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: