Monday, April 28, 2014

Definitely Maybe

The Complete P.J.Maybe by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Garth Ennis, Liam Sharp, Anthony Williams, Ben Oliver, Pete Doherty, Chris Weston, Carlos Ezquerra, and Tom Frame.

Judge Dredd doesn't have many recurring villains in his rogues' gallery. Dredd either shoots the bad guys or incarcerates them in the iso-cubes, which unlike Arkham Asylum tend to keep the doors locked. Apart from Judge Death and the other Dark Judges one other character who has returned again and again is the notorious serial killer Philip Janet Maybe (his parents wanted a girl). This paperback collects all of Maybe's early appearances up to the point where he returned to Mega-City One in the guise of Byron Ambrose before becoming elected as Mayor.

Like many great Dredd stories old stony face is largely a peripheral character in the early episodes with Maybe's exploits and his narration (with his characteristic terrible spelling) taking centre stage. Later on as Maybe's infamy grows Dredd takes charge of the investigations and the stories become more about the battle of wills between these two driven individuals. Maybe is a fairly typical Wagner and Grant creation with that mix of dark 2000AD humour teamed with the gritty details of a police procedural. He makes us laugh when we know we probably shouldn't. I should add that Maybe does escape from the cubes but at least there's a good reason for it as opposed to the revolving door policy that Arkham operates.

Liam Sharp is the artist for the early episodes and does a fine job. Obviously King Carlos rules the roost, but Sharp's stuff was nice to look at, as was some early Chris Weston. And the story progresses in an enjoyable fashion with Maybe clearly being a character that Wagner likes to return to from time to time. Once I finished this edition I re-read the Gingerbread Man story from the Henry Flint Collection, so now I'm just about caught up on Maybe right the way through to the events of Tour of Duty and Day of Chaos.

Good fun stories with Maybe and Dredd on great form, this book gets an emphatic Yess (sic) from me. It also has some back matter from Liam Sharp talking about his apprenticeship with Don Lawrence and showing off some early pages and sketches. Sharp also provides a touching tribute to legendary letterer Tom Frame who died shortly before this volume was released, and to whom the book is dedicated. A few simple extra pages and I'm happy, Rebellion.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Prog 1877 vs Meg 347

It's a double helping of thrill power week with both the Prog and the Meg coming through the letter box together. Time for the Dredd-full duo to face off for the title.

Covers. Ben Willsher vs Steve Yeowell and Chris Blythe
Willsher delivers an early knock out blow with Dredd crashing through the cover and taking out most of the logo in the process. That's two weeks in a row with a lot of broken glass on the cover. The Meg cover is interesting but not particularly memorable. I wonder how much of the detail has been added by Chris Blythe's colours. I look forward to seeing the pencils when this shows up on Pete Wells block's 2000AD Covers Uncovered.
Score 1-0 to the Prog.

Dredd. Mega-City Confidential part 4 by John Wagner, Colin MacNeil, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse vs Rad to the Bone part 1 by T.C.Eglington, Boo Cook and Annie Parkhouse.
Wagner and MacNeil are keeping the secret of Section 7 until next week. Whether it can ever live up to this suspenseful build up remains to be seen. I've always found Wagner's endings to be slightly anti-climatic but that's true of most ongoing comic stories which need the major characters and setting unchanged for the next instalment. MacNeil's use of light and shadow is fantastic, Dredd's visor and Styler's glasses on the third page are especially effective.

Over in the Meg Eglington and Cook set up a tale of a vengeful villain from Dredd's past. Another week another death threat, but if an ongoing series lasts 37 years there are bound to be some repeated tropes. I assume the mutated Orang-Utan is a known character but it's a new one on me. On a medical note the amount of deformation of Dredd's helmet suggests a fatal injury to me but maybe his skull is Adamantium these days. Cook's work is lovely but MacNeil has the edge here.
Score 2-0 to the Prog.

Outlier part 4 by T.C.Eglington, Karl Richardson and Annie Parkhouse vs DeMarco P.I. The Whisper part 5 by Michael Carroll, Steve Yeowell and Ellie De Ville
Two private investigators on the trail of super powered killers. Outlier continues with the jungle hunt diversion and weapons of mass destructions with cool names but little impact. Meanwhile DeMarco uses some grim weaponry of her own to work out who is tipping off the Whisper and why. The story telling was a bit confusing here with different timelines to work out and I confess that I have only just realised that the former cadet Kesseler is one of the survivors from Carroll's Forsaken story in last year's Prog.

Both stories were a bit of a let down after the earlier episodes but again the colour art in the Prog tips the scales.
Score 3-0 to the Prog. An early hat-trick, is the match over already?

Slaine The Brutania Chronicles part 4 by Pat Mills, Simon Davis and Ellie De Ville vs The Irrational Lottery by T.C.Eglington, Jon Davis-Hunt, Gary Caldwell and Simon Bowland.
Slaine finally swings his axe but it looks like there is a sting in the demon's tail. Over in the Meg the ubiquitous Eglington gives us an amusing self contained story about life on the Mega-City dole. Slaine wins points for having some creepy Doctor Who style demons emerging from the waves but as ever Mills is taking his time getting to the point. It's a close run thing but the art by Davis-Hunt with Caldwell's crazy colours just edges it out for a win for the Meg.
Score 3-1 and the Megazine is back in the game.

Jaegir: Strigoi part 4 by Gordon Rennie, Simon Coleby, Len O'Grady and Simon Bowland vs Anderson: Dead End part 5 by Alan Grant, Michael Dowling and Simon Bowland.
Two scarred heroines face off. It's time for a creepy castle in Jaegir with scary monsters and super creeps in a jungle hunt (that's this week's 80s electro-pop reference taken care of). O'Grady's colours continue to make this work for me although I need some steak now after all the sizzle.

Meanwhile Anderson and Dredd realise they are on the trail of another blast from the past, but it doesn't matter that the story has gone down a familiar pathway because Dowling's art steals the show. There's something about his big screen facial close-ups that seems just right for the pages of the Megazine. It's nice to see Anderson back on top of her game and craggy faced Dredd putting her back in the firing line. And it's an easy win for the Anderson story.
Score 3-2 and all to play for.

Sinister Dexter: The Generican Dream part 4 by Dan Abnett, Smudge and Ellie De Ville vs the Megazine articles.
Godzilla wins, that's just the way it is.
Final score 3-3, a tie!

So my scoring system is a bit suspect but the judge's decision is the law etc. (If it came down to a penalty shoot out then my money would be on Wagner and MacNeil to win it). Two top quality issues from the house of Tharg. If you're not reading 2000AD you are missing out on the best of British comics.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Big Finish - Jago & Litefoot season four

More fun is to be had with the redoubtable investigators of the infernal, Jago and Litefoot, and here is the fourth box set with four more stories.

Here's what you get:

4.1 Jago in Love by Nigel Fairs
4.2 Beautiful Things by John Dorney
4.3 The Lonely Clock by Matthew Sweet
4.4 The Hourglass Killers by Justin Richards
And an extra bonus CD of behind-the-scenes material.

Leela is still on board and Colin Baker turns up as the mysterious Professor Cornelius Dark. Meanwhile the stories are linked by the malign manipulations of two bad guys called Mr Kempston and Mr Hardwick.

The vocal variety act provided by Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin continues to steal the show. And I always enjoy a Matthew Sweet story. As well as the extra fixtures on the bonus CD each story ends with some interviews with the writers and actors, and I could happily listen to Mr Sweet talk about anything, particularly this sort of Victoriana in which he specialises.

Away from the main actors the bad guys are performed with a certain amount of relish by Christopher Beeny and Mike Grady. The reveal that Cornelius Dark is really the Sixth Doctor is no surprise at all, and Leela's character seems a bit variable depending on which episode she is in.

Jago & Litefoot are really splendid and my favourite flavour of Big Finish at the moment. I'm not sure this is quite up to the high standards of the first three sets but still 4 out of 5 end of pier peep shows.

Big Finish - Moonflesh

Hot off the press with the latest monthly release from the main Big Finish Doctor Who range. Moonflesh by Mark Morris, directed by Ken Bentley.

Doctor number Five and Nyssa arrive in a 1911 Suffolk wildlife park just in time to join a hunting party. But there is something strange lurking among the various artifacts collected by the owner, Nathaniel Whitlock, and before long they are caught up in a earlier version of John Carpenter's The Thing. Someone is possessed by the alien force but who is it and what is the alien's plan?

Some slightly silly voices from the actors in this one and that's before they start getting taken over by the alien energy force. In particular the two older male characters seem determined to outdo each other for British bluster and bravado. The idea of the hidden alien from The Thing, or John Campbell's original short story Who Goes There? on which the film was based is a terrific one and I rather hoped for more of that creeping paranoia in this story. Sadly they didn't really stick with this theme until it reappeared for the finale.

So a bit of a missed opportunity for me, and I still find Nyssa a bit dull. Peter Davison is splendid as ever but I struggled with the scenes that he wasn't in. A middling 3 out of 5 weird red meteorites. My main range malaise continues.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Going Rogue

Intrigued by Seth's recent potted history of Rogue Trooper I bought the Dave Gibbons and Will Simpson War Machine trade. I confess I had no idea that Rogue had been rebooted, again this is from the black hole in the centre of my 2000AD knowledge.

I won't go over the story details which are well covered in Seth's useful articles. Instead let me note that having Dave Gibbons as the writer is unusual but I found the story pretty effective. Most of it is told in the form of an internal stream of consciousness monologue by the central character Friday, and I found it impossible to not hear Rorschach's voice as I read it. In fact the two characters are not that dissimilar, and they share a similar viewpoint about humanity and honour.

I confess that I had my doubts about Simpson' painted artwork at first but it grew on me as it went on. I still think I would have preferred Gibbons to have done the art as well as write but that would be asking too much. At least Simpson's version of Rogue wears more in the way of a uniform. It always bothered me that the original went about shirtless the whole time, but then I'm old and I think the same when I see youngsters heading for a night out without a jacket on.

The story is perfectly self contained and probably doesn't need the two stand alone stories tacked on at the end, although Steve Dillon's black and white art is always nice to see. No introduction or concept sketches or even the original covers in this edition. Would it kill Rebellion to give us a few DVD extras? I've said this before but there are plenty of knowledgeable fans out there who would jump at the chance of writing a few words for an introduction, and no that's not me touting for work.

I'm glad I picked this one up. 4 out of 5 stars and thank you, Seth. I'll be buying the new IDW Rogue Trooper series as well.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What is it good for?

Total War by John Wagner, Colin MacNeil, Henry Flint and Jason Brashill. Colours by Chris Blythe and lettered by Tom Frame. These stories originally ran in the Prog in 2004 so they are from that long period when I wasn't picking up the comic regularly and just buying the occasional trade. I know I've read this story before but a recent trip to Forbidden Planet in London gave me the chance to pick up the latest edition and revisit it.

It's hard to remember it sometimes but Judge Dredd is the bad guy. He is the very visible embodiment of a totalitarian police state that is a terrible way to run the future, except it may be better than all the alternatives. That doesn't mean we can't admire Dredd's dogged determination, but he is still not too far from the SS lightning symbols that appear in the light reflected on his visor. There are two ways to make Dredd seem less appalling, the first is to slowly soften his beliefs and show him having doubts like he did over the Mutants in Mega-City One issue, and the second is to make the forces that he fights even worse. In Total War the opposition is a grim and brutal terrorist organisation of the same name. They want the Judges out of the city and are not opposed to killing innocents with bombs, up to and including nukes, in order to achieve their aims.

As ever Wagner slowly builds the tension. Concentrating the original chapters on two citizens who are falling in love amidst the chaos of a terrorist campaign is particularly effective. One of them is a member of Total War who is having his own doubts which makes the fate of the doomed lovers even more poignant. Meanwhile Dredd and the Hall of Justice show what lengths they will go to in the hunt for the terrorists. It's a clever commentary that makes us question just what government actions are acceptable in the war on terror. The only reason the Judges are not water-boarding their suspects is that they have found worse things to do to them. Judge Roffman from the public surveillance unit shows up and despite their mutual dislike he helps Dredd while making us wonder how much surveillance of our lives is justified. 

NacNeil's art is full of figures who conceal their true selves behind dark glasses or helmets. Shadows play over grim interrogation scenes and all the action takes place at night in the deepest, darkest corners of Mega-City One. I think MacNeil is doing his own colouring here and the palette is a little bright for my tastes compared with the fine work that Chris Blythe is doing in the Prog just now on Wagner and MacNeil's Mega-City Confidential.

The second part of the Total War story introduces a new element in the form of Nimrod, another of Dredd's clones that has gone horribly wrong. The Tech department that created him want Dredd's permission for termination but Dredd refuses to get involved, seeing no connection between himself and the deformed creature in the cells. So the techs turn to Joe's niece Vienna and set off a new plot thread that plays out over the escalating war with the Terrorists. Again, this forces Dredd to face his own humanity and consider the family ties that he constantly tries to reject. It reminded me of a similar interlude in the Day of Chaos storyline when Dredd went to rescue Vienna from her besieged apartment block.

Henry Flint takes over on art duties for this chapter and produces some of his best work. Recently his line work has become looser and more abstract, but here he's in his gritty realist phase. Interestingly he shows just as many nasty interrogation scenes as MacNeil but uses more close ups on tortured faces with Dredd's visage looming over them. Both approaches are equally effective and unpleasant. I also prefer Flint's version of Chief Judge Hershey here to the teenage Goth girl who turned up in the recent Titan.

Overall this is a top trade with some of the cream of 2000AD's current creators at the top of their games. Five star stuff.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

2000AD - Prog 1876

Cover by Alex Ronald is a terrific image. Pity the story inside doesn't match but there you go. The logo survives better than the windows do. For some reason I'm imagining an injured Bruce Wayne sitting slumped in a chair and then saying "That's it, Father. I shall become one of a pair of Pulp Fiction inspired hit men and then overstay my welcome."

Judge Dredd: Mega-City Confidential part 3 by John Wagner, Colin MacNeil, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse 
The plot thickens and it would appear that my guesses about Blixen and the oldster were wrong. MacNeil pours on the layers of noir with shadows, Dutch tilt angles, and figures in silhouette. It reminds me of an old Vortex comic called Mister X which was in turn inspired by silent movies and film noir. I like the way you can trace the path of the data slug through this episode. Top thrill still.

Outlier part 3 by T.C.Eglington, Karl Richardson and Annie Parkhouse.
Flashback mode as we see the crew of the Outlier and their encounter with the disabled Hurde ship. Classic science fiction stuff like Rendezvous with Rama or Event Horizon. I'd rather have this than Grey Area any day.

Slaine The Brutania Chronicles part 3 by Pat Mills, Simon Davis and Ellie De Ville
Do not, under any circumstances, mention the jolly green giant or any tinned corn companies. More Pagan ritual history from Mr Mills but I need Slaine to get on that boat now. Bit of a filler episode this time.

Sinister Dexter: The Generican Dream part 3 by Dan Abnett, Smudge and Ellie De Ville.
If you can't say something nice, say nothing.

Jaegir: Strigoi part 3 by Gordon Rennie, Simon Coleby, Len O'Grady and Simon Bowland
Before the Gang of Four can gets started on their mission they have a few loose end war criminals to tidy up. That's the third week in a row that I've managed to reference a 1980s band here, I hope you're keeping score. Second best art in the prog behind MacNeil. And the story has me hooked. I love the idea of the honourable heart of the Norts cleaning house before setting out to track down one of their experiments that has gone terribly wrong.

Pick of the Prog is of course Dredd but Jaegir might give him a run for the money if the plot takes off.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Skizz Energi

Reading Alan Moore's simple but effective Hammerstein story in the ABC Warriors Solo Missions made me nostalgic for the 1980s and his earlier writing style. I know this will sound like a scratched record but back when he was a great story-teller and not a member of some wizarding illuminati. So I picked up my copy of Skizz, written by Moore in 1983 with art by Jim Baikie and lettered by Tony Jacob.

I remember reading this when it appeared in Progs 308-330 so this must be after my first comics gap which ended when I picked up the Warrior summer special and got hooked on Marvelman and V for Vendetta. According to David Bishop's splendid history of the comic Thrill Power Overload Alan Moore had been asked to produce a 2000AD serial to cash in on the success of E.T. The brief was for a story about a boy and an alien, Moore's response was "Can it be a girl, and can it be in England?" And so we got the marvelous tale of the Tau Cetian interpreter Zhcchz who crash lands in Birmingham, and the teenage schoolgirl Roxy O'Rourke who finds and befriends him.

And it is all terrific stuff and breaks the mould in classic 2000AD style. I always think of Halo Jones as being Moore's best female character, but I had forgotten how good the feisty Roxy is. In fact the cast of characters assembled by Moore and Baikie here are all splendid. The Yosser Hughes inspired Cornelius who has "his pride" is particularly moving, and there is the terrifying villain, Van Owen, who is much more sinister than any of the scientists from E.T.

The Birmingham setting is particularly effective for me as I grew up there, and I love how this is a very working class story. There are no comfortable middle class American homes here, it's set in the garden sheds and pubs of a post industrial Midlands city where people are struggling to find work. It's as if the Boys from the Blackstuff met something from another world and found a connection with alien life that puts them in direct conflict with the Earth authority figures they are more used to.

Jim Baikie's black and white artwork is lovely and captures the classic feel of those comic book stories from the 60s and 70s but with his clever science fiction designs for Skizz and his ship thrown in as well. Unfortunately the 2005 trade I'm looking at has a few of the reproduction issues that dogged the recent Halo Jones re-issue, presumably not all the original art plates survive and some of the pages are copied from copies. If I had one other criticism it would be the rhythmic episodic nature of the strip where you learn to expect a punch line coming on every fifth page, something that Alan Moore was very good at producing back then.

Overall though this is a classic, one of the half forgotten gems from 2000AD in the 80s. A perfect story which outdoes the original inspiration. If you've never discovered Skizz then do yourself a favour and track down a copy. It's Moore and Baikie at their best and features another of those memorable 2000AD heroines. 5 stars from me. And it's got some back matter by Alan Moore himself, with early character sketches by Baikie, and the covers. That's what we want, Rebellion!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

2000AD - Prog 1875

Can the Prog keep the momentum going from 1874 and start to compete with the Meg for quality?

Cover is by Karl Richardson and I like it. Dark and creepy. If I saw that on the shelf I'd buy it but I still might be unsure as to which publication this is. At least leave one of the logos clear, Tharg, or has someone already said that?

Judge Dredd: Mega-City Confidential part 2 by John Wagner, Colin MacNeil, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse
The plot thickens as Erika goes on the run with whatever piece of evidence she has stolen from the mysterious Section 7. Wagner plays the slow build cards with his usual skill. Tapping away at us with suggestions of what is to come.

MacNeil produces some lovely artistic touches, particularly Dredd reflected in the Section chief's glasses. The panel layouts, the bike headlights, and the silhouette of Dredd parked on the bridge in the last panel are all great stuff.

Personally I suspect that either the Mega-City Confidential host or the old geezer are going to turn out to be undercover Wallly squad but I'm probably wrong.

Outlier part 2 by T.C.Eglington, Karl Richardson and Annie Parkhouse.
This is excellent. I love a bit of science fiction detective work and this feels like something by the late lamented Iain M Banks. While Wagner keeps his cards hidden Eglington is showing us a lot quite quickly so there must be loads to come as we learn more about the Hurde.

Slaine The Brutania Chronicles part 2 by Pat Mills, Simon Davis and Ellie De Ville
A man walks intro a bar and hears a tall tale and then he's off on a D&D style quest. I don't know if Slaine's stream of consciousness narration had been a feature before but I quite like it here. And the Davis artwork is still lovely to behold.

Sinister Dexter: The Generican Dream part 2 by Dan Abnett, Smudge and Ellie De Ville.
There must be Sinister Dexter fans out there and it's time for them to do some reviews and tell us what we're missing. I'll tell you one thing, I bet S&D end up playing one side off against the other in classic Fistful of Dollars style.

Jaegir: Strigoi part 2 by Gordon Rennie, Simon Coleby, Len O'Grady and Simon Bowland
The Nazi Fatherland parallel is pushed even further as we learn about a thinly disguised version of Zyklon B which killed Jaegir's mother. Then she learns more about her mission and teams up with a Human League tribute act.

I'm a bit confused as to when and why the troops need to wear the chem masks, and why some veterans have various physical modifications and other don't. But the story still has me on board and the art is great.

Another four solid stories and just one duffer in this issue. Pick of the Prog is still Dredd but I'm hooked on Outlier and Jaegir as well. The weekly is back in the groove.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Retro review - Prog 211

One more of these retro reviews, Prog 211 from May 1981 with a beautiful and iconic Dredd cover by Ron Smith. This is the copy I got signed by Ron at last year's Free comic book day event at Forbidden Planet London.

The cover is obviously influenced by Jim Steranko's pop art covers for the Nick Fury comics from the 60s and 70s, but I think Smith outdoes Steranko here. It's a fantastic image and would certainly be in my top five 2000AD covers of all time. I love the colours and the lighting on Dredd's uniform who was the two gun kid back in the day. And we get some classic Smith punks in the various crimes scenes on the block walls. Probably my favourite version of the logo as well and completely unobscured, there's no doubting what this comic is called. What a piece of art for a mere 15p earth money.

Strontium Dog by Alan Grant, Carlos Ezquerra and Steve Potter
Part nine of the Portrait of a Mutant story with young Johnny Alpha taking part in the battle of Upminster alongside Middenface McNulty. Six pages of King Carlos art that again really stands out on the newsprint. Several familiar mutant faces and more of 2000AD's classic anti-authoritarian story telling.

Return to Armageddon by Malcolm Shaw, Jesus Redondo and Bill Nuttall
Here's one that I don't remember at all but it's due to be released in a trade paperback this year which I have pre-ordered so will do a full review then. Meanwhile someone called Amtrak, who isn't a train company in America, is leading a sword wielding babe and a robot sidekick into battle to release some human  prisoners from an alien prison. Some comic artists take some time to grow on you. I'm sure my eye would have raced over these images back in 1981 but now I just marvel at Redondo's line work and background shading. Smashing panels lay outs as well.

In the Nerve Centre Tharg promises the readers a Buck Rogers sticker album while also dealing with questions about Judge Pepper's bionic leg, and a campaign to wipe out thrill-suckers. £3 for a published letter back then.

Judge Dredd: The Mega-Rackets by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Ron Smith and Tom Frame
Dredd gets the colour centre spread again as a simple bit of littering sets old stony face on the trail of Slik Ike Kolorado. It's a quick trip to the face changing machine and then Dredd is undercover on a spaceship heading off-world to some alien slavers. Ron Smith's alarm clock drawing methods are well known but the amount of madcap detail he packed in within those time constraints is remarkable. Wagner, Grant, Smith and Frame are the perfect package from the golden age of the Prog.

Tharg's Future shocks by Gary Rice, Mike White and Pete Knight
A government scientist uses some sort of time machine to look back at the man who invented civilisation and then work out his living descendent is so they can execute him. No, it doesn't make any sense to me either. Looks and feels like filler.

Meltdown Man by Alan Hebden, Massimo Belardinelli and Jack Potter
Never really got into Meltdown Man although there is a trade of this as well. Belardinelli does draw some crazy animal headed humanoids though. For some reason they always reminded me of Rupert the Bear and his chums, or what Alan Moore did to them in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Not my favourite story here by a long way but fun to look at.

The back cover has a Meltdown Man pin-up by Dave Gibbons.

Pick of the prog is the Ron Smith cover which is far and away the best thing here, and the Whittle circular panel count is a mere 1.

Monday, April 7, 2014

2000AD - Prog 1874

It's the big jumping on point with five brand new stories. Can it get my Prog reading back on track and recharge me with thrill power?

Cover by Edmund Bagwell.
I like it. Perfect for a jumping on point or a Christmas issue. Especially with some lovely Kirby Krackle in the background. Only one niggle, Dredd looks a bit short. Personally I would have swapped his position with Jaegir and made him fill in the gap under Tharg's right hand.

Judge Dredd: Mega-City Confidential by John Wagner, Colin MacNeil, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse.
Brilliant. Wagner and MacNeil and a story about covert surveillance of citizens and a dark secret at the heart of the Hall of Justice? Sign me up right now. Add in Chris Blythe's atmospheric colours and we have a mean and moody Dredd story that gets me right back into it. Looking forward to the rest of this.

By the way, citizens of Cal-Hab, in case you hadn't noticed, Messrs Wagner and MacNeil want you to vote yes.

Slaine: The Brutania Chronicles by Pat Mills, Simon Davis and Ellie De Ville.
I've never been a huge fan of Slaine but Davis' beautiful painted work gets me on board for this one. Nice to see him polishing off those 80s electro-pop boys Flock of Seagulls along the way.

Outlier by T.C.Eglington, Karl Richardson and Annie Parkhouse
Great first episode. 2000AD does its own version of the enhanced Sherlock like detective. I hope we get to see more of the captions and images from his bionic eyes as he does his thing. Richardson's art is lovely and he does a fine job of making the characters looking distinctive with none of the facial recognition problems I had recently in Greysuit. I'm hooked and ready for more.

Sinister Dexter: Gun Shy by Dan Abnett, Smudge and Ellie De Ville
The Downlode duo seem to be the weakest strip in any Prog they're in. Although this story does manage to link up the banks giving out free guns from Bowling for Columbine with a Breaking Bad style stand off in the last panel. So points for that, but the art is perhaps the least interesting in a top issue so always going to be playing catch up with this one.

Jaegir: Strigoi by Gordon Rennie, Simon Coleby, Len O'Grady and Simon Bowland.
Looks lovely, Simon Coleby is on fire at the moment and O'Grady's colours are fabby. Plus the story introduces a strong female lead and gives us an interesting twist about an army who we've regarded as the bad guys for 35 years. When I interviewed Michael Molcher at the London Super Comic Convention he compared this to the set up of Robert Harris' Fatherland, and that's pretty good company to be in.

A great first episode with a memorable last panel. Yes, it's another winner.

Pick of the Prog is a battle for second place when you have a Wagner and MacNeil Dredd to compete with. So Dredd first, then Slaine, Outlier and Jaegir in joint second. Well done to Tharg and all the droids. A cracking Prog.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Big Finish - The Mahogany Murderers

I've got season four of Jago and Litefoot ready to go on my iPod but I realised that I have never listened to their first Big Finish story which appeared in the Companion Chronicles series. I've just taken out a new subscription to the main range (I caved in) so I used the free gift option to pick it up. 
The Mahogany Murderers by Andy Lane, directed by Lisa Bowerman.

Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Litefoot team up for the first time after the Talons of Weng Chiang and take turns recounting a series of meetings with some remarkable wooden mannequins which seem to be responsible for several deaths. There are a couple of problems with this adventure, firstly the titular heroes are not quite the firm friends that they become in their subsequent series which is a shame. Their relationship is slightly spiky and I prefer their bonhomie in the box sets.

The second problem is a familiar one for me which is that I just don't get on so well with the narrated stories as compared with the full cast stuff. And the companion chronicles have small casts and do the narration thing. So it's the full cast productions in their regular series that appeal the most.

Having said that Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter are probably two of the best voices from all the Big Finish regulars. Plus this story does introduce the villainous Doctor Tulp who featured in season one. It's good but just not great, 3 out of 5 wooden hearts.

Big Finish - Judge Dredd: The Crime Chronicles

Big Finish have to make harsh business decisions based on what they can flog to us. Their big sellers like the main Doctor Who range, Sherlock Holmes and Blake's 7 have a guaranteed audience, but their ventures out into other franchises are always going to be risky to see if they can recoup their costs and turn a profit.

The full cast audio 2000AD adventures ran from 2002 to 2004 although by the last one the cast was basically just Toby Longworth doing all the voices himself. I presume they thought they could sustain the series if they reduced the stories to something more like an enhanced audio-book, mainly one person narrating but with one or maybe two other voices appearing briefly. And so, after a five year gap,  we got the four crime chronicles.

I have to say that the single voice telling a story is not my favourite flavour of Big Finish so I was approaching these with some trepidation. But they are the last of the 2000AD audios so here goes.

1.01 Stranger than Truth by David Bishop. The series are all directed by John Ainsworth
An academic is hoping to meet Mega City One's most famous author Truman Kaput but it seems that a character from his books has come to life and is murdering his way towards his creator.

This one switches the action between narration from the book character and the Brit-Cit scholar whose researches are dogged by the rising body count. So it was closer to the main range stories than what is to come. Still a bit dull though and it never quite explains why Dredd is acting so strangely. 2.5 out of 5

1.02 Blood Will Tell by James Swallow
Dredd is forced to account for his actions at an SJS hearing after he tangles with a Judge who took the Long Walk and then returned to attack his former city.

Putting Dredd right in the middle of this one makes it the best of the bunch. Toby Longworth as ever gives good voice, and having him tangle with rogue Judges is always good value. 3 out of 5 stars.

1.02 The Devil's Playground by Jonathan Clements
A religious community that are clearly based on the Amish live in a protected block within the Mega-City. Once their youngsters reach 18 they are allowed out into the big city for a year's experience before deciding whether to return to their sequestered lifestyle. Except one of them has been murdered and her best friend need's Dredd's help to find out why.

Mostly narrated as a straightforward story by the actress Gemma Wardle with just a few bits of Longworth's Dredd and it was just too long and dull for me. The Amish parallels are too easy and obvious, there is a basic mistake about how Dredd's Lawgiver works, and the cover image gives away the ending. Worst of the bunch I'm afraid. 2 out of 5.

1.04 Double Zero by James Swallow
Dredd and Anderson have to track down a powerful psychic before undercover agents from other cities find him and kill him.

Louise Jameson is a Big Finish regular and a versatile actress, but she doesn't sound like Cassandra Anderson to me. Her american accent may not be her strongest and suffers when heard next to Longworth's. And the super psychic kid storyline runs pretty frequently anyway. Another 2.5 out of 5 stars and the series rather peters out with a whimper instead of a bang.

The Crime Chronicles never really scale the heights of full cast audio adventures like Death Trap, Get Karter and the two Strontium Dogs, and I guess the sales weren't great as there have been no more since. The availability of the 2000AD range is a bit patchy which may be down to rights problems and a shortage of actual CDs. I think only 9 of the original 18 full cast stories are available now, but you can still get all the Crime Chronicles. Or you can head to the BBC cult site where 5 of the stories including the two Simon Pegg Strontium Dog adventures are still there for nowt.

Overall for these four stories a middling 2.5 out of 5 badge chain links. There are better stories out there.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Retro review - Prog 390

This one was from the LSCC. Again it's the cover image, the newsprint, and the fact that this one was in pretty good nick for a pound that made it irresistible. Prog 390 from November 1984.

Cover by Brett Ewins and it's the first appearance of the Wally Squad Judges. I like to think that one of those youngsters may go on to become Dirty Frank.

The Nerve Centre features letters all about the problems of storing back issues of the comic with writers mentioning their husbands and their jobs. Those 12 year old readers grew up fast.

Rogue Trooper by Gerry Finley-Day, Cam Kennedy and Clive McGee.
Rogue is close to catching the Traitor General but an attack by Nort army droids leads him into a desperate game of cat and mouse in the trenches. Black and white art and this newsprint paper were made for each other and Kennedy's work here looks effortlessly good, despite the fact it must have taken him days to produce. Still can't remember why the Traitor General always looked like he had paint dripping over his scalp though.

Then there is a full page Belardinelli scar scan of Princess Gadarina from the Ace trucking strip, and an advert for Dungeons and Dragons from back when we had to make up games by ourself.

Nemesis the Warlock by Pat Mills, Bryan Talbot and Stave Potter.
If Kevin O'Neill produced bizarre alien landscapes and characters then Bryan Talbot takes the strip into the realms of Gothic horror as Nemesis stalks Torquemada through the streets of an alien recreation of Whitechapel. With top hats, sword-sticks and a proper pea-souper, guv'nor. Plus Talbot works in face checks for a variety of 20th century celebrities and there even seems to be a TV set showing The Tube which is appropriate enough for where this saga began back in Prog 167.

Future Shock: The Castaway by Peter Milligan, Geoff Senior and Pete Knight
One of Milligan's earliest works for 2000AD. It's a one page story which rather spoils the shock ending because you can see the last panel straight away.

Judge Dredd: The Wally Squad by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Brett Ewins and Tom Frame.
The undercover Wally squad Judges who look as freakish as the Mega-Citizens they encounter are introduced and Ewins takes full advantage with some weird and wonderful character designs. They are on the trail of some arms dealers and in classic Wagner and Grant fashion the perps are organ leggers who are selling actual body parts. Dredd barely tolerates the Wally Judges and their bizarre appearance, but then he is, as he likes to remind people, a bit of a stickler.

Ace Trucking Co by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Massimo Belardinelli and Tony Jacob
The workers have taken over the company and Ace Garp is being squeezed out by their calm efficiency. Well that's not going to last long and soon Garp is up to his old tricks with a madcap scheme to put himself back in charge. As ever Belardinelli's artwork is worth the price of admission here. Nobody can draw funny aliens like he could.

The Hell Trekkers by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Jose Ortiz, Horacio Lalia and Tony Jacob
I don't recall ever reading any of this series about a group of pioneers making the dangerous journey from Mega-City One across the Cursed Earth in the hope of a better life on the other side of the country. In this episode they are dealing with the horrific consequences of acid rain. Feels just like filler to be honest and really bringing up the rear in this Prog.

Under the back page ad for the Tucker's Luck Christmas annual there's a tiny notice about the Eagle comics reprints of Dredd and Nemesis stories for the American market. That didn't work out so well for them.

Pick of the Prog is Ace Trucking which outdoes the craziness level of Dredd, and the Whittle circular panel count for this issue is 3.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

ABC Warriors - The Solo Missions

Picked this up at the 2000AD stand at London Super Comic Con. Well I was asking them to sign stuff and do interviews so it seemed rude not to buy something.

Most of the ABC Warriors stories happened while I was not reading 2000AD so I'm playing catch-up. The recent stuff in the Prog has confused me with Clint Langley's varying art styles but I'm starting to get to grips with it. And here we have four stories featuring Hammerstein, Blackblood, Joe Pineapples and Deadlock dating from 1984 to 2000.

Cover is by Pye Parr and is probably the best thing I've seen of his. I love how he manages to work in references to all the other Warriors. His blog details how he produced this stunning piece of comic art.

Hammerstein: Red Planet Blues by Alan Moore, Steve Dillon, John Higgins and Steve Potter.
This was in the 1985 annual which means it was published for Christmas 1984. At that point Alan Moore was just getting into his stride on Swamp Thing and Watchmen was two years in the future. Yet here we have some foreshadowing of what is to come with a melancholy figure sitting on Mars staring at the red sand. There's even a strange spiky structure that appears to be made of glass.

Moore's recent works have left me cold so it was an unexpected thrill to read this short piece from back in the day when he didn't think that writing simple but effective comic stories was beneath him. It's a tale about the early days of human colonists on Mars and their encounter with an indigenous life form that recalls Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles. Moore manages to do more in these seven pages than he has achieved in the last three League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books put together. Art by Steve Dillon and beautiful colours by John Higgins make this story a little gem from the golden age of 2000AD.

Blackblood: Dishonourable Discharge by Pat Mills, Kev Walker and Annie Parkhouse
Another quickie, this time from 1992 explains how Blackblood was programmed to betray, and how he lost that eye. It's a short but fairly entertaining story from 2000AD's painted era. So far I have found Blackblood a less interesting character and after the Moore/Dillon story this one suffers slightly. Not bad as filler though.

Joe Pineapples: His Greatest Hits by Pat Mills, Tom Carney and Ellie De Ville
The story of the universe's greatest assassin is reasonably entertaining and it's clear that Uncle Pat's tongue is firmly in his cheek here. I'm not sure if the art was painted, or if it's an early experiment with digital colouring but the primary colour palate is too brash and bright for me. Give me the pulpy black and white stuff any day.

Deadlock by Pat Mills, Henry Flint and Tom Frame
And speaking of black and white artwork here is a multi-part story with some gorgeous Henry Flint madness from the year 2000. It's a return to the world of Nemesis the Warlock with Purity Brown and Deadlock dealing with the aftermath of the final battle between Nemesis and Torquemada, and in particular with a serial killer stalking the tubes of Termight. If any 2000AD artist can match the whacky weirdness of Kevin O'Neill then it has to be Mr Flint who produces some monstrous mayhem and tube scenes that took me right back to that first issue where this series began.

The Deadlock story makes up the bulk of this collection and it is well worth the price of admission, but pick of the book is the surprise of reading an Alan Moore story from back in the day when he was just a wizard of words instead of a real beardy-weirdy wizard.