Saturday, July 25, 2015

Dark Justice

No Prog or Meg reviews from me this month, let’s just say they are both on terrific form, but you probably know that already. Instead let’s turn to the lovely hardback which dropped into the sweaty hands of most 2000AD readers recently, John Wagner and Greg Staples’ lovingly crafted Dark Justice.

First and foremost is the look and the feel of the book which as most reviewers have already observed resembles a good old fashioned Christmas annual. It looks and feels wonderful with a stunning cover and the dramatic endpapers illustrating Staples’ glorious art. Just holding it brings back those wonderful feelings of when you got a top annual in your stocking. Jumpers for goalposts and all that. Marvellous.

Story wise it does read better as a single volume. It’s quite clear what its inspirations were and it plays out quite nicely in a fiends on a space plane fashion. There are a number of unanswered or half answered questions such as how Judge Death returned exactly, how fast the Justice department ship must have traveled to catch the Mayflower, and how far out of our solar system they are stranded at the end of the story. Anderson seems to survive a lethal attack from Death, Dredd is issued with a new Mark 3 Lawgiver whose only purpose is to jam at a crucial moment and leave Joe using farm implements and harsh language to defend himself. I’d also like to know how poor old Logan is getting on and, of course, what happened to P.J.Maybe, who surely must still be alive to return in a future story.

John Wagner is the heart and soul of 2000AD, the Goliath who has shaped Dredd’s universe from day one. He has produced some of the best comic writing ever in stories like America, Mandroid and Day of Chaos. Dark Justice doesn’t quite hit those heights and maybe John really is finished with the Dark Judges, but it’s still a very entertaining read.

Turning to the art and I’m going to run out of superlatives for the products of two year’s hard work by Greg Staples. On this lovely glossy paper in the beautiful hardback it all just pops. It’s stunning and clearly worth the price of admission alone. Hopefully the lucky so and so who bought all the original pages will exhibit them in a gallery somewhere so we can all go along and drool over them.

Tharg has also given us plenty of extras. It’s fascinating to read the exchange of emails between the creators as Greg persuades John to write a new Judge Death story. Then there are the covers in all their glory, Steve Green’s 3D designs for the new Lawgiver, Greg’s sketches and the intermediate stages on the way to the production of final pages. Plus there are a couple of images from the photo shoot which Greg used to plan some of the action scenes. And if you can tear your eyes away from the lovely Lauren Stables you might recognise Steve Green and Senior Street Judge Burdis hanging out with the cool kids again. That’s what we want, Mr Tharg, pages of extras that we can feast our eyes on.

Overall it may not be the best Judge Dredd story ever but it’s certainly one of the most beautifully illustrated, and presented in this excellent hardback format it’s a winner. There’s a lot of tugging on the purse strings of the avid 2000AD fan at the moment, and yes some of those new figures do look pretty great, but come on you have to have this back on your shelf. It’s pretty cheap on Amazon but they suck, buy it from the 2000AD shop instead, or better yet get it in your local comic shop if you are lucky enough to have such a thing, and let’s keep this Rebellion revival rolling along.

Dark Justice, clearly 10/10 and recommended to all. I’m now off to lovingly caress something hard and glossy again.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

2000AD Prog 1938 review

Cover by Neil Roberts presents a nicely dynamic shot of Dredd laying the smack down on the guy who spilled his pint. Plenty of action in a beautifully rendered image. Works for me, I even approve of Tharg's pun.

Inside we are promised the return of the Magnificent Seven as the Strontium Dogs ride again. At some point we'll have to discuss the medical botch job that led surgeons to remove McNulty's arm after he was shot in the shoulder but for now onwards.

Judge Dredd by Michael Carroll, Colin MacNeil, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse.
An Irishman, a Scotsman and two (wherever Blythe and Parkhouse are from) walk into a bar and mayhem ensues. I thought it was strange that the assassins didn't shoot first and ask questions later but it turns out there was method in their madness and McGann was their intended target, not Dredd. Michael Carroll go do no wrong with this darker, grittier look at Murphyville. And MacNeil and Blythe make it all look fantastic with their signature gleaming visors the only hint at what's going on in Dredd's head. I'm not sure that Old Joe and Joyce could really shoot their way out of an airport and still board a plane but we'll see how that pans out next week. Wouldn't want to be the security guard who has to ask Dredd to take off his belt and boots though. Top stuff from the Celtic tiger creator team again this week.

Absalom by Gordon Rennie, Tiernen Trevallion,  and Simon Bowland
The Guvnor is a nasty bit of work and things must be bad for old Harry to spring him for this case. I love how he rejects DNA profiling for the more reliable blood tracking magic. Trevallion gets to turn up the steampunk features as some new bads enter the fray and this continues to be one of the best things in the prog week in, week out. Bloody Harry Absalom indeed.

Helium by Ian Edginton, D'Israeil and Ellie De Ville
The Prof explains what went wrong and what went right down below to put them all in their current pickle. Unfortunate his evidence is on a format that his hosts can't play, well we've all had that problem haven't we? If ever there was a case for cloud computing then a world based on airship technology would seem to be the perfect place for it.

D'Israeli delivers a masterclass in his use of colour in each issue and I love Edginton's steampunky world building so this is still rattling all my diodes nicely. I must ask D'Israeli if he has any prints of this stuff when I meet him at Brum ICE later this year.

Outlier by T.C.Eglington, Karl Richardson and Annie Parkhouse.
OK, so it's the Hurde not the Horde and they have added swarming nano clouds to their lethal cocktail of killing machines. The flickering lights on and off sequence works remarkably well even though it means four completely black panels. Personally I would have put the sound effects in those panels to heighten the fear factor but this team know what they are doing and it all ends horribly. 

I presume Carcer's black claws that appear in the bottom panel of this page are made of the nasty nanites as well. As far as I can tell the genie is out of the bottle and worse lies ahead. Pretty good episode this week which has pulled me back in.

Jaegir by Gordon Rennie, Simon Coleby, Len O'Grady and Ellie De Ville
It would be nice to perhaps have one Jaegir story that didn't rely on flashbacks but this one is particularly chilling as Atalia reflects on the war crime in her own past while hunting down the perpetrators of a more recent atrocity. The scene in the canteen seems very familiar to me from a host of military movies but it is used to good ends here when we realise what Jaegir is up to. Gordon Rennie currently has three separate strips running across the Prog and the Meg, Absalom is easily the best but I can't pick a second place between this and El Maldito, time will tell. On the art side Coleby and O'Grady get stuck with lots of uniforms this issue which is rather repetitive in terms of colours but they totally make up for it with a killer last panel.

Pick of the Prog is really difficult with all five strips having excellent installments this week, I'm going to give it to Michael Carroll, Colin MacNeil and Chris Blythe for Dredd again. Exciting stuff and a genuine thrill when it lands on my doormat.

Eamonn Clarke

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Hell is bits and pieces of other people

The final Hammer Frankenstein with Peter Cushing was Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, directed by Terence Fisher from a script by Anthony Hinds.

Baron Frankenstein has faked his death and is quietly carrying on his strange experiments posing as a prison medic called Doctor Victor (that old trick again). Unfortunately his hands have been badly scarred by fire, possibly at the end of Frankenstein must be Destroyed, and his surgical results are crude. Luckily a brash young surgeon is imprisoned for trying to copy Frankenstein's methods and soon they have teamed up to work on a new creature, ably assisted by another mute female assistant in the form of the lovely Madeline Smith. To round out the quartet Dave Prowse wears a rather ludicrous looking rubber monster suit which appears to have been covered in matted fur rescued from a barber's floor.

As ever Frankenstein stops at nothing to get the necessary spare parts for his creature, driving one inmate to suicide when he realises he has a suitable brain to slot into the monstrous body. The Baron is of course the most horrifying creature in all of the Hammer films, and Cushing becomes more villainous in each one. This was filmed just one year after the sad death of Cushing's wife and the toll that grief had taken on the actor is obvious from his first moments on screen. He still turns in a fine performance although he is further hampered by the dodgiest wig Hammer ever made him wear.

Madeline Smith is lovely to look at and almost steals the show even without using her most famous assets. In terms of the creature it's strange that Frankenstein has lost the ability to produce beautiful specimens as he did in Revenge and Frankenstein created Woman, but presumably that is down to his crippled hands. Meanwhile Prowse lumbers and grunts and is finally dispatched rather easily by two bullets and a bit of zombie entrail ripping that Romero would have been proud of.

And then it all just peters out and Hammer's light fades through the seventies. Their Frankenstein series did many interesting things, notably making the Baron the true monster at the heart of the stories. Christopher Lee's performance as the creature in the first film is still the best of the various scarred horrors, while the famous creation sequence in Evil of Frankenstein beats all the rest. I watched this film on a slightly shonky DVD from a Dutch box set and the difference in quality between the picture and the pin sharp Bluray of Evil was startling and the biggest advert I've yet seen for the power of Bluray. Two stars for the Monster from Hell but overall four stars for Cushing and the Hammer Frankensteins. Now where's a good Vampire hunter when you need one?