Friday, September 26, 2014

Big Finish - Mask of Tragedy and Signs and Wonders

It's double release month for the Big Finish main Doctor Who range so two Seventh Doctor stories here. Mask of Tragedy by James Goss, and Signs and Wonders by Matt Fitton, both directed by Ken Bentley.

Two stories that wrap up Hector/Hex story line and set things up for a new Tardis team. The first is set in ancient Greece and features Aristophanes and his plays, and the second brings Hector back to his home town of Liverpool which seems to be on the verge of some apocalyptic event. Along the way the Doctor, Ace, Hex and Sally get separated, reunited and do plenty of dialoguing with a variety of aliens and big bad guys.

It will come as no surprise to learn that I am a bit bored with this particular Tardis grouping, and that sense of ennui is worst in the first story because it features Philip Olivier doing a "voice" again. Honestly, it's a bad idea and thankfully the Signs and Wonders story sticks with his familiar scouse accent.

There's some good performances in here and a few interesting ideas but on the whole they just went on and on and I lost the plot quite a lot.

I can't wait for the forthcoming Big Finish adaptation of Frankenstein and their next Sherlock Holmes box set but I may need to take a break from the main Doctor Who series for a while until something interesting comes up. Two stars for Mask of Tragedy and 2.5 for Signs and Wonders because it doesn't feature a "voice".

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Jaegir Edge

2000AD makes another foray into the US comics market with this one shot collection of the first Jaegir storyline by Gordon Rennie, Simon Coleby, Len O'Grady and Simon Bowland. I enjoyed the gothic horror aspects of this when it first ran in the weekly Prog, now here it is is a very glossy and stylish looking format.

First impressions are good, I like the cover image by Coleby and Pye Parr and it's printed on the same heavyweight paper stock that makes the Brass Sun reprints such a pleasure to hold. Inside the high quality paper and reproduction continue, Coleby and O'Grady's art and colours look lovely, and it's all story with just a couple of ad pages for other 2000AD stuff.  

Re-reading the Strigoi storyline makes certain things a lot clearer. I hadn't realised that Atalia Jaegir's team were already with her at the start of the story, I had assumed they were assigned with her new mission. Knowing that they have been together for a while explains things such as her Sergeant's easy familiarity with her, and his penchant for telling bad jokes when they go into action. I had also completely missed noticing that it was the Nordland symbol that Atalia's father paints on her forehead with the dead bear's blood in one of her childhood flashback scenes.

It works well as a one and done story which hopefully will attract a few more new readers. However I was bothered by a couple of things which are pretty central to the whole concept. Firstly is the decision to base it in the Rogue Trooper universe. Obviously this makes sense for the 2000AD faithful who remember Rogue as one of the classic series from the golden age of the prog. It does seem to bring a lot of baggage with it though and includes references which may baffle new readers. The challenge for Gordon Rennie and his team will be to carry these new readers with them into new stories and expand the world beyond the horrors of Nu-Earth.

My other reservation with the setting is the use of the imagery of Nazi Germany. The cover may recall Stalinist Russia but the language, ranks and uniforms of the Nord army keep reminding us of the ultimate bad guys and it just seems like an easy shorthand for evil. Again this carries over from the original Rogue Trooper stories so Rennie and Coleby were limited to some extent by what had gone before. Perhaps it would have been better to come up with a completely new future war setting for this story and try something different. The parallels between the Nords and the Nazis seems a little tired because it's been done so many times in so many other stories.

Still a lovely one shot from Rebellion and I hope it does well for them. We rarely get to hear about the sales figures for these experiments so I presume the proof of the pudding will be if we get more of these glossy reprints. I'll buy them but I don't know if American comic readers will.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Frog of War

My latest entry in the 2000AD forums short story competition, The theme is "Whatever happened to?" and I've always been curious about this Brian Bolland cover which was never related to any story in the comic. I tried for a deliberate Ray Bradbury vibe on this one.

It’s a jungle out there. A real jungle. I’m the first human to land on an earth like planet and it’s all jungle. Hot and humid and hateful.

The first human to set foot here. I’m famous. Maybe they’ll put my face on a stamp or a magazine cover or something.

I've got things to do, machines to set up, readings to take ... but the jungle ... it wants me.

And it feels like there’s something in my suit. Something squirming behind my knee. But that’s impossible. The environmental suit is a completely sealed and self supporting unit. Maybe one of the servo motors is twitchy. I’ll run diagnostics when I'm back in the ship.

The atmospheric monitoring station is a hefty device and it takes a while to assemble. It’s getting hot in here. The suit should be able to cope with the temperature but the jungle presses in on me. It’s started to rain and large drops of water are falling from the leaves, at least the spectrometer tells me it is water. If I could open my helmet that would cool me off. I want to feel the rain on my face. The jungle wants to see my face.

I must stop daydreaming, I've got work to do before the satellite uplink is ready for my first message back to earth. Back to the checklist .. but it’s so hot. I want to stop and rest a moment, and there is definitely something in the suit with me. Something small moves by my waist. It’s climbing higher.

I look up and all I can see is jungle. It’s so dark, and hot, and heavy and I want to open my helmet. The jungle wants me to open the helmet. The jungle wants me ...

I look back and my ship is obscured by leaves and branches. My landing must have cleared more space than that. Surely the undergrowth can’t grow back that fast?

Why can’t I think clearly? This is what I did all those years of training for. I’ve got to get this mission back on track. My suit thermometer reads a steady 20 degrees but that can’t be right. It’s so hot in here. So hot I could melt. I’m sweating and the thing in my suit is at my neck now.

It’s on my face. I can feel small hot feet on my skin but they don’t feel alien, they feel like human skin, like a loved one’s fingers brushing my face.

It’s a jungle in here, the jungle wants me. I open my helmet and turn my face to the sky as the rain takes me and makes me a part of it.

I am the jungle out there.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Prog 1895 Vs Meg 351

Another double dose of thrill power from the postie so another head to head review coming up.

Covers: Jake Lynch on the Prog Vs Ben Willsher on the Meg.
Two pure Dredd covers with Ben Willsher delivering his first version of the Dredd movie costume. These are two great images but for some reason it's the newcomer Jake Lynch who narrowly edges this one for me with a beautiful moment of Dredd on the Lawmaster.
Result: 1-0 to the Prog.

Judge Dredd: Cascade by Michael Carroll, Paul Marshall, Gary Caldwell and Annie Parkhouse Vs Dead Zone by John Wagner, Henry Flint and Annie Parkhouse.
Wow this is a tough one. I love what Michael Carroll is doing in the Prog and how he's bringing in Dollman and Gideon Dallas again. I'm very tempted to give the win to him and Paul Marshall for the slow build of tension this Cascade tale is creating. But Wagner and Flint and a bunch of Radlander crazies mining grave pits for terrible treasure is just too good too miss. Henry Flint is a genius and does things with colours and panel lay outs that sets him almost too far out in front of other art art droids. Seriously if you're not reading the Megazine you should be getting it just for Flint's artwork in this story alone.
Result: 1-1 and it's going to be a close contest this month.

Aquila by Gordon Rennie, Leigh Gallagher, Dylan Teague and Annie Parkhouse Vs Lawless by Dan Abnett, Phil Winslade and Ellie De Ville.
I quite enjoyed Aquila battling Electro as he works his way through the Sinister Six, and I like how this is all tied into the history of early Christianity and Roman legends. Meanwhile Marshall Lawson continues to deliver frontier justice in black and white. I still think her ponytail is impractical and her low slung belt looks sexy but would surely fall off as soon as she starts moving. However it's comic book art and we can accept all this because the story and world building are interesting, and it's nice of Steptoe and Son to make an appearance.
Result: 1-2 to the Megazine

Brass Sun by Ian Edgington, INJ Culbard and Ellie De Ville Vs The Man from the Ministry by Gordon Rennie, Kev Hopgood and Simon Bowland.
I love how Culbard is constantly changing the colour palate as the protagonists move into each new world or ecosystem. I know people are finding this series slow moving and it does read better in bigger chunks than the five pages it gets each week. I'm getting the US style reprint series and enjoying it so I can forgive Brass Sun anything. Over in the Megazine the Man from the Ministry is all a bit expositional this month, with not enough British science fiction references to satisfy me this time. I'm still loving it but Brass Sun gets the win for Culbard's colours.
Result: 2-2 and it's still all to play for.

Black Shuck by Leah Moore, John Reppion, Steve Yeowell, Chris Blythe, Simon Bowland Vs Dredd: Uprise by Arthur Wyatt, Paul Davidson, Chris Blythe and Simon Bowland.
I'm still finding it difficult to find any interest in Black Shuck. It just seems like a cheap attempt to produce a Game of Thrones series for 2000AD but all it manages is some clunky dialogue, confusing flashbacks and not enough action to grab me. The Dredd Uprise story gets much more interesting this time and Wyatt and Davidson may actually have something good going on in this story. The rookie who redeems herself, the way they find the sniper, and all the political stuff about the Uprise movement are all well handled and it would appear that my initial doubts about this last month may have wrong. At the moment it's a far better story than Black Shuck and the Trolls so the Megazine sticks it's nose back in front with only one more contest to go.
Result 2-3 to the Meg.

Jaegir by Gordon Rennie, Simon Coleby, Len O'Grady and Ellie De Ville Vs Valkyries by Steve Moore, John Lucas, Len O'Grady and Ellie De Ville.
I'm still enjoying the gothic grimoire that is the world of Jaegir although Coleby's body poses with all those torsos thrust forward are starting to look at bit repetitive and frankly rather uncomfortable. O'Grady's muted colours work very well for the gritty story even when it does explode into psychedelia on the last page.
I rarely read the Megazine floppy freebies in full and rather wish I hadn't this month. It's a shame to remember the passing of Steve Moore with this bit of gratuitous voyeurism. I'm not opposed to some sexy women in a comic strip but this seems more Mayfair than Megazine. Maybe I should stack Jaegir up against the text articles in the Meg but I haven't read them yet so the Prog gets a soft last minute goal to leave the contest tied.

Result 3-3. A draw and despite my moaning these were still the best comics I have read all month. There are four top stories going on in the Megazine and if you're not reading that as well as the Prog you should be.