Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Judge Dredd Megazine 345

A new Dredd storyline, the end of Ordinary and a bombshell in the Anderson story. The latest Megazine keeps up the recent high standard and continues to outpoint the Prog.
Spoilers follow. You have been warned, Citizen!

The cover is a marvellous and moody image by Phil Winslade. I still don't understand how a 70 year old's abs can show through a tight leather jacket but that's comic book art for you. As reported on the Pete Wells block's 2000AD Covers Uncovered site the image may have been reproduced a little dark and his original is better.

Judge Dredd: The Call of K.Cattrall by Arthur Wyatt, Paul Davison, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon, or something very much like it, is stalking Mega-City One, and there's another sexy female Psi Judge to assist Dredd. Either the psychic mutation only manifests in good looking women or they are all using their special abilities to project an image of how they want to look. Along with the ongoing Anderson series and Titan in the prog this is the third current story where Dredd seems to be just a member of the supporting cast. Maybe they don't want to do too much with him until Wagner's Dark Judges story comes along.

Paul Davison's art gives us splendid creatures that reminded me of something from Hellboy's B.P.R.D, although I did get confused as to how Dredd and Zheng could not notice the two killers standing in the corner of the room until I realised the scene had switched to the block hallway. I don't know if Zheng is a new character or someone that we've seen before but this was a promising start.

DeMarco P.I. The Whisper part 3 by Michael Carroll, Steve Yeowell and Ellie De Ville
Possibly the weakest story out of four big hitters but still interesting. There is a bit of confusion with another mutant who looks just like Claude. Put one of them in a jacket or something to help us tell them apart at least. Hopefully this will all be sorted out in the next issue.

Ordinary part 6 by Rob Williams, D’Israeli and HV Derci
It's finished and Brian the Bear is no more. The super powered world story wraps up and the ending has a slightly underwhelming solution but it's been a splendid ride and I'm looking forward to getting this when it is collected in a trade. D'Israeli who rules the roost with his black and white textured art also shows that he can perform miracles with colour. The lighting effects he pulls off in Tara's house are just lovely to behold.

I have my usual slight medical nitpick about the confusion between a virus, a bacterium and antibodies but I'll allow it because Ordinary has been anything but. I'm still cross about the bear though.

Anderson. Psi Division: Dead End part 3 by Alan Grant, Michael Dowling and Simon Bowland.
This one has already been heavily spoiled elsewhere. All I'm going to say about the story is that this is the best thing Alan Grant has done and Tharg needs to get him writing more stuff very soon.

If D'Israeli was performing miracles in Ordinary then I am going to run out of superlatives for Michael Dowling's art. The image of Anderson and Dredd launching their Lawmasters out on to the bad guys' roof is almost worth the price of admission alone. I'd buy that on a print or t-shirt.The colours are muted and lovely, the line work looks like the best European stuff from Heavy Metal, Dredd appears to be carved from granite, and a short haired Anderson looks her age rather than the fanboy pin-up she is so often portrayed as. Sign Grant and Dowling up for another series as soon as possible please.

This is not the most critical bit of criticism you are ever going to read but the standard of the Megazine is just so high at the moment and I'm loving it all. I even read the articles this month. I'm not too bothered by the Robocop piece but the Royals looks interesting and Molch-R's tribute to Jose Ortiz was splendid.

Pick of the Megazine is incredibly difficult but I'm sticking with the cracking Anderson story.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Big Finish - Dark Eyes 2

The sequel to the award winning first Dark Eyes box set. Dark Eyes 2 by Nicholas Briggs, Alan Barnes and Matt Fitton, directed by Nicholas Briggs.

The Eighth Doctor returns as does Molly O'Sullivan, the Daleks and the Master. Four linked stories range across time and space and bring the Doctor and Molly to a final confrontation in 1970s London. Splitting up the story does mean that this is not quite the cohesive whole that the first set was and I did have to concentrate more to keep up with what was going on. Interestingly one of the characters meets the Doctor twice but the wrong way round in his time line and her confusion does help the listener understand what is going on.

There are rather too many bad guys for my liking with Daleks, Viyrans, the Eminence and the Master all involved. I know that Daleks and Dark Eyes seem to go hand in hand but personally I would be happy to see them take a rest on the subs bench next time. 

I had a few doubts about Molly O'Sullivan in the first set but she is great here. I do like a companion who doesn't let the Doctor get away with too much nonsense and gives as good as she gets. There has been some discussion recently on the Big Finish site about whether working class companions work with Doctor Who. Molly is Irish working class and she succeeds splendidly as a sparring partner for Paul McGann's Doctor. Ruth Bradley has a lovely voice and thankfully they have dropped the colloquialisms I complained about last time.

This box set also benefits from performances by Nicola Walker and the fantastic Alexander Macqueen who tackles the part of the Master with enthusiasm. The rest of the production is up to the usual high Big Finish standard, which almost goes without saying these days.

Splendid stuff, another 4.5 out of 5 leather jackets. I look forward to future instalments although hopefully they will give the Daleks a rest next time and explore some new bad guys.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Big Finish - The Reification of Hans Gerber

The Reification of Hans Gerber is another Big Finish original Holmes story. Written by George Mann and directed by Nicholas Briggs and Ken Bentley.

Holmes and Watson are called in to investigate the strange death of Sir Theobald Maugham and the complications of his inheritance. Family members are desperate to find his missing will but Holmes and Watson believe that his death was not from natural causes.

Now this was much more like it. The best Holmes stories that Big Finish have done recently are their own creations and this is nearly up to the same high standards of the Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner and the Ordeals of Sherlock Holmes. I'm pleased to report that it has all of Holmes' usual miraculous deductions, Dr Watson gets to examine a body and use his medical skills, and the murder mystery is satisfying with enough clues for us to think we might have a chance of solving it ourselves.

Nicholas Briggs outdoes himself as Holmes and the rest of the cast are fantastic including everybody's favourite Sontaran, Dan Starkey. The production and direction are great and once again the marvellous violin music is just splendid. 4 out of 5 magnifying glasses. Sadly it may be another year or more before we get more Sherlock Holmes from Big Finish.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Picture Post

A quick whiz through some convention pictures from last year.

This is legendary Judge Dredd artist Ron Smith signing two of his 2000AD covers for me at last year's Free Comic Book Day event at Forbidden Planet in London.

Here's Neil Gaiman in Ely cathedral signing a sketch of his character Delirium which was done by the artist D'Israeli.

At the first Lakeland international comic art festival last October I met the V for Vendetta artist David Lloyd who did a rather nice sketch for me.

And at the same event I had the great pleasure of not only meeting the creators of Judge Dredd, John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, I even got to buy them a pint! Here's Mr Wagner signing a rather nice print of their famous characters.

 And Carlos with a quick Johnny Alpha head sketch he did for my brother.

Finally to last November's Thought Bubble where Henry Flint signed my one and only original comics page from his very first Judge Dredd story.

And the demon draughtsman D'Israeli produced a nice Dirty Frank drawing for me.

Aren't conventions a bit of fun in a busy, stressful world? It's the London Super Comic-Con in a few weeks and I can hardly wait.

Monday, February 17, 2014

In like Flint

I had a bit of a day out at the new Forbidden Planet store in Cambridge and came away with a copy of the Judge Dredd: Henry Flint collection. Seven self contained stories from the Prog and the Megazine spanning the decade from 1997-2007. 

One of the Megazine stories: Street Fighting Man was written by Robbie Morrison, the rest are written by John Wagner. Likewise Cam Kennedy gets a partial art credit on the Turkey Shoot story. Henry Flint is my favourite of the current Dredd artists. I have an original page from his first ever Dredd story framed on the wall above me here as I write this and it's interesting to see his progression as he develops his portrayal of Dredd's world. His figures were much neater in the early days, still exaggerated but with a cleaner line and a more organised look to Mega-City One. His work reminds me of Frank Miller's Ronin as the sinister buildings sprawl and spread out in an almost organic fashion. Fortunately Flint's work has just got better and better and he hasn't descended to the appalling cartoon work that Miller produced in books like the Dark Knight Strikes Back and Holy Terror.

John Wagner's writing is as good as ever, particularly when we get to the last and best of the stories, The Gingerbread Man which reintroduced the serial killer P.J.Maybe into Dredd's rogues gallery. Wagner and Flint are the perfect partnership on this tale which sets up many of the events of the Tour of Duty storyline, and also prove that being Dredd's partner on the streets is a fairly dangerous position for a Judge.

So it's a fun collection of stories with lovely art, and even though it's 6 years old now it succeeded in getting my money off me. But would it kill Rebellion to put a bit of extra material into these collections? I know they are not a huge publisher and that the margins on the comics and reprints are always fairly tight, but couldn't we have an introduction and maybe a few sketches from Mr Flint in the back of the book? There are plenty of well qualified people on this website or the forums who would be happy to write an introduction for nowt. Pete Wells Block or Senior Street Judge Burdis could do an excellent job I'm sure.

The only book they have out recently with an introduction was the Halo Jones reprint which began with a few words from the science fiction writer Lauren Beukes. That was pretty disappointing stuff to be honest. Come on, Tharg. Let's have a bit more back and front matter in these collections please.

Big Finish - The Final Problem & The Empty House

A special offer allowed me to fill in the gap in my Big Finish Sherlock Holmes collection. Back in their second season they brought us an adaption of the story which apparently killed off Holmes, and the story in which Conan Doyle relented and brought him back. The Final Problem and The Empty House were adapted by Nicholas Briggs and directed by Briggs and Ken Bentley.

Let me get the basics out of the way quickly. This is another splendid production with Briggs and Earl hitting the right notes as Holmes and Watson. Alan Cox who actually played Watson in the Young Sherlock Holmes movie makes a suitably evil Professor Moriarty. And the sound design and music are up to Big Finish's usual high standards.

The problem with the Final Problem is the story itself. Conan Doyle was fed up with writing Holmes stories at this point and determined to kill off his character. And he doesn't hang about with it. It takes no time at all for Holmes to fill Watson in on the details of the evil of Moriarty and then they are off to Switzerland for the final showdown above the Reichenbach falls. There is no detection at all, none of Holmes' usual deductions, and no evidence presented to support his assertion that Moriarty is the most dangerous man in London. It lacks any of the usual features of a detective mystery and is just presented as a series of events leading to the terrible fall.

The Empty House fares no better. Once Holmes has explained his escape and return to Watson he wastes no time in identifying the "second most dangerous man in London", and no sooner done so than he is apprehended. The locked room mystery that is presented at the start of the story is solved by the revelation that there was an open window all along. A fact that rather cheats with the locked room concept and provides a solution that would have been obvious if we had been given all the facts to begin with.

These two stories which mark the brief absence of Holmes from his fictional Victorian world are rather dull as examples of detective fiction. They don't represent Conan Doyle at the height of his powers, and no matter what Big Finish do they can't make them any more interesting. 3 out of 5 stout walking stocks, and those 3 marks are just for the production team.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Big Finish - The Ordeals of Sherlock Holmes

Back to Big Finish and the latest offering from their Sherlock Holmes range: The Ordeals of Sherlock Holmes by Jonathan Barnes, directed by Ken Bentley, and with Nicholas Briggs as Holmes and Richard Earl as Watson.

This is a splendid four disc box set with four cases representing the full range of Holmes' career. There is a linking theme and a villain who is not revealed until the very end. Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl do a marvellous job of conveying their characters at all the different ages and different stages of their friendship, and the supporting cast are excellent as well. I'm a big fan of the music for the series and the whole production quality is fantastic.

Jonathan Barnes' writing seems to capture the essence of original stories and do some new and interesting things with the characters. In fact he adds a modern inflection to his stories which in places helps them surpass the originals.

I had a few minor quibbles. I'm not sure that Holmes and Watson could escape from a train that easily at their ages but still this didn't detract too much from the splendid story telling. A five start production from Big Finish and I'm really hoping they do a fourth season.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Total Eclipse of Gerhart

After discussing Dredd's head injury in Prog 1866 Proudhuff on the 2000AD forums suggested I comment on the next issue and the injury sustained by SJS Judge Gerhart.

Ouch! That's going to leave a mark. As he says in the next panel Gerhart suffered major injuries back in Prog 1836 when he got in front of a missile that was heading for Judge Dredd. He's clearly half robot now and presumably can manage without half of his abdomen and a big chunk of his head and neck.

Here is the original injury he sustained.

First of all that abdominal injury does not look survivable to me but it's the future so they can turn him into a robot. Secondly his head and neck are intact there so I'm still not sure how he is managing to walk around on Titan with his head half hanging off. Either way Gerhart is clearly one tough cookie, which might make him Half-Man, Half-Biscuit?

Presumably Gerhart's bionics are also what allows him to survive on the surface of Titan with a broken helmet. No doubt this also meant he didn't need to breath underwater when the convicts flooded the airlock. But this raises a question of how he can manage without the facial alterations that the inmates apparently need. I guess his innards are all cybernetic now.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Pain in the Dredd

Warning! spoilers about a head ahead from prog 1866 where Dredd is in big trouble on little Titan.

This is a pretty good description of a fracture at the base of the skull. Clear cerebrospinal fluid is leaking into the back of Dredd's throat, and possibly from his ears and nose. If we could get him to remove that helmet we might find Battle's sign which is a distinctive bruise behind the ear. This is a serious injury and one that would put you or I flat on our backs. Dredd is, of course, made of sturdier stuff, although I still think head-butting a thug on the next page is probably inadvisable even for him.

Dredd has also been given a drug that makes him lose his memory of the previous hours, and this has been done to him several times. Obviously there are several medications that can affect memory but their effects are extremely variable. As ever this amnesia is convenient for the story but unlikely to be as precise as shown in this episode, particularly for someone who has suffered a major head injury.

The other medical issue in this story concerns the surgical modifications made to the inmates on Titan to allow them to breathe on the moon's surface. They all seem to have some form of metallic implant replacing the nose and feeding into the mouth which presumably make the atmosphere breathable, but there are other bits and pieces shown on some of the prisoners which aren't so easy to explain. In particular it's not clear why the major villain who turns up in the last panel has had to have his entire jaw replaced. Still, the future is another country, they do things differently there.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Big Finish - Antidote to Oblivion

Antidote to Oblivion is the first release of the year from the Big Finish monthly range. Written by Philip Martin and directed by Nicholas Briggs.

The Sixth Doctor and Flip respond to a distress signal from another Time Lord and find themselves in a future London where big business rules the day, and scientists are researching the end to all infections. That's never going to end well in science fiction, is it?

Once again my lack of knowledge of the Colin Baker years on television lets me down. I'm not familiar with the slug like villain Sil so his reappearance here played with sibilant relish by Nabil Shaban didn't really mean much to me. He's just one more bad guy, and not one that seems to provide much opposition for the Doctor. In particular there were none of those clash of wills dialogues that I like.

The production is fine with some of the music being very good but it was another average story for me. I'm not yet convinced by Lisa Greenwood's Flip and Colin Baker seemed to be overdoing his actor's articulation a bit in places.

Ho hum I'm afraid. 2.5 out of 5 abandoned underground stations. Time for some Sherlock Holmes instead.