PANEL ONE A train car. A garishly-dressed woman strokes her horrendous little dog, which is yapping noisily at the disgruntled gentleman to her right. He is glaring at the mutt.

WOMAN Good baby, little tootsie-wootsie. The gentleman won't hurt my itty doggy-woggy...

PANEL TWO The dog has vanished. The woman is weeping and the man is shouting angrily.

WOMAN My poor, dear little pet! You've thrown him off the car!!!!!

EVERETT TRUE (for it is he) You bet I have! And if you were a man I'd throw you off, too!! If you have to drool over a dirty little cur why don't you do it someplace where people can't hear you!!!!

Ladies and gentlemen: Everett True, a real American hero.

Written and set in turn-of-the-century USA, The Outbursts of Everett True (originally titled A Chapter from the Career of Everett True) was a two-panel comic strip featuring the titular grump being irritated by - and dispensing swift punishment to - anyone who had the misfortune to irritate him. And since Everett was disproportionally irritated by almost everyone he met, that meant a lot of pain was going around.

The early strips consisted of only two panels. The first would show Everett encountering some rude, obstinate, cruel, greedy, boorish or otherwise unsavoury fellow. The second would show him beating the hell out of them. If the antagoniser was a woman, she would find herself being shouted at or (as in the example above) having a more creative punishment inflicted on her. And that was it. No third panel, no puns - just the set-up and a very literal punch line.

Of course, there's only so much you can do with that concept, and the curiously monickered creative team of A.D. Condo and J.W. Raper did try out some other material, such as having Everett's thin, bespectacled wife wallop him when he got on her nerves. But for the most part the strips took the standard set up/beat down approach, with enough recognisable irritants and curious turns of phrase ("The cobble-stones for you!") to keep the casual reader amused.

And even those strips that lacked imagination were lifted out of the mundane by the artwork, which was frankly astonishing. A perfect combination of detail and clarity, the backgrounds had enough depth to create a sense of place but were sparse enough to avoid overpowering the action. In fact, they seem to subliminally implant the strip's setting without being consciously examined - the chairs that Everett leaps out of may just be blank outlines, but you won't notice unless you make a point of poring over each panel. This is the kind of thing that Frank Miller was hailed as a genius for in his A Dame to Kill For story, even though Raper beat him to the punch by a good ninety years.

The characters were just as carefully designed. In a minimum amount of lines, Raper (god, I wish that wasn't his surname) created brilliantly detailed, expressive characters that were simultaneously stylised and plausible. Though you couldn't mistake any of them for photographs, they nevertheless had a weight and depth that transformed them from mere drawings into living, breathing people. And no line went to waste - there wasn't a single scratch of pen that wasn't in exactly the right place for maximum effect. Ye gods, someone should make overblown cross-hatching lunatics like Rob Liefeld sit down and look at these pictures until they understand.

In fact, the only aspect of the art which grates today is the stereotypical designs used for the black characters - all fuzzy hair and enormous thick lips. It's unfortunate, but understandable when you consider that this book was written between 1905 and 1927 in a country that didn't fully repeal segregation until the 1960s.

Despite his psychotically angry bent, Everett was not a villain; those he attacked usually deserved some kind of reprimand, albeit not one as brutal as Everett dished out. Con-men, obnoxious street hawkers, queue-jumpers, anti-social children and lechers all felt the brunt of his wrath. In one strip he intimidates two men in a bus into making space for an elderly woman to sit down. It is quite clear from the looks of admiration and laughter of those around him that Everett was something of a hero - the only person willing to voice the opinions of the oppressed.

There was no race or class bias in Everett, either - he might beat up black guys but he'll just as easily wallop a white fella, too. Everett doesn't see black or white - just red.

And although he's capable of flinging tiny dogs out of the windows of moving trains, Everett does despise cruelty to most animals; some strips feature him coming to the rescue of mistreated horses, and inflicting a suitable punishment on their owners.

Everett was retired in 1927 when Condo became too unwell to write any more. Two collections of his adventures were released in 1907 and 1921 and a spin-off series of silent comedies were released for cinemas, but that was it for Everett True until 1983, when one of the collections was reprinted and a new generation discovered the joyful schadenfreude of True's Outbursts.

One member of this generation was comic book author Tony Isabella, who decided to use Everett (now in the public doman) as a way to attack some of the more absurd practices in the comic book world. His cartoons - now with a third panel! - appeared in The Buyer's Guide (later Comic Buyer's Guide) until he was censored for criticising one of their policies. He immediately transferred Everett to The Comics Journal and Amazing Heroes, but the loss of a weekly deadline led to creative stagnation and the character was retired for a second time.

Everett remains in limbo, but some of his misadventures can be seen online at this external site.

Sources: - Scanned samples of the comic - A potted history of Everett True - An interview with Tony Isabella (near the bottom)