Saturday, August 31, 2013

2000AD Prog 1847

By Cliff Robinson and Dylan Teague. There are two things that seem to work on a comic cover at the moment, Zombies and Dredd kicking butt. 2000AD has done plenty of both recently and this is a beauty which recalls some of Brian Bolland's classic images. There's some great detail particularly with the sole of Dredd's boot, the flying teeth, and the movement of the thug's gun. In terms of standing out on the shelves and selling the prog this one works for me.

Judge Dredd: Bender part three by John Wagner, Ben Willsher and Chris Blythe.
Lock's odyssey into the dark heart of Mega-City justice continues as Judge Bender's behaviour worsens and he pushes things (and apprehended suspects) over the edge. The information they get before their perp becomes a pedway paint stain leads them to a drug cooking laboratory and I suspect there are more Breaking Bad references coming up in the next instalment. 

Dredd turns up for a few panels just to remind us whose strip this is but actually this story is ticking along nicely without him. Although he does give a couple of looks that let us know he has a pretty good idea of what's going in with Bender and Lock. His doubts about Lock's ability are proven wrong when he despatches a goon who had the drop on Dredd. And then Lock gets to demonstrate that he's a pretty good detective as well. Another great bit of hard boiled police drama from Wagner and Willsher.

Defoe: The Damned part twelve by Pat Mills and Leigh Gallagher.
So poor old Defoe does all the hard work, saves England from the undead menace, only for a group of super-heroes to turn up and claim all the glory. I don't know who the Vizards are, or why they didn't turn up sooner but there you go. Then it's all cleaned up in three days and just time for a cup of coffee and a chance for Pat Mills to give us the last part of his testament about the evils of the ruling classes. And Defoe disappears into the night apparently to return to his former profession as sedan chair carrier.

Lovely black and white artwork for Gallagher again but I'm left feeling that I've missed something. It all ended rather suddenly. I know Tharg is clearing the decks for another jumping on prog at 1850 but this felt like it needed at least one more episode to finish the story.

The Ten Seconders: Godsend part nine by Rob Williams, Ben Willsher and Abigail Ryder.
It's all getting a bit weird here. The scientist does his Mr Fantastic bit and produces a pair of magic gloves that do something ... well, sort of magical, and then Damage gets a bit cross and sets it up for a big final battle.

Ben Willsher steps into the art droid shoes instead of Edmund Bagwell but manages to pull off a reasonable impression of Bagwell as well as throwing a bit of classic Kirby crackle into the mix. It still looks all dark and sinister but I've lost track of what is going on. But never mind, next issue we get Damage hitting things.

Age of the Wolf: Wolfworld part eight by Alec Worley, John Davis-Hunt and Gary Caldwell.
Having given us zombie werewolves and the image of Rowan finally transforming into a Super-Wolf in the last prog this episode goes back to the cuddly looking Wolves sitting around talking. Then there's a ridiculously easy escape, some werewolf centaurs, and a flying car before we get the set up for the big showdown between Rowan and Alpha.

I'm trying to be kind about Age of the Wolf which really doesn't bother me as much as it does some people but it is starting to feel rather drawn out. Let's just get to the final fight please, we're all ready for the Moony shot.

Slaine: The Book of Scars part four by Pat Mills and Glenn Fabry.

Slaine continues to go all Quantum Leap through his past adventures, but as he just seems to drop in and out of them within a single issue I'm not getting any sense of dread or peril for the protagonist. I was hoping for a Slaine history lesson but it's all a bit disjointed and I'm not really bothered.

Everyone has their blind spots when it comes to big name comic artists and two of mine are Glenn Fabry and Simon Bisley. Fabry's black and white line work is beautifully detailed but always looks rather static to me. Still it will be all change again next week when Bisley takes over the art. Oh dear.

Pick of the Prog. Has to be Dredd again with John Wagner's apparently effortless story telling and build up of suspense.

Big Finish - The One Doctor

Here's another title from the Big Finish first 50 for a fiver range. The One Doctor by Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman, directed by Gary Russell.

The Sixth Doctor and Mel land on the planet Generios at the vulgar end of time, and encounter another Doctor and his assistant, Sally-Anne. Who is the imposter, and can the real Doctor save the day when an alien creature demands that the planet pay a huge price to avoid destruction?

This is apparently a bit of a fan favourite from the early days of Big Finish (released in 2001) and it is a comedy of sorts. There seems to be a fairly clear attempt to evoke memories of Douglas Adams and the Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, particularly with some of the oddball characters the two Doctors encounter on their different quests. Unfortunately it didn't work for me at all, much like Big Finish's attempt at a Monty Python script in Castle of Fear this just fell flat. Humour is such a tricky thing to pull off in a radio play and rarely succeeds for me. I've had similar problems with the 2000AD audios when they play up the comedy in their Judge Dredd stories. At the moment I'm more interested in the spooky or atmospheric adventures such as the Sherlock Holmes or Jago and Litefoot ranges, although they do have moments of humour.

There's not anything terribly wrong with The One Doctor. Christopher Biggins is pretty good as the imposter in his usual pantomime manner, and Adam Buxton and Matt Lucas provide some comedy voices for the minor characters. It just did not interest me. Even the Doctor's inevitable triumph just seemed like a bad joke that had been slowly set up over four acts. A favourite for lots of fans but not for me. 2 out of 5 evil Skelloids.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Big Finish - For King and Country

The last two Big Finish Judge Dredd stories I listened to, War Crimes and Jihad, impressed me with their more serious tone. So how will release number 15 For King and Country by Cavan Scott, directed by John Ainsworth, fare?

Not very well is the answer. Humour has always been a big feature of 2000AD strips and Judge Dredd used to be a much wackier comic than it has become in recent years. Getting the balance of dark humour and satire right is quite tricky, and some times it can spill over into a story which is just played for cheap gags. The plot of For King and Country has the current royal family of Brit-Cit wiped out by a bombing and the heir to the throne discovered to be the son of a fading Mega-City One pop star. Dredd gets the job of guarding them until the new king is crowned, so it's a return to this side of the Atlantic and things soon get out of hand.

There's some weird layering going on here. This is a British audio company producing a story about American characters who come over here to experience a parody of British culture as typically seen through overseas eyes. So the royal family are all idiots, the street level characters all sound like diamond geezers from EastEnders or a Carry On film, and the British Judges are upper class fools. I can cope when the Americans portray us this way, but when we do it ourselves, and do it badly, it starts to grate.

Predictably there is more to the plot than meets the eye, and for the second story in a row Chief Judge Hershey has set Dredd up for something without telling him why. But as you can tell I wasn't much bothered, I was just annoyed by British actors doing stupid cockney accents.

Only 2 out of 5 links in Dredd's badge chain for this story, and I think I'm being generous. There are some great Judge Dredd stories in the Big Finish range including Death Trap and Get Karter, as well as the two I mentioned above, but this isn't one of them. Next up will be number 16: Pre-Emptive Revenge which sees the return of Simon Pegg as Johnny Alpha and sounds much more promising.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

2000AD - Trifecta

The big 2000AD event of last year is now out in a smart hard cover format. Trifecta by Al Ewing, Simon Spurrier, Rob Williams, Simon Coleby, Henry Flint, Matt 'D'Israeli' Brooker and Carl Critchlow.

Spoilers ahead! Last year the forums exploded after 2000AD pulled off the coup of combining three stories in the Prog when Judge Dredd kicked in a door on his last page only to crash through onto the first page of the next story. Opinions varied as to how well the three stories meshed together after that, and about some of the plot devices required to make it all work, but what wasn't in any doubt was the shock that this has been done with no forewarning at all. To pull off a comic surprise in the age of the internet and a sea of spoilers was an amazing achievement. And now we can read the whole story in one book.

The three separate stories feature Dredd himself, Dirty Frank from Lowlife, and The Simping Detective. With the benefit of hindsight it is clear from the start that the three strips are part of a larger whole. There are hints and strange panels featuring a mystery character who likes a cup of tea and a nice biscuit. This is later revealed to be Judge Smiley whose behind the scenes manipulation and physical appearance are clearly based on Alec Guinness in the BBC adaptations of the John Le Carre novels. Judge Smiley has placed some hypnotic memory blocks in the minds of the lead characters but they get strange flashes as their memories start to break through. At the time it wasn't clear what all this meant but reading again all is much clearer.

I have waxed lyrically about Henry Flint and D'Israeli's art before and their work here is outstanding. Particularly D'Israeli's ridiculously detailed Moon cities and his fantastic recreation of some of the more obscure monsters from Dredd's history. I was completely unfamiliar with Spurrier and Coleby's Simping Detective strip before this event, and I confess that I didn't pay much attention to the early episodes until Dredd's boot crashed through into Jack Point's world. And it's Simon Coleby's art that is the revelation in this volume. It's got that shadowy black and white look that suits the film noir private detective setting, but what I didn't remember were the vivid splashes of colour he uses particularly when Point seems to be hallucinating flashbacks to his meeting with Smiley. It's a wonderful blend of styles and I was particularly impressed when Coleby pulled off some 3-D effects with the introduction of the villain Turner.

The writing is pretty spectacular as well, especially when they pulled off the big crossover. Al Ewing captures Judge Dredd almost as well as John Wagner, and Rob Williams continues to delight with his hilarious Dirty Frank. Simon Spurrier writes the Simping Detective and gives Jack Point some very snappy dialogue with a long list of jokes and similes to describe the various perilous situations he finds himself in. Spurrier is clearly a very clever writer, possibly too clever in places and I wished that Point's introductory patter could have been turned down a bit as the story progressed. It is his distinctive feature (apart from the red nose that is), as he reminds us several times "I'm all about the funny, me". It just began to wear me down a bit as the finale approached.

Which brings me to the vexed subject of endings to comic book events. Like a perfect gymnastic landing they are apparently incredibly difficult to pull off successfully and Trifecta is no exception. The bizarre complexity of Smiley's plan to save Mega-City One depends on so many different events happening exactly as he predicted that disbelief isn't so much suspended as it is balancing perilously on the edge of a precipice. Not to forget the idea that a senior Judge can apparently hide himself in a secret room next to the Chief Judge's office for 20 years and nobody notice. However even the endings of acknowledged classics like Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns can be similarly criticised. Maybe we comic fans just enjoy the journey more than we do the destination.

The medical details are a bit far fetched. Dredd is shot several times and appears to be bleeding to death at the end of one episode, only for a couple of bandages and an adrenaline injection to have him back on his feet in the next. I'm afraid adrenaline won't do that in real life, but as the main villain of the piece remarks Dredd always could take a beating.

One final criticism about the collected edition and its extras We get a beautiful lenticular cover by Henry Flint. All the related Prog covers are included in the back matter, along with some promotional images and character sketches, plus a brief paragraph about each of the creators, and that's it. I was hoping for some more material from the artists and what I really wanted was an introduction. I don't know who could have written it, maybe Tharg himself could have talked a little about the original conception for the story and how such a big surprise remained a secret. The old Titan books used to manage this but Rebellion editions seem sadly lacking in this regard.

Still when all is said and done it is a great story and well worth a reread. 4 out of 5 Sirian Rosettes from me.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

2000AD Prog 1845 - review

Is by Karl Richardson and pretty exciting too. I'm sure that will shift some copies off the newsagents' shelves. Dredd's left glove looks a bit weird, more like he is wearing a piece of forearm armour called a Vambrace (yes I looked that up) instead of his standard gauntlet type gloves.His badge is rather pointy with his name at too much of an angle but hey, it's all artistic licence. I'm not sure that wall would really protect Dredd from the weaponry the Skull guys are using but once again anything goes to sell the Prog, and I think this cover does the job.

Judge Dredd: Bender part one by John Wagner, Ben Willsher and Chris Blythe.
I've been reading quite a bit of classic Wagner recently: Necropolis, Tour of Duty, Day of Chaos; and it strikes me that he is the master of the slow build of tension and story points. Little things start to add up and while there is usually the requisite amount of Dredd busting heads it is the dialogue and unfolding events that he excels at.

On the face of it this seems to be a straight forward tale of a Judge who has stepped too far over the line into brutality, but it is the character of Lock we will have to watch. Clearly traumatised by the events of Chaos day and his inability to save his own mother, how he reacts to being partnered with Bender will be interesting. Dredd makes a brief cameo as do the Skull faced gang. Ben Willsher can do no wrong as a Dredd artist, and all in all this is an interesting opening episode from the definitive Dredd writer.

Defoe: The Damned part ten by Pat Mills and Leigh Gallagher.
The Pat Mills history lesson part one. Defoe appears to have sold out his comrades to the evil zombie master, Faust. While his comrades make their last stand he and Faust continue their dissection of all that ailed British society before the zombie plague. Mills knows his history and wants us to be interested in the Levellers and the New Model Army, and has chosen a black and white zombie comic strip to tell us all about them. Meanwhile Leigh Gallagher produces some stunning artwork with several of the usual zombie tropes beautifully rendered. Great stuff.

Slaine: The Book of Scars part two by Pat Mills and Clint Langley.
The Pat Mills history lesson part two. This time it's the thirty year history of the character of Slaine he's going to instruct us about by revisiting some of his classic battles. So here we have a retelling of the Wicker Man storyline with Langley putting aside his usual photo-realistic style to give us a scratchy black and white tribute to Massimo Belardinelli. He does this particularly well with the faces and hairstyles of the female characters. I confess I'm not really familiar with Slaine's history so I'm looking forward to this tour through his past with the artists entertaining themselves, and us, with pastiches of other illustrators' works.

Strange to have two black and white strips running in 2000AD at the same time, and both by the same writer. Last year when something similar happened it led to Trifecta. You don't think ... ?

Age of the Wolf: Wolfworld part six by Alec Worley, John Davis-Hunt and Gary Caldwell.
This one is not very popular according to the ECBT2000AD Progcast and the 2000AD forums. I quite enjoyed the first two runs of Age of the Wolf as the Werewolf invasion spread and the character of Rowan developed as humanity's last hope. The problem with the third book: Wolfworld is the depiction of Werewolves just standing around and talking. Rather than looking threatening they resemble large fluffy dogs or bears and bring us back to the level of cute, cartoon animals with no sense of menace.

Fortunately this episode concentrates on Rowan and her desperate race to save her daughter before the Wolves sacrifice the girl in a stone circle. But it's still all brightly lit and coloured and misses the opportunity to give us a sense of this darker world and stakes at play. It's OK and I don't actively dislike the series as some do but it doesn't seem to be working in the third book.

The Ten Seconders: Godsend part seven by Rob Williams, Edmund Bagwell and Abigail Ryder.
Now this is dark and menacing. Whenever 2000AD take on Superheroes you can be sure that they will do something strange and sinister with them. The classic red, white and blue all-american hero does not fit in to 2000AD's reactionary world view and here we find out what the alien super-powers have been doing with Earth. While at first it seemed that the parents of a bunch of naughty children of mass destruction had arrived to right their wrongs, now we find that our world is just the latest in a series of petri dishes they play with almost as a form of distraction for them.

Rob Williams continues to nod towards some classic moments from mainstream American comics and Edmund Bagwell gives us some glorious and twisted artwork. I wonder what would have happened if Tharg had switched Abigail Ryder over to colour Age of the Wolf, maybe that would have worked better?

Pick of the Prog = Dredd for a tantalising opener.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Big Finish - Invaders from Mars

Big Finish have permanently lowered the price of their first fifty Doctor Who titles to just £2.99 a download. So there are bargains to be had and I picked up Invaders from Mars, written and directed by Mark Gatiss.

This one has it all. The Eighth Doctor, Charley Pollard, Orson Welles and a cast that includes Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson from Spaced. The story of the Mercury Theatre's infamous radio production of the War of the Worlds is fascinating enough, but throw in some real alien invaders, espionage and gangsters and how can you not get this story for a mere £3.

It's just fabulous all round. Paul McGann continue to vie for the top spot in best Big Finish Doctors. I love the character of Charley Pollard, and David Benson does a pretty good Orson Welles impression. The inevitable separation of the Doctor and his companion works quite well, especially when he teams up with a woman called Glory Bee. Clearly Mark Gatiss loves the source material and all the legends that have developed about that radio broadcast.

I have difficulty finding any faults with this production which was over too quickly for me. A short review but a great Big Finish story. 4.5 out of 5 tripod war machines.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Big Finish - Brotherhood of the Daleks

A recent Big Finish sale gave me the chance to pick up another Sixth Doctor and Charley Pollard adventure. Brotherhood of the Daleks, by Alan Barnes, directed by Nicholas Briggs.

The Doctor and Charley are expecting an ice planet but instead find themselves in a jungle, and in a war zone. The local resistance are fighting a losing battle against the Daleks, but there is something very strange about these Daleks, and about the whole situation.

So yes I bought this one just because it was cheap, and because Nicholas Briggs picked it as one of his favourite Dalek stories, and I didn't pay too much attention to the writer until I listened to the CD extra interviews. Alan Barnes is a Big Finish writer whose previous stories I have struggled with. I like what he does as the script editor for the main Doctor Who range, and I have to admire him as a former editor of The Judge Dredd Megazine but his writing has bothered me in the past. The only one I really liked was his parody of 2000AD in Izzy's story from The Company of Friends, and apparently I'm pretty much alone in liking that tale. In this take on the Daleks Barnes references the Vietnam war and draws heavily on the writings of Karl Marx and develops a branch of the Dalek empire that has adopted the principles of Communism. And the funny thing is it all kind of works, I quite liked it.

Admittedly this adventure does play with the dream within a dream, within a dream idea which has cropped up before and can be quite difficult to disentangle for the listener. It is never easy to work out exactly which reality we are in at any one point, but that didn't bother me here. India Fisher works wonders as Charley Pollard and Colin Baker is on infuriatingly accurate form as the Sixth Doctor. The rest of the cast were fine with no particular stand-outs, although there were a few problems when they are required to use the ring modulator to produce Dalek voices. Unless it is Nicholas Briggs doing them they just sound like children playing with something bought from a toy shop.

This Big Finish release is back to full price now and with their recent announcement that all of their earliest fifty stories are going to be available for £2.99 only on download it is difficult to recommend picking this up instead of a cheaper adventure. However it has restored my faith in Alan Barnes. Let me give it 3.5 out of 5 Dalek manifestos and move on to some invaders from Mars.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Big Finish - Persuasion

Number 175 in the Big Finish main range is Persuasion by Jonathan Barnes, directed by Ken Bentley.

Klein is back! Her story is getting a little complicated at this point. Let's just say she is the most interesting UNIT scientific advisor after the Doctor, and her love hate relationship with his seventh incarnation continues. And this time she has a young and enthusiastic but very inexperienced assistant along with her. Will Arrowsmith knows a lot about the mysterious Umbrella man and what UNIT refer to as "blue box incidents" but this is his first actual encounter.

The story concerns another set of powerful elder gods who the Seventh Doctor wants to deal with before his time his done. He senses that his next regeneration is approaching and is worried that his replacement may not be as resolute as he is. This sense that Sylvester McCoy's Doctor is ageing and trying to tie up loose ends before he finishes is very interesting and I wonder if Big Finish will continue with this. Also rather intriguing is the idea of the very powerful Persuasion machine which acts as the MacGuffin for this story. The machine's ability to persuade populations of whatever idea the controller programmes into it is obviously of interest to politicians of all ideologies. I presume this will also come back in the next two parts of this Klein trilogy.

I confess the elder gods stuff that cropped up in Protect and Survive and Gods and Monsters rather bores me. Here the characters of the Shepherd and Shepherdess speak in iambic pentameter which presumably was rather challenging for Jonathan Barnes to write, and it sounds impressive, but their storyline does nothing for me. Fortunately there is Klein and the idea of the Persuasion machine to keep me interested. Tracey Childs is right up there with Maggie Stables as a great Big Finish supporting actor and perfect foil for the Doctor. I was less convinced by Christian Edwards as Will Arrowsmith but maybe his character will grow on me.

Some interesting stuff in this one but let down by uninteresting bad guys. A middle of the road 3 out of 5 straw hats from me.