Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Big Finish - Frankenstein

Another quick review for another bit of enjoyable Big Finish audio. Frankenstein adapted by Jonathan Barnes and directed by Scott Handcock, with Arthur Darville as Victor Frankenstein and Nicholas Briggs as his Creation.

A pretty faithful adaptation that really brings out the theme of Frankenstein's rejection of his monstrous offspring. Briggs does a great job and gives the creature a voice that was both unexpected and particularly fitting. His philosophical jousting with his "father/mother" are the highlight of this terrific production. Some other members of the Big Finish family round out the cast including Geoffrey Beevers, Georgia Moffett and Terry Molloy.

Quite possibly my favourite adaptation of the book at the moment. Five stars and on towards the return of Sherlock Holmes.

Dark Eyes 3

Big Finish keep pulling me in with their special releases and here we go again with Dark Eyes 3, written by Matt Fitton and directed by Ken Bentley.

Paul McGann is back as the Eighth Doctor and up against Alex McQueen as his nemesis the Master. Plus there's Molly O'Sullivan and the fearsome Eminence who is now set up as a major presence affecting several of the Big Finish Doctors. It rattles along with great verve and while some of it may have been a bit confusing in places it was still terrific fun.

McGann is as good as ever and McQueen gets the most out of his role as the villain with scene stealing relish. Not so much Ruth Bradley this time as she was off being busy elsewhere, but Nicola Walker makes a good companion instead. There will be a Dark Eyes 4 which will apparently wrap up this whole Molly O'Sullivan storyline, and I will probably be there for that one as well.

Four out of five stars.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Prog 2015

It's the big Christmas Prog from 2015. A bumper sized package that finishes off the year and sets up some thrills for what's to come in 2015.

Cover by Greg Staples and it's definitely one for the fanboys. Personally I would have gone with a bigger depiction of the Judges, something like Bolland's original or Henry Flints's from the Chaos Day run. Not sure this one is intended to sell any extra copies or just please the existing readership. Anyway he's back.

Judge Dredd: Dark Justice by John Wagner, Greg Staples and Annie Parkhouse.
After all the sssizle the steak is finally here and because it's only a prologue it is, let's be honest, a little underwhelming. But in Wagner we trust, all will be well. In fact all will be the complete opposite of well which is the point. Lovely image of Dredd wearing an actual Planet Replicas kit and test firing the Mark 3 Lawgiver. Should it be that easy to break in on P.J.Maybe though? Have no fear, Wagner will deliver.

The Visible Man by Pat Mills, David Hitchcock and Ellie De Ville.
Hitchcock does a pretty good job on the art, considering that everyone is wishing it was Henry Flint. The haunted house looks creepy and all those seventies and eighties toy references are great. But the evil priest story-line, again? The most obvious of reveals, which is saying something for a strip where two characters walk around without any skin. Bit of a dull one this, and are the Visible Man and Woman now working as some form of supernatural X-Files force investigating the weird from their souped up helicopter?

The Order by Kek-W, John Burns and Annie Parkhouse.
John Burns artwork looks great but didn't we already have this when it was called Black Shuck? Odd choice to run two similar stories close together but Robot Knights are always fun so I'll stay positive and look forward to more of this.

Ulysses Sweet by Guy Adams, Paul Marshall, Chris Blythe and Ellie De Ville.
It.s mad, he's mental and it's a slice of pure 2000AD nonsense, and highly enjoyable nonsense at that. Paul Marshall's style grows on me and it looks great.

It's also a big yes from me to that advert for Enceladus by Rob Williams and Henry Flint. Can hardly wait.

The only thing I can learn from the quiz is that there is a huge gap in my knowledge basically covering all the nineties and noughties. Nice to be able to get the Halo Jones, Ace Trucking and Skizz questions right though.

Jaegir by Gordon Rennie, Simon Coleby, Len O'Grady and Simon Bowland.
Rennie's alternate history of Nu-Earth fills in some more gaps and Atalia adds some brother issues to her problems with her father. In fact everyone seems to hate her apart from her doggedly loyal sergeant. It's an effective little filler story that does leave me anticipating her return to the prog. Hopefully she will find a mission that doesn't just relate to vengeance on her loathsome family.

Low Life by Rob Williams. D'Israeli, and Simon Bowland.
How can anyone resist a Christmas Dirty Frank story? One of my favourite characters and drawn by the demon, draughstman D'Israeli who uses a completely different style and set of textures to those we saw in Stickleback. I don't know how he does it but this was fabulous and one of the highlights of the Prog for me.

Max Normal by Guy Adams, Ben Willsher, Chris Blythe and Simon Bowland.
A lovely team-up for Max and the old ape and a chance to wallow in some black and white 2000AD nostalgia in the flashback sequences. Plus an appearance by that bucket Judge Jimp helmet and a bunch of block names with simian references. Lovely stuff by Adams and Willsher. Another high point.

Savage by Pat Mills, Patrick Goddard and Ellie De Ville
War is hell and who better to deliver that message than Uncle Pat as he sets up the next book for Savage. There's some nasty body horror stuff before old Bill finds himself betrayed yet again. Another strip to look forward to in the coming year.

There's a very creepy Star scan by Godmachine before Michael Carroll and Karl Richardson take to the stage for the big finale.

Judge Dredd: The Ghost of Christmas Presents by Michael Carroll, Karl Richardson and Annie Parkhouse
A hard nosed tale of one of the crime families filling the void left from Chaos day. I've been reading a lot of Brubaker and Philips' Criminal series recently and this felt as good and as gritty as anything there. I love a story from the dark heart of Mega-City One where Dredd is a peripheral character, he only appears in the final pages here. Lovely arwork by Richardson, lovely colours by Blythe, and Dredd is safe as ever in the hands of Michael Carroll. Top thrill

Overall it's more of a mixed bag of nuts than I was expecting and it's too early to say anything about Dark Justice but I'm braced and ready for thrill power overload in 2015.

Friday, December 19, 2014

To End All Wars - The Graphic Anthology of the First World War, edited by Jonathan Clode and John Stuart Clarke with an introduction by Pat Mills.

During 2014 we have all spent some time thinking about the "Great" War which started 100 years ago. I know I have tried to picture myself as one of those lads sent to fight in muddy fields and wondered how I would have felt as I marched off to war. Would I have had the jingoistic hope that it would indeed all be over by Christmas, or does the gift of 100 years hindsight make it impossible to be that soldier boy without knowing of the horrors that awaited him and his friends? There have been commemorations aplenty and here is a comic book version which I put up on this site because of Uncle Pat's introduction.

Clode and Clark have compiled another impressive looking hard back edition containing 27 different black and white stories by a variety of new names in British comics. It's a well bound heavy weight volume that retails at £18.99 and for every book sold £2 goes to the Doctors without Borders organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières. Pat Mills' introduction takes up three pages and, as ever, he doesn't pull his punches and is almost worth the price of admission alone. To quote from his second paragraph: "This anthology is important because A Very British Lie is currently being perpetrated about World War One. In summary, the Sandhurst trained revisionists are rewriting history in the most outrageous way to claim that 'sacrifices' like the Somme were necessary to help Field Marshall Haig win the war; even though Britain's Daily Telegraph itself admits, 'what a terrible shame it was that Haig's progress along his learning curve had to be greased by such deep floods of blood'".

It clearly a gross simplification and far too easy to just trot out the statement that all war is wrong, that every war is by its nature a crime, though even the most professional soldier probably knows this deep in their hearts, as do we all. But the first world war does stand out as one of the most pointless and bloodthirsty examples of mankind's foolhardy nature. It was supposed to be that mythical war to end all wars, the conflict that killed nine million combatants and caused the death of millions more civilians. A bloody, brutal and terrible time in our history, and one that is dealt with very well by the writers and artists of this compilation.

Uncle Pat picks out the first story by Brick in which the main culprits behind the slaughter are brought to a mythical war crimes tribunal and questioned by a simple soldier as to the reasons for going to war. And it is an effective tale, although as we may just about recall from our schoolbook histories the cogs and levers that led the world to war were complicated, and at the same time trivial, so it is no surprise that most of us have clung on to that single detail about a minor European royal being shot in an open topped car. Personally I found some of the other stories about the common men and women affected by the war much more effective, but I do agree with Mills in being glad that the voices of all sides are heard, including German, French and African soldiers as well as us Brits.

Possibly the most moving piece is the final one of the book, Joe Gordon's impassioned prose 'Memorial to the Mothers' illustrated by Kate Charlesworth. A simple reminder that for every male name we see on a war memorial there was at least one other wounded person, the mothers and wives who bore the terrible brunt of the criminal throwing away of their loved ones' lives. Apart from this there was nothing in the volume that quite reached the heights of Mills and Colquhoun's Charley's War, or Jacques Tardi's It was the War of the Trenches for me.

Competition for the 2000AD pound is strong at the moment and I should imagine that this fine volume is probably not going to be on many people's lists. But if you come across it in a bookshop do read Uncle Pat's powerful and polemical introduction, and if you do then think about giving that day's sandwich money to Médecins Sans Frontières. Cheers and a Happy and Peaceful Christmas to us all.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Stickleback - Number of the Beast

This volume follows on from the previous England's Glory book and collects the next two adventures of Ian Edginton and D'Israeli's mysterious pope of crime and his gang of bizarre assistants who have become London's defenders against some weird and wonderful assaults. In the first story Stickleback fights an aerial battle with Countess Bernoulli, the mad mistress of the mechanical. He then returns from an apparent watery grave to take on some reptilian bad guys who also have London in their sights.

Edginton and D'Israeli are two of the most talented and reliable creators on the 2000AD roster, and Stickleback may be their finest creation. There's no doubt that Edginton relishes the Victorian milieu that he has populated with his clockpunk characters and a host of murderous monsters. And Stickleback himself is a remarkable figure who bestrides two underworlds, the criminal classes and all the illegal business of the capital, and a much darker and deeper hell which spews forth some truly nasty creatures.

D'Israeli yet again proves himself the master of black and white art with his lovingly rendered figures and the vast amount of different textures that he uses to delineate them. Goodness knows how long this strip takes him to produce. I've watched his videos about creating the textures in these stories that he has produced for Pete Wells' 2000AD Covered Uncovered blog and I am baffled and amazed by it all.

As ever there are lots of lovely references to all kinds of other fictional characters hiding in the background of many of the panels, the sort of thing that delights a pop culture junkie like myself. And, of course, there is the ongoing mystery of Stickleback's true identity with several hints along the way. Regular Prog readers will know the answer by know and it is fascinating to read these two collections again and see where Edginton and D'Israeli have teased us with their foreknowledge. This volume also includes an introduction by the two creators, an extra Christmas story illustrated by INJ Culbard which appeared in the 2009 Christmas edition, and some character design sketches by D'Israeli to round out the package.

The great thing about an anthology comic like 2000AD is how it has constantly produced strange and surreal strips which feel like they wouldn't find a home in more conventional comics. Long may it continue, and long may the adventures of the bizarre antihero Stickleback continue as well. Five stars for the weird wonders of Stickleback and his complex world, and now there's no excuse for me not to finish my annotations project.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Predator, Aliens and Dredd!

Here's another competitor in the 2000AD hardback market, a joint publication by Dark Horse and Rebellion that collects Dredd's encounters with two of cinema's most memorable beasties. I confess that I caved in and bought this one on a recent trip to Forbidden Planet even though I already have the soft cover Dredd vs Aliens Incubus book. The addition here is Dredd's three issue battle with a Predator that first appeared in a US release by Dark Horse in 1997 and ran in the Megazine from 97-98.

The Predator story runs pretty much as you expect when one of them lands in Mega-City One and decides that the most dangerous prey has to be the Judges with Dredd at the top of the tree. Pretty soon the body count is rising and golden badges are appearing in the Predator's trophy room. There's a nice nod to the original movie when a member of Psi division turns out to be a descendant of Dutch Schaefer, although she seems to have forgotten her ancestor's advice about smearing herself with mud at every opportunity.

The artwork is by the Argentinian artist Enrique Alcatena who does a fair job of representing Dredd and his world although there is an odd moment when the Versace cod pieces from the Stallone movie make an appearance but they disappear as quickly as a Predator activating it's cloaking device. John Wagner's writing is also a little bit off in places with Dredd musing in unfamiliar thought bubbles which were fine in the early years and suit the intended US readership but seem a bit strange now. Likewise the Predator's behaviour doesn't seem quite right (because, obviously, I'm a noted expert on fictional alien psychology), particularly in the scene where it trusses up a captured Judge and then kills him. Aren't these vicious alien killers supposed to be all about the thrill of the hunt and not just dispatching helpless victims? (Someone is now going to point out a scene from the movies where they do exactly that.)

The Wagner, Diggle, Flint Aliens story is much more enjoyable but I've covered that one already. Henry Flint also turns in a tremendous cover although it should come with a slight health warning that no such scene appears within. The other covers from 2000AD and the Dark Horse comics are included with powerful images by Brian Bolland, Jock, and Frazer Irving standing out from the crowd.

It's another nice hardback, this time in the traditional US comic size, but whether it represents value for money just to get hold of an average three part Predator story is questionable. Most 2000AD fans will probably be looking to spend their Christmas money elsewhere but hopefully it will sell well in the States and pull in some more new readers. A middling 2.5 out of 5 stars for the whole thing although the Aliens story would score better on its own.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Brass Sun - The Wheel of Worlds

It's big, it's bold. it's certainly brassy, but is it boring? The Brass Sun series by Ian Edginton and INJ Culbard has been a divisive one in the pages of 2000AD with some readers entranced by Edginton's clockpunk world building and Culbard's beautifully coloured art, and others finding the storyline slow and unengaging. Now here it is collected in a lovely large format hardback, one of a number of high quality recent releases from Rebellion.

I've written in previous reviews about how much I enjoyed this series when it was collected in a six issue US style mini series and here I am triple dipping with this collection so you can probably guess where this review is headed. I am a big fan of Ian Edginton's weird creations for 2000AD from Scarlet Traces to Stickleback and thoroughly bought in to this strange new universe modelled on an Orrery where the central cog like mechanism that powers it is slowly winding down. The central character Wren's journey to uncover the mysteries of this process is a great bit of science fiction built around a classic hero quest complete with special weapons and companions, and a mystical wizard like mentor.

Culbard's artwork is even more lovely to behold in this large glossy format. He and Edginton have previously worked together on adaptations of Conan Doyle and Lovecraft stories but this is their finest collaboration. Culbard's pen work is somewhat minimalist in places and this can lead to some confusion between the many different characters that Wren encounters, but his depiction of the different planets and the bizarre creatures that inhabit them is fantastic. The way that Culbard changes the colour palette to represent the transition from one world to another is clever and effective.

The overall package is impressive although the extras are limited to an introduction by Edginton about how the idea for the story started and the four covers that appeared during the 2000AD run. The only other problem for this hardback is that there's quite a bit of competition for our attention at the moment with the IDW coloured version of the Apocalypse War and the must have collection of all the Daily Star Dredds which is probably going to be appearing under the Christmas trees of many 2000AD fans this year. Personally I enjoy Brass Sun and look forward to the strip returning in the future but I can see it's not everybody's cup of tea. Four out of five stars for me

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Dark Judge Returns

Every year over on the 2000AD forums Pete Wells of the excellent 2000AD covers uncovered blog runs an Advent calendar where forum members produce short videos, bits of artwork, or short comic series to post up every day until Christmas.

For my entry I was inspired by the upcoming Dark Justice series, which brings Judge Death back to the Dredd strip, and the iconic cover for the first issue of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. I produced this parody with my new toy the drawing tablet and manga Studio 5.

Click to enlarge.

And here is the original:

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Prog 1908 versus Megazine 354

Covers: Boo Cook versus Greg Staples
Wow. This is a tough choice. Cook gives us a magnificent image full of movement and action and a lovely interpretation of the 2012 uniform, but look at that Greg Staples image. It's a stunner. I could quite easily choose a top five Prog covers of the year with just Dredd images alone. This one gets the win for the Prog.
Result 1-0 to the Prog

Block Judge by Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra and Annie Parkhouse versus Dead Zone by John Wagner, Henry Flint and Annie Parkhouse.
In the Prog John and Carlos continue to ramp up the action in the ongoing Block Judge story which features the slowly evolving police procedural investigation that Wagner is so fond of at the moment, and so good at. It's lovely to look at, the action is great, and the ongoing development of Beeny and Corrigan is fascinating. Top stuff all round.

The Megazine story takes a strange turn with the activation of a sleeper time agent from the future, which is what I think is happening. As Dredd closes in on his target this other rogue element threatens to derail the subject at the same time as explaining the magic bracelet. Henry Flint continues to produce the only Dredd artwork that can rival King Carlos. I was lucky enough to see him working at Thought Bubble and the range of improvised techniques he uses to produce his inked sketches was just fascinating to behold. This is the cracking Judge Death he did for me, and it was free!

Result: Impossible to divide the two creative teams but the future cop thread in the Meg has thrown me slightly so it's a narrow win for the Prog
2-0 to the Prog

Stickleback by Ian Edgington, D'Israeli and Ellie de Ville versus Lawless by Dan Abnett, Phil Winslade and Ellie de Ville.
The two black and white stories go head to head. In Stickleback the stakes are raised as the three furies (or whoever they are) take out the dragon leaving D'Israeli's artwork to rule the airways. There are some charming background details like George Formby playing his ukulele outside Mr Wu's laundry and an appearance of the fish paste in-joke for regular readers of the Edgington and D'Israeli universe.

In Lawless Abnett and Winslade continue to build an impressive Deadwood like world as Marshal Lawson treads a fine line between the different cultures in the community. Her hair still looks ridiculous but the amount of detail in the background is staggering. The suggestion that Lawson may not be able to use her Lawgiver is intriguing and I wonder if this is going to come back in later episodes.

Result: this one is a tie so it's 3-1

Greysuit by Pat Mills, John Higgins, Sally Hurst and Ellie de Ville versus Tales from Megacity One: Wendell Says by T.C.Eglington, Darren Douglas and Simon Bowland.
I confess that the current Grey Suit story is not catching my attention in the same way that the first trade paperback collection did. I'm all for Pat Mills' attacks on the establishment but I'm skipping much of this, and I don't like John Higgins' colour palate plus I'm getting bored by the punching someone's jaw off.

The Tales from the Megacity story is a also a puzzler which I've read twice and it's still not made much of an impression on me.
Two stories that missed me this month, another tie.
Result 4-1 to the Prog

Uprise by Arthur Wyatt, Paul Davidson, Chris Blythe and Simon Bowland versus Ichabod Azrael by Rob Williams, Michael Dowling and Annie Parkhouse
Ichabod Azrael is an immense story spread across a battlefield in hell, or purgatory, or somewhere. The artwork is stark and striking and it's had a couple of great covers, but I confess I am lost and will have to promise one of my usually unfilled rereads from the start.

The Uprise tale comes to a satisfying conclusion and although some of it is wrapped up a bit quickly it does show Dredd and his rookie working effectively and doing the smart things. These are well trained and well organised law enforcers so it's nice to see them acting that way. Much better than the Underbelly story. Well done to all. And it's a win for the Megazine.
Result 4-2 to the prog

Kingdom by Dan Abnett, Richard Elson, Abigail Ryder and Simon Bowland versus the Megazine bonus material
I am beginning to have my doubts about Kingdom when every instalment ends with Gene exhorting his pack to "Get whet!". However it is beautifully illustrated and wins over the Meg interviews, a text story, and the free floppy which I haven't read and don't really plan to unless someone tells me it's a cream cracker.

Final result 5-2 to the Prog.
A runaway victory for 2000AD which just reflects how good it has all been since prog 1900 and we've got Dark Justice on the horizon. Mr Tharg is spoiling us at the moment and long may it continue.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Bojeffries Saga

Reams have been written about Alan Moore's two main stories for Dez Skinn's 1980s Warrior magazine. But while Marvelman and V for Vendetta were tearing up the rule books and redefining British comic books he also created a third, often overlooked strip for Warrior. The Bojeffries Saga first appeared in issue 12 and was illustrated perfectly by Steve Parkhouse. The set-up was deceptively simple as a boring, bureaucratic rent man attempts to collect long overdue back payments from the family who live in a nondescript British terraced house.

The Bojeffries are a bunch of madcap individuals including a werewolf, a vegetarian vampire and a daughter who may be the most powerful being in the universe. It was as if the Adams family had come to England and moved into a house on Benefits street. Only four episodes were printed before Warrior folded but over the years Moore and Parkhouse have published extra stand alone tales in a variety of other books. Earlier this year all of these stories were published in one reasonably priced volume giving us a chance to catch up with this weird oddity.

The early episodes set in Moore's home town of Northampton are the best and the most bizarre. The Bojeffries family appear to inhabit a version of a much earlier Britain with council houses, rent collectors, works' Christmas parties, and the remnants of light manufacturing industries it seems that Moore is recreating the life he grew up in during the fifties and sixties. The later add on tales bring the family into the 21st century and the world of reality TV and ASBOs. I have to say although Parkhouse's art is still marvellous these episodes seem more forced and have less of the weird wonder of the originals.

Still this is a great opportunity to discover these strange tales from two 2000AD droids, especially if you get the Kindle version which is currently cheaper than a cup of coffee.

Friday, November 7, 2014

2000AD - Prog 213 Retro Review

I visited that London again to get Ben Willsher to sign my ongoing Art of Dredd charity project book and popped into Orbital comics to check out their Pre-Code Horror gallery exhibit and to buy a couple of ancient Progs from their £2 box. Here is 218 from May 1981 with a Brian Bolland cover that is linked to a simple half page text story buried in the middle of the comic. It's not one of the iconic Bolland images but it does have a nice Flash Gordon feel to it.

The first strip is Strontium Dog: Portrait of a Mutant part 11 by Alan Grant, Carlos Ezquerra and Steve Potter, and it's lovely to see those jagged black edges on the panel borders that have made a major reappearance in the current Judge Dredd story. It's an all action episode as young Johnny finally comes up against the oppressor of mutant-kind, Nelson Kreelman.

After a full page ad for some amazing train-spotting binoculars there's a Steve Moore Future Shock with art by Mike White and letters by Pete Knight. The twist can be seen a mile off but it's all done with the usual black and white verve and ends with a bit of fun.

The Nerve Centre has some high praise for Meltdown Man as well as details of the Buck Rogers stickers given away with this issue. That explains why every cover image I can find had sellotape on it, mine own included. There is also a half page ad for the battle holiday special which was probably worth picking up for Charley's War alone.

Ron Smith gets the colour double page centre spread on Judge Dredd who is after Umpty dealers in a story written by John Wagner and Alan Grant, with lettering by Tom Frame. Classic Ron Smith mayhem ensues with one particularly lovely image of Dredd and a host of fellow Judges all on their Lawmasters.

The half page text story that explains the cover follows, along with a listing of the comic and science fiction convention going on in 1981. Now if only I had gone along and bought some original artwork back then.

Return to Armageddon is next by Malcolm Shaw, Jesus Redondo and Bill Nutttall and I've blogged about this elsewhere. And then it's the weirdness of Meltdown Man as Nick Stone uses some unorthodox techniques to board a train to Snow City which he has to reach for some plot point or other. Written by Alan Hebden, art by Belardinelli and letters by Tony Jacobs, it's more whacky and wonderful stuff from those heady days of the Prog.

On the back cover we get more Brian Bolland art although I suspect they are two images lifted from the first Judge Death story and then neatly coloured for this pin up version. The pick of the Prog has to be Judge Dredd with that wonderful Ron Smith art, and there is a Whittle circular panel count of two.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Crisis Point

What on earth am I doing with a drawing tablet and a program called Manga Studio 5? For some mad reason which seemed like a good idea at the time I have been tinkering on and off for a few months with a 2000AD parody of the famous George Pérez cover to issue 7 of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Here is the original:

And here, after a lot of cursing, rubbing out and terrible penmanship, is my 2000AD version. Click to embiggen etc.

I've learnt a lot about the Manga Studio programme along the way, and a very healthy respect for what real comic book artists can do. It's pretty clear that if I was to try another project I would set about it in a much different way. There was a fair deal of tracing involved and the background Judges are all a bit rubbish and obviously just clone stamped. Despite all it's faults (which are many) I have entered it in this month's art competition on the 2000AD forums so watch this space to see if my crappy artwork can do better than my short stories.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Going Viral

Satan's Island by John Wagner, Kev Walker, Ben Willsher, Paul Marshall, Cam Kennedy, Chris Blythe and Tom Frame.

Here's another collection from my 2000AD gap years, and it's one I picked up after a suggestion from Flintlockjaw from the ECBT2000AD podcast about other Dredd stories which featured biological warfare. This one concerns the arrival of the floating Sin City in the waters off the coast of Mega-City One. With no laws on board it allows visiting citizens to gamble and debauch themselves to their hearts content while the Judges can only look on with disapproval. Chief Judge Hershey ostensibly allows it because it brings in much needed revenue for the Meg's coffers but her ulterior motive is the hunt for a wanted terrorist agent rumoured to be on board the pontooned palace of perversion, and naturally she sends Dredd to head up the investigation.

As ever the civilians get up to all kinds of futuristic nonsense and inevitably the terrorist is revealed and there is mayhem aplenty as one of Dredd's oldest foes steps out of the shadows. Look away now if you don't want any spoilers but it's that man again, Orlok the assassin is back and he's carrying vials of another deadly microbe to unleash on the unsuspecting citizens of the big Meg. This time it's a bacterium as opposed to the block mania neurotoxin that kicked off the Apocalypse War but it does seem that the Sov Judges are a bit repetitive in their attacks. Presumably all meetings of the Polit bureau feature some bright spark asking if they have ever considered weakening their enemies by poisoning their water supply first?

The recent IDW collection of the Apocalypse War led me to muse on how these comic book stories reflect society's fears at the time they were written, and made me almost nostalgic for the nuclear paranoia of the 1980s. Even further back in the 1950s when the space race was just getting started comics were full of mysterious invaders from other planets, and all sorts of heroes were gaining powers from strangely glowing meteorites. In 1963 the amazing Spider-Man, like most of his fellow Marvel superheroes, gained his powers from radioactivity but by the time it came to his first big movie in 2002 we seemed to have all lost our fear of the power of the atom and the spider that bites Tobey Maguire represents another branch of scary science, genetic modification. Although ten years later when they rebooted we seemed to have decided that GM was no big deal after all and it was, once again, an atomic powered arachnid that led Andrew Garfield to don the red and blue unitard. Maybe it was the fear of some terrorist with a dirty bomb that pushed radioactivity back to the top of the lethal list, or perhaps the writers just loved that line about radioactive blood from the cartoon show song. And to continue my theme I bet there were all sorts of comics in the 1970s about environmental concerns, Swamp Thing was created in that decade and he would go on to be at the forefront of Alan Moore's stories about man's careless attitude to his home planet.

One of John Wagner's great talents is how he uses the Dredd strip to satirise so many of the stranger aspects of our own modern lives, and he certainly knows what frightens us. Whether it is the horrors of nuclear war or the flesh eating terror of a contagious disease with a 90% mortality rate. This series originally appeared in 2002 so possibly Wagner had New Labour's plans to introduce super-casinos to the UK in his mind rather than our fear of a microbiological catastrophe, but reading it now when Ebola victims in Africa are literally bleeding from their eyes is a sobering experience.

In the case of Orlok the agent he releases here is said to be a bacterium which means that Wagner has run the full gamut of different microbial menaces. It was a virus with the catchy name of 2T(FRU)T which infected Mega-City Two and led Dredd to make his epic trek across the Cursed Earth. In 1982 the Judges had to deal with a lethal Fungal infection that left victims growing a nasty crop of mushrooms on their skin. And to bring things right up to date the Chaos Day organism was based on a Protozoa called Toxoplasma Gondii. The Block Mania agent is, I think, just referred to as a toxin so I presume it was something pharmacological that sent the citizens crazy and not a bug. That only leaves a few rare wee beasties for the Sovs to try unleashing on the big Meg.

Turning back to this volume there is terrific art from the accomplished Kev Walker and some very early Ben Willsher on the sequel Orlok story from Prog 1303. Then Paul Marshall and Cam Kennedy illustrate the last stories which puts Orlok on trial. All three of these back up stories are coloured by Chris Blythe and the whole volume is lettered by Tom Frame. It's another fine Dredd collection which was a pleasure to read, and so cheap and easy to download on the iPad app. Four stars and recommended.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Meg 353 Vs Prog 1903

Double thrills from the postie again and time for the monthly head to head.

Covers. Phil Winslade on the Megazine versus D'Israeli doing Stickleback on the Prog.
Two dramatic and eye catching covers. Winslade delivers something that recalls all those great science fiction pulp magazines or cheap paperbacks from the sixties and seventies. It's a great image and the colours make it pop off the newsstand. Normally I'm an absolute sucker for D'Israeli's richly textured black and white covers but this one suffers from not having the title character himself. In fact the three bad pennies haven't really been delineated in the strip so their significance is vague at the moment. If it was last year's marvelous image of Stickleback emerging dripping from the tank it would be a different matter but the colourful Megazine cover scores the first goal this month.
1-0 to the Meg

Judge Dredd Dead Zone by John Wagner, Henry Flint and Annie Parkhouse versus Block Judge by Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra and Annie Parkhouse.
What a surfeit of riches. The best classic era creator team up against the best modern team. It is impossible to tell them apart. In Block Judge Wagner and Ezquerra deliver the day to day details of Dredd's police work in fascinating sequences. And Dead Zone evolves into something different to what we first thought it would be. Both stories are maximum thrill power from the house of Tharg. This one has to be a draw, one point each.
2-1 to the Meg

Lawless by Dan Abnett, Phil Winslade and Ellie de Ville versus Stickleback by Ian Edgington, D'Israeli and Ellie de Ville.
Now we have two proponents of the best black and white artwork you will see in comics anywhere this month. And such different styles, Winslade produces incredible details in the crowded backgrounds and the story runs on nicely in its Deadwood in space style. Meanwhile D'Israeli produces another master class of texture work in the latest installment of Stickleback. I love all of Edgington and D'Israeli's output and this is no exception. Superb stuff from both comics but a win for Stickleback.

The Man from the Ministry by Gordon Rennie, Kev Hopgood and Simon Bowland versus Greysuit by Pat Mills, John Higgins, Sally Hurst and Ellie de Ville
I have really enjoyed The Man from the Ministry series and like the Matter of Life and Death references in this last episode. I could have done with some more British science fiction nods along the way but surely they will turn up in future stories. Greysuit looks good and it is written by Uncle Pat but it is only just getting going so I'm going to give this round to the Meg.
3-2 to the Meg

Uprise by Arthur Wyatt, Paul Davidson, Chris Blythe and Simon Bowland versus Ichabod Azrael by Rob Williams, Michael Dowling and Annie Parkhouse
All forms of Judges on display in Uprise: undercover, corrupt, rookie, robot and hard as nails Dredd himself. This is so much better that the Underbelly story. Wyatt seems to be developing a feel for how this different Dredd universe works and I'm hooked. Strangely I even prefer Davidson's artwork, I like Henry Flint to be on classic Dredd and not the film version.

I'm still not on top of the back story of Ichabod Azrael although Michael Dowling's art still reminds of the beautiful John Ridgeway work on the Dead Man saga. It's astonishing how different his black and white stuff looks compared with the recent colour landscapes he did in Dead End.
The result is another surprise win for Uprise which is good stuff, and look at what's coming next month with Boo Cook's action packed cover.
4-2 to the Meg

Lobster Random by Simpon Spurrier, Carl Critchlow, Ian Richardson and David Roach versus Kingdom by Dan Abnett, Richard Elson, Abigail Ryder and Simon Bowland.
I've read this Lobster Random before and it's all just mental nonsense from Spurrier's twisted imagination, and that's a good thing. In Kingdom Gene and co, catch breath before it's time for them to "Get whet!" again and the big onslaught of Aux Drift begins. It's a pity this can't transfer to the Meg and have a few more pages for each installment which might allow some more story elements to develop in between bug slashing mayhem.

Final result is a 5-2 walkover for the Megazine but the quality in the Prog is astonishingly high as well. It is a new golden age for 2000AD and long may it continue.

Apocalypse Now

IDW's licence to produce Judge Dredd comics for the US market includes some reprint material. They have produced a number of impressive hard backed volumes including this one which collects the classic Apocalypse War story. The creators involved represent most of the 2000AD hall of fame: it's written by John Wagner and Alan Grant, the artists are Mike McMahon, Ron Smith, Steve Dillon, Brian Bolland and Carlos Ezquerra, and the letterers are Steve Potter and Tom Frame. The majority of the original pages were black and white so here they have been sensitively coloured by Charlie Kirchoff and Tom Mullin, and the whole thing is topped off with a striking new cover image by Jim Fern and Charlie Kirchoff.

The large format allows the pages to be reprinted pretty much in their original Prog size instead of the reduced format of the black and white Case Files, and they certainly look fantastic. Kirchoff and Mullin have done a lovely job with the colouring. They have clearly taken their palate from the original colour centre-spreads so that the colours perfectly suit all the different artists. And the artistic lineup is unbeatable: McMahon begins the Block Mania story and then Ron Smith takes over before Steve Dillon and Brian Bolland introduce the character of Orlok and reveal the truth behind the craziness afflicting the citizens of Mega-City One. And then in steps King Carlos Ezquerra returning to the character he co-created for the first time since his original designs. He drew all 25 successive parts of the Apocalypse War and it's an absolute artistic tour-de-force, and his pages beautifully coloured by Tom Mullin are worth the price of admission alone.

Wagner and Grant wrote an intense story line which swung from some typical Mega-City madness to the overwhelming devastation of nuclear war and then the resistance fight back led by Dredd. My memories of this epic were mainly about the Block Mania episodes and then Dredd's mission to East-Meg One. I had forgotten the horrors that Wagner, Grant and Ezquerra depicted in the middle section when the nukes fly back and forth. It is strange to think about now but in 1982 we were living in the shadow of the Cold War and the real possibility of nuclear war. The protest at Greenham common had started in 1981 and membership of CND was almost compulsory for me and my fellow students at university. It seemed an inevitability that one of the two super powers would at some point be pushed to the brink of war. Wagner and Grant took all of this unease and gave us a devastating portrait of a nuclear holocaust in the pages of a simple comic book. Two years later television viewers would be terrified when ITV broadcast the film Threads. And in 1985 the BBC finally had the guts to release Peter Watkins' The War Game which it had kept on a shelf for 20 years. But before all that 2000AD showed us the full horrors of nuclear war in the Judge Dredd strip. Reading it now is a genuinely unsettling experience and it really makes this epic tale stand out from the crowd.

And that is all before Dredd gets to do his stuff and save his city in his usual stoic and unstoppable fashion. Dredd is particularly brutal in this story as he wipes out Sov Judges, dying citizens and collaborators alike without even a flicker of emotion crossing his stony face, And of course his no negotiation policy with his retribution would return to haunt him in later life as that faithful button push would lead to the events of Day of Chaos. There's also a disdainful attitude to the citizens of the opposing Mega cities as both the East-Sov leader and then Dredd are asked about making announcements to the public about the war. Their replies are remarkably similar along the lines of "What has it got to do with them?". This is despite knowing that millions of the citizens were going to die as the missiles flew.

There is a long running debate about which book is best to hand to a new reader who wants a good introduction to the Dredd character. This beautiful hardback gives us the artwork at pretty much the original size and with the colouring job that the artists themselves would have done, and it has Wagner and Grant writing the epic tale against which all future Dredd epics would be judged. All this is available on Amazon for a mere £16 so this is the book I will be recommending to new readers from now on. Well done to IDW for a beautiful presentation of an immense story. Five stars to everyone involved.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dredd - The Illustrated Script

2000AD readers generally agree that the 2012 Dredd 3D movie was a fantastic adaptation of all the best features of the comic strip. It has achieved a certain cult status but unless the campaign to make a sequel succeeds then we are unlikely to see any more of Karl Urban as the iconic character. However thanks to this illustrated script book by Alex Garland and Jock we can learn a bit more about the behind the scenes work that went into the film.

Jock actually started producing art for how he thought a new film should look before he was contacted by the film-makers who had seen his work and invited him to work on storyboards and on character designs and other visuals for the production team. And his images are collected here in all their glory.

There are some interesting differences between the draft script and what we finally saw on screen. In Dredd's first action sequence he deliberately shoots through the body of an innocent bystander to bring down a perp. Although the bystander's wound is not life threatening I presume this was dropped so as not to make Dredd seem too unsympathetic. Ma-Ma is also depicted as a much older character than the Lena Headey version. Similarly the Clan Techie is shown wearing elaborate electronic goggles rather than the more subtle bionic eyes we saw in the movie. There is more background about the clan member Japhet and his wife whose apartment Dredd and Anderson seek shelter in. This looks to have been dropped for time reasons and instead Anderson's psychic flashes and a simple family picture tell us all we need to know.

The biggest change is the final showdown between Dredd and Ma-Ma which here is a more physical one on one fight without the detail of the bomb linked to her heartbeat. Like all the other big changes the version we finally saw makes much more sense and works better for a film, but it's intriguing to see how some of this stuff changed on its journey to the screen. The other thing this book tells me is quite how much work goes into making a film. It's no wonder we see all those hundreds of names listed in the end credits. Some of the effort that goes into even minor features that will only be glimpsed for a few seconds boggles the imagination.

It's a lovely package and Jock's illustrations are always great to look at. I have the paperback version which is currently about £25 on Amazon. The limited edition hardback is sold out but copies are presumably still out there for silly money. If you have not already picked up a copy then this may be a good one to add to the Christmas list, although you might be hard pressed to choose between this and the upcoming Daily Star Dredd collection. Recommended. Four stars.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Meg 352 Vs Prog 1899

Covers: Glenn Fabry on Dredd and the Calhab question versus Paul Marshall and Chris Blythe with Dredd and the Lawlords.
I'm not really a fan of either cover, both of which make Dredd look rather buffoonish. For some reason the Paul Marshall version looks like an action figure with all the colours being rather too bright for me. I prefer the muted tones on the Fabry cover so the Meg gets the win but neither cover will be making my top five of the year.
Result: 1-0 to the Megazine

Judge Dredd: Dead Zone by John Wagner, Henry Flint and Annie Parkhouse versus Cascade by Michael Carroll, Paul Marshall, Gary Caldwell and Annie Parkhouse.
Dredd has to step up the action in both stories. In Dead Zone he is perhaps on more familiar territory as he faces down a gang of rogue traders. Meanwhile in the Prog he has to deal with the overwhelming threat posed by the Lawlords. Cascade has been an interesting story which perhaps wraps up a little too soon and all too neatly but it's been fun to see Dredd back out in space again, and I'm always happy when Dollman turns up. It is difficult to tear these two stories and two great creator teams apart. Last month I gave the nod to the Wagner and Flint combination but this time I'm going with Carroll, Marshall and Caldwell for the overall story and the shock of bringing back the Lawlords.
Result: 1-1

Lawless by Dan Abnett. Phil Winslade and Ellie De Ville versus Aquila by Gordon Rennie, Leigh Gallagher, Dylan Teague and Annie Parkhouse
The Aquila arc wraps up with Gallagher's lovely art and Teague's vibrant colours stealing the show. I'm still not entirely sure what this particular installment has been about other than seeing Aquila defeat a series of big bad guys. Now is probably a good time for me to go back and read the whole thing from start to finish. It does end with a very creepy sequence so bonus points for that.

Lawless continues to establish the new Marshal in town scenario. Winslade's black and white artwork is lovely and he does some particularly fine textures on the backgrounds of the Megabuild. He does show us that Lawson's uniform is as impracticable and uncomfortable as her hairstyle but I can forgive that because of the fantastic science fiction panel of her chasing Jaroo on the robot cat leaper thingy (catchy name for it).
Result: 2-1 to the Megazine.

The Man from the Ministry by Gordon Rennie, Kev Hopgood and Simon Bowland versus Brass Sun by Ian Edgington, INJ Culbard and Ellie De Ville.
Dan Dare punches the Lovecraftian Slithoks while Professor Quatermass explains the plot. Einstein and Turing get their brief mentions just so we all can acknowledge how smart we are, and how terribly bigoted our grandparents were. Hopgood does some lovely stuff with lighting and shadows on faces and the Dan Dare moment is great but this seems to be treading water slightly. However it all kicks off next month so hold on tight till then.

More references in Brass Sun and, just to be clear, that is Kurt Vonnegut appearing as the Watchmaker as this latest arc wraps up with our protagonists on their way to another clockwork world with the deadly android in hot pursuit. I just love Brass Sun, maybe in bigger chunks than this but I still love it. And Culbard's colours are fabby. This one takes the point and do check out the US reprint or the trade which is due soon.
Result : 2-2 and so far I can't tear the two titles apart this month

Dredd: Uprise by Arthur Wyatt, Paul Davidson, Chris Blythe and Simon Bowland versus Future Shocks: Personality crisis by Eddie Robson, Nick Dyer and Ellie De Ville
The Uprise plot gets more convoluted. I presume Wallace is a member of whatever the Wally squad is called in this Dredd-verse, and he has joined up with the originator of the Uprise movement because her cause appears to have been hijacked by some corrupt Judges. This is getting rather interesting and that's without any mention of the robo-cops. Wyatt's version of Dredd could be a bit more intuitive and listen to what his rookie is trying to tell him rather than brushing her aside. And the other Judges just seem incompetent which always bugs me, the Judges should all be nearly as good at their job as Dredd is and shouldn't get wiped out easily by a lone gunman on a motorbike. But minor quibbles aside the story is much better than the first attempt at a sequel, and Davidson's artwork is perfect for this stuff. It's a top thrill.

The Prog's Future Shock did nothing for me. I always enjoy Dyer's art but the story and twist just passed me in a blur.
Result: 3-2. An easy win for the Meg

Calhab Justice by Jim Alexander. John Ridgway and Lol with lettering by Gordon Robson and Annie Parkhouse versus Black Shuck by Leah Moore, John Reppion, Steve Yeowell, Chris Blythe and Simon Bowland.
I haven't read the whole of Calhab Justice yet. I rarely do read all the floppies even though they are effectively free content. But even so it seems more entertaining than the confusion that is Black Shuck. I think the hero has a magic sword and teams up with a hammer wielding Were-Bear to defeat a Troll king but this is another one I need to go back an reappraise now that the story arc is complete. Watch this space for separate and more considered Aquila and Black Shuck reviews.

In the meantime it's another win for the Meg which takes this month's contest with the same 4-2 score that made Guy Britton so happy in the Man from the Ministry.

Still the best things in comics though and always give me a thrill when they drop through the letterbox.

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.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Big Finish - Revenge of the Swarm

The latest from the monthly main range: Revenge of the Swarm by Jonathan Morris, directed by Ken Bentley.

Back to the Seventh, Ace and Hex combination with the ongoing plot about restoring Hex's original memories, but first there's a plague ridden space station and a return of the Swarm from the Fourth Doctor television story The Invisible Enemy. The Doctor seems to have the bad guys defeated and the whole thing wrapped up after two episodes, so much so that the third and fourth parts seemed like unnecessary padding. Still the Doctor gets to roll some Rs with relish and Ace rides a light bike from Tron and makes a nice Jet Set Willy reference.

It's all done with the usual Big Finish professionalism apart from one sore point. Philip Olivier has to do a Swarm possessed Hex voice and while he sounds entirely natural when doing his normal voice he struggles with his alien inflected tone. It really stood out for the wrong reasons and spoiled the last two parts for me. Shame really as this was almost a good Seventh Doctor story.

So only two of out a possible five light cycles for the first part of what appears to be a Seventh versus bugs trilogy. Ho hum and roll on the next Big Finish Sherlock Holmes release please.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Return to Armageddon

Here is an nice collection of one of the weirder strips to appear in the early years of 2000AD. This ran in Progs 185 - 218 from 1980 to 1981 and the short version of this review reads: "Brilliant. Buy it".

Written by Malcolm Shaw with superlative art by Jesus Redondo and lettered throughout by Bill Nuttall, it also has a very cool title font on each of the 34 episodes that makes me wonder if it was designed by the late Jan Sheapherd. The plot is fiendishly complicated with a deep space vessel encountering some form of wormhole which transports it to a planet covered in frozen bodies, some of which look like horned devils. Proving that the crew have never seen John Carpenter's The Thing they carve out one of the bodies, defrost it and then somehow manage to produce two clone kids from it. One of them rapidly evolves to became The Destroyer, a creature of pure evil, while the other appears to be a normal human called Amtrak who may be the only person who can end his malevolent twin's reign of terror. Along the way Amtrak will pick up a one-armed robot sidekick called Seeker, a good looking human companion named Eve and, of course, a magic sword.

That sounds all just bonkers and I haven't even mentioned the space pirates yet, it moves on in a frenetic fashion packing miles of story into each five page episode and proving that you can tell a sprawling space opera epic in this limited format. It's so complicated that the introductory text box in the first panel of each installment soon fills up with smaller and smaller text trying to bring the new reader up to speed. Return to Armageddon is tremendously exciting for a children's comic book story from 34 years ago and Mr Shaw was clearly a scribe with a very vivid imagination. Some of the stuff is quite terrifying, proving that kids do love a good scare in the safe environments of their comics, books and films.

And all of this is beautifully presented in Redondo's stunning black and white line work. There is one colour two page spread where this story made the centre pages for one prog and the colour adds very little, in fact I prefer the monochrome pages. Redondo was another Spanish master in these early Progs and I hope we learn a little more about him in the forthcoming Future Shock documentary. 

Of course the art does suffer in places from being shrunk down from Prog size to fit a trade paperback which makes some of the panel layouts look a little dark and cluttered. There are also a couple of lettering glitches where words seem to have dropped out or be missing letters and I'm not sure if that is due to the originals or the reproduction. In terms of extras we get the four colour covers that Return To Armageddon appeared on at the back of the book, the usual one paragraph creator bios, but no introduction. I know the margins must be tight on these Rebellion trades but could they not find room for a one page introduction? I'm sure there would be fans from the forum queuing up to write one for free.

Minor gripes aside this is a lovely trade collection of one of those bizarre gems from the halcyon days of 2000AD. Give Rebellion your money and get a copy, you won't regret it. Five star stuff.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Big Finish - Omega

Last of the £1 purchases: Omega by Nev Fountain, directed by Gary Russell, with Ian Collier as Omega and Caroline Munro as Sentia.

Let me quote from the Big Finish blurb itself: A strange telepathic message prompts the Doctor to travel to the 'Sector of Forgotten Souls', a place where, thousands of years ago, Omega's ship vanished whilst detonating a star. He's not the only one journeying towards it. 'Jolly Chronolidays' prides itself on giving its tourists an experience of galactic history that is far better than mere time travel.

And of course this is not just a holiday recreation of the legend of Omega, the big bag guy is going to make an appearance and we are set for a head to head debate between the Fifth Doctor and Omega himself. This is one of three stories Big Finish ran in their first fifty releases that dealt with three big bads, I have listened to the Seventh Doctor's encounter with the Master but have not yet bought Davros with Colin Baker as the Sixth. Now my big problem with this is that I have almost no familiarity with the character of Omega. Everyone knows Davros and the Master but I can't remember any of the television stories in which Omega appears. So I missed most of the significance of his rantings in this story. The head to head stuff was pretty good and there is a nice twist involved which set this apart from some other clashes with big bad guys. And, of course, there is the delectable Caroline Munro as Sentia. She doesn't look like she did in the 1970s when I was completelty smitten but she still sounds sexy to me.

So it's a bit of an oddity, as have been my other two £1 purchases. I'm going to be generous and swayed by the presence of Ms Munro and give this 3.5 out of a possible 5 hands of Omega. Perhaps I should get the Sixth and Davros story and complete the trilogy but in the meantime it's back to the main range because there's a new Seventh Doctor story to tee up next.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Big Finish - Loups-Garoux

Another £1 offering from the sale, Loups-Garoux by Marc Platt, directed by Nicholas Pegg.

The Fifth Doctor and Turlough are in Rio de Janeiro for the carnival but get caught up in a hunt for a Werewolf and a race to death on a speeding monorail train. Actually it's even more confusing than that and I can't really remember all the other stuff that happens and quite how the Doctor resolves it all in the end. This one felt very long indeed, like an episode of Thunderbirds with Jeff Tracy and Lady Penelope stuck on a runaway train while the Thunderbirds try to come to the rescue.

I was hoping for a creepy Werewolf tale (or tail even?) but it was all a bit confusing and dragged out for me. The cast are all fine, Eleanor Bron and Bert Kwouk are in it which was a surprise. As ever there is nothing wrong with the production values but it just didn't do it for me at all and I found my attention wandering. I confess I also miss not having the CD extras on the these earlier releases. Who would have thought that I would miss hearing the Big Finish actors waffle on about the terrific lunches they get while recording?

2 out of 5 Lupine antidotes and on to Omega we go.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Big Finish - Doctor Who and the Pirates

I picked up three titles for a £1 each in the recent Big Finish fifteen year anniversary sale and here is the first. Doctor Who and the Pirates by Jacqueline Rayner, directed by Barnaby Edwards.

Evelyn Smythe visits one of her students to recount a somewhat improbable tale of the Sixth Doctor and some seafaring shenanigans. But there is something deeper than Davy Jones locker going on and the nonsensical tale has a point. However there is a fair bit of that nonsense to get through before we learn the true purpose of Dr Smythe's visit. And there is some singing, in fact the third act is a musical and how you feel about that my depend on whether you can stand the light operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. It has to be said that the cast do a pretty good job of their singing duties but it was not quite my thing. 

The pirate stuff including a rather over the top performance by a Bill Oddie is a bit tiresome but the framing story is rather touching and Maggie Stables is as good as ever. I just wish we could have some more from her but that probably isn't going to happen which is a great shame.

So a bit of a mixed bag that gets three out of piratical eye patches, but not at all bad for a pound. Next up from the Big Finish pound shop is the Fifth Doctor and some Werewolves.