Friday, June 27, 2014

Big Finish - Masquerade

Masquerade by Stephen Cole, directed by Ken Bentley.

The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa find themselves caught up in a seventeenth century French chateau full of dangerous liaisons, but because this is Doctor Who there is much more to this than meets the eye (or ear?). And there is a strange and threatening presence lurking in the wings known only as the Steamroller man.

The first chapter of this story is rather good with the Doctor and Nyssa slowly realising that their memories and perceptions are being manipulated. In fact I could have done with this going on a little longer but the constraints of the four act structure demand a revelation and a cliffhanger every twenty five minutes. Once the mystery of what is really going on is revealed then it just becomes a succession of techno babble explanations and a lot of shouting.

I have to say that the background music here also stood out for the wrong reasons. It was too noticeable to me and jarred somehow which is me being very unfair on the composer, and the huge amount of background music that Big Finish have to produce every month. On the plus side all the performances are good and Peter Davison is his usual relaxed self in the CD extra interviews.

I think Tomb Ship was the best of this Fifth Doctor trilogy. Masquerade gets a middling 3 out of 5 powdered wigs. Next month it's the turn of Sixie and some short stories.

Retro review - Progs 72 and 77

So there I was in Orbital comics getting some of the Droids to sign my copy of Day of Chaos: Fallout when I spotted these two on the wall and just had to buy them. The infamous 'banned' story-lines that nearly got 2000AD into serious legal trouble and have never been reprinted in any of the trades. They received the late 1970s equivalent of a 'cease and desist' letter from one of the companies involved and had to make an agreement to print an apology and never reprint the stories rather than face what could have been an expensive lawsuit. On a recent podcast Keith Richardson claimed that the stories themselves were not all that good and fans would be pretty disappointed by them if they were reprinted. Was he right?

Cover comparison. We have Dredd getting chomped on a Mike McMahon cover versus a dangling Dredd by Brian Bolland. Both covers feature the trademark characters that provoked the trouble. Although McMahon produced some of the all time great Dredd covers this isn't one of them and Bolland wins out.

Inside Prog 72 we have the second part of the Burger Wars storyline with Dredd and Spikes Harvey Rotten in big trouble before Judge Jack and the Land Raider save the day, In Prog 77 Dredd is plucked out of long grass by the Jolly Green Giant in the first part of the Soul Food story. Several other copyright characters appear as well. Neither of them are that bad as episodes in themselves, and certainly no more crazy than anything else in the Cursed Earth saga, or the Judge Child quest. Although Bolland wins the cover battle the interior art from McMahon and the fact that it's John Wagner on script duties for Burger Wars just gives this one the edge.

Elsewhere in these two issues we have a Mach Zero story by Steve MacManus and Mike Donaldson, Ant Wars by Gerry Finley-Day and Jose Luis Ferrer, Inferno by Ton Tully and Belardinelli, two episodes of Dan Dare by Chris Lowder and Dave Gibbons, a Future Shock by Chris Stevens and Pierre Frisano, and another Ant Wars by Finley-Day and Alfonso Azpiri,

Prog 77 also features the second episode of the Robo-Hunter: Verdus story by John Wagner, Ian Gibson and Jose Luis Ferrer. This is the one where faster than light travel de-ages Sam Slade and also turns the ship's Commander Kidd into his cynical, wisecracking baby sidekick. An important moment but Ferrer's straight forward artwork lacks the punchy humour of the Ian Gibson stuff.

Honestly they are both pretty good issues by themselves and I haven't even got to the beauty of Dave Gibbons' art on Dan Dare yet. Prog 72 has a Whittle score of three, and 77 has a solitary one. Worthy additions to my (or anyone's) collection.

2000AD - Prog 1885

Cover by Cliff Robinson and Dylan Teague.
Tharg's ever reliable cover duo reproduce the "Lets' Rock" moment from Aliens. Helpfully tells us who the main characters in Grey Area are, and illustrates why all those 80s shoulder pads went out of fashion. Another logo bites the dust.

Judge Dredd: Trauma Town part three by Michael Carroll, Nick Percival and Annie Parkhouse.
The full horror of the psychic attack is revealed and it seems that rather than cracking up Dredd has actually shown remarkable resolve in being able to resist the terrible images he has been seeing.  And while I was hoping for an exploration of Dredd's headspace the way this story is going is pretty enthralling, so kudos to Carroll and Percival. The artwork is fantastic and I love the varied and dynamic panel layouts which add a real sense of movement. Continues to be a top thrill.

Grey Area: Nearer my God to thee part two by Dan Abnett, Mark Harrison and Annie Parkhouse
Abnett cuts right to the chase with the reveal of the huge spaceship that appears to be responsible for the visions of the rapture. It's a great science fiction trope that has been done before but it seems to work well in the Grey Area setting and pulls in some earlier plot threads nicely. Harrison delivers some great comic art and his interpretation of the ETC armour is more realistic in the same way that the Dredd movie solved the shoulder pads issue. I haven't really got into previous Grey Area storylines but this seems to be shaping up as a great bit of science fiction and is a contender for pick of the week.

Slaine: A simple killing part twelve by Pat Mills, Simon Davis and Ellie De Ville
How long does it take Davis to produce these epic painted images? Each panel is a work of art and he has had to do thirteen parts of this. Nice to see the artist himself making an appearance as one of the self-flagellators. This wraps up next week so expect more heads to roll if Slaine is to save Sinead.

Tharg's 3rillers: In seconds flat by Eddie Robson, Andrew Currie, Abigail Ryder and Ellie De Ville.
The time travel twister wraps up with one of those revelations that makes my brain hurt. There's just one bloke, one woman and one alien, all repeating through time until they perfect a way of killing one another? And once the younger guy dies all the older versions blink out of existence. So does Lily still have to go through all the other stuff. I suspect the logic wouldn't hold up to close examination but who cares, it looks pretty and filled the space nicely. Nothing terribly memorable but good fun.

Indigo Prime: A perfect day by John Smith, Lee Carter and Simon Bowland.
Lee Carter's double page splash of the multiverse is a beautiful thing to behold but the story baffles me as new (to me) characters are introduced and I try to work out everyone's motivations. I guess next week we go full circle back to the first panel of the opening episode but the reasoning behind all this escapes me and my interest is waning.

Pick of the Prog is (yet again) Percival and Carroll's Dredd, although Grey Area is a strong second.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Brass Sun issue 2

2000AD's foray into the American comics market continues with the second issue from Ian Edgington and I.N.J.Culbard. I thought  the last one was a perfect introduction to their clockwork universe. Now to find out whether the second episode can maintain interest and push the story along.

I clearly must have read this installment when it was published weekly in the Prog but I found that I had almost no recollection of what happened after Wren and Conductor Seventeen escaped from her world and rode the rails to another. We begin with a fairly exciting hunting sequence with our two main characters struggling to escape weird robot assassins before a couple of deus ex machina moments deliver them into the hands of some aristocratic bad guys.

There is quite a bit of dialogue exposition to get through and I was strangely more aware of the five page structure that hangs over from the Prog run. It's still an awful lot of comic for your money with thirty pages of action and just those two page adverts. And in those thirty pages there were plenty of good moments and little touches and plot details that I missed first time round. I'm convinced that this reads better in this American style format than it did in the Prog.

Once again Culbard's artwork is fantastic and his depiction of cityscapes in the new world are lovely to behold. And because we are on a new planet we get a different colour scheme and a new method of transportation with giant cable cars crisscrossing the city.

The world building and story elements are expertly woven together by Edgington and Culbard, and the high production values continue. Apart from the logo on the cover it has almost nothing to do with 2000AD but it is a brilliant comic book in its own right. I was impressed by the first issue but this second episode has me completely enthralled and eagerly waiting for the next installment.

This is a great example of what British comic books can do and a brave experiment by 2000AD and Rebellion. Long may it continue.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Judge Dredd - Day of Chaos: Fallout

This is the latest Dredd trade collecting a number of stories that have explored the aftermath left behind by John Wagner and the Day of Chaos. Wagner said that the devastation of his story would leave an interesting sandpit for the other writers to play in, although there were also some rumours that other script droids were kept in the dark about his plans until they appeared in the prog.

However it happened here are the first responses from the other main Dredd writers. So we have eleven stories written by Michael Carroll, Rob Williams, and Alan Grant, with art by P.J.Holden, Trevor Hairsine, John Burns, Ben Willsher, Laurence Campbell, Dave Taylor, Andrew Currie, Nick Dyer, James Harren, Inaki Miranda and Jon Davis-Hunt plus that cover by Chris Weston.

Dollman turns up in Carroll's story about a block that tries to secede from Mega-City One using a mass driver gun to defend itself. He's also back in the frankly rather improbable Payback where he is confronted by three Space Marines who bear a grudge against him from the first tale. There's also a couple of defining moments for SJS Judge Gerhart which sets up stuff we found out about him in Titan.

Alan Grant turns in an Anderson tale from the Megazine which in retrospect clearly leads into the psychological difficulties she has been experiencing in the recent Dead End story. And we also get the introduction of former Cadet Kessler who went on to appear in DeMarco and the Whisper, and Sov-Judge Pax who joins the line of strong female Judges who have worked with Dredd over the years.

Artwise it is Campbell and Hairsine who surprised me the most. I haven't seen either of them on Dredd duties before and they both produce very different but impressive takes on the Galaxy's greatest comic strip. Campbell's work is dark and moody, he would really suit one of Wagner's noir inflected stories. Hairsine on the other hand delivers very muscular and dynamic storytelling which reminds me of Willsher but with his own twist.

The collection finishes with two stories by John Wagner himself, the first is Wastelands illustrated by Dave Taylor, and then the dramatic Bender story with art by Ben 'the Wizard' Willsher himself. This is easily my favourite story in the collection and I hope the two Ws bring back the flawed Judge Bender in the future. He's one of several characters from this book who I look forward to seeing again in the Prog.

Choosing the best story when there is a Wagner and Willsher tale is a bit unfair on the others but the best of the rest is the Forsaken, Carroll and Holden's story of the missing junior Judges. The medical details were a bit shonky but the slowly unfolding mystery of what happened to all the cadets was great stuff, and it's another Dollman story which is fine with me.

Overall, it's interesting to see how the various creators have dealt with the Day of Chaos and to have them collected in one place. The only extras are all the prog and Megazine covers for these stories. The downside is that most of us will already have these stories but again, let's hope it drags in new readers. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Retro review - Prog 175

I took a trip to London's Orbital comics for the Day of Chaos Fallout signing and as ever I picked up a few old Progs from the back issue bins.

This one from August 1980 has a cover by Dave Gibbons, back from when they ran images that were not connected to anything inside the prog. So we have a piece of pure science fiction loveliness from Gibbons. Of course there doesn't seem to be any good reason why a robot warrior would need to ride a huge, golden robot dragon, or to carry a sword and an axe, but who cares, it's a great image and worth 14p any day of the week.

The Stainless Steel Rat saves the world by Kelvin Gosnell, Carlos Ezquerra and Pete Knight.
More of the time travelling exploits of Jim DiGriz and his wife, Angelina, all perfectly rendered by King Carlos. He certainly draws a sexy looking lady and does some impressive rain swept scenes of devastation including one that seems to be a nod to that famous Gericault painting of the Raft of the Medusa. Pretty cool in a comic for kids.

The Mind of Wolfie Smith by Tom Tully, Jesus Redondo and Paul Bensberg
Wolfie is on the trail of a crime lord and has a run in with the Hairy Bikers before realising he has to save Lena Zavaroni, well not exactly but that's the general gist. Nice to have Redondo back on art duties, he would be the main reason for getting this if it was ever collected in a trade.

The V.C.s by Gerry Finley-Day, John Richardson and John Aldrich
The final four pages of the V.C.s sees the Geek fleet defeated and Smith gets a medal from a Sontaran, or at least that's what he looks like. I can't remember anything about the V.C.s and can't say that the story or art here makes me want to find out any more. Sorry.

Judge Dredd by John Wagner, Ron Smith and Tom Frame.
Dredd gets the colour centre spread again as the Wagner-Smith-Frame knock out combo provides some more marvellous moments from the Judge Child epic. The colour pages are great but Smith's detailed black and white shading is even better. It's still hard to believe he was drawing these pages with a timer to tell him when it was time to move on to the next one. 
There is a guy riding a dragon in there but it's the real flesh and blood variety and not the robot from the front cover. Yes, that's me making a distinction between robot dragons and real ones.

Ro-Jaws' Robo-Tales. The Contender by Gary Rice, Brett Ewins and Jack Potterr
A robot boxer wants a shot at the title but can't cope with the consequences. Five pages of early Ewins artwork looks good although I prefer his stuff in colour. He does deliver one classic Gil Kane flying backwards towards the camera punch panel. The story is OK with a classic Future Shock twist but nothing to write home about.

The prog finishes with a Garry Leach star scan of the V.C.s and some back cover gag panels from the galactic Olympics drawn by Steve Maher.

Dredd is easily the top thrill but Ezquerra's version of the Raft of the Medusa is a surprise delight. Meanwhile there's a Whittle count of five,

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Brass Sun

I'm mostly going digital for new comics these days but whenever I pop into the Forbidden Planet which passes for my local comic store I usually pick up something 2000AD related and yesterday's purchase was the first issue of the American format Brass Sun by Ian Edginton and I.N.J.Culbard. I've read all of this in the Prog but it always seemed like it might work better in a collected format.

First impressions are very good with a lovely glossy cover. I think the image chosen is smart and appealing, and the 2000AD logo looks great up there on the top left corner. Inside the high quality continues with good paper stock and the same nice design work on the inside cover. There are just two advertising pages for 2000AD and the Case Files (and more about them later), the rest is all story.

And the story reads much better in this collected fashion than it did in five page chunks in the prog. The unwinding adventure of Wren makes more sense as does the back story about their clockwork universe slowly winding down. There is still a fair bit of dialogue as exposition to get through but that is only to be expected when you have this much world building to do.

Culbard's art looks fantastic on the glossy paper. I always thought his Lovecraft and Sherlock Holmes adaptations had a very other worldly look to them so he is perfectly suited to this alien adventure.  It has a very high class polished look to it which should hopefully help this comic appeal to American readers.

That target audience is a tricky one to break into but they do like off beat independent titles and it's no secret that 2000AD are hoping to pick up some of the readers who have made Saga such a runaway hit. Brass Sun is a good fit both in terms of the refined artwork and the weird space opera story. Both Saga and another successful Image comic The Walking Dead have letters pages that act as a dialogue between the creators and their readers, and that brings me to the two 2000AD advertising pages. I don't think this comic will be a success if it drives readers to buy the prog, it's not a typical 2000AD story by any means and they may be disappointed. It will be a success if it sells enough copies to continue beyond the first four issues. If I was editing this reprint series I would turn those two spare pages over to Messrs Edginton and Culbard and call for reader letters and emails to get the dialogue started and build that following.

Of course there is an existing audience of 2000AD fans who will buy this anyway, and I confess that I'm so impressed with this first issue that I will be picking up the next three. It's not to everybody's taste but I enjoyed it in the prog and it's even better in this glossy floppy.

Friday, June 13, 2014

2000AD - Prog 1884

Cover is by Neil Roberts and my goodness it's bright. The geriatric ED-209 is nicely done, although it isn't immediately obvious which story it comes from. The yellow text is probably the best colour to stand out against all that red but it does make the title look rather anonymous again. At least the blue and white logo pops out on the top left of the page. Were Tharg and his droids holding back with the Jonathan Ross quote until they had a suitable cover image?

Judge Dredd: Trauma Town part two by Michael Carroll, Nick Percival and Annie Parkhouse
Mega-City One appears more like Zombie town with Percival's riveting artwork, and Dredd's body on Doctor Heisenberg's table looks like he's already died at least once (which I guess he has).

The last panel suggests that it's a psychic attack that has been giving Dredd those troubling visions so any psychiatric explanation or further explorations of his mental landscape will probably be dropped. Pity, but you can't damage the goose that lays the golden egg. Physical scars are OK, not so much the mental ones.
Still good to see Joyce maturing as one of Dredd's regular sidekicks.

Grey Area: Nearer my God to thee part one by Dan Abnett, Mark Harrison and Annie Parkhouse
Another story with some disturbing visions but of the religious variety this time. A first episode so difficult to say too much about the story yet but Mark Harrison does more interesting things with the art. The image of the ETC team in front of their drop ship (or whatever it's called) is particularly good.

Slaine: A simple killing part eleven by Pat Mills, Simon Davis and Ellie De Ville
The axe man cometh and slices and dices while the academics moan and whine. Davis' art gives more of a sense of movement this time with Slaine in mid flight, although the panel of him standing on the giant's shoulder looks a bit odd. Does Slaine have warp spasms any more? I would have thought six giants would be enough of an incentive.

Tharg's 3rillers: In seconds flat part two by Eddie Robson, Andrew Currie, Abigail Ryder and Ellie De Ville
More cartoonish diversion in the middle of the prog as the 3riller gets the exposition out of the way. "Stop trying to kill my boyfriend, you alien git!" wins the previously unheralded award of line of the week.

Indigo Prime: Perfect day part five by John Smith, Lee Carter and Simon Bowland
Really, I have no idea what is going on but doesn't it look pretty? Massive red and yellow explosions mimic the cover colours as OAPs in battle suits shoot up fairground attractions and completely miss their intended targets while moaning about their back pains and wishing for a cup of tea. It's not often you get to write a sentence like that in a review so brownie points for this strip.

Pick of the Prog is still Dredd but it's a curiously quiet week.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Big Finish - Tomb Ship

Tomb Ship by Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby, directed by Ken Bentley.

The latest from the Big Finish monthly range and it feels like I haven't done one of these in a while what with all the 2000AD reviews. I am only getting the main Doctor Who range  now and no others, although at some point I will probably return to the Jago and Litefoot series when time and money allow. In the meantime here is a stand alone Fifth Doctor and Nyssa story where they land on a mysterious ship, soon realise it is full of traps but when they try to return to the Tardis find it has vanished. Inevitably there are several other characters on board, all with their own agenda and  the Doctor is recruited to solve all the puzzles and try to negotiate safe passage to whatever treasure the ship is hiding.

Keeping with the 2000AD theme this is written by a pair of Tharg's script droids and there are some comic book elements to the puzzles. And I do like a Fifth Doctor series where he is conflict with the people he meets while still trying to save them from the desperate scenario they find themselves in. That was what made The Burning Prince so good. Tomb Ship seems like it is going to head down similar lines but doesn't quite manage the same sense of desperate urgency that story conveyed. Peter Davison is tremendous fun as ever, but I am still trying to feel some sense of connection to Nyssa who still seems naive and uninteresting.

Cast and crew deliver their usual high standard of production and the CD extra interviews are fun. I wonder who will organise these now after the sad death of Paul Spragg. Tomb ship feels like it would have been a fairly traditional Saturday teatime Doctor Who serial and that's no bad thing, and it was better than last month's Moonflesh. Four out of five pairs of cricket trousers and lets hope for a Jago and Litefoot sale soon.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

2000AD - Prog 1883

The cover by Nick Percival is outstanding. A heavy metal depiction of the mental disintegration Dredd seems to be experiencing inside. And the title and logo stand out clearly against the darkness which should keep the design and marketing guys happy. Another one for the top five short list.

Judge Dredd: Traumatown by Michael Carroll, Nick Percival and Annie Parkhouse.
Let's get details done first, Percival's art is superb and I'm thrilled to see the return of Pax and my feller Joyce. Now then, it would appear that Joe Dredd is seeing things. There was that black horse a while back, and now this fleeing perp and then the dream about Palance. So my big question for the charming Mr Carroll who I met at the Lawgiver convention would be is there going to be some cop out paranormal explanation for these visions, or is the great man really cracking up?

And I'll tell you right now if it's the former I'm going to be disappointed. It's not that I wish ill on old Joe but there's something fascinating about stories looking at the mental state of the top Judges. Cass Anderson has been going through some tough stuff over in the Megazine, and maybe now it's Dredd's turn. I'm looking forward to the next four weeks, and along the way I also want to see Joyce's character bloom (literary joke).

Just a Doctor's thought: Dredd has a long history of ignoring medical advice and putting himself back on the streets when not fully healed. Yet he has advised other Judges to take time off when they need to recover from physical or mental scars. I would expect the Judicial system to have a more senior medical officer who could bench Dredd when he's not fit. Not that he would pay any attention, but where is the chief medical officer?

Slaine: A Simple Killing part 10 by Pat Mills, Simon Davis and Ellie De Ville.
There's a slightly jarring effect of moving straight from Percival's colouring to the Davis palette but that's just juxtaposition for you. Sinead has lost her little mermaid tail but she's still wearing the ridiculous belt bra as she undergoes her demonic possession. And Slaine finds one giant down, six to go. Next week he'll need to get going if this is going to reach a conclusion soon. Chop chop, dear boy.

Indigo Prime: Perfect Day part 4 by John Smith, Lee Carter and Simon Bowland.
While the agents continue to escort the Nazi through his final bucket list it seems that there is someone else interested in him. Danny and Unthur take him to an end of the world party with a cycling fish and Arcade Fire doing a Lou Reed cover, not that it amuses the elderly nazi, they're never satisfied. Should have gone to Butlins, indeed, they always have a whiff of the concentration camp about them. Still looks fantastic and the plot is beginning to thicken. Like it.

Tharg's 3rillers: In Seconds Flat by Eddie Robson, Andrew Currie, Abigail Ryder and Ellie De Ville.
Now this is more like what I want from a 3riller, a nice setup that takes a sudden left turn into science fiction territory and then a lizard creature with a big gun steps out of a lift. Looks good, sounds good, does me good too.

Outlier part 10 by T.C.Eglington, Karl Richardson and Annie Parkhouse.
And so we reach the final curtain and it's the old Star Trek self-destruct trick that shred the bad guys but gives Carcer enough time to escape set up a sequel mission. OK, but let's give him more to do next time. Some promising stuff to begin with but it petered out over the run.

Pick of the Prog is Carroll and Percival's first trip into Dredd's psyche, and that epic cover image. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

2000AD Summer SciFi Special

Arrived on my iPad app just as the weather turned nasty. A classic summer special for a classic British summer, and a chance for Tharg to give some new names a run out in a friendly match and see who might be ready for the first team. Jumpers for goalposts and three and you're in.

Cover is by James Biggie and it has come in for a lot of criticism already but I quite like it. Looking at Biggie's American covers and his design prints on his website gives a fairly clear idea of the images he produces. I'm sure Tharg did this and knew what he was asking for so it seems like a conscious decision to go for a more abstract representation of the characters. I suspect this cover is not really aimed at us, Rebellion know that all the regular readers will buy this as soon as it hits the shelves or digital platforms. This could be another attempt after the Free Comic Book Day issue to attract some new readers, and this stylised mondo cover might just be the thing that stands out. It would certainly make me look twice if I wasn't already picking up the prog. I do like the colours and the weird head shots. Controversial but challenging.

Judge Dredd: Jinxed! By Emma Beeby, Eoin Coveney, John-Paul Bove and Annie Parkhouse 
An amusing little tale of Mega-City mayhem as Dredd tries to return the cursed artefact. My problem with the writing is that we're back to dumb Dredd again. He should be smart and experienced, and he has dealt with the supernatural on many occasions. So when it becomes obvious that the artefact brings terrible luck to whoever holds it why does he take it back? At the bottom of the fourth page the statue has passed out of his hands and brought disaster down on another unfortunate. Dredd does not have to pick it up again but he does and the high jinks ensue. Grim and gritty Dredd would have called in some tech team to isolate and transport the bogey without touching it. And yet this could have been fixed by a couple of lines from the writer, just have the guy who gets squished throw the artefact into Dredd's hands as he expires, then he would be stuck with it and the rest of the story can continue as is.

Art wise this is lovely stuff and Coveney and Bove can turn up in the main prog any time for me. I'm not convinced by the writing and think Beeby has done better stuff in the prog already.

Robo-Hunter: The Bodj Job by Alec Worley, Marc Simmons and Ellie De Ville
Loved it all. Great story and fantastic artwork recalling Mr Gibson himself but doing something new as well. Having been stuck in one of those furniture store nightmares myself this really hit home, and I had some laugh out loud moments when the shop went mobile and became an AT-AT, or should that be an IK-IK?

Nice work by Worley and Simmons and this could make the jump to the prog as well, and hopefully quite soon.

Future Shocks: The Expose by Jody Leheup, Jefte Paolo and Simon Bowland 
Writing a future shock is a tough gig and probably the only way to break into 2000AD these days. This one does the job quite nicely with an almost unexpected twist ending and stylish black and white artwork. The panel layout is really good. Another one which I would have been happy to see in the prog.

Star Scan of Psi Judge Anderson by Fay Dalton.
Let me quibble and say her hair looks a bit wiggy and that drawing the helmet and gloves may not be Dalton's strong points. But no matter because there is plenty to distract us, not least of which is a beautiful rendition of the Lawmaster. And it's raining which is perfect for a British summer special.

Durham Red: The Calling by Robert Murphy, Duane Redhead, Kirsty Swan and Ellie De Ville
I still don't really get Durham Red and this story has done nothing to convince me. The artwork on the various mutants is pretty good and coloured nicely, but Durham Red doesn't look even remotely sexy and her costume just annoys me. This one can stay on the subs' bench for the time being.

Orlok: Agent of East-Meg One by Arthur Wyatt, Jake Lynch and Annie Parkhouse
This is OK but nothing for me to get too excited about, apart from that final page panel showing Dredd on Luna 1. The black and white art beats the script but neither are top thrills by a long way.

Rogue Trooper: Dregs of War by Guy Adams, Darren Douglas and Simon Bowland
A classic bit of Rogue a trooper future war with some creepy body horror moments. The reanimated zombie foot soldiers were very nasty looking as was the machine itself. The panel of Rogue crouching to fire, with the rounds spreading across the foreground is particularly good.

Like Robo-Hunter this is one strip that could make the transfer to the prog whenever you're ready, Mr De Tharg.

Star Scan of Slaine by Ben Willsher is as good as ever. Is there anything he can't do?

Pick of the Prog is actually a tough call between the two Rs but I'm going to go with Robo-Hunter for nostalgia and comedy value. Now roll on the winter special and I hope Tharg keeps these specials as testing grounds for new creators and old characters.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Megazine 348

Cover by Glenn Fabry and Ryan Brown. Fabry's cover for last week's Prog was a bit muddy for me but this is more like the business. The detail on Hard H is great and shattered Dredd looks all in. Maybe the difference is Brown's colours. Anyway a top cover, best of the year so far.

Judge Dredd: Rad to the Bone part 2 by T.C.Eglington, Boo Cook and Annie Parkhouse.
While the Asian American version of Hershey contemplates a city without Dredd the great man himself is in dire straits in the arena of death. Meanwhile a Bond supervillain explains to the crime lords how Mega City One is theirs for the taking and gets rid of the dissenting voice in the usual fashion.

I'll say it again but the amount of damage to Dredd's helmet tells me he shouldn't be able to put up much of a fight in the arena. He's tough but really? And the crime lords meeting has been done so often, why not throw something different in there? At least rescue is on it's way, well sort of.

I haven't read the Mark Buckingham interview yet but there are a couple of lovely images in there.

Tales from the Black Museum: And Death must die by David Baillie, Jake Lynch and Ellie De Ville
A dark tale set during Necropolis and depicted in suitably dark black and whites. A notorious murderer meets the ultimate serial killer with a fairly predictable result. It's a bit too obvious and the art is too dark for me. This is the Meg's dud this month.

The Man from the Ministry by Gordon Rennie, Kev Hopgood and Simon Bowland.
Now here's some black and white art that really works for me. Rennie and Hopgood deliver a spectacular opening episode with lots of nice references to to Nigel Kneale and Reginald Tate, the writer and actor who brought Professor Bernard Quatermass and the British rocket group to life. Plus there's a Lovecraftian creepy in the shed and a Dan Dare like returning astronaut. I just love all these references to classic Brit sci-fi. A great first issue and star of the Meg so far.

2000AD Sci-Fi summer special. I love everything about this. I love the fact that it's giving some new creators their first outings with some classic characters. I love that it will be on my iPad within the next week or so. And I love the cover, there I said it. James Biggie's abstract expressionistic head shots looks great to my eyes. Can't wait.

Haven't read the text story yet. Meanwhile the Wagner Flint Chaos Day memorial story looks intriguing but mustn't make any phallic imagery references.

Anderson: Dead End part 6 by Alan Grant, Mike Dowling and Simon Bowland.
More Psi Judges tip over the edge while Dredd and Anderson get closer to their perp until they run into a twisted fire starter. Dredd is left to go solo while Anderson abandons ship to confront her psychic enemy. It's a fairly straight procedural episode without the psychological hit that the earlier parts had. Good stuff but not as great as it was.

The ad for the comics Unmasked exhibition at the British Library reminds me that I must get down there for that, and then I'm not reading anything by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar so Psi Judge Janus hits the trash pile.

Three quality stories this month with The Man from the Ministry winning top honours. Now bring on the Summer special and that cover.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Retro review - Prog 134

From October 1979 and still just twelve earth pence.

Brian Bolland provides an iconic profile on a cover that announces that Judge Dredd won top British comics' character at the Eagle awards, a category that seems have come and gone in the Eagle awards over the years. Inside Tharg's nerve centre announces the other awards 2000AD won and there is a rather odd letter demanding that it's a boys only comic and should never publish a story with a heroine. Halo Jones and Anderson: Psi Division stories are five years in the future at this point.

Judge Dredd: The Invisible Man by John Wagner, Ron Smith and Tom Frame.
Dredd investigates a series of crimes pulled off by an apparently invisible perp and resorts to fire extinguishers, riot foam and random shots from both of his Lawgivers to try and nail him. It's high class nonsense from Wagner with six pages of beautiful black and white artwork by Smith and some lovely images of Dredd in motion.

Blackhawk by Alan Grant, Kelvin Gosnell, Massimo Belardinelli and Jack Potter
I don't recall ever reading Blackhawk and still haven't picked up the trade papaerback. This story is from his lost in space era when the Roman gladiator was fighting weird aliens creatures. Blackhawk and a huge were-bear creature called Ursa practice their moves in their version of the X-Men's danger room before the hero prepares to go up against a real nasty. Belardinelli's human figures are pretty good here with more nice dynamic motion, but as ever it's his weird beasties that really deliver the business. Who doesn't want to see a gigantic armoured bear monster swinging an axe and picking off flying creepy crawlies?

A one page Flesh file recaps the descendants of Old One-Eye and sets up:
ABC Warriors by Pat Mills, Carlos Ezquerra and Pete Knight.
The colour centre spread launches Hammerstein and Co. on the trail of some rogue Tyrannosaurs which have been trained for man hunts. It's unusual to see Ezquerra doing the ABC warriors but his characteristic jagged black outlines look pretty good on Hammerstein's helmet, while the colour pages of dinosaur mayhem are just marvellous. Check this one out in the recently published Mek Files vol 1
The Mind of Wolfie Smith by Tom Tully, Vanyo and John Aldrich
Wolfie seems to be involved in the shooting of a low budget horror film but his psychic powers are picking up some real horrors. Four pages of more generic looking art here with a bad guy who seems to be Skeletor from He-Man. Bit of a dud to be honest.

Disaster 1990 by Gerry Finley-Day, Carlos Pino and Steve Potter.
The Invasion prequel serves up something that feels like an episode from the 1970s TV series Survivors as Savage and Bamber run up against a local Squire who rules his roost and doesn't take kindly to visitors. Not sure how this possibly fits in with the world of the Invasion strip (answer: it probably doesn't), so it's just another bunch of hard blokes with shootahs, and another minor thrill.
Ro-Jaws pops up on the last page to answer some more readers' letters and tease us with next week's line-up, and the back cover is a Green Cross code advert.

The cover and the first three stories are great but it really tails off towards the end of the comic. 
Pick of the Prog is the ABC Warriors two page splash, and the Whittle count of circular panels is a tragically low one and that's probably cheating because it's Dredd looking out of a porthole. But the Green Cross code man gets two on the back cover.