matryx must have been busy installing one hundred and fifty warheads, assuming fifty warheads to each missile).


Sure enough, one of the missiles splinters, but the laser defense screen catches all but one of the warheads, so the damage will be “minimal” – which brings us back to the stray warhead coming down on Bob Oppenheimer Block. As luck and blackly comic timing would have it, Bob Oppenheimer Citi-Def were practicing their nuclear survival drill – nil in this case, as they didn’t expect an actual nuclear missile up this close and personal.


Justice Department moves quickly in response. In Mega-City One, weather control stations clear the fallout from the skies, while in the Black Atlantic, Judge Dredd’s patrol aircraft identifies the launch point and goes into submarine mode (“convert to sub-sea status!”) to take the battle to the pirates themselves – “Let’s get those murdering scum!”



Top 10 Fantasy (Special Mention)




Stark After Dark has its Top 10 Fantasy Books as well as its Top 10 Fantasy Stories & Works, but these are my Top 10 Fantasy Special Mentions – a category of entries that have some special quality that sets them apart from the top tens or honorable mentions. Obviously. What is that special quality? Well it varies, although it tends to be iconic, thematic or idiosyncratic – I make my own rules and break them anyway.


Anyway, these are my Top 10 Fantasy Special Mentions.






Count Dracula is THE vampire – in the words of TV Tropes, as Sherlock Holmes is to detectives, James Bond is to secret agents and Superman is to superheroes, so Dracula is to vampires. The eponymous villain of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel is the archetypal vampire, such that his name is synonymous with vampire – again in the words of TV Tropes, the vampire known even by people not familiar with the book or even the genre, particularly through countless (heh) adaptations in popular culture.


draculadownload (1)


Indeed, Bram Stoker’s novel codified the definitive vampire tropes in fiction, although Dracula still manages walking around in sunlight without bursting into flame (albeit depowered) and certainly without sparkling. The novel itself can be somewhat surprising to those more familiar with cinematic adaptations, since it is told in an epistolary format through letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, ships’ logs and so on. However, most of the plot elements have been adapted into popular culture – Jonathan Harker as Dracula’s guest in Transylvania, (unknowingly helping the latter ‘invade’ England), Harker’s ill-fated predecessor Renfield (now eating his way up the food chain from insects in an asylum in an attempt to emulate Dracula), the Brides of Dracula (soon to extend to the unfortunate Lucy Westenra and Harker’s fiancee Mina Murray), Lucy Westenra’s band of suitors, Abraham Van Helsing.  The novel “has been assigned to many literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, the gothic novel, and invasion literature”. Arguably also, Dracula is amongst the first supervillains in popular culture, and potentially a Dark Lord to rival Sauron in the genre of fantasy. Indeed, it wouldn’t be too hard to recast Dracula as The Lord of the Rings, substituting Transylvania for Mordor and the Brides for the Black Riders (only much sexier). Kim Newman did something of the sort with his Anno Dracula series, where Dracula bests Van Helsing and vampirizes Queen Victoria to rule the British Empire. Or at least, Dracula might have done if he’d had any sort of plan in Stoker’s book beyond picking up British chicks – but then that’s just how he swings, baby.




Essentially, if a work of fiction in any medium involves vampires, chances are it will at least involve a reference to Dracula at some point, if not an adaptation (or subversion) of him, directly or indirectly. He has apparently appeared in more films than any other character, fictional or otherwise, except for Sherlock Holmes, including films where they have appeared together and which would be utterly awesome. (Apparently, Godzilla, James Bond and Mickey Mouse rank next). Dracula is also an iconic villain in fantasy or horror who was adapted from a figure almost as iconic and villainous from some perspectives (but heroic from others, notably his native Romania or Transylvania) – Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler, named after his favorite hobby. Or Vlad Dracula – Son of the Dragon, which sounds just as badass as the fictional character (but perhaps not so much for his estimated 40,000 – 100,000 victims).








Tarzan is perhaps the most iconic hero of fantasy and science fiction – the archetypal jungle hero (or perhaps modern barbarian hero), in the series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, from the first novel Tarzan of the Apes in 1912 to Tarzan and the Foreign Legion in 1947 (not including posthumous publications), as well as all the adaptations in popular culture.


Born John Clayton and heir to English aristocracy as Lord Greystoke (or more precisely Viscount Greystoke), he was marooned with his aristocrat parents and ‘adopted’ after their deaths by a maternal female ape within a ‘tribe’ of great apes – indeed, Tarzan is his name in the ape language.


Philip Jose Farmer has helpfully condensed Tarzan’s fictional ‘biography’ from the series by Edgar Rice Burroughs into his book Tarzan Alive, an entertaining read and worthy substitute for reading the series. Farmer was an enduring fan of the character and wrote of Tarzan (or his world) in a number of books – most infamously in A Feast Unknown, featuring a thinly veiled erotic pastiche of Tarzan and Doc Savage (where they fight each other with their erections – I bet THAT got your attention), or most famously, in his so-called Wold Newton Universe, where he linked together a number of fictional superheroes to the effect of a meteorite.


And I say superheroes as Tarzan is a fantasy hero with virtually superhuman powers – after all, we’re talking someone who has wrestled virtually every animal.


Indeed, Tarzan's workout seems to be to wrestle a different animal each day - sometimes he skips shark day

Indeed, Tarzan’s workout seems to be to wrestle a different animal each day – sometimes he skips shark day


In short, he easily out-Batmans Batman and is the Superman of the jungle.


He is also of superhuman intelligence – a feature not readily discerned from the unfortunate monosyllabic and broken English of his screen adaptations. In the books – indeed, the first book – he could read English before he could speak it, having taught himself to read from the children’s picture books left in his parents log cabin and deducing the symbols as a language, in complete isolation from humans. He also spoke French before he spoke English, learning it from the first European he encountered. He readily learns to speak English – as well as thirty or so languages after that. So much for “Me Tarzan, you Jane”.




Despite a certain lack of plausibility, he remains an enduring hero – a “daydream figure” who obviously appeals to our continuing fascination for an animal or nature hero (and perhaps less fortunately to a ‘white god’ figure).








Robert E. Howard’s Conan, often styled as Conan the Barbarian or Conan the Cimmerian (after his proto-Celtic homeland Cimmeria), is one of fantasy’s greatest and most iconic heroes, roaming the Hyborian Age punching out eldritch abominations and wizards. You know, the Hyborian Age – prehistoric Earth, “after the oceans drank Atlantis” and before recorded history. (Howard’s way of evoking historic cultures without any of that pesky research – he was writing quick magazine stories after all).”Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian; black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jewelled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feat”.


Conan is the definitive barbarian hero, playing a large part in creating the fantasy sub-genre of sword and sorcery (being the protagonist sword against the antagonist sorcery). Alternatively, he is the Hyborian Bond, with the requisite episodic Bond girl or two each tale – mostly classic damsels in distress of course, to be slung over his shoulder or hanging off his leg in fantasy art poses. In fairness, most characters, male or female, are damsels in distress compared to Conan himself. In his youth, he was thief, outlaw, mercenary and pirate – in middle age, he becomes warlord and king of Aquilonia, the greatest Hyborian kingdom.


Metropolis - Final


Conan is described as “sullen” and “smoldering”, with volcanic” blue eyes and a black “square-cut mane”. His size is never made clear, although it is clearly, uh, big. And strong. Strong enough to pull himself off a crucifix, which would make for an interesting gospel according to Conan. The literary character sensibly wears armor or clothing typical to his location – his comics or fantasy art counterparts usually wears the more visible option of loincloths and similar outfits suitable to body oil. He may be all muscle but he’s not dumb muscle – his rippling appearance belies a shrew intellect:  skilled as a warrior and in other trades, talented as a military and political leader, versed and literate in a number of languages.



In short, Conan is the sort of hero for which they coined the phrase mighty thews and it is fortunate that he is limited to his own heroic fantasy, because he’d make short work of any other – as George R. R. Martin observed of The Lord of the Rings, coming to it as he did from Conan


“Robert E. Howard’s stories usually opened with a giant serpent slithering by or an axe cleaving someone’s head in two. Tolkien opened his with a birthday party…Conan would hack a bloody path right through the Shire, end to end, I remembered thinking.”


On the other hand, Conan would have made quick work of the Quest, while making off with an elf girl or two...

On the other hand, Conan would have made quick work of the Quest, while making off with an elf girl or two…








Frankenstein is one of the most iconic figures in horror, fantasy and SF. And yes, literary purists, I know that Frankenstein was Dr. Victor Frankenstein (perhaps the most famous doctor in literature), not his nameless monster – but the latter has also been named Frankenstein by popular culture and they’re a matched pair in any event.


Of course, their iconic stature owes more to their cinematic adaptations rather than the original novel by Mary Shelley, in which they are mutual tragic figures. Brian Aldiss claimed Mary Shelley as the mother of science fiction, but the original novel still seems more Gothic fantasy to me, particularly without all the, you know, science that we see in the cinematic adaptations. Mary Shelley was understandably scant on the process of the monster’s creation and does not describe it in her narrative, other than vague references to chemistry – as opposed to the electricity and “it’s alive!” and the rest of the monster’s creation that is the most iconic part of the cinematic adaptations. Indeed, the strength of Shelley’s work lies in its ideas and themes (including the Promethean theme of its subtitle, The Modern Prometheus), which have lent themselves to popular culture – the work itself may seem somewhat dated (and melodramatic) to a modern audience.




Victor Frankenstein is frequently invoked as a symbol of scientific hubris, a recurring theme in SF and popular culture in general – although his true villainy was more arguably abandoning his creature, because it was so, ah, ugly.


Perhaps it would have worked out better like this?


After he is so superficially abandoned, the monster rises to his own villainy with a murderous rampage. Okay, so murderous rampage is something of an overstatement, since he kills one person, Victor’s brother, William (and an innocent servant girl is hanged for the crime). He approaches Victor in truce, seeking Victor create a female companion for him. Victor initially does so, then destroys her as he fears a race of monsters. (Really, Victor? Come on – show a little imagination, man. You could always create her without ovaries. Or make the monster a male companion). The monster renews his rampage with a vengeance, or more vengeance anyway – killing Victor’s close friend and then Victor’s bride Elizabeth. In her bed on their wedding night – admittedly a nice villainous touch. Victor’s father dies of grief, as was the fashion at that time. Victor then pursues the monster to the Arctic for his own vengeance, but fails miserably and freezes instead. The monster then mourns his creator, perhaps because he realizes he will now have nothing to do, and vows to destroy himself.


In the novel, the character of Frankenstein’s monster is somewhat different from his iconic film appearance, not least because he is sensitive and emotional – like an emo Hulk without the smashing. He is also highly articulate and literate, indeed having read Paradise Lost – clearly no good could come of that. Even so, he is as iconic as his creator – an enduring influence in theme, when not directly adapted in name or image. In his personal study of horror, Danse Macabre, Stephen King considered Frankenstein’s monster (along with Dracula and the Werewolf) to be an archetype of numerous horror figures in fiction, in a role he referred to as “The Thing Without a Name” – although he acknowledged that “its classical unity is broken only by the author’s uncertainty as to where the fatal flaw lies—is it in Victor’s hubris (usurping a power that belongs only to God) or in his failure to take responsibility for his creation after endowing it with the life-spark?”






Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the alternative halves of the iconic character from Robert Louis Stevenson’s short novel “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, with the latter as the monstrous or villainous half (although that is arguable as Jekyll unleashed Hyde in the first place).


Hyde’s villainy is characteristic of his original Victorian melodrama, as he does not actually do much. At the outset of the novel, he tramples and injures a young girl, but pays compensation when accosted! In fairness, he does enjoy nightly forays of unidentified depravity, and ultimately does beat a man to death with a cane. The appeal of the novel lies in its now well known twist that the respectable Dr. Henry Jekyll IS the evil Mr. Edward Hyde – or more precisely, transforms, into Mr. Hyde. Initially, that is with a serum of his own creation – and somewhat surprisingly, Hyde is more diminutive than Jekyll. Over time, however, Hyde becomes stronger and more powerful than Jekyll, such that Jekyll begins to involuntarily transform into Hyde without the serum, firstly while sleeping and then in waking hours – and Jekyll has to use the serum to transform himself back. Ultimately, Jekyll commits suicide as his serum is about to be exhausted – and accordingly his ability to reverse the transformation.


Jekyll and Hyde have achieved iconic stature, which has been a source of adaptation or influence ever since (with perhaps my personal favorite being Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde), perhaps reinforced by Jack the Ripper shortly after its publication. It is in turn an enduring modern adaptation of werewolf legend. Hyde is symbolic of the Dark Side of each of us, the inner struggle between good and evil within each of us.








Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray is of somewhat similar symbolism to Jekyll and Hyde, with his Hyde in a portrait rather than a serum – Dorian remains young while his magical portrait ages and shows all the signs of his corruption and depravity. And we all know what that ‘corruption and depravity’ was, don’t we, Oscar?  Which makes it all seem somewhat coy and not so depraved today – so that the modern reader might want to imagine something more evil than gallivanting around gay old London. In fairness, Dorian does murder his friend and the painter of the portrait, before blackmailing another friend into destroying the body. (He is also responsible for other deaths, but more through callousness and melodrama). Ultimately, he stabs the portrait, fatally transposing the wound to himself while swapping their appearances (so that the portrait is now young and innocent while he is aged and corrupt).




monkey's paw




This supernatural short story, penned by W.W. Jacobs (who mostly wrote sailing stories and other non-fantasy fiction) in 1902, has since achieved iconic status – not least for the near infinite variations and adaptations of its story.


The titular paw (removed from the dead titular monkey) is something of a cursed magical item, akin to the worst genies – it does indeed grant three wishes, but in the worst possible way, such that you wish you hadn’t wished in the first place (CENTURY OLD SPOILER ALERT…)


The protagonist couple, Mr. and Mrs. White, obtain it from Sergeant-Major Morris, who obtained it while with the British Army in India (although he does attempt to destroy it first by throwing it in the fire, but Mr. White recovers it). In a spirit of trivial levity and skepticism, Mr. White wishes for 200 pounds for the final payment on his house (although he doesn’t really need it). He does indeed get it – when his son dies in a work accident and the employer, although denying responsibility, pays the Whites a goodwill payment of…200 pounds. About a week or so after the funeral and maddened by grief, Mrs. White urges Mr. White for their son to return to life. Against his better judgement, he does so – and what follows is effective mounting suspense, building to the knocking at the door. His wife rushes to the door and fumbles with the locks, while he desperately retrieves the paw to make his third and final wish – which is revealed as Mrs. White opens the door to find nothing there. (I guess the monkey’s paw couldn’t find a way to subvert taking back a former wish, as opposed to every child who has cried no take backsies!)


It has been directly parodied, not least by The Simpsons in one of their Halloween episodes, perhaps the highest accolade to which a literary short story can aspire (although how could wishing for world peace go so awry?)


Its story has been endlessly adapted in other works. One of the most notable is in Stephen King’s monkey’s paw of a novel, Pet Sematary, which even follows the original story’s rule of three as the protagonist just keeps burying things in that damned revenant Indian burying ground – his cat, his infant son and finally his wife. It also follows the effective suspense and final lack of reveal, which best leaves things to the audience’s imagination (“Darling!”) – the cinematic adaptation not so much, as the film fumbled the final reveal by actually showing it. However, another notable television adaptation of the original story also followed the final lack of reveal – the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Forever” (in which Dawn and Spike wish for Buffy’s mother, died of cancer, to return – although it is Buffy herself who rushes to the door).


Top 10 Fantasy (Honorable Mention)




Stark After Dark has its Top 10 Fantasy Books as well as its Top 10 Fantasy Stories & Works, but there is always more love to share in fantasy for my ongoing roll call of Top 10 Fantasy Honorable Mentions – ongoing, that is, as the definitive criteria for honorable mention is for authors and their works which I continue to follow or in which I maintain an active ongoing interest.


So, numbered in chronological order, these are my Top 10 Honorable Mentions in the literary genre of fantasy.





Discworld needs little introduction to fans of fantasy – a literal flat-earth (hence its name) balanced on the back of four titanic elephants in turn on the back of the cosmic turtle, Great A’Tuin. This world is the setting for a fantasy comedy series (spanning over 40 books and a similar number of years) which is a parody or satire of virtually every trope within fantasy and many outside it, as well as virtually every major work of fantasy – from Lovecraft through Conan to Tolkien and even the bard himself, Shakespeare.


Books in the series follow different story threads or characters within it – with my favorite being those that follow the cowardly ‘wizard’ Rincewind, “a wizard with no skill, no wizardly qualifications, and no interest in heroics” (and the Wizards of the Unseen University in general), ever since his role as the protagonist in the first two books (escorting the naïve tourist Twoflower and his Luggage). Sprawling in some degree through most of the books is the city of Ankh-Morpork (and its City Watch, the protagonists of their own story arc or thread of books within the series) – a city clearly influenced by Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar, and like that city, a city which somehow survives despite itself.







Where to start with this genre-crossing author, spanning fantasy, horror and SF?


There is his towering SF classic, the Hyperion Cantos – which opens with its frame story, modelled on Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, with its diverse group of ‘pilgrims’ to the Time Tombs on the planet Hyperion, sent by the galactic Hegemony and the Church of the Final Atonement to face the terrifying Shrike.


Or his other towering SF classic in two parts, Ilium and Olympos, in which the Trojan War is reenacted by post-humans posing as the Olympian gods on a terraformed Mars around (where else?) Mons Olympus.


Or perhaps his dark fantasy or horror Summer of Night, reminiscent of Stephen King with its group of adolescent boys facing a medieval supernatural terror, or his take on psychic vampires in Carrion Comfort.


The correct answer is all of them, but for my honorable mention entry, I’ll nominate where it all started – with his 1986 World Fantasy Award winning novel The Song of Kali, a psychological horror about a journalist encountering a latter day cult of Kali.





(3) JOE LANSDALE – THE DRIVE-IN (1988-1989)


You will never eat popcorn again.


Joe Landsale is a genre-hopping self-branded mojo storyteller so Texan his books positively drawl, but in a good way. His fantasy is never purely fantasy, as he writes books and stories (and comics!) in a number of genres, often at the same time. Westerns, of course – although he is from east Texas – but often of the Weird West. Horror – or so-called splatterpunk. Mystery, suspense and thrillers.


A good introduction to Lonsdale is perhaps his short stories, which are particularly difficult to pin down in genre. I mean, how do you classify Bubba Ho-Tep (subsequently adapted into film starring none other than the Chin himself, Bruce Campbell) – in which an aged Elvis Presley and a black JFK battle a soul-sucking mummy in a nursing home? (No, seriously – Elvis Presley, having swapped with a double to opt out of fame. Not sure about JFK though – he claims the Conspiracy swapped his mind into his present body. Even Elvis is skeptical). Or his post-zombie apocalyptic On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks? “Frequent features of Lansdale’s writing are usually deeply ironic, strange or absurd situations or characters”. Indeed.


And perhaps none more so bizarre than my introduction to Lansdale and still my favorite, although it is a little intense (if by intense you mean insane) – The Drive-In, or for its full title, The Drive-In: A ‘B’ Movie with Blood and Popcorn, Made in Texas. It starts as a normal summer Friday night horror movie marathon at the Orbit Drive-In in Texas. And then it becomes the horror-movie marathon, as they are trapped by a demonic grinning comet in the drive-in, beyond time in an eternal night – seemingly at the whim of the dark gods of B-grade movie horror:


“On a cool, crisp summer night, with the Texas stars shining down like rattlesnake eyes, movie-goers for the All-Night Horror Show are trapped in the drive-in by a demonic-looking comet. Then the fun begins. If the movie-goers try to leave, their bodies dissolve into goo…The world outside the six monstrous screens fades to black while the movie-goers spiral into base humanity, resorting to fighting, murdering, crucifying, and cannibalizing to survive”


And the dark B-grade movie horror gods lend a hand to all the base humanity with a little (or a lot of) monstrosity of their own, with the Popcorn King. O God – the Popcorn King.


Don’t eat the popcorn…


It's watching you.

It’s watching you.







Tad Williams fantasy series set in the world of Osten Ard – with its definitive Memory, Sorrow, Thorn trilogy – perhaps represents the archetypal post-Tolkien high fantasy, with the arguable exception of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, itself influenced by Williams’ series. (The other arguably archetypal post-Tolkien high fantasy is possibly Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series, although that can be a little too intense for readers).


Osten Ard, like Tolkien’s Gondor, has a history influenced by that of the Roman Empire (indeed Tolkien’s Gondor is essentially the Roman Empire – or more precisely the Byzantine Empire), although its equivalent in Osten Ard has since been overshadowed by the predominant Erkynlanders (resembling medieval England with some Arthurian folklore thrown into the mix) under their legendary king Prester John.


Unlike Tolkien’s Middle-Earth however, the mix of fantasy counterpart cultures extends to broader world cultures – and its dark lord, the Storm King, has more justice to his claims, in the near genocide of his elfin Sithi people, although that is outweighed by the evil of his means.


Williams has recently returned to his world of Osten Ard – after a prolific career in other series or works – with his new sequel series, The Last King of Osten Ard.








I have a soft spot for posthumous fantasy and this debut novel, now the first in what is emerging as a series of novels for its protagonist Thomas Fool, is that darkest of posthumous fantasies set in Hell itself.


Hell, however, is not quite what one might expect. It is no longer a hell of burning torture – much to the disappointment of a hardcore angel in Heaven’s visiting delegation. It is a hell of bureaucracy and brutality – the latter typically supplied by Hell’s demon population, which coexists uneasily with its human damned population. The sinners who occupy it don’t even remember their past lives. In the words of one reviewer – “Hell is essentially the worst parts of all the worst cities…part slum, part gang territory and part red light district”.


Amidst all this is Thomas Fool, one of Hell’s Information Men – or what passes for a minimalist police force, both in terms of numbers and function, the latter virtually as bystanders to Hell’s crimes. However, for once, the powers that be in Hell want him to actually investigate a murder through to a conclusive finding, apparently for their amusement as much as anything else – although it may have also something to do with keeping up appearances for the visiting delegation of angels from Heaven.


Of course, murders in hell evoke the line from Apocalypse Now – “charging a man with murder in this place is like handing out speeding tickets in the Indy 500”. In this case, however, there is more to it than meets the eye.


And that is essentially the inventive twist of the novel – a detective ‘noir’ novel set in Hell, although it is the world-building of Fool’s Hell that holds attention here.







No, I haven’t swapped over to Roman numerals – X marks the spot for a special category within my honorable mentions. Firstly, and by way of full disclosure, part of this special category is for writers I encounter as friends or followers on social media, which I hope to expand over time as I haphazardly make my way through my reading list. Secondly, and not unconnected to the first, it is for writers that publish e-books rather than in print. Thirdly, and not unconnected to the second, it is typically for writers that you won’t find in the prim and proper part of your bookstore, even your electronic bookstore – writers of fantasy kink. And no one does fantasy kink better than Alana Melos.


Now obviously this won’t be to everyone’s taste. Some of her titles even make me blush. Just kidding – I’m unblushable. I’m sorry but you’re too late for that, Alana. Philip Jose Farmer brought the kink to my science fiction and fantasy – I read his Image of the Beast (and its sequel Blown) and it…changed me. So now when it comes to literary erotica, I find it mundane or tame without some wild fantasy – and Alana Melos scratches that itch. In her own words, “she’s endeavored to write the very best interesting, weird plot-driven and hot stories”.


In particular, I enjoy her Delilah Devilshot series and Villainess series, as those have the more compelling narratives in their own right. Delilah Devilshot (love that name!) is perhaps hotter to my taste, as the titular heroine embarks on a proverbial roaring rampage of revenge in a Weird West setting – rising writhing as a succubus with a six-shooter with a little infernal help from her dying deal with a devil. And no prizes for guessing how that deal was sealed – or how she seals most of her deals from now on


The Villainess series on the other hand, with titles named for Crowley-Thoth Tarot cards, has a story dripping playfully with all the best comic book tropes in a fantasy kitchen sink kink setting. Indeed, I would very much like to see it adapted as a comic, perhaps by more mature labels such as Image or Heavy Metals. The titular villainess for hire, Caprice or Capricious Whim in full (again, love that name), positively revels in her supervillainy in a setting that flits fantasy and science fiction in alternate worlds or histories (always a favorite of mine) – and a taste for discipline…