Monday, March 31, 2014

2000AD - Prog 1873

Last one before the big jumping on issue. Can it wrap everything up and get my thrill power receptors primed for 1874?

Cover by Clint Langley
There have been three fine ABC Warrior covers so far this year and this is the best of the bunch. A fantastic image that got me quite excited to read the story inside. At the moment this is going to be in my top five covers of the year vote.

Judge Dredd: Fit by Rob Williams, Henry Flint and Annie Parkhouse.
A Titan epilogue. Beaten to a pulp Dredd is reconstructed by the speed heal and is back on the streets dispensing justice in no time at all. Meanwhile Robo-Gerhart and Hershey discuss his psychological status or maybe Gerharts's, or even Hershey's.

A pretty good one-shot. The incident with the dead slaves in a shipping container and Dredd tracking down and dealing with the man responsible is effectively handled in nine brutal panels. And it probably tells us everything we need to know about Dredd's current state of mind. I'm not quite sure why Gerhart seems to have relaxed his vendetta against him but I'm sure Rob Williams will pick this up again later.

ABC Warriors: Return to Mars part 12 by Pat Mills, Clint Langley and Annie Parkhouse
Hammerstein is getting the old gang together again and this time I understood the separation between Langley's different art styles for the exterior and interior scenes. And then we get a lovely final panel promising the return of Ro-Busters. I'm actually quite excited by this prospect.

Tharg's 3Rillers: After the Vengeance part 3 by David Baillie, Jon Davis-Hunt, Gary Caldwell and Ellie de Ville
The working class hero turns out to be the bad guy after all and then There's lots of stabbing. It looks very pretty but left me totally unmoved. I thought the first episode was quite promising but it turned out to be a bit of a dud.

Future Shocks: The Flowers of Viber Hinge by David Baillie, Paul Marshall and Simon Bowland.
Nope, no idea at all. Read it twice and still feel that I'm missing something. Is the title meant to be a play on words?

The letters page shows us some fine 2000AD Lego creations. I wish Lego would do a Kickstarter sort of thing for stuff like this. I'd buy a blocky Dredd, and the Cellar of Dredd would get them to their target in no time at all.

Grey Area: I.D. Please by Dan Abnett, Mark Harrison and Ellie De Ville
I'd still like to see a developing story arc in Grey Area rather than these one-off diplomatic incidents that they keep having to clear up. Still looks very nice though.

Pick of the Prog is clearly Dredd, and by quite some way. Although the last page of ABC Warriors/Ro-Busters was fun. Now let's clear the decks and prepare for 1874. I've seen some previews and it's looking great.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Retro review - Prog 172

I can't resist an old Prog from the days when they were printed on loo paper and here is another find from Orbital comics' back issue bins. Number 172 from August 1980 when I would have been waiting for my A level results. Just goes to show that if you pay attention in school one day you could end up with a highly paid job writing comic reviews for nowt.

Cover is by Brian Bolland and it's another great image which is no real surprise because I'm only buying the covers that I like. From the Art of Judge Dredd book I learnt that producing those stretched pictures of Dredd and Hershey was not straightforward. Nowadays it would be a couple of clicks in Photoshop, back then Bolland had to do some art school stuff with an overhead projector. The grey haired Judge Lopez looks even more like King Carlos than usual.

The Nerve Centre has letters about a publishing gap caused by industrial action which meant several weeks passed between the release of Progs 164 and 165. Again the authors sound like they are older than the original target audience.

The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World by Kelvin Gosnell, Carlos Ezquerra and Pete Knight
Continuing the adaptation of the Harry Harrison novel this has Jim DiGriz back in revolutionary France and having to cook up some improvised weaponry to take down a Harrier jump jet. More cool stuff with Ezquerra's beautiful black and white art and those characteristic jagged outlines. Plus there's a circular panel, or a Whittle as I believe we now call them.

The Mind of Wolfie Smith by Tom Tully, Jesus Redondo and Jack Potter.
More psychic shenanigans as Wolfie comes up against the police. Again the black and white art looks lovely on the newsprint. Classic British comics goodness.

Then Tharg pops in to announce the names of eighty readers who have won prizes in a birthday give away. All blokes so I guess they got part of the demographic targeting right.

Judge Dredd: The Jigsaw Man by John Wagner, Brian Bolland and Tom Frame
Another brilliant slice of Judge Child madness as Dredd forces Lopez to take Oracle spice to get a lead on their hunt. Lopez trips the light fantastic and they land Justice 1 on the planet Bedlam where the man Dredd wants is literally going to pieces.

A perfect moment from 2000AD's history. Wagner and Bolland give us total madness on the appropriately titled Bedlam. The details on the colour centre spread are particularly sublime.

The V.C.s by Gerry Finley-Day, John Richardson and John Aldrich
After the wonders of Dredd the next thrill is always going to have a hard act to follow. I remember very little about the V.C.s and the art is probably my least favourite in this Prog. I'd forgotten how Colonel Moore looks exactly like the face of Darth Vader, which we wouldn't get to see until Return of the Jedi in 1983.

Sam Slade Robo-Hunter by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Ian Gibson and Steve Potter
Ever wondered what a battle between robot gangsters and robot American footballers would look like? Ian Gibson shows that he can deliver his own brand of whackiness while Sam tries to hold onto the football shaped bomb. Goodness knows what Tharg was putting in the Droids' oil back in 1980, but it must have been powerful stuff.

And to round off a top quality issue the back cover has a fantastic Mike McMahon image of Dredd towering over his city.

Pick of the Prog has to be Dredd  and the Jigsaw Man, but what a line up!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Life on Mars

I don't do many book reviews here but this is my book of the year so far which I have read twice in quick succession, and I can't remember ever doing that before. The Martian by Andy Weir is what you might call hard science fiction about a possible Mars landing set in the near future. When the Ares 3 mission is hit by a violent sand storm on the surface they are forced to make an emergency lift off and head back to their larger space craft and return to Earth.

In the chaos of their rapid evacuation one of the astronauts is struck by a broken satellite array and appears to be dead. Their commander has to make the difficult decision to abandon the search for his body and launch. Except through a bizarre sequence of events he is still alive and the book details his struggle to survive and to make contact with mission control and his team who are already heading for home.

It's absolutely fantastic stuff and very gripping, Written as a series of log entries by the stranded astronaut, Mark Watney, although I'm probably not giving too much away when I say that Mission control and the other astronauts do get involved eventually. Watney is an incredibly resourceful scientist who uses all the equipment left behind to survive. It reminded me of the series Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets which we reviewed on the British Invaders podcast.

If ever a book could be described as a page turner then this is it. I gobbled it up and then went right back to the start again. Highly recommended and pretty cheap on the Kindle right now, or you could try and pick up a signed copy of the hardback like I did.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Megazine 346

Cover by Simon Fraser, who resists doing a homage to Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 and produces a lovely image. Dredd's helmet looks a bit small but apart from that fantastic. And no, she's not upside down.

Judge Dredd: The Call of K Cattrall by Arthur Wyatt, Paul Davidson, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse.
This felt like a three parter that had been compressed down and seemed rather rushed as a result. No sooner have Dredd and Zheng figured out what is going on than they are strung up in the spaceship of the Creatures from the Black Lagoon. The Psi gun doesn't work at a plot convenient moment but that's OK because both Dredd and Zheng have a psychic trick up their sleeves. It's alright but nothing to write home about (are you still reading this, Mum?)

DeMarco P.I. The Whisper part 4 by Michael Carroll, Steve Yeowell and Ellie De Ville
DeMarco is the third Judge (or ex Judge) in a speed heal this month, I wish we had one of those at work. Meanwhile the episodic nature of this story starts to get a bit confusing. Who is DeMarco's hacker phone buddy? And why did Claude just go peacefully back to his cell? Doesn't matter too much because the freckled P.I. races on through her investigation while a bunch of guys in a tunnel come face to face with the Whisper itself.

This will probably make much more sense if I go back and read the whole thing in one go. Looks very nice in black and white though.

Evangelyne by Rob Williams, Rey Macauley, Matthew Wilson and Thomas Mauer.
The story of the revolver of destiny turns out to be a bit dull. It seems like owning a suicide gun is not such a great idea. Incredibly beautiful art and colours by Macauley and Wilson. I know nothing about them apart from this but I look forward to seeing more of them in the Meg.

Anderson: Dead End part 4 by Alan Grant, Michael Dowling and Simon Bowland.
Well we knew she wasn't really, didn't we? Anderson decides whether to go into the light or to come back for unfinished business. Meanwhile we get another speed-heal machine and some weird medicine. What is keeping that oxygen mask on her face, and what are all those electrodes doing? If they're for an ECG then the placements are all wrong, and if it's a Defibrillator then the screen is clearly showing a flat line tracing, and there is no point in shocking a flat line, it just doesn't help. Defibrillators work by stopping the heart fibrillating, and that produces a very chaotic looking reading on cardiac monitor screens, not the flat lines we see here. It's no wonder the doctor's shock treatment doesn't work. Still it is the future, they do things differently there.

Meanwhile it's good to see Dredd back on the streets taking care of business, and there's a nice little echo of Anderson's cardiac monitor blips in the paths of the tracer bullets and the lines on the building. Fantastic work by Dowling.

This continues to be the best story in either the Megazine or the Prog at the moment and is easily the pick of the month. No less than 5 articles this month so I'll get back to you about them (No, I won't).

Big Finish - Scavenger

Scavenger is release number 184 and it's written by William Gallagher and directed by Nicholas Briggs.

Thursday 28 May 2071: the day the Anglo-Indian Salvage 2 rocket launches. Its mission: to clean up space; to remove from Earth’s orbit over a century’s worth of man-made junk, and the Doctor and Flip are there to watch. However they are soon separated with Flip floating about in a spacesuit while the Doctor is down on Earth trying to persuade mission control to let him save the day.

This was recorded back in June 2013 and goodness knows how long before that it was commissioned and written. So it is just an unfortunate coincidence that the set up seems quite similar to the Sandra Bullock movie Gravity. There's a similar chain reaction of destroyed satellites and a couple of astronauts floating in space having to use their wits to save themselves.

I've been struggling so far with this Sixth and Flip trilogy, neither Antidote to Oblivion or The Brood of Erys really grabbed me. This is better than either of those but not by much. The story works a bit better and Flip is less annoying than normal, but I think I need a bit of a Colin Baker break. I do love him and his grumpy Doctor but his stories seem a bit dull at the moment. And I had a slight problem with the way he pronounced one character's names. It's an unusual Indian name which most of the cast manage perfectly easily but each time the Doctor tries it sounds like Baker is taking a bit of a run at it. It's just a little thing but it stood out and bothered me.

Another problem was once the nature of Scavenger's host was revealed it was fairly obvious how this was going to end and I don't usually see these things coming. Best of the trilogy but only 3 out of 5 space helmets and bring on Peter Davison please.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Burn, baby, burn

I won a 2000AD trade in the forum short story competition and was pleased when Inferno turned up as I had not read it before. The main story is by Grant Morrison with gorgeous art from Carlos 'The King' Ezquerra, and lettering by Tom Frame.

And it's an interesting read in the light of the recent Titan story line. Another group of former Judges escape from Titan and head back to the Meg to wreak havoc. Their leader Grice has a personal vendetta to kill Dredd which begs the question as to whether there are any Judges on the prison moon who don't have a score to settle with old Joe.

This story originally ran back in the Prog back in 1993 not long after the events of Necropolis. Dredd looks particularly craggy, although he usually does when drawn by Ezquerra. Chief Judge McGruder doesn't fare very well in this tale, and Hershey turns up and handles things with her usual determined efficiency.

Grice's takeover of Mega-City One and expulsion of the Judges happened far too easily. Once that is done the story does become rather repetitive: Dredd confronts Grice and has plenty of time to just shoot him but doesn't, Grice disarms and overpowers Dredd, but before he can finish him off Dredd escapes, and then it happens again and again until the final showdown.

I'm not a Grant Morrison fan although his All-Star Superman is splendid. Based on this book he doesn't really get Dredd, and doesn't really do anything interesting with him. He clearly wants to make the point about Dredd being a mass murderer because there are two moments when he has no hesitation in pressing a button that dispatches hundreds of people. Makes you wonder why he had so much trouble pulling the trigger whenever he met Grice.

I missed the slowly building menace that John Wagner puts into his stories with such ease. This just felt like a lot of very short episodes on an endless repeat loop as Wile E Coyote fell into that canyon again and again. Still it does have a brief appearance of Walter the Wobot which is always fun.

Ezquerra's art is sublime as ever, it's just a shame that he didn't have a better story to use his talents on. There's a couple of back up stories written by Mark Millar, one of which is drawn by Ron Smith. I may have read something that Millar wrote that I liked but I can't remember anything at the moment and these were just two bits of filler.

Inferno isn't a terrible book, but not one I would heartily recommend. There are much better Dredd stories out there. Although I had some niggles with the recent Titan story by Rob Williams and Henry Flint it was much better than this.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Return of the Mach

Greysuit by Pat Mills, and John Higgins, with colours by J.H. and S.J. Hurst and letters by Ellie De Ville and Simon Bowland. This originally ran in the Prog back in 2007 and 2009.

The Greysuit of the title is an enhanced secret agent who begins to rebel against his programming when he discovers something unpleasant about a Minister in charge of his department. In a neat story point Pat Mills links the programme back to an earlier one which produced Mach 1 all the way back in 1977.

This is a much more gory strip than the original with lots of ultra violence when the Delta agents go into action against ordinary human beings. It reminded me of Mark Millar's Authority comic for the way it portrays what happens when super powered humans punch someone (see, I can remember reading one of Millar's books). Inevitably the secret department sends other agents to try and terminate the rogue Greysuit so he gets to pick on someone his own size as well.

The other thing this reminded me of was the Jason Bourne films which is no bad thing. And of course all the problems with the authority in this story plays right into some very familiar territories for Pat Mills who does like to remind us not to trust any privileged elite.

The art by John Higgins is new to me. Like most people I am most familiar with his work as a colourist on Watchmen where he developed a whole new colour palate to use on Dave Gibbon's art.  Here he does a good job as the artist although some of his male characters do tend to look the same as each other which is confusing. Interestingly for a book by a renowned colour artist the palate here is a bit weird. It may be because I was reading a digital version but there seems to be an awful lot of green hair in this story.

The setup and story are pretty cool, and I loved the link back to Mach 1. The battles between the super powered agents did get a bit repetitive after a while, but on the whole this is a cracking bit of thrill power. I look forward to its return to the Prog at some point in the future.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Zarjaz 20

Hot off the press is the latest Zarjaz produced by the fine folks over at the Quaequam Blog. If you've not discovered Zarjaz yet this is one of several non-profit fanzines created by 2000AD fans filled with short black and white stories from the 2000AD universe. And it is fantastic.

I'm not going to go into details on the content but there's some Dredd, a Bad Company story, Mongrol from ABC Warriors, a Downlode tale, and even MACH-1. Let's name check all of the creators: Shaun Avery, Tom Bonin, David Broughton, George Coleman, Umar Ditta, Matt Herbert, Mark Hobby, Mark Howard, James Newell, Tom Proudfoot, Karl Stock and Nathan Webb. It's all edited by Dave Evans and Richmond Clements and it features a beautiful wraparound Bad Company cover by Mick Cassidy.

Everyone involved should feel proud of themselves for actually getting involved and creating something as good as this, and then having the guts to put it out into a world where, let's be honest, we can be a bit snarky. Sure it may not quite be up to the standards that we expect from Tharg's droids in the Prog, but it's not that far off and it's certainly leaps and bounds ahead of anything most of us could do.

If you're at a comic convention be sure to stop by their table and pick up the latest copy, or visit quaequamblog, hand over your £3 and help these guys cover their costs. Nice job to Peeps and all the team at Zarjaz. A double thumbs up from me.

2000AD - Prog 1872

Cover by Dylan Teague
A rather young looking Dredd fights off a giant biting knob monster. Well we've all had dreams like that. No? Just me then. Dylan Teague resolves the current holster controversy by not drawing one at all, and the uniform is black not blue (which is the right answer btw).

Judge Dredd: Squirm part 3 by Michael Carroll, Nick Dyer, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse.
Dredd uses himself as bait by carrying a cannister of Bulkemup on the back of a very cool looking Lawmaster. He gets the mutant tapeworm to chase him round the block and then dumps the hormone on its tail which it promptly bites down on and dies. How does that work? Did I miss the bit where the techs explained that an overdose of the same hormone that has caused the tapeworm's growth would kill it? Or was the liquid poisoned?

Still it gives us a weird Ouroboros reference and Nick Dyer's Dredd is growing on me, particularly for the excellent McMahon chin at the bottom of page 5. Don't like the thigh strapped holster though and overall this hasn't been a memorable Dredd tale for me.

ABC Warriors: Return to Mars part 11 by Pat Mills, Clint Langley and Annie Parkhouse.
Uncle Pat gives us his views on super-heroes (again), Howard Quartz explains how decapitation will reset Tubal to factory settings, it turns out he was wrong about that (maybe he forgot to click the "are you sure?" button), and Mek-Quake does a very bad thing.

The story is making more sense, but only because its been decompressed out over so many parts. I think this wraps up next issue which is fine by me.

Tharg's 3rillers: After the Vengence by David Baillie, Jon Davis-Hunt, Gary Caldwell and Ellie De Ville.
A bunch of bankers find out what their bonus is going to be, and Lennon sings "Working class hero". The game of thrones continues with another contender murdered off panel. Don't know how this is going to wrap up next time but I'm not really thrilled, or 3rilled, so far.

Future Shocks: The Modular War by Eddie Robson, Robin Smith and Simon Bowland.
I thought this was going to turn out to be some gigantic board game, the 147 module even looks like a piece of Lego. Instead it's the old Total Recall trope about telling someone they are really a super spy only for them to turn out to be the real McCoy and mayhem ensues. Not that there's anyone thing wrong with Future Shocks being derivative, I (ahem) 'borrow' stuff all the time for the silly little stories I write for the 2000AD forums short story competition. Having read a whole book of old Future Shocks recently I can say that this is better than most of them.

Grey Area: Visitation by Dan Abnett, Mark Harrison and Ellie De Ville.
Bulliet's former actions come back to haunt him when an unstoppable, technologically advanced alien breaks into his room to tell him he's a dead man but not yet because it wants to do a bit of monologuing first.

Nice to see something being set up for the future. Presumably what Bulliet should do now is inform his superiors and come up with some kind of diplomatic or millitary response to this threat. I bet he keeps it to himself instead and we have some quick filler story about a new alien race that turn out to be mind altering drugs when you lick them or something.

Harrison's artwork is quite lovely and when you're going to reference other works then make sure to reference the best. Bulliet's apartment looks a lot like Deckard's in Blade Runner to me. I can't find the exact shot I'm looking for but this gives you the idea.

Pick of the Prog is again a tricky one as I'm struggling to be enthusiastic about any of it even though I still get excited when it drops through the letter box. I'm going with Grey Area for Harrison's visuals alone.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Big Finish - The Brood of Erys

Release number 183 The Brood of Erys by Andrew Smith, directed by Nicholas Briggs.

The Sixth Doctor and Flip encounter a living moon called Erys, a bunch of mischievous aliens, and a woman with no memory and a strange mission to complete. After that a whole bunch of stuff happened and I may have nodded off for a while.

Hmmm. I'm not enjoying the current Sixth/Flip trilogy. I didn't think much of Antidote to Oblivion and this was even more dull. At the moment there seems to be much more fun to be had with other Big Finish releases such as Jago & Litefoot, Sherlock Holmes and Dark Eyes. And my subscription is coming up for renewal. Decisions, decisions.

Again there's no major problems here, it just didn't grab my attention at all. 2 out of 5 space skimmers and let's hope Scavenger can restore my enthusiasm for the monthly range.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

London Super Comic Con 2014

A quick dash through my haul from last weekend's LSCC, now in its third year with another big attendance especially on the Saturday which was pretty busy. Fortunately the aisles are wide and there is plenty of stuff to see. The big name guests didn't quite reach the heights of Stan Lee in 2012 and Neal Adams last year but there were some interesting people there and a couple of former art-droids from 2000AD. I picked up plenty of back issues and got a couple of comics signed.

Here's Alan Davis with my copy of Prog 350. A slightly unusual picture because Mr Davis appears to be smiling.

He also signed Prog 352 as well.

Dave Gibbons the Watchmen artist was there and signed his iconic Rogue Trooper cover for me.

Mr Gibbons was at the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund stand so I picked up the special edition print he has done for the fund. Here you go:

The other artist I was glad to meet was Garry Leach who was the original artist on Alan Moore's revival of Marvelman/Miracleman in Warrior back in the 1980s. He was signing at the Orbital Comics booth and I got him to sign his cover for issue 2.

Another Warrior artist Paul Neary was a late addition to the guest list so I got him to sign the same cover next to his Madman character. He then presented me with a Madman print as well. Bonus.

As ever I had a splendid time at the Con and met up with some old friends including the guys from the Comic Geek Speak podcast and the 2000AD forums. Sign me up for 2015 now!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Terror on the Tube

Here's a lovely old back issue of the Prog that I picked up in Orbital comics last week. Prog 167 from way back in July 1980. I could easily find a better image of the cover on the internets but this is the actual copy with the charming (to me) newsagent's address note on the top.

Cover by Kevin O'Neill.
And it's a classic. This was supposed to be the first in a series of Progs linked to pop records so we have the record based title logo and the instruction to play this comic at 45 rpm. Plus we have an unmistakeable O'Neill figure and the Blitzspear shooting down the left hand side of the page. Lovely stuff.

Inside there is a letters page where a reader points out that robots in Robo-Hunter don't obey Asimov's three laws, and someone else complains about a letter in Prog 158 that apparently insulted the Labour party. It would seem that the readership was already more grown up then the original target age group.

Terror Tube by Pat Mills, Kevin O'Neill and Steve Potter
Although this was intended as a one off story all the basics that will go on to make Nemesis the Warlock are there. Torquemada wearing his distinctive mask tells the citizens of Termight to "Be pure, be vigilant and behave." The Blitzspear crashes through the weird transport tubes pursued by Torquemada's Terminators. And although we don't see Nemesis he does deliver his catchphrase "Credo" as he escapes to fight another day.

O'Neill's art shows a few hints of the weirdness that will come in the future. There's a disc jockey who is clearly based on Kenny Everett. And if the Whittle is reading this there's even a circular panel.

That's followed by a full page ad for the model Ford Capri and mini-figures from The Professionals TV show which looks fairly terrible but is probably much sought after on ebay these days.

The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World by Kelvin Gosnell, Carlos Ezquerra and Pete Knight
Based on the book of the same name by Harry Harrison this has Slippery Jim DiGriz travelling back in time to defeat some bad guy's plot, but who cares about all that when you've got Ezquerra's classic black and white art to look at. It's another thing of beauty and there's another circular panel.

Judge Dredd: The Judge Child part 12 by John Howard (Wagner and Grant), Ron Smith and Tom Frame
Dredd gets the two coloured centre pages of the prog as the Judge Child quest takes them to another weird planet where there's a televised war game going on. Ron Smith draws some lovely aliens and their daft television ads. Meanwhile Dredd and Hershey head out on their Lawmasters leaving poor old Lopez to repair Justice One and moan about Dredd's dislike of his moustache.

Golden age classic Judge Dredd with Smith at the top of his game and Wagner and Grant piling on the weird stuff. War may be hell but is looks lovely here.

The Mind of Wolfie Smith by Tom Tully, Jesus Redondo and Jack Potter
A bunch of crooks get the title character to use his psychic powers to help them break into a military base. Wolfie Smith started in Tornado and came across to 2000AD when the titles merged. This feels like one of those much older British comic strips such as The Steel Claw or Kelly's Eye. The all star line up of artists continues with Redondo's blocky inks. Only four pages of story so not much to go on but again it looks fantastic on the old pulp paper.

Robo-Hunter by T.B.Grover (Grant and Wagner again), Ian Gibson and Steve Potter.
Another four pager as Sam Slade gets into trouble with a bunch of tiny robots but his comedy partners Hoagy and Stogie save the day and pull him to safety. Gibson's art looks a little sketchy when compared to the rest of the Prog but still provides some good comedy moments and glimpses of what he'll go onto do on Halo Jones.

And the prog finishes with a back page Kevin O'Neill colour image of a giant space squid attacking a spaceship.

Pick of the prog is tricky when you've got this many 2000AD legends but Dredd just edges out Terror Tube for me.

Let Slip the Dogs of War

Blood Moon is a Strontium Dog collection written by John Wagner, art by Carlos and Hector Ezquerra, and lettered by Ellie De Ville. This features two stories which originally ran in the Prog in 2009 and this trade was published in 2010.

These are stories from the strange wilderness years after Johnny Alpha was killed off in the Prog in 1990. Wagner brought the character back in 1999 and started to retcon stories into Alpha's past. The title story here deals with a very young Alpha's encounter with a ruthless mutant rebel leader, William Blood Moon. Later on Johnny and a group of his bounty hunting mates receive a tip-off which sets them on the trail of the same wanted war criminal.

The sequel story The Mork Whisperer sees Alpha take on a very lucrative job for a multi-billionaire who wants to get his teenage son back from his ex-wife. It's morally dubious but it allows Johnny to repay his mutant buddies for what they went through in the hunt for Blood Moon.

They are both cracking stories with all the usual things we have come to expect from Strontium Dog. John Wagner writes this character with ease and gives us some interesting back story for Alpha, as well as providing some great moments for Middenface McNulty and the rest of the Doghouse crew. Meanwhile the father and son team of Carlos and Hector Ezquerra produce gorgeous artwork. I think this was during the time when Carlos was going through some intense medical issues and his son was helping out with the colouring. I have heard some people say that the colours are a bit too vibrant and garish on these stories but they look pretty well perfect to me.

Wagner has said that he regretted introducing the Birdie lie detector device in early Judge Dredd stories because it limited the potential drama of interrogation scenes in future stories. I wonder if he feels the same way about Johnny Alpha's time bomb which gets used in both of these stories. Each time McNulty or one of the others suggest he can fix a situation by travelling back in time, Alpha has to explain how difficult it is to use without ending up floating in the vacuum of space once whatever planet they are on has moved on. He gave the same disclaimer in the Dogs of War story from the most recent issues of the Prog. Not that it stops him using it, and it does provide a convenient get out clause when Alpha is in a tight spot.

Anyway this is a lovely trade collection of two fine Strontium Dog stories by the original creators. The Progs covers are reproduced at the back of the book and look pretty good but mainly serve to remind us that if it's not by Ezquerra then it's not really Johnny Alpha. If you took my advice about the Roses of Berlin book and saved your tenner then you could do a lot worse than heading over to the 2000AD store and buying a copy of this instead.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Finding Nemo Dull

Not really anything to do with the Prog but it is by two of Tharg's former droids, and I want to let off steam about the latest instalment of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen franchise which arrives in a slim but pricey hardback from Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill.

The plot in a nutshell, and really there's not much more to it than this, is that Captain Nemo's daughter Janni, and her lover Broad Arrow Jack head into Berlin to rescue their own daughter. In the process they kill a lot of Nazis and various characters from the fictional worlds of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Metropolis, and Chaplin's The Great Dictator.

I love the early works of Alan Moore. His stories in Warrior and Swamp Thing were what got me back into comics. And Kevin O'Neill is one of the greatest artists from the golden age of 2000AD. The original concept of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was brilliant, the stories were engaging and I cared about the plight of Mina Murray and Alan Quatermain, or at least I did to begin with. Plus there was that fun game of trying to spot the plethora of cultural references scattered through the books. The stuff that Jess Nevins and his band of Divers' Hands annotate at length.

Well that's all the praise done, now for the nitty-gritty. Let's start with the first page being entirely in German with no translation, and there are several more pages of German to come. Now I could type them into google translate, or I could wait until Jess Nevins and crew put up the annotations, but come on. We know that Moore is a literate man, he doesn't have to prove it to us by writing in German.

As I have said the plot itself is fairly negligible. I bought it in Gosh comics in London and finished it on the train ride back. It's just one lengthy pitched battle in which Janni and Jack kill ridiculous numbers of bad guys who all seem to be as useless as the storm troopers from Star Wars. I'm sure there are references to other fictions apart from the ones already mentioned, but I can't be bothered to go back and look for them.

In his infamous "last interview" Moore has made it fairly clear that he has a low opinion of all of us masturbators on the internet. And before I start any more trouble let me state that there is no depiction of rape in this book, although Janni and Jack fear that is what is happening to their captured daughter. There is a fairly typical amount of female nudity which Moore and O'Neill presumably regard as showing a healthy regard for human sexuality, but just seems more and more like the fantasies of two middle aged men.

I suspect many readers will have already jumped off the League books once the story reached the twentieth century. I have stuck with it so far but really feel as if it is disappearing up its own fundament now. There are lots of dead bodies in this book, there is even some flogging, but I couldn't spot the dead horse that this concept has become. Alan Moore has a huge brain, he likes to demonstrate that in his writings, plus he's a wizard and can probably vaporise me for not getting all his cultural references, but I'm done with this series. Spend your tenner more wisely, and preferably on some 2000AD instead.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

2000AD Prog 1871

The last issue of the Prog failed to impress me. Let's see how 1871 fares.

Cover by Jon Davis-Hunt
West Bromwich Albion's new keeper shows what it's going to take to keep them out of the relegation zone.

It's an arresting image and beautifully executed. Whether it would entice me to buy it off the shelf is more tricky. It does remind me of this rather obscure comic.

Judge Dredd: Squirm part 2 by Michael Carroll, Nick Dyer, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse.

The investigation into the mutant tapeworm continues and we get some amusing parodies of reality television. I say amusing, but what I meant is lame. Taking aim at Simon Cowell is a bit passée now for the Galaxy's greatest comic.

The other thing that annoyed me about this episode is showing the other judges as idiots. It irks me when only Dredd and his small band of followers like Beeny, Logan and Sisulu are shown as competent and the rest of the men and women of the Hall of Justice are just there as red shirts, or as comic relief in the silent behind the glass sight gag in this episode. Firstly why would they keep that deadly creature alive, secondly why isn't it in some kind of airtight box, and then when it grows in size and gets out of control why don't any of the keystone kops pull a gun or a boot knife?

We're set up for a great cover next week but otherwise let's get this story out of the way as soon as possible.

ABC Warriors: Return to Mars part 10 by Pat Mills, Clint Langley and Annie Parkhouse.

Well the art style is consistent with last week. There's a huge cyber wolf thing which is new on me. Maybe it was there before but I wasn't paying attention and the big showdown with Mek-Quake is delayed again. It all means nothing to me.

Tharg's 3rillers: After the Vengence by David Bailie, Jon Davis-Hunt, Gary Caldwell and Ellie De Ville.
London has fallen, civilisation has come to an end, and cats and dogs are living together. Meanwhile Bodger and Badger are plotting who will rule the ruins. If the sign on the cinema is to be believed there will be plenty of cereal for them to throw around. It's not an unpromising start to the three parter although it hasn't grabbed me round the throat. Still I'll give this one a chance. Not quite sure how that guy maintains his Errol Flynn moustache in the ruins of civilisation though.

Terror Tales: The Icarus Incident by Kek-W, P.J.Holden and Simon Bowland
I quite like these monochrome stories that just introduce a single extra colour and the creepy green suits the air of weirdness. Of course as soon as the aged scientist says that time and space are all muddled up I could tell where it was going to go. Not bad as a filler though.

Grey Area: Rates of Exchange part 2 by Dan Abnett, Patrick Goddard, Abigail Ryder and Ellie De Ville

The derivative retread of Aliens continues leading to a huge pitched battle which conveniently takes place behind a blast door so we don't get to see any of it. And then there's a fairly weak throwaway punch line. I really want to like Grey Area but it's going to have to do better than this.

The whole Prog feels like filler while we tread water until the next jumping on issue in 1874. Pick of a poor bunch is the 3riller: After the Vengence for having a slightly intriguing setup.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Life during wartime

The Royals: Masters of War #1 by Rob Williams and Simon Coleby with colours by JD Mettler and lettered by Wes Abbott.

As covered in a Megazine 345 article two of the Prog's creators venture out into Vertigo with a new series. It's super-heroes but with that 2000AD inflected flavour. The basic premise is that members of the European royal families have super powers but a pact prevents them using them in wartime. That is until world war 2 and the blitz when a young Windsor prince decides to take matters into his own hands. Once one royal has acted the doors are open for all the others to intervene.

Coleby produces some lovely artwork, particularly the scenes of the bombed ruins of London, and Mettler's colours are great. As for the story it may be too early to tell yet, which is strange when we have 22 pages of sequentials in a 32 page American floppy. 2000AD stories have to grab our attention in just 5 or 6 pages  but this longer format still leaves me unsure. It's also annoying that to have full page glossy ads, a 6 page teaser for  American Vampire and a bizarre 2 page spread of character design sketches for another comic called the Wake. Can you tell that I don't like current American floppies very much?

The first 8 pages of the story are a flash forward to a future clash between two powered individuals in the ruins of a Berlin church. And that's a problem, because it reminded me of the prologue sequence from Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell's Zenith. Now that was probably OK when Zenith was buried in 2000AD's archive, but now it has been released in an overpriced  hardback and will soon be out in more reasonably priced trades, so the comparison is easily made and rather striking. This doesn't mean the Royals will be a bad series, it does show some promise. I'm just bothered by this early parallel.

It's an interesting concept, and it's from two of 2000AD's finest so for the moment I'm cautiously sticking with it for a few issues at least. Rob Williams knows what he's doing so it could well prove to be one of the very few US floppies I buy regularly! Or even the only one.

2000AD - Prog 1870

It's the 37th birthday issue of the Galaxy's greatest comic.

Cover is by Cliff Robinson and Dylan Teague and it looks lovely but it just doesn't do it for me as a birthday cover. Let's be honest, we demand a lot of Tharg when it comes to commissioning the Christmas and birthday covers but compare this with Bolland's iconic Dredd from last year (ignoring that his gloves have fingernails for a moment), or with Chris Weston's fabulous poster image on the 35th birthday cover, and this one just doesn't stand out. At least you can see the title clearly which should please Flint but apart from that I don't think I will be able to remember this image in a year's time.

Judge Dredd: Squirm part 1 by Michael Carroll, Nick Dyer, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse.
The iconic diner from Hopper's Nighthawks shows up again, I think we've previously seen it in the Pit or Day of Chaos. Apart from that I can't find anything to stand out in this story. Nick Dyer has a nice cartoon style that suits a Future Shock but doesn't seem right for Dredd after 8 issues of Henry Flint. To give Dyer credit he does draw a cool looking Lawmaster. We get another variant on the beastie from Alien and it's all a big Meh for me.

Then there's a full page ad for Meg 345 (which is a much better comic at the moment).

ABC Warriors: Return to Mars part 9 by Pat Mills, Clint Langley and Annie Parkhouse.
There's a good reason why Langley is using a different illustration style for each issue at the moment, but I have no idea what it is. Still all the old favourites are here and there are nods to every toy robot you can currently find on eBay for silly money. Next issue they're going to play Scrapheap Challenge, so we may even get Kryten.

Grey Area: Rates of Exchange part 2 by Dan Abnett, Patrick Goddard, Abigail Ryder and Ellie De Ville
Did I mention the beasties from Alien yet? After the chest burster sequence in Dredd here we get the sequel with space marines from Aliens who pause at an improbable moment for an improbable kiss. The basic concept for a Grey Area story seems to be new alien life form shows up and there's some crucial piece of information that the ETC clearly should know but has somehow passed them by. Funny japes ensue. Deadly alien eggs used as currency? Yeah, right. Maybe a longer story would make this series grow on me more than these shorter mishaps. Looks lovely but I would rather see Goddard drawing Savage than this.

Future Shocks: Immunity by Eddie Robson, John Burns and Ellie De Ville
Well at least it's not just the ETC in Grey Area who don't do their research properly. Apparently it's a common problem on other planets as well. I guess that diplomatic agreements are like iTunes terms of service: nobody ever reads them.

Strontium Dog: Dogs of War part 10 by John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra and Simon Bowland.
This one goes "VADOOOOOOOMM!" and we find out what Johnny keeps in his helmet (Ooh err, Missus). Ezquerra looks as good as ever and this is not clearly not the last episode of Strontium Dog but I'm glad it's going away for a rest.

Pick of the Prog is Megazine 345. Really, go read that instead.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

All-Star Try Outs

Another collection of old stories from the 2000AD archive. As well as being useful as space fillers and palate cleansers between the regular ongoing strips, the Prog's Future Shocks are well known to have been a proving ground for young comic book creators. Producing a snappy Future Shock is the way into 2000AD and lots of writers and artists who have gone on to be well known for other stuff first learnt their trade producing these short science fiction stories with a twist ending.

So here Tharg has collected 47 Future Shocks dating from 1978 to 2001 which range from one page fillers to a two part story that runs to eleven pages. And as the cover blurb informs us we have early work from a variety of famous droids including Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Mark Millar, Brian Bolland, Alan Davis and Kevin O'Neill.

The problem is, of course, that this is early work and they are mostly just throw away gags. With the benefit of hindsight we can see some of the distinguishing features these creators will become famous for. So Grant Morrison always believed he was the smartest guy in the room, Neil Gaiman tended to use twenty words where one might have been overdoing it, Alan Davis could draw really cool looking aliens before he mastered his human figures, and Brian Bolland was ridiculously talented at portraying facial expressions right from his earliest work. Mark Millar is in there somewhere but his stories really didn't leap out at me at all. Meanwhile Kevin O'Neill is perhaps the artist whose work has changed most dramatically over the years.

Included here are the first appearances of Grant Morrison's Ulysses Sweet character who has recently been brought back to the Prog by Guy Adams and Paul Marshall, so there might be some interest there except that those three episodes are already available on the internet for nowt.

It is probably telling that my favourite story in this book is John Wagner and Mike McMahon's silly Super Bean which was also in the recent Sci-Fi Thrillers. Apart from that this collection is again probably only of interest to comics historians and completists.

Judge Dredd: Titan

Prog 1869 gave us the last part of the eight part story by Rob Williams, Henry Flint and Annie Parkhouse, and a chance to look back and read the story in its entirety. I notice from the 2000AD forums that there was some confusion about whether this was planned as a Judge Dredd 'epic', and let's be clear, 2000AD never said that. What we have instead is another story reflecting on Dredd's age and his doubts about what he does.

(I reckon John Glenn was older)

Dredd along with a bunch of gung-ho space marines, an ex-judge called McIntosh, and SJS Judge Gerhart, are sent to Titan to sort out a mutiny. Dredd finds himself prisoner of former Wally Judge Aimee Nixon, takes quite a beating, and then the place blows up and everyone gets to go home and have a snow day.

Remember how we all got so excited about the opening episode. It had that perfect action movie set-up as Dredd and the marines head towards Titan with some cuts scenes giving us a quick back story from Chief Judge Hershey, and then we're off and plunging towards the surface of the prison moon. However it turns out this was not going to be that type of story after all, Williams and Flint had something rather different planned for us.

Let's deal with the art first, Henry Flint is one of the current definitive Dredd artists. His style on this strip seems looser and more experimental than the stuff he did for the Dredd movie sequel comic Underbelly. At times he produces fantastic images like this.

(Plays right into the fist of Dredd etc etc)

But elsewhere there are some weird art choices: while Dredd is ancient Hershey appears to be growing younger all the time. The Judges' spacesuit design does some strange things with the shoulder eagle, Dredd wears a flat logo type eagle similar to the movie uniform, but SJS Judges wear the eagle on their left shoulder and it does rather come and go throughout this story. Flint did tweet that he had messed up the shoulder pads several times and hoped to be able to fix them before the trade came out.

Then there is Aimee Nixon's right arm. If I remember correctly she was given a weaponised robotic arm by the Yakuza in the final Low Life story. It would make sense to remove this before putting her in jail, but if that's the case why leave her other robotic arm which may not be able to fire missiles but is certainly much more powerful than a regular human arm. Not the sort of thing you want a prison inmate to be walking about with.

Dredd is severely injured in this story which I have already blogged about, and really is mostly just a supporting character. SJS Gerhart turns out be made of mostly cogs and wheels or Lego, instead of flesh and blood. And then there is all that snow, a dodgy weather control snowstorm in MC-1 begins the story, and an ice volcano on the moon Enceladus features in the final panels of part eight. And Dredd sees snow in his field of vision when he is struggling with the oxygen supply in his spacesuit. Struggling being what Dredd mostly does throughout this story.

And the whole plot has so many holes in it. The mission is daft, trusting McIntosh makes no sense and Gerhart would have been watching him like a hawk anyway, and then the relative ease with which Gerhart and Austin blow up the explosives is bit too convenient as the story moves into its final act.

In Greek mythology the Titans were the older gods who were usurped by a younger generation. I get the impression Rob Williams wants to tell us something about the Titanic figure of Dredd and the order he represents, and how he is slowly being set up for replacement, retirement or death. It is fascinating having this ageing anti-hero as the title character, but I don't think that Tharg has any plans to get rid of Dredd just yet and all these stories about his age don't seem to be going anywhere.

In retrospect Titan was a pretty good story which never lived up to the promise of that first episode. It will probably be out in trade at some point but it's not for the new Dredd reader, being too gloomy and rather confusing in places. Still not sure what the best book is to try and get someone into 2000AD for the first time but I'm working on it.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Big Finish - Jago & Litefoot series three

Fairly swiftly on from the second set to Jago & Litefoot series three. Featuring four stories written by Justin Richards, Matthew Sweet, John Dorney and Andy Lane. All directed by Lisa Bowerman, with music and sound design by Howard Carter, and artwork by Alex Mallinson.

Once again the four stories have a linked theme, this time of disturbances in time with echoes of future events impacting in the heroes' Victorian setting. In that respect it reminded me of Sapphire and Steel with time itself almost being an evil force to be controlled. So we have wet ghosts from a future shipwreck, a haunted children's book with a nasty little man who lives at the end of the garden, and a haunting in a theatre. And as ever there is a villainous figure lurking in the shadows whose sinister plan will be revealed in the fourth story. In fact there are two mystery names running through the series which will set up the cliif-hanger at the end.

Louise Jameson joins the cast reuniting Leela with Jago & Litefoot. All of the actors are splendid as ever,  it's well directed and I have run out of superlatives to describe the vocal brilliance of Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter in the title roles. They are such good fun that they even make the extensive CD extras entertaining.

Once again this spin off series is currently giving me much more fun than the current main range Doctor Who releases. A virtual and very voluptuous Victorian 5 out of 5 haunted books for Jago & Litefoot 3. Series four awaits me.

Sci-Fi Thrillers

Here’s another eclectic collection from 2000AD that bundles up some stories from the Prog and the Megazine that aren't likely to be reprinted anywhere else. Pick of the book has to be the complete first 6 episodes of Pat Mills’ The Visible Man with art by Carlos Trigo and Montero. It’s another terrific twisted take on the super-hero origin by Mills, with lots of gruesome anatomical detail that must have had the artists scurrying to find medical textbooks back in those pre internet days. Quite why the title character doesn't put more clothes on is a bit of a mystery but that’s comic books for you, and there is one bit of the Visible Man that is clearly not visible. There’s even a strategically placed bit of red dress on the cover of this book. Pat Mills has recently teamed up with Henry Flint to bring back the Visible Man so this is a good place to catch up with his origins.

Apart from that we get a variation on the Bill Savage theme with another hard nosed Brit fighting off alien invaders in Colony Earth, the plot of which is so much like Independence Day that I’m surprised 2000AD didn't kick up a fuss when the movie came out. Then there’s a few one off Future Shock tales with lovely artwork from Belardinelli, Ian Gibson, Steve Dillon and John Ridgeway.

The middle of the book is taken up with some longer stories: Universal Soldier, Tribal Memories and Family, all of which could have remained buried in the archives as far as I am concerned. There is the Megazine story XTNCT with the highly detailed black and white art we can expect from D’Israeli and a script by Paul Cornell. A strip with the last remnants of humanity fighting a bunch of talking dinosaurs should be hilarious, and I usually love anything by D’Israeli and normally quite like Cornell’s writing but this was a real dud for me.

The book finishes with Superbean, a 6 page comedy strip by John Wagner and Mike McMahon which is funnier and more charming than anything else in the collection. That story and the Visible Man are about the only things worth the price of admission. Overall this is nowhere near the high standard of the Mutants in Mega-City One trade I reviewed recently and I would give it a pass unless you are an absolute completist.

Hungry like the Wolf

Cry of the Werewolf collects the classic 2000AD tale of the same name, its sequel, and two other Werewolf related stories from the Megazine. 

The title story originally ran in the Prog way back in 1983. Written by John Wagner and Alan Grant, with art by Steve Dillon, and lettered by the legendary Tom Frame. For a science fiction comic Dredd has encountered a fair number of supernatural creatures over the years. This lycanthropic lovely does give us a scientific explanation hidden in the bowels of the undercity below the streets of Mega-City One, but let's face it we just want to see the Law versus the Claw. And thanks to the remarkable line work of Steve Dillon we got to see it all. Those were the days when the Prog could only afford two pages in colour and thankfully editorial restraint or harsh economics mean we don't have to suffer the horrors of having then coloured now. A crime that IDW have not been able to avoid in their Judge Dredd classics title.

Instead we get the authentic feel of those classic progs, you can almost feel that cheap paper under your fingertips. The story is great and as much as I like the stripped down prose of recent Wagner and Grant it is lovely to travel back to those times when Dredd and his fellow judges had to narrate what was happening and even tell us that "Grud. He's biting me!". Cry of the Werewolf is the best story in this book.

Having said that it is nearly matched by Out of the Underworld, the sequel that appeared in 2002. Written by John Wagner with astounding artwork by Carl Critchlow and lettered again by Tom Frame. Prager the rogue judge who took the long walk into the undercity returns to tell Dredd that the Werewolf disease still exists and before long they are both down there fighting for their lives and delivering the law, each in their own way.

I'm a big fan of any comic book illustration that seems to be inspired by Frank Miller's work on Ronin and Critchlow is perfect at showing the grimy and grotesque mutations of the troglodytic denizens of the underworld. It's a shame we don't see more of him on Dredd these days.

After that we get a Megazine story called Dog Soldiers by Robbie Morrison, Leigh Gallagher, Abigail Ryder and Annie Parkhouse. The Werewolves this time are a Cursed Earth gang of mutants who get in between Dredd and his quarry with predictable results. It's a pretty good story and Leigh Gallagher provides an impressively grim faced Dredd and some gruesome werewolf killers, it just doesn't have the class of Wagner or the charm of those early progs.

Completing the lupine quartet is Asylum by Gordon Rennie, Frazer Irving and Tom Frame which reunites Dredd with another of sexy psychic sidekicks, Karyn. There's a supernatural killer on the loose but not one that takes the two judges all that long to deal with in this single issue one shot. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the story is how it sets up the possibility of the return of the Werewolf curse to the undercity, although I don't think that has been followed up on as yet.

All the covers are included at the back of the book but no introduction, just the usual creator bios. The title story is the best of the bunch with slightly diminishing returns after that, and you may already have it in the case files. However this trade collection has been out for several years so it's pretty cheap on Amazon either in hard copy or or on the Kindle. If you haven't read the Wagner, Grant, Dillon classic that it's well worth your fiver. Load some silver bullets into your Lawgiver, electroplate that boot knife, put the Steppenwolf 8-track in the Lawmaster's sound system and ride on back to the golden age of 2000AD.