“I Miss Having Tits.” COMICS! Sometimes I Have An Emotion.

It's very hot today. Oh, and I see the world continues to misbehave. Sigh. Only two comics this time out. They're pretty good though. Well I thought so, at least.  photo TETopB_zpsefxhfc4b.png The Experts by Sophie Franz

Anyway, this... BLACK HAMMER #1 Art by Dean Ormston Written by Jeff Lemire Coloured by Dave Stewart Lettered by Todd Klein Dark Horse Comics, Inc. DIGITAL: £1.99 (2016) Black Hammer created by Dean Ormston & Jeff Lemire Black Hammer © ™ 2016 171 Studios, Inc., and Dean Ormston

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This is one of those slightly cheeky comics in which all the characters are heavily reminiscent of popular superhero characters. Teeny tweaks have to be made so that Ormston and Lemire can use the archetypal aspects of the originals, but don't have to spend the rest of their lives in court rooms being sued by people who have only ever exercised creativity in their theft of the fruit of other people's talent. The upside of the Cheeky Tweak © ™ is the authors (writer and artist) can actually tell a real story with a point, during which the characters can change or even die; without every development being undermined by the knowledge that nothing too thrilling will stick, because the real money is in selling Captain Arsegrapes © ™ branded shit to kids. The downside is that, as here, changing C*****n M****l into a girl called Golden Gail means you don't get to be fellated on talk shows because, say, you have written The Tin Can © ™ as the same shit quipping character you always write but, crucially for World Peace, have instructed the artist to draw a black woman with a big afro like fucking Sheba, Baby (1975) just came out yesterday. AND THE WALLS COME TUMBLING DOWN!!!!! Now, over to Patrice with a funny story about Tom Hardy's dogs. Patrice...

 photo BHPicB_zpslfsawcg8.png Black Hammer by Ormston. Lemire, Stewart & Klein

The first test of a Cheeky Tweak © ™ is how good are the names? Because I don't know about you (who does? Your Rabbi. So behave.) but I am astounded people can still come up with good super hero names. Here we have Abraham Slam, Col Weird, Talky-Walky, Barbalien, Golden Gail, Madame Dragonfly and Black Hammer. I think that's a pretty nifty range of names. I'll not go into who they all map across to, because that's part of the fun of a Cheeky Tweak © ™ too. However, I will say that we find most of them trapped in a Small Town America © ™ setting which is so cliched it must be so on purpose, which suggests that all is not...as it seems! (foreboding music)! Finding themselves confined to Norman Rockwellville since saving the world at great cost, they have each adapted to differing extents, and as a whole have formed a bickering and somewhat unstable parody of the family unit. This is the most enjoyable aspect of the issue; having the characters interact and seeing how their interactions define them. Obviously for that to work they actually all have to have different characters, and, you know, not all sound like the same middle aged white male speaking through multiple mouths. Jeff Lemire has a pretty good handle on character as far as I can tell, and the upshot of that is I'd quite happily spend more time with these folk. Dean Ormston's not really being pushed yet, but he brings a creepy vibe to the normalcy (which is so excessively so it just isn't normal). I'm used to his fully painted stuff so I'm enjoying the McKeever vibe of his stripped back work here. There's clearly bad times ahead, maybe good times too, probably a whole lot of trouble en route, and it'll be fun seeing this bunch get shoved through the wringer. Oh, there's emotional subtlety too, I nearly forgot that. There's a really nice bit of business with Adam Strange Col. Weird whose space sickness resembles a cosmic form of senile dementia. His interactions with his robot pal, Talky-Walky, are kind of...affecting. Hoo-HAH! Anyway, it's a promising start and I'll probably stay on board. GOOD!


THE EXPERTS #1 All by Sophie Franz Retrofit Comics & Big Planet Comics, DIGITAL: £1.99 (2016) The Experts created by Sophie Franz The Experts © 2016 Sophie Franz

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This is an odd one. It's a done-in-oner, and the synopsis while perfectly true may lead you to expect some kind of ALIENS on a seabase action fest, with maybe some of the character stuff from John Carpenter's THE THING, but in a Indie Stylee art wise. Because you should always be expecting that, because that would be a great comic. It wouldn't be this comic though. No, this comic takes the set up for a creepy horror movie (three experts on an isolated sea base surrounded by weird creatures lose touch with the mainland and, slowly, themselves) and twists it into an evocative mood piece; one seemingly constructed of vaguely related emotional set pieces presented via an inscrutable system of symbols unique to the author but anchored in the mundane we all share. Look, I know what I mean! Clearly then, it's the kind of thing I have a hard time describing. It's the kind of comic where one of the characters has turned into a fish but no one mentions it for so long you start doubting the fact that it is indeed a big fish eating and kvetching at the dinner table; the kind of comic where things happen but don't seem to happen so barely do they disturb the narrative meniscus, and when they do happen it's left entirely to you as to whether they were a good thing or a bad thing; it's the kind of comic where a dog can't speak French but can understand it; it's the kind of comic that's only 28 pages long but every page works; it's the kind of comic we need more of.

 photo TEPicB_zpsty5tybf2.png The Experts by Sophie Franz

Since it's the creation of a single brain it would be a task beyond my limited capabilities to disentangle the writing from the art. So I won't. Sophie Franz' storytelling here is exceptional stuff. There are all kinds of approaches to the colouring, including pastels for the in-story sketches, plain flat for the characters, thick washes for the sea and sky, and even colour without any holding lines at all when Frankie flips out a bit. The actual linework is mostly in a lightly Clowesian mold, which Franz uses to deliver some absolutely spot-on posture work (check out the panel on p.21 of the feet walking away from us: The Sauce? C'est Awesome!) and it's just generally and genuinely a visual delight. Despite its brilliance it still isn't going to be for everyone. It is after all the kind of comic where a dog is set adrift in a rowboat with a shopping list tied to its head, and (thanks to Franz' skills) it isn't wacky or odd, it's just plain moving. Ultimately, THE EXPERTS is the kind of comic that can make you cry without you knowing why. EXCELLENT!

Superheroes and dogs that cant speak French, it's gotta be – COMICS!!!

“I'm Looking For A Creep With Big Feet!” COMICS! Sometimes Travel Can Limit Your Horizons To The Size of an Iso-Cube!

In which John beggars belief by actually following up on his threat to look at the Judge Dredd Mega Collection. This time out various, and largely unpleasant, xenomorphs get a quick course in The Law from Professor Joseph Dredd.  photo JDANmcmB_zpszkno1p6o.jpg JUDGE DREDD by McMahon, Wagner & Frame

Anyway, this... ALIEN NATIONS JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION #75 Artwork by Dean Ormston, Ashley Wood, Ian Gibson, Mick McMahon, Karl Richardson, Cam Kennedy, Tony Luke & Jim Murray Written by Alan Grant, John Wagner & T. C. Eglington Lettered by Tom Frame, Fiona Stephenson & Annie Parkhouse Coloured by D'Israeli & Chris Blythe Originally serialised in 2000Ad Progs, 204,1033, 1133-1134, 1241 & 1855-1857, Judge Dredd Megazine 1.11-1.17, 2.53 – 2.56,& 2.73 -2.76 and Judge Dredd Mega Special 1995 © 1981, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1997,1999, 2001, 2013 & 2015 Rebellion A/C Judge Dredd created by Carlos Ezquerra, Pat Mills & John Wagner £9.99 UK (2015)

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This volume of the Hatchette/Rebellion partwork is yet more big chinned future cop thrills, but this time in the form of a (mostly) scrotnig smorgasbord of encounters between our autocratic anti-hero and various alien races. This is handy because it gives an idea of certain types of Dredd tales which occur in-between the mega death events. There are many kinds of Dredd tales and this collection is hardly exhaustive but it catches a fair few of them between its hard covers; covers adorned as ever with the pleasantly minimalist design of B&W line art with a red flash to catch the eye. It also allows me to look at a wide variety of Dredd artists including Mick (nee Mike) McMahon. Which is nice. (MICK MCMAHON!)

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A smidge over half the book is taken up by the opening double bill of Raptaur and Skar, both of which are fine examples of the longstanding tradition British comics have of providing off-brand (and slightly tweaked to avoid litigation) versions of pop culture faves. (For corroboration see my previous babbling about Action Weekly, if you really feel you must. I don't recommend it as even my family refuse to read my writing.) Here, in Skar particularly, it's Alien, as in the fantastic 20th Century Fox movie presentation. (Of which I have also written tediously on previous occasions). There would come a point when Judge Dredd would actually face the licensed acid blooded xenomorph itself; it would be drawn by Henry Flint and it would be pretty great, actually. I  guess no such permission had been given back when these strips appeared so it's Skar and Raptaur. Raptaur has a slight edge as a concept since the tweak there is it's Alien crossed with Predator. Dredd would also eventually face Predator and it would be drawn by Enrique Alcatena and it would be forgettable.

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As it happens Skar is quite forgettable too. It's not bad , it's just a bit distended for what it is. Generally John Wagner seems to be keen to let his artists have a pretty free hand, and on occasion he seems to write stories intended to showcase the art, and so story depth and density become less of an issue. This isn't a bad approach (comics being a primarily visual medium, or so I hear) but it does depend on how the reader reacts to the particular artist. Alas, I'm not an Ashley Wood man. I stubbornly maintain he is great at illustration but poor on storytelling. Here Wood's art is, I think, intended to carry the piece in arms made sturdy by atmospheric layouts and oppressive blacks. Unfortunately what happens in my eyes is there’s a bunch of confusing layouts with the use of black seemingly an excuse not to draw things, and this approach is implemented so excessively it nudges the whole thing into visual tedium. Also, I wanted to slap that airbrush(?) out of his hands. Raptaur, on the other hand is written by Alan Grant and is a much denser affair. As well as the whole finding out what this thing is and how to kill it business, Grant also provides little snap shots of city life along the way for colour, atmosphere and humour. There's even a real sense of danger for Dredd ; he gets several right batterings, and some stand out Dredd Hard! Moments (the bit where he stabs himself in the hand because he is losing his grip above a vast drop is pure Dredd Hard!). But Grant's clearly writing with story rather than atmosphere in mind, so obviously he wins. Mind you he also wins because he's got Dean Ormston on art. Here Ormston's art is still developing but it's developing quickly. His quirky line is made robust by a queasy colouring job with a palette informed by some imaginary but very toxic children's cereal; it's all slightly off primary hues laid over gnarly figures, which tip over into the truly grotesque when occasion demands. Raptaur and Skar are two very different beasts in teh end; two very different approaches to the same genre staple; how you react to either will depend on you, but I think Raptaur takes it. There's also a short Raptaur Returns thing which combines Ormston's art with Tony Luke's modeling (CGI?) to produce a fresh take on Raptaur as a toothy poo.

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Acting as a kind of breather before the next chunk of fascistic fun we get a short one episode humour piece in which Dredd is tasked with showing an alien ball of feathers and eyes around the city. Alas, the alien isn't as cute as he looks and if “Diplomatic Immunity!” didn't work for Joss Ackland it sure as shit isn't going to work in The Big Meg. It's fun but slight and Ian Gibson's art is the real draw (ho!) Here Gibson is drawing as “Emberton” because for some reason there was a period where he confused the nuts off me by appearing in 2000AD under a couple of names (I think one started with “Q...”). For a bit back then I honestly thought there was some kind of Ian Gibson Movement or something. It would have been better than the wave of Bisley manques we did get. Oops, little bit of bitterness showing there.

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Next up is Howler which is big fat lump of Mick McMahon. Again , as with Skar above, John Wagner's story is the barest whiff of a thing; this time it is clearly just there so Mick McMahon can do whatever the Hell he wants for 36 or so pages. Since I would quite happily look at Mick McMahon's drawings of the contents of his fridge, the fact that he's drawing a story about an alien who thinks shouting loud enough to make people explode is going to make him King of Mega City One is just a dream made paper. Basically here McMahon's art is in line with that Legends of The Dark Knight I talked about a bit back. The illusion of depth is created not by perspective but by the layering of flat elements. It reminds me a lot of the work of Oliver Postgate (Noggin The Nog and all that); it's easy to imagine McMahon's figures lolloping across the panel with their arms and legs moving in a weirdly convincing but thoroughly unrealistic way. This is uber reductive cartooning, all geometric shapes and straight lines; the genius is in the measure of character which still informs everything McMahon draws. Mick McMahon is a living genius – FACT! Also, Judge Dredd gets his head dunked in a lav. Watch out for toothy poos!

 photo JDANckB_zpsivmzv402.jpg JUDGE DREDD by Kennedy, Wagner, Blythe & Frame

The traddest effort comes next in the form of Prey. I don't know who T.C. Eglington is but s/he does a decent job in providing a story about weird murders in an aid camp set post Chaos Day (see Vol.s 49 & 50). There's nothing amazing here but it's solid stuff and manages to lightly touch on a couple of real issues. Richardson's art is in the more traditional North American style (e.g. Ethan Van Sciver i.e. the Green Lantern one, not the more talented, arty one) and the end result is probably likely to be more to the taste of palates not used to 2000AD's traditionally richer mix. Then again look at Cam Kennedy. Don't mind if I do, cheers! Kennedy sees out the volume with a couple of tales. I was all ready to bang on about how it was a damned shame that Kennedy, a uniquely kinetic artist, had never found real success over in the Americas. Then I remembered he did all those comics based on the children's entertainment Star Wars so he's probably doing a-okay. Here he's doing better than a-okay because he's drawing Judge Dredd. And Judge Dredd and Cam Kennedy are like boots and feet – they are meet. Like all the great Dredd artists Kennedy has his own spin on The Chin. Literally in fact, because Kennedy's Dredd-chin looks like a crispy baked potato. In a good way. Kennedy's two strips are by John Wagner and are light hearted affairs with a varied roster of aliens for Kennedy to depict in his signature crumbly and lolloping style. Solid stuff, showing Dredd's softer side and given that extra oomph that only Cam can. Braced between Kennedy's efforts is a frothy piece combining escalating disaster and alien religious extremism, all of which is given whatever entertaining weight it has by Jim Murray's art. Murray's art is in that fully painted style popularised by Bisley and mills' The Horned God way back when; a style adopted by many but which only few could manage. Luckily Murray's one of the few.

 photo JDANjmB_zpsx6ggnhtb.jpg JUDGE DREDD by Murray, Wagner & Frame

Like my comb-over in a stiff wind, this volume is a bit all over the place but that's a nice change of pace from the nerve shredding marathon of the Epics. I appreciated the varied art styles and the various tones of the tales. While it doesn't hold together as a book that's because it was never meant to. However, it is like reading a really big Judge Dredd Mega Special or something. I had fun and some of that fun was was spectacular (Mick McMahon!) and sometimes it involved Tony Luke's toothy poos. But overall it was GOOD! (But if you like Mick McMahon you can take that up to VERY GOOD!)

The question is not whether there is life in space but rather whether they read – COMICS!!!