Sunday, May 31, 2015

2000AD Prog 1931 vs Megazine 360

A double dose of thrill power brings me to the keyboard for some reviewing, hopefully without drifting into mere synopsis,

Covers. Ben Willsher on Strontium Dog Vs Glenn Fabry on Judge Dredd
Mr Willsher can do very little wrong in my eyes and this is a lovely composition which manages to fill the page with action and give us a good taste of the fishy business that's going on in the strip inside. Meanwhile I've never really been a fan of Fabry's work. Art is a peculiar thing and there is, as they say, no accounting for taste but this image leaves me cold. I don't like the body twist, the eagle, or the rather crude representation of the lawgiver. The background colours are rather lovely though and Dredd delivers the coup de grace to the title logo clearing the way for Pye Parr's parting gift to appear on the next issue. I appreciate the significance of that gesture but Willsher's action filled cover wins the day for me.
Result: 1-0 to the Prog.

Judge Dredd: Breaking Bud by John Wagner, Richard Elson and Annie Parkhouse vs The Cop by Al Ewing, Ben Willsher, Adam Brown and Simon Bowland.
Wagner's introduction of a new mythos to Dredd's world started in his Megazine story The Dead Zone and continues here with another of his well turned puns on a popular phenomenon and political satire about the differences between the haves and the have nots. Meanwhile Ewing's complex tale of corruption, an outsider in the Mega-City, and revenge continues to play out in the Meg with violent and gory consequences. Both of these Dredd stories have now finished and I write this with a sense of the whole stories in front of me. Two of he best Dredd writers both spinning a good yarn and difficult to tell them apart.

On the art front Elson smoothly switches from Kingdom to Dredd's world and produces beautiful pages but yet again Willsher is the deciding factor and switches sides to level the score for the Megazine.
Result: 1-1

Grey Area by Dan Abnett, Mark Harrrison and Annie Parkhouse vs Reaper Files by Pat Mills, Clint Langley and Annie Parkhouse.
Two straight science fiction stories go head to head. American Reaper is a much lambasted strip and I confess I always feel that I have missed out in not reading it from the beginning. One to look out for in the inevitable hardback collection perhaps? In Grey Area the transition of the ETC team to a whole new universe has given this story a transfusion of new meaning and excitement. I always thought the earth bound tales were just treading water, or providing simple one or done stories to fill the pages. But on a whole new world with a strange set of rules and a pressing sense of impending doom the story has really kicked off. And it sets up the potential for future Quantum Leap or Sliders type adventures as the ETC are thrown onto other stranger worlds. It's a neat trick by Abnett and Harrison and I'm fully onboard now.
Result: 2-1 to the Prog

Slaine by Pat Mills, Simon Davis and Ellie De Ville vs Tales from the Black Museum by Alec Worley, Paul Davidson and Annie Parkhouse.
I'm on much firmer ground with Pat Mills' current work on Slaine accompanied by Davis' beautiful painted images. Slaine's old friend Gort looks quite like to Russell Crow in Gladiator and the setup of the battle seems similar to the early scenes from that movie but it is splendid stuff to look at. I love a creepy black and white terror tale from the Black Museum and Worley and Davidson's arachnid horror is splendid stuff. It feels a bit strange to pick a black and white strip over the glorious colours of Slaine but it's a monochrome equaliser for the Meg.
Result: 2-2

Commercial Break by Eddie Robson, Mike Collins, Gary Caldwell and Ellie De Ville vs Anderson by Emma Beeby, Andrew Currie, Eva De La Cruz and Ellie De Ville.
Tharg's 3Rillers have a tough task in wrapping up a complete story in fifteen pages and doing enough to generate interest in a return of the characters with so far only the Survival Geeks managing to do enough to get a return fixture. This particular story about some mysterious alien light artifacts is momentarily intriguing but doesn't divert me for long.

On the other hand the psychic mindscape of Cassandra Anderson is always fascinating and the introduction of Cadet Flowers intrigues me. Leaving aside all the fuss about the writer's gender and its use as a marketing tool I would like to read more stories about Anderson and Flowers by Beeby. I would prefer it if Cass was drawn to look a little bit nearer her actual age though, unless some writer is going to come clean and announce that the image we see is her psychic projection of how she wants to be seen.
Result 2-3 to the Megazine

Strontium Dog by John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra and Simon Bowland vs Interceptor by Ian Edginton, Steve Pugh, Len O'Grady and Ellie De Ville
The world weary and suicidal Johnny Alpha appears to have shifted back into his business as usual mode with plenty of action and victories over impossible odds as the Stix Fix takes on all the trappings of a classic Strontium Dog tale. You can almost feel Wagner and Ezquerra pulling this on like a nice, comfy pair of slippers. And it's just and comforting and reassuring for us regular readers. Maybe it doesn't push the envelope in the way it threatened to at the start of the adventure but it's still fantastic stuff from two of Tharg's top performers of all time.

I normally gobble up anything written by Ian Edginton but I got about halfway through Interceptor and gave up on it. Somehow the search for another super powerful alien device that falls into the hands of a woman in her underwear didn't do it for me. Sorry.

Final result: it's a 3-3 draw and two top quality issues from the house of Tharg. Sure there are some ups and downs along the way but for just under £8 (or even less if you subscribe) that's the best value in comics at the moment as far as I'm concerned. Great British comics indeed.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

High Priestess Karate

Blood from the Mummy's Tomb from 1971, written by Christopher Wicking and directed by Seth Holt. Well there is blood and a tomb but no real mummy on show. However the film more than makes up for that deficit with the distinct charms of Valerie Leon, the woman who put the Hai in to Karate, and caused a funny feeling in the pants of many a teenage boy during the seventies.

Leon plays the traditional role of the Egyptian princess and her modern day counterpart. In this case it is the Princess who has the dark powers and who slowly possesses Leon and forces her into acts of evil. This is based on Bram Stoker's The Jewel of Seven Stars and it is rather clunky as a result. Notably because Andrew Keir's egyptologist discovers the perfectly preserved body of a millennia old princess who just happens to be the spitting image of his daughter, so of course he keeps the body in his cellar with no one taking any notice. Meanwhile the body count starts to mount up while Valerie Leon appears in a string of revealing nightgowns to give the audience what they came to see.

It has the required Hammer elements of heaving bosoms a'plenty and lots of brightly coloured gore but it's all a bit dull and lacks a central figure to focus upon, other than the obvious things that distract the male gaze. It's perhaps a mistake to have Andrew Keir be incapacitated for most of the movie and not driving the investigations forward. And Valerie Leon's boyfriend is a bit of a damp squib who looks very early seventies but does very little.

Not a great Hammer horror to be honest but it does have a unique selling point (or points), so they get two out of a possible seven stars. Now back to that dastardly Baron.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Best served cold

Revenge of Frankenstein from 1958, directed by Terence Fisher and written by the other half of that familiar team from early Hammer, Jimmy Sangster.

Hammer knew when they were on to a good thing and this sequel was knocked out just one year after the Curse of Frankenstein, and yes I am doing the Frankenstein movies out of order but I'm watching them as I get hold of them. In the same way as the Hammer Draculas had to find a new way to revive the Count for each successive film here they have to spirit Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein away from the guillotine so that he can set up shop in a new town and start practising medicine as the not at all suspicious sounding Dr Stein. While he is popular with both society ladies and the patients of the workhouse hospital, he also has his secret laboratory and has soon recruited Francis Matthews to assist him in bringing life to his new creation. 

Frankenstein skills have advanced and this time he has fashioned a perfect male body into which he transplants the brain of his deformed servant, Karl. At first all goes well but once the creature (Richard Wordsworth) has escaped and encountered a sympathetic society lady his body betrays him and starts to revert back to his deformed shape. The usual mayhem ensues and once again the mob is soon turning on the villainous Baron. Fortunately Francis Matthews is on hand to save the day and rescue Cushing who escapes to London to start again as Dr Victor Franck. Apparently Baron Frankenstein shares Count Dracula's belief that if you spell your last name slightly differently no one will notice. Works every time.

Peter Cushing makes Frankenstein a nastier person in each film and Richard Wordsworth gives us a very sympathetic creature. His slow degeneration recalls his iconic performance as the doomed astronaut Victor Carroon in the movie version of the Quatermass Experiment. Elsewhere Michael Ripper has again beaten everyone else to the punch in the Hammer Michael Ripper drinking game. Here he makes up one half of a comic pair of drunken gravediggers with Lionel Jeffries filling the other role. The gore of the first film is mostly missing and all the bosoms are well hidden with little or no heaving to be seen. Not a bad outing for the Hammer monster but maybe only three out of five twitching disembodied hands.

Through a Fog Darkly

Interrupting my Hammer-fest for some classic John Carpenter. The Fog from 1980, a film I haven't seen since the early days of VHS rentals, and there was the DVD in a cheap bin at the London Forbidden Planet on free comic book day. How could I resist?

Carpenter's first three movies were Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13 and then Halloween which are all classics in their own rights. Following up the huge success of the night Michael Myers came home he turned to a creepy revenge ghost story with this tale of a strange fog enveloping a Californian coastal town and the return of the crew of a ship the townsfolk lured to its doom 100 years ago. Cult favourite actors Tom Atkins, Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh all find themselves trapped in tight spots with rotting, zombie sailors breaking through doors and windows.

There's plenty of slow build up as Carpenter develops the tension in what seems like a typical Stephen King version of small town America. Various bits and pieces go bump in the night before Adrienne Barbeau's disc jockey realises what is going on and starts to broadcast a warning about the fog. Meanwhile the rest of the cast retreat from the fog and the watery walkers and seek refuge in priest Hal Holbrook's church for the final reveal about what the sailors want and the battle to keep them out at all cost. Strangely the events of the final night all happen rather quickly and there aren't as many deliberate jumps and frights as in Halloween. This is a more atmospheric piece that recalls a classic ghost story in a tone that is set by veteran actor John Houseman's opening camp-site retelling of the legend of the lost ship.

It's all quite creepy and although it never hits the heights of his first three films it's not too bad and the special effects have stood up quite well over the last 35 years. Of course it has a nice piece of John Carpenter electronic music for the theme and the cast are all pretty good. It's nice to see Napoleon Wilson himself, Darwin Joston, showing up briefly as Dr Phibes (the name is another nice reference). Like all films from the 1980s it has been remade recently, I haven't seen it but the reports are not good. If the original shows up somewhere then check it out and if you treat it like a ghost story rather than a slasher horror then it will be pretty entertaining. Three dripping zombie stars.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Matter of Taste

No sooner has Dracula been impaled on a cross at the end of the the previous film than Roy Kinnear pops up to collect his fallen cloak and clasp, signet ring, and collect his dried blood in a test tube. This can't possible end well for the Antiques Roadshow. Taste the Blood of Dracula is the fourth of the Christopher Lee Hammer vampires. Released in 1970 and directed by Peter Sasdy.

Before long we're back in old London town where three jaded business men are looking for something a little different in the way of extreme experiences. Up pops a batty Ralph Bates to lure them to Kinnear's shop and then the scene is set for a bizarre regeneration in an old church, which is an odd place to choose for the Prince of Darkness to be reborn in. Having said that the dust covering Bates' body and then cracking open to reveal the reconstituted Count is well done. And the foaming blood in the goblets during the corrupted version of the communion service is also effective, although the presence of Peter Sallis as one of the three men did lead me to make various comments along the lines of "Nice brew, Gromit. Any biscuits? A bit of cheese perhaps?"

Once Dracula is on the loose it is fairly easy for him to hunt down the three business men and corrupt their children to carry out a bit of Patricide in a variety of gruesome ways. Michael Ripper arrives, this time as a police detective, and almost does his own version of the Hammer Ripper drinking game by heading straight for the decanter himself.

The problem is that once the three men are dispatched Dracula seems at a bit of a loss. The Hammer vampire films are obsessed with finding new ways to destroy and then resurrect the Count, but overall he doesn't seem to have a grand plan and is too easily distracted by a pretty neck. I always felt that the Stoker and Lugosi versions had some horrible intentions to spread their curse across the channel but Lee just looks menacing and does little more before he is dispatched once again.

Hammer moves into the 1970s so the sex quotient is increased with a bawdy bordello sequence but all in all the power of the Hammer Count seems to be waning as the films progress. Two and a half out of five foaming goblets for Taste the Blood. Now let's find out how Baron Frankenstein is getting on.