Saturday, February 28, 2015

Crazy about a Well Dressed Wolf

Next up in the Universal Monsters box set is The Wolf Man from 1941, starring Lon Chaney Jr and directed by George Waggner.

The science fiction writer Curt Siodmak wrote the script and produced much of the Werewolf mythology that we now accept as gospel, although interestingly poor Larry Talbot's transformations are initially tied to the flowering of the Wolfsbane plant as opposed to the full moon that would later become the norm.

It's filmed on that familiar Universal studios European village set and does not look like its setting in Wales at any point. Six years have passed since the Bride of Frankenstein and in that time film technology has moved on and instead of the creepy and grainy black and white we see a much slicker and clearer image as Hollywood really starts to set the look of its Golden age productions.

Jack Pierce's famous yak hair make up is impressive although her doesn't look terribly fierce, rather cuddly in fact. And I'm curious as to why the first thing that the Wolf Man does after transformation is to put on that neat button up shirt, Chaney having stripped down to his vest as the change begins. Still a young Wolf out on the town has to look good, plus he needs something to hide the edges of the make up.

Sadly the clear cut look of the film and the dafter aspects of the Welsh village fully populated by Hollywood stars mean this one doesn't rate very highly. Nice to see Bela Lugosi in a brief role, although I'm not sure how he gets all his clothes back on after he dies? And Claude Rains makes his second appearance as Talbot's father despite being only 17 years older than Chaney in real life. 3 out of 5 silver topped canes and on with more rains to come in the Phantom of the Opera.

the Deep Space Job

Here's another story from the archive with the theme being Space. I wrote Johnny Alpha coming up against a Bond villain. The Judge Festina reference is to the forum name of the writer who was organising the short story competition at the time, Lizzie Boyle of Disconnected Press. And here's a good excuse to post these new images.

The Deep Space Job

"Good morning, Mr Alpha. We've been expecting you. Do struggle against your bonds. It will do you no good but I would find it entertaining."

Ernst Redfield regarded the bounty hunter with scarred eyes.

"You have been sent here to bring me to trial on Zoladex 4. Yet I wonder how they intend to convict me when key witnesses have recently suffered a change of heart, quite literally in a couple of cases. "

Johnny Alpha's mutated eyes blazed at the crime lord. "What have you done with Wulf?"

"Relax, Mr Alpha. The imposing Mr Sternhammer is sleeping peacefully and soon this vessel will rendezvous with a slaver ship from Khund. I imagine he will make quite a price at the auction.

As you will see you I have all your clever devices. Sternhammer's Happystick, your blasters, the electroknux, and this elaborate helmet of yours. All safe and sound and ready to add to my collection after we push your body out of the airlock. You should know, Mr Alpha, that I always do my research. I know who has been sent after me. I know their strengths and their particular weaknesses. Fascinating stuff, research. But I can't spend all morning chatting with you Mr Alpha. Things to do, people to kill."

"How did you do it, Redfield? How did you make Judge Festina disappear just when she was building the case against you?"

Well now, that would be telling but I suppose as you're not going to be with us for much longer. It's all down to research again. When we found that the Judge was not susceptible to our monetary approaches we discovered that she spent one morning a week volunteering in an orphanage. How very charming.

From there it was a fairly easy task to infiltrate the youngest member of my team into the orphans home. Young Adam. Such a prodigious talent for 9 years old. Once done we got creative with plascrete. You know that asteroid belt above Proteolos Minor? Let's just say Judge Festina sleeps with the stars tonight.

Now I really must dash. Take a deep breath Mr Alpha. You will need it. "

"We did our research too, Redfield. That's why we're here."

"What can you possibly mean?"

"My helmet. It's been recording everything. Sub-etheric transmission to the Hall of Justice. They have it all by now. Wulf!"

There was a brief scuffle with a security guard and then the giant Viking strode into the room. A couple of taps with his retrieved happy stick and Alpha stood free besides him. 

"Ah, Johnny. This dummkopf did not know ve have the nose filters. No sleeping for us, ja"

"Whatever they are paying you, Alpha, I'll double it."

"Research letting you down again, Redfield. Festina was a friend of ours. This isn't business, this is personal."

"Ja. Ve do you for free."

"No use struggling or planning any wild escape attempts, Redfield. After all, in space no one can hear you scheme."

Mrs Joyce's Boys

Found a short story entry that I haven't put up here yet. The theme for this one was a single panel from a Dredd story featuring Judge Joyce from Shamrock City, and the Sov Judge defector Pax out on assessment with Dredd. The idea was to tell the story of this one panel. I took aim at the easy target of Irish mothers everywhere. Sorry, Mum!

Mrs Joyce's Boys.

"Listen, Ma, I've really got to go now ...

No, Ma, of course I love you but I'm incredibly busy just now. If Dredd knew I was talking to you he'd have my guts for garters. No, Ma, you can't speak to him. That wouldn't help. 

Wait a minute...


No, Ma, I didn't say 'hurrufh' at you. I was jumping.

Yes, jumping. I'm at work right now, Ma.

Yes, I did get the parcel. Thank you, Ma. What? No, I'm not wearing them now, they wouldn't go with the uniform. Yes, of course I liked them. I wear them when I'm off duty, Ma.

Excuse ... huff... me just a sec, Ma.


No, Ma, I'm not being rude. I'm running.

What's that? Yes, of course I'm wearing clean underwear. Yes, I know I could get in an accident and have to go to the hospital. No, I'm sure they won't think that, Ma.

Wait ...hurrughh ... Got it! Thank Grud for that. Give me that control stick.

Sorry, Ma. Yes I know I shouldn't take his name in vain. But I jumped onto an out of control flier and I ...what? Yes, I will, Ma. Yes, this Sunday I promise.Yes, twice.

Oh, Ma, don't be like that. Look I'm landing on the ramp now, Ma. Dredd and Pax are waiting for me ...
Yes, you do know Pax. She's that East Meg Judge I told you about.

No, Ma, I don't think she's the one. She's a colleague, Ma. I work with her and they are very strict about that stuff here. Yes, Ma, I'm sure she is very clean.

Ok, I'm going to sign off, Ma. I'll call you tonight. I've got to report to Dredd now. 
No, I won't tell him that, Ma. Goodbye now."

"Quite finished, Joyce?"

"Yes, Sir"

"Unconventional aerial approach but effective. Next time use your safety line, that's what it's for. Sentencing?"

"Well they're just a couple of lads, Sir. Just larking about really. I'd say a couple of months juve community service."

"Hmmm. Pax?"

"Piloting a poorly maintained flier. Reckless endangerment. Four months juve cubes. Adjusted to three months with DOC correction factor."

Joyce, you will retake the sentencing module when you get off duty tonight. No more stunts like that without the safety line. Can't afford to lose any more Judges."

"Yes, Sir"

"And instruct control not to put any more personal calls through while you're on assessment."

"I already did that, Sir. She still gets through. You know what mothers are like."

"No, Joyce. No I don't."

Friday, February 20, 2015

Getting to know you

Another entry for the 2000AD forum short story competition with the theme of a mash up between two strips from the comic. I've gone back to a joke that I used to better effect in my Silence of the RAM story.

Getting to know you.

Quartz reached forward and pressed the intercom button on his desk.
"Right, Ms Helvetica. How many more are there to see?"

"Just the one, Mr Quartz. A nice young droid from sector 17."

"Splendid. Send him and let's wrap this up"

The door buzzed and a small service droid waddled into the room.

"Good day, young fellow. My name is Howard Quartz. Thank you for coming in today."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr Ten... Err... Mr Quartz. Thanks for seeing me.

Quartz scanned the file on his desk. "You work in one of the new con-apt mega blocks?"

"Yes, sir. I'm a maintenance and janitorial operative in Wogan block."

"Ah, Wogan. Named after the famous interviewer no doubt?"

"I'm not sure. I know he was in The Interview but I don't think that was ever weleased?"

"What? Never mind. To business. You know what we do here at Ro-Busters. We are an international search and rescue organisation with a reputation that is second to none."

"Oh yes, sir. I know all about the fabulous work you do and I'm very keen to be a part of that."

"Now, you have probably heard of our top operatives, Ro-jaws and Hammerstein? Well, they are splendid fellows, very good at what they do. But when it comes to their public relations skills they are ... how shall I put this? ... somewhat abrasive. Probably because of their background, the work they were doing before they joined us didn't really focus on customer service. So we need a droid who can be the visible persona of Ro-Busters. Someone who can deal with customers, run press conferences, deal with the media, be a cheerful presence on social media. How does that sound?"

"Absolutely, sir. I can do that. It would be such an honour to work for Wo-Busters."

"Woe-busters? That's brilliant! We can use that. 'Woe-Busters. Service that puts a smile on your face'. I knew I was paying the marketing department too much. I can see you are going to be an asset to the company already, young fellow. You're hired."

"Weally? Oh, Mr Quartz, I can't tell you what an honour it is to be the newest wecruit to the wanks of the wescue wangers. It's a dweam come twue. I've always wanted to work with Wo-Jaws and Hammerstein. It makes me want to whistle a happy tune or sing the hills are alive with the sound of music."

"Errr ... Yes, quite. Just pop through to Ms Helvetica and she'll do all the necessary wecruit..., I mean recruitment processes and sign you up. Welcome aboard, .... What was your name again?"

"Walter, sir. Walter T Wobot at your service. I'm weady and standing by for action. Can I just add one wemark?"

"Of course, Walter. Wemark, I mean remark away."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Big Finish - Mistfall

Four blog posts in one day, I must be at a loose end. Having skipped the last Sixth Doctor trilogy from the Big Finish monthly Doctor Who range I dip my toe back in to find out what Peter Davison and the rest of his Tardis crew are doing in Mistfall. Written by Andrew Smith and directed by Ken Bentley.

From the Big Finish synopsis: Drawn off-course, the TARDIS passes through a CVE into a closed universe – a hugely improbable event with a tragically obvious cause. In order to escape inescapable E-Space, the Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough are forced to venture in the wilds of planet Alzarius. And immediatly I'm in trouble because this all refers back to TV episodes that I haven't seen, so the back story is a mystery to me. And yet again this story slipped past me while I was listening to it in the car.

There's the inevitable splitting up of the Tardis team, and there are some nasty swamp beasties who must not be woken from their hibernation, so of course that's what happens straight away. And in all of this the ever reliable Peter Davison does his best, while Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson rush around without very much to do. Four people is too many for one Tardis, and there are too many other characters so I lost what little grasp I had on the plot from the start.

I may need a longer break to get my Doctor Who bug back. At the moment I'm only interested in Dark Eyes, Sherlock Holmes and possibly the next installment of their Survivors series, but nothing more than that. I suspect Mistfall is pretty good but it got past me with a mere 2.5 out of 5 Marshmellow Men. Will I regain my Equilibrium with the next release?

Predator 2 - In town with some time to kill

Nobody ever deliberately sets out to make a bad movie, at least that's what the aphorism says, but back in the late 1980s they were trying fairly hard. The Predator sequel came out in 1990 and it's hot, sticky and very, very shouty.

Set in a slightly futuristic version of Los Angeles, where everyone seems to have powerful automatic weapons, Danny Glover is the rogue cop who strides through the chaos pissing everyone off along the way. His alpha dog performance inevitably attracts the attention of a visiting Predator and the scene is set for the inevitable final showdown. But first we need a lot of actors to show up and shout a lot, so bond villain Roberto Davi, Aliens star Bill Paxton, and the increasingly eccentric Gary Busey all get their moments of ranting and raving but it's all just so much sweat off Glover's back, or blood off the Predator's.

Bill Paxton stands out and earns his place in film trivia lore by becoming the only actor to have been killed on-screen by an Alien, a Predator, and a Terminator. Meanwhile Glover struggles through the mayhem and the nonsense about rival drug gangs before he arrives on the hidden spaceship for his battle with the big bad.

It's all complete nonsense, and rather loud and vaguely insulting nonsense at that. Somehow the sequel manages to have none of the cult charm of the original. Possibly the director Stephen Hopkins lacked the action film talents of John McTiernan in the first film. It's a terrific dud which only serves to remind me how big, brash and souless action films could be in the 80s and early 90s. One miserly Predator star or scar and on to third part of this box set. Can Adrian Brody's funny voice acting get anywhere near the magic of the original?

Don't tell the Bride

By 1935 Universal had got the old gang together and James Whale, Boris Karloff, Colin Clive and Dwight Fyre reunited for The Bride of Frankenstein, a film with the reputation of being a sequel that outstripped the original.

Karloff''s Creature proves to be indestructible and his creator is also nursed back to life by his beloved Elizabeth. While the Monster is chased around the countryside Frankenstein himself is approached by the mysterious Dr Pretorius and finally agrees to work with him to create a female, but this time with a brain that Pretorius has somehow grown specially for the task.

While Frankenstein and Pretorius scheme the Creature is taken in by the blind hermit and gains the power of speech at the same time as learning the pleasures of human company and smoking cigars. Again the comedic elements are played up and these were later to be parodied with such success by Mel Brooks and his cast in Young Frankenstein. The decision to have the Creature speak is an odd one and it meant that Karloff had to wear his usual dental plate so his face didn't have the same sunken cheeked death mask appearance as in the original.

What elevates this film above all the others is two sequences. The first is the creation scene where John Fulton and Kenneth Strickfaden took all the electrical machines of the mad scientist laboratory and ramped them up to 11. James Whale uses Dutch tilts and fast cuts to produce a terrific cinematic moment which set the standard for all others.

The other perfect sequence is Elsa Lanchester's spooky performance as the horrifying and horrified Bride, with her strange twitchy movements and her unearthly scream when confronted with Karloff's grinning creature. She's only on screen for minutes but she dominates the film. It's a memorable ending for a terrific black and white horror classic which is well remembered for good reason. This one is the real deal with a perfect 5 flashing electrical stars mostly for the final 15 minutes which are the best thing in the box set so far.

Next up it will be time for Lon Chaney Jr to don the Yak hair and become The Wolf Man.

He'll see you now.

Universal quickly looked for more classic horror ideas from the literature and in 1933 James Whale directed a fairly faithful adaptation of H.G.Wells' The Invisible Man

Claude Rains does a fantastic job of portraying the character by his voice alone, his face only appears as Griffin lies dying in a hospital bed at the end of the movie. And of course there is some marvellous special effects magic from John Fulton and his team, particularly in the sequences where Griffin reveals his true self to the terrified villagers. H.G.Wells himself was said to be impressed although he had some reservations about the depiction of his title character as a hysterical madman prone to lots of maniacal giggling as he torments his pursuers. And it is true that Whales and Rains do play up some of the comedy elements of the story and much fun is had at the expense of the British police force who come across as an international branch of the Keystones Kops,

It cracks along with the story in a compact 71 minutes and established Rains as a star as well as confirming James Whale as the safest pair of hands for directing these Universal classics. Nice to see Henry Travers who is best remembered as Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life turning up in a straight role as Griffin's former boss Dr Cranley. It's a good solid interpretation of Wells' story and I enjoyed it quite a bit. A solid but invisible 3 stars. If you want to hear what we made of the BBC remake from the 1980s on British Invaders then check it out here. Next up may be the pick of this 8 disc set, it's time for the Bride of Frankenstein.

Monday, February 16, 2015

True Colours

Should black and white classics be re-coloured? Do we want to see Casablanca tinted so that Bogart and Bergman's memories of Paris appear in Technicolor? Personally I believe the correct answer to be no, and I generally feel the same way about black and white comics. I have nostalgic views about those starkly inked stories from my youth, and some artwork just seems better in monochrome. David Lloyd's chiaroscuro work on V for Vendetta is a perfect example. I was happy to see the series completed when DC picked it up but I much preferred the black and white beauty of the Warrior pages to the American coloured versions.

Now IDW comics continue their fruitful relationship with 2000AD and publish two US style floppies reprinting the original John Wagner, Alan Grant and Brian Bolland Judge Death stories. Bolland's artwork has been coloured by Charlie Kirchoff who impressed me with his work on IDW's lovely Apocalypse War hardback. The results are very impressive indeed and make for enjoyable comics which are available with two different covers for each issue. Of course there are always some problems with reprinting these classic 2000AD stories from the golden age of large format newsprint British comics. The artwork does not scale down perfectly to fit the US floppy page size and IDW have chosen to get around this by leaving a large bottom margin of about 5 cm of white space with some ghosted grey-scale images of Dredd along the bottom edge. And honestly I didn't even notice it at first as my eyes were immediately drawn to the lovely sight of the beautifully coloured Bolland art.

Kirchoff's work is generally excellent and would not look at all out of place in the pages of the Prog or Megazine. The only glitch I could spot was where he tried to add some shading to Bolland's rather featureless representation of Anderson's nose as she looks directly at the camera. The result makes her look a little like a six nations rugby star.

Apart from that the two issues are a joy to behold. It's particularly impressive to have Judge Fire rendered in all his ghastly, glowing glory. The standard covers shown above are by Darick Robertson and Diego Rodriguez who bravely attempt their own version of the most famous panel in British comic history on the second issue. The two spooky variant covers are by Sam Shearon.

To answer my own question I am happy to have my cake and eat it and delight in both the original black and white versions, and in these updated full colour comics. And just how many times can we 2000AD fans buy reprints of these classic stories? Rebellion and Hachette are no doubt gambling that we will return again and again to the same well, and in my case they have been proved right. Meanwhile IDW continue to introduce US readers to delights of the Dredd world and I hope it proves to be successful for them.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Mega Collection issues 2 and 3

The Hachette part works collection continues with issue 2 which confusingly is volume 24, and issue 3 or volume 36 for those who are keeping score.

The Mechanismo volume includes Mechanismo by John Wagner, Colin MacNeil and Annie Parkhouse; Mechanismo Returns by Wagner, Peter Doherty and Parkhouse; Body Count by Wagner, Manuel Benet and Tom Frame; S.A.M. by Wagner, Val Semeiks, Cliff Robinson, Chris Blythe and Tom Frame; and finally Safe Hands by Gordon Rennie, Jock, Chris Blyth and Tom Frame. The full colour reproduction seems good all the way through, I'm guessing that the original art plates from the painted era all survive so there are none of the problems that trouble reprints from the older black and white Progs. I've previously reviewed the Mechanismo storyline so won't rehash my thoughts but safe to say it is nice to have all these stories collected in a neat shelf sized volume.

The Apocalypse War includes the complete Block Mania by Wagner, Alan Grant, Mike McMahon, Ron Smith, Steve Dillon and Brian Bolland; and The Apocalypse War by Wagner, Grant and Carlos Ezquerra. Lettering is by Tom Frame throughout. Again it's good to have these iconic stories collected in a neat compact sized hard back, but there are some reproduction problems. The original colour double page spreads from the Progs are reprinted in black and white throughout, and there are large blocks of very dark blacks in the block mania issues, particularly affecting McMahon's art. The Dillon pages look similarly dark. Fortunately Ron Smiths's detailed line work stands out beautifully and the Bolland pages look fine.

Most of the Ezquerra pages are lovely too behold. There are couple of pages where the art appears as washed out greys that look like unfinished pencils. They are the same in the Case Files so the fault must lie in the original plates. Correction: The 2000AD forum quite rightly tells me that this is how those pages appeared in the early Progs and that Ezquerra was using the technique to indicate flashback sequences.

Sadly I don't have the original Prog to compare it too but here is how Tom Mullin corrected the page in the lovely IDW coloured edition that I have previously raved about.

The other problem affecting the King Carlos episodes is some central gutter loss on the double page spreads particularly towards the middle of this volume where the binding seems tight. The IDW edition and Case Files 5 do have similar problems but their larger size makes it less obvious.

Extras in these issues are limited to full colour reprints of the Prog covers, introductions by Matt Smith and afterword essays by Michael Molcher. However subscribers also got a rather lovely ceramic coffee mug and a metal Dredd badge which is a bit small for cosplay but does look spectacular on my mantle piece.

Overall these are nice compact volumes that sit well on the shelf and are lovely to pull down for a quick dose of thrill power. I am still going to recommend the IDW volume as the best version of the Apocalypse War out there at the moment. This Mechanismo issue wins out on previous editions by virtue of those two extra stories of more Mega-City robot madness.

The excitement of receiving my subscriber copies has to be balanced against the thought of how much shelf space the full set will take up, and, of course, the full cost of continuing to all 80 volumes. Space and money are limited resources so it remains to be seen whether enough 2000AD fans will continue to double or even triple dip with these stories for Hachette to make it to the end.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

I want my Mummy

Following rapidly on from Dracula and Frankenstein came 1932's The Mummy, directed by Karl Freund, and it's a bit of a dud to be honest. Boris Karloff appears in the opening scenes wearing the incredible Jack Pierce Mummy make-up but does nothing other than open his eyes. We don't even get to see the Mummy walk which is a disappointment. After that Karloff pops up as the regenerated Imhotep with a very wrinkled face and hypnotic eyes but not an awful lot else going on. Freund's direction seems very static to me and all of the major action and murdering takes place off camera again.

Edward Van Sloan pops up again, making it three movies out of three playing the wise man who knows what is going on before the rest of the cast do. The large eyed German actress Zita Johann plays the reincarnation of Imhotep's lost love (possibly) and is the most striking thing in the film apart from Karloff, and that's mainly for the very skimpy costume she wears as Princess Anck-es-en-Amon. It seems in 1932 violence was very much an off screen thing for the movies but "how does that stay on?" costumes for female stars were obviously allowed.

This was the first time Universal studios created their own monster property rather than take from a novel or play. The poster said "It comes to life!" and it does but we don't get to see it do anything else, and I wanted a walking, menacing Mummy. Still onwards and upwards and it's time to see the Invisible Man or not as the case may be.