A very special throwback this time out! As requested some time ago by someone whose name I've mislaid I finally look at a series from way back in the mists of 1990-91. This one is for everyone who has a very special place in their heart for John Boorman's ZARDOZ. This one's for all the dreamers! WORLD WITHOUT ENDby Higgins, Delano and StarkingsRead More
Some say it’s not the journey but the destination. In this case it’s very much about the destination, which is the final issue of the artistically impoverished big ticket cash-grab from DC Comics, Dark Knight III: The Master Race. After this we’ll all just pretend it never happened and get on with our lives. We shall never speak of this again. EVER. DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & MillerRead More
As I probably said, I’m quite busy at the minute. But I like to write to relieve the stress. So I wrote this. It’s about the Friday The 13th movies, being a dad, the implacable march of time and the Friday The 13th game on PS4. It’s of limited interest, except to students of the pointlessly self-indulgent. But that's never stopped me before!Read More
Nearly there. Good soldier. Nearly there. DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #8 Pencils by Andy Kubert and Frank Miller Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller (Yeah, right) & Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson and Alex Sinclair Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Brad Anderson, Bill Sienkiewicz and Riley Rossmo Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller (WITH Lynn Varley, Klaus Janson & John Constanza. Remember them, DC Comics? You should, you really should. You've got one more issue to remember 'em. Then it's spankin' time!) Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane DC Comics, $5.99 or $12.99 (deluxe) (2017)Read More
In which I talk about a kid’s comic featuring Space Ghost and Green Lantern. That’s right, I’m 47 years old. It’s called living the dream, baby. Living the dream! RUFF'N'REDDYby Chaykin, Quintana and Brosseau
GREEN LANTERN/SPACE GHOST SPECIAL #1 Art by Ariel Olivetti and Howard Victor Chaykin Written by James Tynion IV: The Voyage Home & Christopher Sebela, and Howard Victor Chaykin Lettered by A Larger Word Studios and Pat Brosseau Coloured by Ariel Olivetti and Wil Quintana Cover by Ariel Olivetti DC Comics, £2.99 (2017) Green Lantern created by John Broome, Gil Kane, Bill Finger, Martin Nodell & Gardner Fox Space Ghost created by Alex Toth, William Hanna & Joseph Barbera Ruff And Reddy created by William Hanna & Joseph BarberaRead More
Just one comic, and not too many words. Oh, happy 4th of July, I guess. This one’s for all of my American buddies. (It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with the 4th of July, if I’m being quite honest.) SHADOWS ON THE GRAVE: "The Clown" by Corben
SHADOWS ON THE GRAVE #4 Art by Richard Corben Written by Richard Corben, Jan Strnad Dark Horse Comics, $3.99 (2017)
Shadows on the Grave (SotG) is a monthly B/W anthology comic featuring a spatter of short terror tales and a thoroughly muscular episode of a comedic barbarian serial. It could have just consisted of short stories revolving around the life cycle of the Scarabaeus sacer and pin-ups of Brian Bendis in a variety of revealing swim suits, as long as Richard Corben was on the job. Because SotG is very much all about Richard Corben. Or his art at least. The thing is, look, the thing about the traditional draw of a comic, the stories, the thing about them in SotG is…well, they often aren’t really stories as such. I mean, they are technically stories, I guess, but they can kind of peter out a bit sometimes. In that sense they are a lot like the old DC “Mystery” books in that all the signifiers of horror are there but the narrative thread comes a poor second. Atmosphere is paramount where shadows drape the grave. Which is okay for me, but maybe not you? I mean, I bought this because it’s Richard Corben doing whatever he wants. And I am all about the Colossi of Comics doing whatever they want. Which is why Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder is an auto-buy wherever it appears; why Walter Simonson’s Ragnarök is the only $4.99 comic I buy without grinding my teeth; why Howard Victor Chaykin’s Divided States of Hysteria is…oops, moving swiftly on… In essence, in much the same way that a Daily Mail reader comes for the sideboob and stays for the archaic right wing frothing which paints every monied white person over 50 as a besieged minority in their own country, I come to SotG for the stories but I stay for the craft.
Stories which are, as I say, mostly exercises in style; attempts at inducing an atmosphere of creeping unease. The opener in this particular pamphlet of pulsating dread, “The Clown”, involves a bloke who does a bad thing at the circus and is gotten by a creepy clown doll. There’s no overt connection between his act of murderous larceny and his fate via macabre marionette. It’s just your stringently judgmental mind at work, Gidget. He could as well been singled out for smoking, or calling the dancing lady a rude word, or just for wearing a roll neck jumper with a jacket. All of which he does, because he’s a proper bad apple. But it’s not really important. What’s really important is seeing how Corben does it. How Corben draws the lady dancer’s boobs floppaloppaling about, managing in just one static panel to suggest more about the interconnectedness of mass and motion via the slightly down-market device of her go-go mammaries than the entire career of, say, Jim Lee ever has. How Corben draws a circus so tattily alive you can practically smell the cheap pot pourri of fried onions, exhaust fumes and cotton candy, almost hear the sharp cry of a freshly slapped child. How Corben captures the shabby glamour of the travelling fair, in short. All that’s the real pleasure.
Next up is “Flex!” which has far more structural integrity story-wise. Which it should well have, since Corben calls on his frequent partner in grime, Jan Strnad. Now Jan Strnad’s name may not be up in lights on the Broadway of your mind but he is an extraordinarily capable writer. Which may sound like faint praise but it’s more praise that I’d give most fan-favourite hawt hold-the-phone-! writers. More comic writers should deserve praise so faint, in short. I enjoyed Strnad’s horror novel Risen (written as J. Knight, Warner Books, 2001, ISBN 978-0759550384, GOOD!) quite a bit. It’s one of those small-town-steamrollered-by-evil things, so comparisons with Gravity’s Rainbow might not be entirely fair. More of a beach read, really; but that’s no great slur. Risen’s prose is efficient and it’s speedily paced but, you know, several times I admit the thought crossed my largely empty mind that it would work really well as a comic drawn by…Richard Corben!. Choke! And, Corben’s art is the star on “Flex”, but Strnad’s script lends the hokey wish-that-is-obviously-going-to-backfire premise enough of a casually raised eyebrow to bring everyone in on the fun. Most of that fun is seeing the outrageous contortions Corben puts human physiology through in the toe curling pay off to this cautionary tale of body builders. Ouch, fair made my eyes water so it did. OOF!
Appropriately enough the hyperbolic muscularity, one of Corben’s key visual motifs, of “Flex” also saturates the episode of “Denaeus” which ends the issue. It’s appropriate because Denaeus is one of Corben’s hyper-muscular barbarian characters a la Den (the two are related in some fashion I’ve forgotten; it’s not important). It’s familiar territory for Corben, as familiar as his horror stuff but, because he is Corben (i.e. because he is awesome), it’s all as fresh as the meat on a newly felled steer. It’s the usual stuff about prophecies, heroes, mysterious mages, maidens and violence, but all enlivened and undercut by Corben’s typically modern approach to the dialogue. That and the fact Corben can’t even make a sand dune look dull. So you can imagine the artistic delights he throws like so much visual tinsel all over the pages during the violent slapstick of the Denaeus vs cyclops centrepiece. There aren’t many comic artists who can bring to the page a giddy blend of creatine, egg whites, Ray Harryhausen movies, Michael Bentine’s Pottytime, Johnson’s baby oil and John Milius’ Conan The Barbarian. In fact there’s only one, Richard Corben. Further, there’s only one Richard Corben. And Shadows on the Grave is what he’s doing right now, and that’s VERY GOOD!
NEXT TIME: Queersploitation, Canadian superheroics, Howard Victor Chaykin’s bizarre foray into Hanna Barbera territory, a crappy slasher movie franchise goes paper, Judge Dredd or, uh, something completely different? Whatever it is, it’s bound to be – COMICS!!! (If you have a preference let me know below the line. I’ll probably ignore it, but you could get lucky!)
In which I continue to try and make up lost ground by looking at issue 7 (
of 8 of 9) of DC Comic’s big-ticket Bat event. By popular demand! Well, two people, anyway.
DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #7 Pencils by Andy Kubert Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller (Yeah, right) & Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert, Frank Miller & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miler & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Dave McCaig, Howard Victor Chaykin & Jesus Arbuto and Chris Burnham & Nathan Fairbairn Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller (WITH Lynn Varley, Klaus Janson & John Constanza. Remember them, DC Comics? You should, you really should.) Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane DC Comics, $5.99 or $12.99 (deluxe) (2017)
Make no mistake with issue 7 DKIII:TMR remains a very special comic; special in a wholly awful way. DKIII: TMR is the kind of comic that is so awful it actually makes you genuinely miserable for having sat through it. Maybe it’s the waste of talent that makes the misery sting so hard, for there are talented people here; people who have produced some pretty decent comics but this…thing, is just so awful, so pitiful in fact that to treat it with the disdain it deserves seems unfair, if not cruel. Then you remember how much money this bunch probably got ($$lot$$) for producing this vacuous piffle. It’s hard to decide which bits are worse, the bits with the words or the bits with the pictures. Only joking, it’s definitely the words. As vague and perfunctory as Kubert’s paltry efforts may be, his art’s inadequacies pale before the titanic idiocy of the writing. Azzarello firmly plants his flag in the peak of Mount Awful from the very first page with a tour de farce of faux cleverness. For the author of a comic that has spent far too long buggering about Azzarello certainly doesn’t bugger about in buggering things up. He’s straight in there. In the last characteristically pathetic issue, you will recall (because how could you not), Batman fell in battle. Actually, you might not recall that, because it was delivered with all the narrative vitality of a rural bus timetable. I didn’t see anything on The Internet about it anyway, and that’s where there’s usually some kind of moronic rumpus if a fictional character even coughs persistently enough, never mind finds a rusty red warning in their supertrunks.
So Superman picks ailing Batman up and flies off with him, which is where this issue opens. And Azzarello, for once wasting no time (but unfortunately wasting no time in being awful), in a move you just know made him fire finger guns at his screen, rejigs the old Superman “Faster than a speeding bullet..” spiel from the Siegel and Schuster days, but with a typically modern maudlin slant. “Am I, in fact, all that?” is the undercurrent to this un-Super internal monologue. Azzarello is probably under the misapprehension that this is as cute as that page in All-Star Superman which reduces Superman’s origin to its fundamentals (“Doomed Planet.” ,“Last Son.”, etc). Tragically for tobacco-beard-sporting-finger-gunning writers everywhere it isn’t cute; it’s plain dumb. For starters why would Superman know that speech? Does he make up little ditties about himself, maybe while he’s sat covered in ice (for reasons no one has seen fit to divulge over the seven issues of this blocked toilet of a comic)? Or are there Superman comics in the world of TDKIII:TMR? And were they made by Siegel and Shuster? And did they get royally fucked over like they did in this world? And if I want to read a comic where Superman and Siegel and Shuster occupy the same world why aren’t I reading Rick Veitch’s Maximortal, which is a far, far better comic? Flawed as it is from the off, Azzarello does his self-satisfied conceit no favours at all with his typically tortured syntax. Azzarello’s inept rejig comes off like the empty posturing it is in comparison to Siegel and Shuster’s breezy and effortlessly iconic brilliance. And it just doesn’t work anyway. Superman’s basically bemoaning the fact that even being Superman may not be enough to save Batman (like what’s the alternative, a fucking ambulance? Would a fucking ambulance be better? A flying fucking ambulance even? No, Superman, it wouldn’t.) “I’m only Superman” he sighs, telling us nothing about Superman or indeed anything at all except the utter failure of the writer to “get” the character. Someone should have made Azzarello rewrite this smug baloney until it worked, or until he binned it. It’s not big and it’s not clever; it’s nincompoopery of the highest order. Supernincompoopery!
But where’s Superman going with Batman? To the Lazarus pit! Who didn’t see that coming? Even Karl Marlden in Dario Argento’s Cat O’Nine Tails saw that coming! (Note: Karl Marlden plays a blind man in Dario Argento’s Cat O’Nine Tails. That’s the joke there.) But because Superman is a thoughtless dick we have several pages of Carrie being all sadznshitz because she thinks Batman is dead. You would have thought Superman would have had the wit to let her know there was…a chance! But although that would be entirely in character for Superman, and not too difficult to work into the story, he instead leaves her to wet Batman’s helmet with her lady tears (not a euphemism). These, typically for Kubert, sparsely arted pages are a complete fucking waste of space unless you like seeing young women feeling all sadznshitz for no reason. That doesn’t speak highly of you, I’m afraid. It does speak to the utterly desperate attempts of this comic to inject some drama into the thoroughly beige goings-on. Carrie’s already been sadznshitz over a not-dead Batman in issues #1 and #2 and here she is again all sadznshitz. Azzarello is so frantic to fill his pages he’s reduced to recycling things that already failed to work. So, Superman drops Batman in the Lazarus Pit. I don’t believe (I could be wrong; I don’t really care at this point) the words “Lazarus Pit” are used in this issue, so anyone unfortunate enough to be reading this without decades of useless Bat-ephemera clogging up their higher functions, would be left wondering why Superman has taken the corpse of his pal to what appears to be a particularly sternly ornamented San Franciscan bath house. Is it because they spent some good times there flicking towels at each other’s taut arses between badmouthing Lois and exchanging smoky glances?
No, it’s because it’s a Lazarus Pit! And, as the advert says - it does what it says on the tin. There’s about 4 pages wasted on Batman going into the healing waters, Superman waiting, and then Batman leaping out like a nude billionaire shaped salmon. Fully two pages of that are just Superman waiting. Just…waiting. Lad de dah…waiting. Just…waiting. Got any mints? Waiting…waiting. Thrilling stuff. If you’re an accountant. So, yeah, Batman’s young again! And we might as well shut up shop right here, because all protestations to the contrary this has been the whole point of the series – to make Batman young again. Now they can have TDKR comics forever and a day! Regular Batman can find Carrie’s soiled knickers in his washbin; we could have a lenticular cover, and when you move it Batman holds the lacy aromatic rag up to his nose! Part 1 of a 50 part event: “The Knickers”. Or Dark Knight Batman could team up with Huckleberry fucking Hound! Or Strawberry Fucking Shortcake! The possibilities are quite literally dreary beyond belief! As ever though, in their sweaty fumble after more money DC miss the point. The USP of The Dark Knight universe was that Batman was old, that Batman could die. Without that it’s all just more Batman. And still just more Bruce Wayne Batman to boot. A writer with any stones would have had Bats die, Carrie take the mantle and that black kid from issue one (the kid we all thought was indicative of some thoughtfulness, some relevance; the kid who died in one of the lumpen fight scenes) should have become Robin (but you know, in more urban attire. More “street”. Not just a Nehru collar and some piping, Jim Lee.) Instead we get the same old, same old. Seven overpriced, ineptly executed issues thus far; all so DC can just switch The Dark Knight Returns off and switch it back on again; restore the whole thing back to factory settings. What was once original and thrilling is now neutered and subsumed into the grey paste of insipid corporate product. See also: Watchmen. There’s going to be a Watchmen TV series! How fucking mundane must you be to be excited about a Watchmen TV series! How arid must your inner life that be to think The Dark Knight Returns was a bit too exciting and could really do with being more like the other umptyfuckingbillion Batman comics. The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen - now just as lifeless and drab as everything else! Huzzah! DC clearly need to brush up on their Aesop’s fables. Particularly the one about the goose and the golden eggs. BIFF! BANG! POW! Short stories, typically with animals as characters, conveying a moral aren’t just for kids!
A wiser man, a better man, would stop there; the series having essentially declared itself a bleak exercise in corporate box ticking devoid of any and all artistic intentions. Why bother with it anymore? Because it is truly, fascinatingly awful. And it is important that voices are raised against precisely this kind of incompetent high-profile crap. So, I’ll go on. There is a jaw droppingly shit bit where Azzarello tries to inject some depth into the junk tumbling from his characters’ mouths. Carrie and Commissioner Yindel have a rooftop confab which is so full of horseshit I half expected Kubert to have sketched a shire horse next to the smashed Bat-signal. But that would have required some humour, and also horses are hard, and if the art on DKIII:TMR tells me anything it tells me Kubert’s not all that into graft. If there’s a shortcut, Kubert will take it. I’d rather Kubert drove me on holiday than drew my comics is what I’m saying there. Back at the Brian Azzarello Insight Corner: Was it worth it?, asks Yindel who is clearly a moron. All what, asks Carrie because she too is none too bright herself. All this, says Yindel because circuitous drivel takes up space and that’s what writing for comics in the 21st century is all about – taking up space. That and choking the imagination and beauty out of everything. The gist, I think, of all this deep, deep thought is that Yindel is asking Robin if fighting the bad guys was worth it; worth all the death and property damage. This is such a boneheaded question I worry for the state of Brian Azzarello’s mental health. Then, even better (i.e. even worse) there is some mush mouthed mental gruel about how everyone always thinks they are on the right side, so how can they know what they did was right? Deep. Oh, and (buckle UP, Wittgenstein) how masks don’t just conceal – they REVEAL! (Christ. Just…Christ.) The ideas beneath all this overcooked rumbledethumps of inane prattle barely even qualify as thoughts. But important questions are being asked, we are assured. The only important question is how anyone could write this shit and not spend their life puce with shame. This is what happens when people whose talent has really short arms reach for profundity.
Other things happen in the issue and the best I can say about those is they aren’t as hair curlingly terrible as the stuff I’ve highlighted. The Kandorians continue to hang about like a cloud of midges over a stagnant pond, before deciding to go to Paradise Island (“De plane, boss! De plane! De invisible plane!” RIP, Herve Villechaize) for some childnapping. Superman and Wonder Woman’s daughter continues to hang about with the poorly motivated Kandorians, like a posh kid slumming it with the scruffs to piss off mom and dad. The guy with the big melted face complains about having a big melted face. And to be honest I think this whole guy-with-a-big-melted-face business isn’t really worth all the space it’s getting. There’s only so much mileage in a guy-with-a-big-melted-face. But then everything (what little there is of it) gets far too much space in this comic, the whole thing is a whole load of nothing spread far too thin. Oh, the Atom’s back! It’s been several weeks now, or something, since he shrunk so he should, by rights, be covered in his own mess, winnowed by starvation and not a little boggle eyed with fear. But Nah, He’s perfectly fine, sat on a molecule working on his techno-bits. I guess he’s sat on a molecule in a piece of ham which us why he hasn’t starved to death. Why, precisely, it’s taking him so long to fix his magic machine (which will no doubt be adroitly deployed at the climax of the book) is anyone’s guess. There’s also a mini-comic, the bulk of the fun of which is in Frank Miller’s enthusiastic pencils, alas much of the fun of these is crushed by Janson’s rigid inks. The best bit (of the whole series so far in fact) is the appearance of Bat-Mite, largely because there is no mention of him on the page; so it’s entirely possible Frank Miller just drew him in there (twice) for shits and giggles. Just that small sight of goofy (possibly improvisatory) fun throws the rest of the joyless crap surrounding it into stark and unflattering relief. Bat-Mite! Yay! Unfortunately, like the main book, it’s all written in Azzarello’s dourly congested style, in which everyone thinks they are being highly insightful while merely being full of shite. Fans of stereotypically sweaty and sinister Egyptians will have a field day, but that’s probably a minority of the Direct Market audience in 2017.
If DKIII:TMR had been a Broadway Musical it would have closed so fast Spider-Man: Turn Out The Dark’s run would have resembled that of The Mousetrap. But it’s a comic, so its audience are even less discerning than a pensioners’ coach trip at a heavily discounted, matinee performance. Also, because its sales figures are inflated by the comics equivalent of sub-prime mortgages (i.e. variants) it gets to preen about pretending people like it, until every last cent has been squeezed out and you can practically hear its pips squeak. DC even added an extra issue! That was about as welcome as an extra in-law. Obviously this decision was to allow the peerless artistry of the series room to excel, and certainly not because DC wished to increase their market share for another month with one of their few regularly well performing titles. I despise this new tendency on the part of Marvel and DC to gift its audience with an extra issue of whatever over-hyped and undercooked craptacular they have induced us all into buying despite the weight of experience. There’s nothing like flagrantly taking advantage of your audience to engender good will. Here’s where that ends up: I’m not buying anymore mini-series. I’ll just get the TPB when they are done. Add as many issues as you like, you short termist donkey haunches; I’ll not be buying them. Craven and underhanded shenanigans in the extreme, as ever from Corporate Comics. There’s no artistic reason for sticking another ish in since the series has no genuine artistry, and from a creative viewpoint could have done with being seven issues less. That might have, you know, focused the minds of everyone involved. The last thing an ill-disciplined, sprawling, and fundamentally empty thing like DKIII:TMR needs is more room. When your kid starts projectile vomiting due to an allergic reaction to a Chinese meal, you don’t wander through every room in the house with him; maybe knock on next door’s as a surprise and merrily spread the trail of vomitus yet further. No, you stick him in the bath and keep him there. Damage limitation, innit. You all know the words by now, so sing along: DKIII:TMR is CRAP!
NEXT TIME: Something a bit less blatantly soulless and worthier of the name – COMICS!!!
I don’t know what happened! I wrote about three whole comics in less than fifty billion words! It won’t happen again. My apologies. I don't know what I was thinking. I certainly wasn't thinking about this intro, which is why it's so weak. Rush politely past it and read on... BLUBBER by Gilbert Hernandez
SLASHER #1 By Charles Sanford Forsman Floating World Comics, Digital: £1.49 (2017)
Like many men in their middle years (“middle”, yeah, like I’m going to see 94. Pretty loose definition of “middle” there, society) I court danger like its dad owns a yacht. To relight that sputtering youthful fire some middle-aged men take up shark wrestling or sex pesting young women, but me? I like to take it to the edge. I try and go into comics with as little knowledge as possible. (Of the comic; as little knowledge of the comic, you wiseacre.) I saw SLASHER on the ‘Ology and thought “okay”; largely because it looked like it might be a slasher comic. How, I wondered, would a slasher comic work in the comics medium? On a static page how would an artist pull off the necessary control of pacing and deliver the required kills with the requisite impact? I’m still wondering. Because as it turns out SLASHER is as much about a slasher as JAWS is about a shark. Even less so, in fact, because JAWS has a lot of shark in it now I think about it. There is a bit of slashing in SLASHER but it is self-inflicted, as befits a warts to the fore portrayal of our oddly damaged modern psyches. At least I think that’s what’s going on here.
Despite sounding like a one man firm of lawyers, Charles Sanford Forsman earns every one of his three names with SLASHER. Mostly, for me anyway, by giving a lightly disquieting imprecision to his art. One which echoes his ably unsettling script’s unerring ability to pick at the scab of any normal everyday occurrence (shopping, workplace assessment, txting a friend, etc, etc…) until the wound oozes the tacit creepiness of us all. (Well, mostly you. Me, I’m perfectly healthy. But I see you, Sancho. I. See. You.) Mind you, I dig stylish imperfections in art since they imply the actual passing of a human hand across the page, which is as close to seeing the face of God moving over the face of the waters as an non-spiritual and inartistic putz like me will ever get. For a comic in which the milk of human kindness is so thoroughly curdled SLASHER is a surprising amount of fun. Most of that fun came from not expecting what I got, so I sure wouldn’t want to spoil it all for you. Take it from me that if you’re the kind of bitter freak who pines for movies like HAPPINESS (1998) and IN THE COMPANY OF MEN (1997) then get stuck into SLASHER. (ßPull Quote Alert!) Also, let’s go do movies and a brew sometime, you’re my kind of people! VERY GOOD!
GRASS KINGS #3 Art by Tyler Jenkins Written by Matt Kindt Lettered by Jim Campbell BOOM! Studios, $3.99 (2017)
I like this comic, but it doesn’t do itself any favours. Fatally so, I fear; in an overcrowded market it just sort of slouches there, instead of selling itself. For starters look at the cover, it hardly leaps out from across the room demanding your attention does it? The logo is all high-end understated artiness, the kind more suited to a designer range of name brand geegaws and tchotkes aimed at people who retro-fit wood burning stoves into their 21st century sci-fi kitchens. Can you even read that title across the comic store? Does it stand out in the slightest from the visual roar of Marvel’s latest waste of Al Ewing’s time and DC’s unrelenting variations on a Bat-theme? Did you even know this comic existed? I genuinely ask because I don’t go to a physical LCS, so I actually don’t know the answers. Except for that last one; I certainly didn’t know it existed, my LCS just sent it me because…they think I’m the kind of guy who retro-fits a wood burning stove into his 21st Century sci-fi kitchen? Tsk!
Beyond the cover GRASS KINGS remains a defiantly low energy affair. Jenkins’ art is a really watery water-colour affair that kind of seeps into your eyes, and Kindt’s script is a low summer drawl of a thing. It all kind of pootles past at its own sweet pace like an elderly gent on his weekly walk into town, pausing periodically to get his breath back, or simply staring into the air where the old dance hall and the night he met his deceased wife swims into being before his cloudy eyes. GRASS KINGS is about some kind of off the grid enclave where the gubbermint has no traction (i.e. the libertarian’s nocturnal emission of the American Dream), everyone’s a bit flaky and there’s murders and missing persons, and not a few flashbacks which are typically unhurried in declaring their relevance. Unlike most comics GRASS KINGS doesn’t scream for your attention, it doesn’t even whisper, it just sings to itself under its breath. (ßPull Quote Alert!) If you lean in to listen, I think you’ll be glad you did. VERY GOOD!
BLUBBER #3 By Gilbert Hernandez Fantagraphics, $3.99 (2016)
What’s black and white and covered in an old man’s dead jizz? My copy of BLUBBER! Only joking…it’s not all in black and white. (But it is covered in my dead jizz! (“Old man John! Spoiling everything!” ß Joke For The Kidz!)) Yup, BLUBBER’s covers are colour, and what lovely covers they are. The back of each issue has also been graced by a Gilbert “Bert” Hernandez pin-up of some kind of phantasmagorical fauna fresh from his bubbling brain pan. So invitingly comical and eye-catchingly vivid are these covers that “Gil” sometimes picks them up and asks if he can read them. HOO! Not wishing to spend the next several months and many, many, thousands of pounds fighting for visitation rights I have as yet denied him. He can stick with SPONGEBOB COMICS (also great, but in a really quite different way) for now. From the outside BLUBBER looks all fantastically harmless, but inside it remains a maelstrom of scatological insanity. Calm down though, my little pearl clutchers, as it is so offensive that it transcends offence and just becomes comical in its absurd mania for the grossly vulgar. Less Spongebob Squarepants and more Spongebob Shitpants. But don’t mistake my loutish rattlepanning and manic emphasis on the outré as licence to belittle the artistry on display. Hernandez’ big old floppy chops are evident on every page.
BLUBBER may well be an explosion of transgressions but it’s a highly controlled one. As the late Dennis Hopper, star of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986), could attest were he not, well, dead, you can lie in a ring of dynamite sticks and set them off without harm; the trick is in having them face the right way. (Otherwise you’re fucked, bubeleh.) In every panel of BLUBBER Hernandez plays with dynamite but his spectacular artistic panache ensures he doesn’t take his talented face off in the blast. Not even Tony Salvador Daniel could lead up to XXX Papusi climaxing in a final panel as heart crushingly poignant as a JoJo Moyles book in the rain. (Be warned though if you are rubbing one out while reading and wipe a tear from your eye, you do run the risk of pink eye.) And could anyone but Gilbert “He Was Always A Quiet Man” Hernandez answer the oft asked question of “What if Arthur Machen’s ‘Great God Pan’ was crossed with Elvis Presley?” No, because the answer involves lots of furry-haunched cock frothing and cryptic wisdom. Cock-a-hula, baby, indeed! Gilbert ”Looking Back We Should Have Known” Hernandez is also versatile enough to reimagine the hauntingly poignant Mickey Rourke mumbling-sadly-in-sweaty-trunks movie THE WRESTLER (1990), but he gives it his own uniquely tender spin by smearing it with sudden bowel movements, satanic orgies and forlorn longings on the part of a phenomenally endowed man for our barely sentient albino lunk. Yo, mama, Hernandez really brings the stains to life in this tour de force of turds and turgidity. There’s just something truly affecting about the sight of our barely sentient protagonist’s trunks distended by a crop of fresh poops. (PRO TIP: If you scratch your bum and sniff your finger new levels of immersion can be achieved.) And that’s just some of the fun inside BLUBBER! In a world of flamboyantly vacuous TV pitches masquerading as comics BLUBBER is a refreshing toot from the artistic arse flute of Gilbert Hernandez. A real room clearer of a comic. (ßPull Quote Alert!) The only TV BLUBBER is likely to appear on is the one that explodes in a shower of guts in VIDEODROME (1983). And that’s because BLUBBER is EXCELLENT!
NEXT TIME: The world’s least informative reviews continue as I look at more – COMICS!!!
THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA© #1 Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Written by Howard Victor Chaykin Lettered by Ken Bruzenak Coloured by Jesus Arbutov Cover Colourist Wil Quintana With thanks to Ramon Torres and Calvin Nye A tip of the Chaykin chapeau to Sabrina Pandora Image Comics, £2.49 (digital), (2017) © HOWARD CHAYKIN INC
1. An Actual Honest To Gosh Synopsis To Start Us Off, Like I hear The Professionals Do…
THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA (TDSoH) is the latest paper swagger from cerebral beefcake, Howard Victor Chaykin (Tony Curtis), and his unruly crew, Ken “The Bruise” Bruzenak (Russ Tamblyn) and Jesus “No Relation” Arbutov (Channing Tatum). It’s set in a kind of alternate reality that doesn’t seem altogether all that more awful than, uh, actual reality; it’s just slightly more awful in different ways. A Presidential coup has been averted but America is getting low on Presidents, and paranoia is the new normal as the skies are spattered with drones and besmirched with the babble of conspiratorial chat rooms. Besmirched visually, because interestingly this latter internet chatter is given concrete form by “King” Ken Bruzenak, giving the pages a chaotic ugliness I’d guess is entirely intentional. It’s an ugly world under Arbutov’s crisp kitchen-catalogue sheen. Basically The War on Terror isn’t going well in this one, particularly for CIA spook-meister Frank Villa whose career just turned to wet shit and in order to save his rep and the world itself he’s going to need the help of polite society’s worst nightmares.
2. The Bad Ham Sandwich of History Always Repeats Itself
Judging by this first issue it looks like Howard Victor Chaykin is tweaking his 2004 CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN series for the 2010s. That is, a ragbag of ragamuffins are introduced and clearly set up to combat the instigators of a terrorist attack on American soil. Close reading Chaykinmaniacs will note the recurrence of the terror-attack-on-American-soil motif from both CHALLENGERS and CITY OF TOMORROW (2005), even closer reading Chaykinmaniacs will smugly recall this goes back through BLACKHAWK: BLOOD AND IRON (1988) and, yea, even unto AMERICAN FLAGG!(1983). That’s because, unlike 99.9% of North American Comic Creators Howard Victor Chaykin didn’t just start thinking about terrorism post 11th September 2001. And that’s because Howard Victor Chaykin knows that there are fundamental forces which move through history, thanks to the delightful intransigence of human nature.
Alas, terrorism itself is far more persistent than it is modern, staining history’s robes from the 1st Century AD Sicarii Zealots’ opposition to the Roman occupation of Judea, to, well, that Islamophobe in a van just the other day in dear old London town. (Yes, it’s still terrorism if the perpetrator is a white dude.) That’s two thousand and seventeen magical years of terrorism, not that anybody’s counting. There are other tangy chunks of familiarity in Howard Victor Chaykin’s latest jam, such as the fractious domestic doonybrook (see also MARKED MAN (2012)), because although somewhere in-between 1590 and 1597 William Shakespeare wrote that “the course of true love never did run smooth” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), it was true before that and it’s still true today. Chuck in kids, as Chaykin does, and make the bloke a philandering schmuck and it’s truer than ever. Truth persists after all. But so do shitty interpersonal relationships and terrorism. But there are other forces equally tenacious.
3. Exit Hubris, Pursued by Nemesis
“Theresa May is more popular with voters than any leader since the late 1970s, a new poll shows…” The Daily Telegraph, 26 April 2017.
What with a clutch of terrorist attacks, a general election, the resulting hung parliament, the possibility of the Tories propping themselves up with a party that doesn’t believe in either dinosaurs or homosexuals, a horrific fire so horrific it resists acceptance and sundry other whatnots and wellnows, the world of comics has been far from my senescent mind. Seriously, with all the real world upheaval I can’t even pretend to care about Nick Spencer’s Captain America comics, Marvel’s shrinking share of the market, or even DC’s latest attempt to use some dust they found trapped in an Alan Moore script to wrap Geoff Johns’ latest bovine Event comic maunderings around. As to that last, it seems that there is just too much honour and decency in comics (sarcasm), so DC have had to outsource the latest corporate fracking of Watchmen to some ex-CIA dude. Hey, I’m not saying the CIA are hazy on morals, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they thought ethics is a county in England immediately north-east of London.
All of which is a typically round the houses way of saying that like DC’s latest wunderkind homunculus TDSoH’s main protagonist, Frank Villa, is CIA, although Villa’s still employed by The Agency and currently riding a crack-head high on results and reputation. Nope, old Villa won’t have to write comics about Batman finding buttons (UK: badges) in his Batcave anytime soon. Crucially Villa also displays all the humility of a Marvel editor on Twitter. Pride goeth before a fall, as my old Mum used to say (she had a lisp). But it’s a pattern even older than my old Mum (bless ‘er oxen heart). Aye, truth be told thousands of years before Geoff Johns bought his first baseball cap the ancient Greeks noted that Hubris (the god of arrogance) was oft followed by Nemesis (the goddess of fate and revenge).
But since Howard Victor Chaykin isn’t Greek lets stick to the Hebrews, who stuck it in a book for posterity: Proverbs 16:18 to be precise in a little tome called The Bible. Said spiritual foundation would of course be familiar to our Prime Minister, Theresa May, who is keen to remind everyone at every opportunity that she is a vicar’s daughter; as though this were the 1930’s and somehow that accident of birth meant anything at all with regard to morals or the lack thereof. For as Saint Francis of Assisi (and indeed Otis Redding in 'Hard To Handle'), would have it, “actions speak louder than words”, and her actions contain as much Christian charity as Turkish Delight contains vitamins. In essence, my mum was a Nursing Auxiliary but I think there’d be some raised eyebrows if I started bed bathing strangers. Anyway, that’s got nothing to do with anything, I’m just sick of Theresa May. In a minute I’ll go on about her again, but it will actually be relevant. Which will make a nice change for us all.
So, yeah, what I’m getting at is the pursuit of Hubris by Nemesis is not some cobwebby redundancy to be disdained in this age of wifi, streaming content and fidget spinners. It was true back when men wore togas and were lot looser about where folks’ gristly bits went, and it’s no less true now. What’s that? “Can you give me an example, John? Perhaps involving Theresa May?” I’m glad you asked, imaginary reader! Flex your brain and imagine being so secure of your political position that you called a General Election three years early with the stated intention of gaining a massive majority and driving the opposition back into the sea for a generation or more. (That’s Hubris.) Now, keep that brain flexing and imagine if the election results came back and you not only had lost any previous advantage you had, but were now dependent on alliances with other parties in order to have a functional government, and even better, the opposition you sought to scour from the face of the earth had risen up and pushed back hard, in the process rediscovering its fire and grit. (All that bit would be Nemesis.) There’s a lot of it about, basically, and there’s been a lot of it about for a long, long time; so it’s exceedingly apt that Chaykin chooses this as his starting point. Hubris is all over the pages featuring Frank Villa, but on the last page, in the very last panel, Nemesis roars.
4. All The Action Is Always At The Shit End of The Stick
“The scum of the earth... but what fine soldiers we have made them.” The Duke of Wellington on the British soldier.
Knowing he’ll set Nemesis loose at the close of the issue Chaykin fills the preceding pages with introductions for his motley cast of embryonic leads. He makes some, er, interesting choices here; choices so extreme in their awfulness I suspect some dark joke is being played. I think part of the set up for that joke is recognition of who exactly ends up being the boots on the ground when a geopolitical fart unfortunately follows through. Because, c’mon, it is always, always, down to the ordinary Joes and Josephines to come to the rescue. Christ, these days even the spooks themselves don’t even have to get their hands wet; they sip their root beer in a shed a thousand miles from the zone, drawling instructions to some Iowa farmboy weighed down with a cam set into his breastplate, like it’s Call of Duty 15: It’s Not My Balls On The Wire. Yeah, should things turn to shit in a hot second it won’t be the sugar rushed Yalie whose mum gets folded flag and a telegram. And all for the benefit of the Status Quo (not the Dad-Rock band) and those who benefit most from the Status Quo (still not the Dad-Rock band); all of whom it would be pushing things to say gave even the slightest wisp of a shit for the human lives spent keeping them fat and happy.
More realistically, and more pertinently to us all on a day to day basis, take the low regard with which Emergency service workers are held by the political class. Their disdain for these mere cogs is clearer than a Cornwall summer dawn. Over here the emergency services have suffered more cuts than a sadist’s Sunday roast under the last 7 years of Tory austerity. But when the bombs go off, when the knives come out, when the cars slam into crowds and when the buildings burn, who is there saving lives, containing chaos, stacking the dead and stockpiling nightmare scenes for the rest of their nights? It’s not the politicians. It’s the mortgage slaves and the supermarket shoppers; the people who always have to do more with less. Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. It’s not the people who start the shit who finish it, it’s the people who get stuck in the shit. In a bleaker than bleak gag Howard Victor Chaykin overeggs this propensity to the extent that his whole sick crew are plucked from the ranks of the razor taloned boogeymen under the bed of western civilisation: the real bottom rungers. These being Henry John Noone, a black racist fresh off a shooting spree; Paul Evan Berg, a confidence trickster with a yen for mass murder; John Cesare Nacamulli, a serial killing shithead; and Christopher Michael Silver, a chick with a dick kicking violently against the pricks. And Howard Victor Chaykin, a comic book prince, sets these utter sweethearts the task of saving the world. Or he will do, next issue. Unless his pacing is totally fucked.
5. Offence Is In The Eye of The Beholder
Even in my privileged cis cocoon of blithe obliviousness I heard some people were offended by this comic, now I’m no fan of Arbutov’s colouring myself but really, people, chill! Ah, a little cornball humour there. The thing is if people were offended then people were offended, I’m not about to argue against that. But if Comics as a whole is to be offended it’s probably best to nail down the nature of the offence. In the pages of DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA is Howard Victor Chaykin transphobic, homophobic or (God forbid) neither? After all, the point of contention appears to be the portrayal of the character Christopher Michael Silver, and the book’s not entirely crystal on Silver's status. As I understand it a “chick with a dick” can be either a passive male homosexual or transvestite, or a trans woman (i.e. male to female) with male genitalia. Silver's one of them. Unfortunatley Silver is also beaten savagely while turning a trick and kills in self-defence. This, it has been argued, is a less than wholesome representation of an already besieged section of society. Well, yeah, it is. And?
Look, Chaykin has long been active in at least promoting the existence of the, uh, sexually lavish. I don’t know how many Trial By Internet points that’s worth, but it must have some traction. But just because he has a preoccupation with this aspect of human diversity I don’t think an automatic blanket condemnation is due. That would be as moronic as pointing out there’s a lot of rape in Alan Moore’s work and thinking that you had thus proved Alan Moore himself is a bit rapey. You’ve got to take it on a case by case basis. If the approach is consistently derogatory or repellent then, fine, fuck off, Sunshine; but if it isn’t… And just in case you think I am contorting myself unnecessarily to support an inherent bias, you’ll be pleased to note that, on a case by case basis the results are not entirely wonderful.
6. An Incomplete Look At The Many Chicks With Dicks of Howard Victor Chaykin
In AMERICAN FLAGG! comedy occurs when Reuben kicks a chick and his foot finds a dick. Comic relief is one of the earliest stages of societal acceptance when it comes to types considered outside the norm (see all the homosexuals in the sit-coms of the homophobic ‘70s), so…not great, but okay. Ah, but there’s also a whole plot in FLAGG! revolving around a kind of transvestite twist on Vertigo, which is pointedly humane in its portrayal of the (then) improper. Big points go in the pot for that one. The camp comedy stylings continue with a urinal encounter between the plucky fireplug Maxim and a hefty transvestite in POWER AND GLORY (1994). Significantly Chaykin’s bold as brass about it all, and the real punchline arrives with the superhero’s full pelt flight from the glam man, powered not by the atom or nanotech, but by his super-homophobia. So, still in the realms of humour, but since the brunt of it falls fully on the homophobe, some strong points awarded there. Unfortunately, in PULP FANTASTIC (2000) Chaykin’s portrayal of the sexually versatile reaches a sour nadir, so we’ll just say that the series itself has a thoroughly distempered air that does none of the contents any favours. Oof, some genuine demerits there. It’s okay though, because the spectacularly unpleasant BLACK KISS/BLACK KISS 2 is Chaykin’s ace in the hole. BLACK KISS (1988) prominently features a chick with a dick and while this prominence is slightly undermined by the fact s/he is used as none too flattering metaphor, by BLACK KISS 2 (2012) Chaykin, in a quite phenomenal feat of artistic sleight of hand, delivers a romantic horror comedy in which the demonic chick with a dick finds true love and peace (of a kind) with Chaykin’s doppelgänger, Cass Pollack. There are probably some I missed but I think that gives the gist.
Pillory Chaykin if you wish, it’s your dime and I’m sure he couldn’t give less of a shit; but I can’t think of another white male whose work extends to chicks with dicks the ultimate compliment of treating them just like everyone else. No, I don’t know why I am even bothering; it’s not going to change your mind. Howard Victor Chaykin’s a transphobe, a homophobe a Francophobe and a chifforobe. Think what you like. Sure, The Anti-Chaykin Grant Morrison had a chick with a dick in the waywardly great THE INVISIBLES, but s/he was an avatar of bullshit magicky wagicky woo-wooooooh! Maybe that’s better, more helpful to the cause, but I don’t think so. In his grumpy back matter Chaykin chunters on about identity politics, and I think this point gets lost in his anger at Trump winning the election. (There are many reasons Trump won, but mostly it’s because The Democrats didn’t campaign on policies, and seemed to believe they should win just because Trump is a dick. SPOILER!) Because I think his point is...that you shouldn’t define people by their labels, but instead by their behaviour. Define them by who they are, not what they are. There are white shitheads and there are black shitheads; there are hetero shitheads and there are queer shitheads; there are cis shitheads and there are chicks with dicks shitheads. Real equality is not achieved by singling a group out, but by treating that group as individuals, and treating all individuals equally. So, to take an example from TDSoH, it might rankle that Chaykin’s black character, Noone, is a racist murderer, but it’s not his skin that defines him, it’s his racism.
I was a bit naughty there. I overplayed how equally Howard Victor Chaykin treats, Silver. Mostly because the Witchfinder Internet also ignored this (how odd!). Howard Victor Chaykin does in fact apportion a greater measure of narrative sympathy to Silver than any of the other misfits. Significantly the only one of the characters whose situation is adulterated by backstory is the trans/queer character. It’s fairly clear from the punchy and unself-pitying internal monologue that the situation in which Silver finds him/herself is down to society’s failure to adapt or include. So, yes, there is transphobia and homophobia on the pages of TDSoH, but it belongs to the characters not to the author of those characters. The only two protagonists who don’t come across as monsters are Villa and Silver. Hey you know, this could turn out to be a love story after all. Let the chick with a dick get the guy. It’s 2017 after all, so why the fuck not?
7. Poor Old Ken Bruzenak
The real loser after all that noise is Ken Bruzenak. I intended to spend the bulk of this thing digging into the colossal contribution of Ken Bruzenak to the look of TDSoH, but now I have neither time nor room. Also, he goes over it himself in the backmatter. That's right! The backmatter in TDSoH is actually of interest! Sure, there's Howard Victor Chaykin's provocative screed about the election and how it messed up his intentions for the series, which is nice. But, better yet, Ken Bruzenak takes us through the creation of one single panel, from a black and white bitmap devoid of letters to the lushly layered final product. In the process he cements his right to be considered as much the artist as the colourist, Jesus Arbutov or the penciller, Howard Victor Chaykin. He puts a ridiculous amount of work into every panel and I'd like to single out his contribution for applause and pony rides but I've run out of room. Maybe next time, Ken Bruzenak. Because there will be a next time since THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA was VERY GOOD!
NEXT TIME: Hopefully something a bit sooner, lighter and altogether shorter than this, and involving the plural of comic, which is – COMICS!!!
In which I look at some PunisherMAX comics. But not the PunisherMAX comics everyone likes. That would be too easy. No, these are the other PunisherMAX comics. The PunisherMAX comics no one ever mentions. The PunisherMAXes Garth Ennis didn’t write. Those PunisherMax comics. PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX by Parlov, Gischler, Loughridge & Petit
1) Half-Hearted Apologia:
So, yeah, I took a break which was fun. Except I have been following the news. We’ve got a General Election on, doncha know. Apparently The Tories are going to win despite the fact they make Norsefire look cuddly and their leader displays all the charm and humanity of Lady Darkseid; while their manifesto is centred around foxhunting and taking old people’s homes off them to sell to Lady Darkseid’s husband’s mates. Look I’m not saying the political class in this country are a shitshow but I’ve heard they are such a shitshow a bunch of shitshows are starting a Kickstarter to sue them for defamation of shitshows everywhere. They make shitshows look bad is what I’m saying. What I’m also saying is I’m a bit out of sorts and so for solace I turned to a big man with a gun shooting his problems in the face. Because I am civilized.
2) PunisherMAX: What Has Gone Before.
Despite sounding like an unwise purchase from a dispenser in a night club toilet PunisherMAX was a pretty good little run of comics. (The title of the comic varies for reasons known only to the minds at Marvel©™®, I've just left it as PunisherMAX because that joke wouldn't have worked.) Garth Ennis reined in his playground bully humour and delivered, via the art of many partners, a masterpiece of incrementally increasing horror. Starting off unpromisingly with brayingly unfunny crap like testicles in a paper cup, the series quickly transcended the oafish drollery of Marvel Knights Punisher by presenting essentially the same story but, and it really worked this, each time everything was that bit more appalling, until it all ended in a future so post apocalyptically awful that only the magnificent Richard Corben could do it justice. His story having being told Ennis jumped ship. Which is uncharacteristically wise behaviour from a comics writer, it must be said. But Marvel©™® weren’t giving up a critically lauded cash-cow that easily. So the book limped on under a number of writers. That’s ungenerous of me. While these issues pale in comparison to Ennis & pals’ nightmarish epic, well, so do most comics. Taken as their own thing these issues of PunisherMAX are pretty entertaining Thug With A Gun stuff.
3) It’s Not Sordid, Ma! It’s Purgative!
There’s not really much point gussying it up, The Punisher isn’t literature, was never meant to be literature and is highly unlikely to ever be literature. The whole ethos embodied by The Punisher comes from a bad place. And I don’t mean Brooklyn. Wacka wacka wacka! The Punisher comes from that subterranean pit of the male psyche that wants violence to solve everything, and to be the biggest dick in a world of big dicks. The Punisher is the poster boy for the inadequate revenge fantasy in all of us. Even those who aren’t white or male. We’ve all been hurt and felt the lesser for it, and we’ve all wanted to fuck that fuck’s shit right the fuck up. But most of us don’t. Because we can’t. But Frank can. In these issues Frank faces off drug traffickers, monied sociopaths and inbred hicks. And he fucks aaaaaaall their shit up. Of course two seconds later the vacuum left by these corpses is filled by other drug traffickers, monied sociopaths and inbred hicks. Frank forever crops the Weed of Evil but he never pulls out the roots. Because that’s complex stuff, the kind of stuff that requires social funding, education, rehabilitation programmes, investment in social infrastructure and a genuine push to eradicate the inherent inequality of a social system which rewards the few at the cost of the many. That’s not really Frank’s bag. He does do as much good as a nutter with a gun can, though. Fair’s fair.
4) The Men Who Aren’t Garth Ennis.
It’s an interesting roster of writers too; all taken from the Crime section of the library. No strangers to chewy macho action these guys. Obviously I’ve not read them, because that would require some degree of professionalism, but I did look at the titles they have penned. Greg Hurwitz has The Kill Clause, Troubleshooter, Bullet Fucker, etc; Victor Gischler has Shotgun Opera, Gun Monkeys, Kalashnikov Suppository, etc; and Duane Swierczynski has Revolver, The Wheelman, Vegan Cooking For Busy Moms, etc etc. All burly, well-ripped titles which suggest that though they may sit behind desks these guys could crack concrete blocks with their cocks. It looks like these guys are the guys (and they are guys) who write the sweaty meats in the carvery of literature. The kind of thing where some dude (and it is usually a dude) with a harrowing past still somehow manages to be superhumanly capable in the violence stakes when push comes to shove. And push is forever coming to shove. The kind of stuff mechanics would have had rolled up in their oil stained back pockets in gas stations all across the American Past. In the American Present they are read by men who know what a latte is, and think a harrowing past is that time the wifi acted up and they couldn’t smoothly stream that episode of Veronica Mars involving the cupcake and the chimp. Times change but men don’t, is what I’m getting at there. Men will always want to be able to punch through someone’s skull so hard they wear the luckless chump’s face like a glove. And to be right in doing so. All men. Rabbis and Social Workers too. Particularly Rabbis and social workers. Especially Rabbis and Social Workers. I don’t mean to be a misogynist prick but I imagine women are different to men in this respect. Maybe not, I’m not willing to speculate. But men? I know whereof I speak. And being a man I am not immune to the sweaty charms of these comics .
5) At Long Goddamned Last The Actual Comics (Cue Fanfare!):
GIRLS IN WHITE DRESSES PUNISHER (AKA PUNISHERMAX) #61-65 Art by Laurence Campbell Written by Greg Hurwitz Coloured by Lee Loughridge Lettered by VC's Cory Pettit Covers by Dave Johnson The Punisher created by John Romita Snr, Ross Andru & Gerry Conway Marvel©™®, $ 2.99 (2008)
First up we have ‘Girls in White Dresses’ which is one of those festivals of testosterone where a poor Mexican town has to get some violent gringos in to sort out their problems. This kill riff goes back at least to The Magnificent Seven (1960), maybe further. (I don’t really have time to look into the tenacity of the “America as Saviour of Mexico” genre. But I do know it was done best in The Three Amigos (1986)) In this case of course the Mexican town in question requires the help of a singular gringo, Frank Castle. Frank doesn’t need six companions, because friends are for the weak. More like the Feeble Seven, eh Frank? Frank Castle just needs to know two things: where the bad guys are and what’s the name for that depression between your nose and top lip. Keeps him awake at nights that does. That and the memory of his dead wife and kids. (It’s the philtrum, Frank. Sleep that bit easier now, old warrior.)
It’s full of the usual butch silliness right from the start, like the way Frank spots his tail because he is wearing a big cowboy hat. (So if you ever do tail a psychotic ex-‘Nam mass murderer, a big cowboy hat might not be the best headgear to go with. Every day is a school day.) Also nice was the way Frank reins himself in from killing the tail because under the hat is an old man. Old men are of course completely harmless. I guess Hurwitz has never seen The Wild Bunch (1969), Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) or ever been in the vicinity of Pappy Kane when he’s that way out. It’s good that Frank stays his hand because then el anciano is able to petition him for aid and thus the comic doesn’t end suddenly. For as is traditional in the America-Helps-the-Mexicans genre the village has scraped together less than you spent on an iPad to sweeten the pot; those poor backward fools never realise that Americans will help Mexico because Americans are Awesome, rather than for the paltry financial reward on offer. After all America is Mexico’s friend; well, except for that time it just up and stole Texas, and that whole Wall business and the way it is constantly interfering with “observers”, and the way it never actually helps in any constructive way whatsoever…other than that though, America wuvs Mexico so very, very much. Unmoved by the financial lure Frank says no, because it’d spoil the suspense for when he appears later to help them despite having said no. Because I know I for one was honestly expecting the next three issue to show the drug traffickers riding roughshod over the community with the odd cutaway to Frank shining his shoes or searching NETflix for something to watch (Housebound (2014) is fun, Frank) or rollerblading in denim cut-offs. Whatever took his fancy really.
So Frank turns up and kills everyone who is bad. THE END.
Okay there’s a bit more to it than that. Hurwitz takes a thoroughly well-worn set up and chucks in some grisly bits to give it some oomph. Among the gruesome touches on show are the fact that the women kidnaped by the drug traffickers are being returned stitched up like knock off teddies, Frank has to dig up a kid’s corpse and then dig a bullet out of said dead kid (which was particularly nice) and there’s a simply darling bit of business involving a pet shark. (Yes, a pet shark.) Unfortunately all that good work is slightly undermined by a few tricks nicked from substandard action flicks. It’s possible that on screen Frank’s charge through multiple sheets of drug glazing would work, but on the page it’s a bit listless. (But Campbell nearly makes it work visually, to be fair) And you’d have to be fourteen and merry on cheap cider to take the old throw-a-roll-of-coins-at-the-crane’s-controls-to-drop-a-heavy-thing-on-the-bad-guys bit seriously. It’s a bit too sub-Seagal to play is that part. However, there’s been some research done; or at least I think there has, I’m not going to check but apparently cat litter is used in the production of narcotics (and also for cats to do their cat business in, if the bad guys have an actual cat) and manufacturing narcotics is bad on your eyes and lungs. (Seriously the working conditions are appalling, someone should make it illegal.)
Oh, and in a weird sop to normal Punisher continuity it turns out that the Big Bad is Jigsaw. Jigsaw is Frank’s only(?) recurring villain because Frank is tough on his villains. I find Jigsaw a bit dull, personally. Jigsaw’s big thing is Frank fucked his face up. Other than that he’s just a bad man. Bit of a nutter to boot (i.e. his Jigsaw has some pieces missing!) This being MAX Jigster’s also a bit rapey, but mainly he’s just a “bad hombre” as your PoTUS might have it. There’s a lot of build up as to who the Big Bad will be and the payoff is dependent on visual punch, which is unfortunate as Campbell’s splash page reveal is of a man leaning over a desk with what looks like a sooty face. I thought it was maybe a new villain, “Sooty Face”, but no they were scars and it was just Jigsaw. Which is a problem with Campbell’s approach to art. Drawing over photo reference is all special and modern and that, but scars deform the surface of the skin around them; they aren’t just straight lines laid over a face. You can get away with drawing straight lines on a face if you are drawing everything from the ground up, because everything is obeying the same inherent visual laws, but just scribbling on someone’s face makes it look like someone has a face that’s been scribbled on, like they fell asleep during a frat party or something. But Campbell does do pretty well overall, even though his approach is not my favourite technique. He certainly knows how to balance his panels, which is super-important if you’re going to rely on the landscape format (see also: Goran Parlov). There’s some nice stuff going on, and the page where Frank is hidden in the patterns of a bush like a malevolent optical illusion is pretty great. And even a colour dunce like myself can tell that Loughridge knows when and how to make things pop. Both here and in Welcome To The Bayou Loughridge artfully displays the blunt impact of the solid red backround beautifully. Girls In White Dresses is GOOD! But really, for the price of the TPB you could probably pick up Don Winslow’s Power of The Dog and The Cartel, which together do the whole America/Mexico drug thing but with the sweep of Ellroy’s American Tabloid while also managing to mix in some historical veracity along with the pantomime machismo.
SIX HOURS TO KILL PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX (AKA PUNISHER AKA PUNISHERMAX) #66-70 Art by Michel Lacombe Written by Duane Swierczynski Coloured by Val Staples Lettered by VC's Cory Pettit Covers by Dave Johnson The Punisher created by John Romita Snr, Ross Andru & Gerry Conway Marvel©™®, $3.99 (2009)
Here we have Frank plugged into the Race Against Time trope. Children will be familiar with this from the timeless Crank sequence of movies (Crank (2006), Crank 2: Crankier (2009) and Crank 3: Crankiest (in production)), adults will know it from Speed (1994) and Speed 2: Cruise Liners Aren’t Very Fast (1997) and the elderly will, after much prompting, recall DOA (1950; remade 1988). I Imagine it was meant to be a very cinematic outing this one, but as is usual with such comics it just made me want to go on an outing to the cinema. I guess Swierczynski panicked a bit because it’s far too overstuffed for the simple premise. And such premises thrive on simplicity. Consequently what should zip swiftly along kind of lumbers stolidly towards a not entirely convincing denouement. (I have always wanted to use the word “denouement”; I can die happy now.)
A quick peek behind The Wizard’s Curtain: I don’t tend to write these things with the actual comics to hand; I have to snatch time where and when I can and smoosh it all together later, hoping I pick up on repetitions and inaccuracies. And to be quite frank (hohoho) I’m struggling to remember the intricacies of this particular plot. Start the clock and let's go: There’s a mayor whose future is threatened because his cousin in law has been running a kids home as a paedo pick’n’mix (and this shows how long ago this comic was written; today politicians can set kids on fire in full public view and then mount the still twitching corpse and people will just shrug and say, yeah, but, immigrants, yeah but, dole scroungers, yeah but, my house isn’t on fire, yeah, but Gogglebox is on, yeah? Remember when politicians used to resign? When was the last time a politician resigned? About an hour ago should be the right answer, but it isn’t. Whatever happened to accountability? Oh, John! You’re such an old-fashioned chap! Get on your penny farthing, granddad, and fuck off back to the past!) Er, so some rich dude who is in the mayor’s pocket (or who has the mayor in his pocket) decides to off the mayor to avoid being torpedoed with him, and he chooses to use Frank Castle, so that no one else gets covered in shit when the mayor goes down.
So there’s this rich dude, his sex addled sister, a brain wrecked ‘Nam vet cum-politico and a techy geek who injects Frank with a drug which will kill him in six hours - unless he offs the mayor there’s no antidote for Frank. Then, amusingly, Frank immediately goes off message and tries to maximise his kills given his time limit and the amount of ground he can cover in that time. That was genuinely pretty funny and really caught the monomania of the character. Almost funny enough in fact to distract from the fact that if they’d just let Frank know the mayor was up to his nuts in kiddie fiddling then Frank would have given them a freebie, you know, without all the magic drug farting about. Anyway, then there are these ex-cops who pretend to be real cops so they can off Frank (because Frank doesn’t kill cops) but Frank senses they are not real cops, but, wait, there are also real cops after Frank, and so Frank has to stop these cops dying when they get caught in the crossfire with the fake cops or it might be some angry gangbangers. I can’t really remember, but there were...shriners? And maybe some put-out girl scouts, and maybe some Japanese soldiers who had been hiding in a hot dog stand in Times Square unaware the war had ended? It’s all gets a bit silly. Yeah, I know it's The Punisher, but there's silly and then there's just silly. And this ends up just silly. Just that bit too goofy for me, I guess. Lacombe does well though, given the overly large cast there's a total lack of confusion, and he handles the set pieces well; they have a real sense of space and an admirable clarity of staging. The only real clanger is when people have multiple facial contusions it looks more like they are sporting a tasty crop of boils. It's a pretty good art job though, not unreminiscent of Cannon and Ha's work on Alan Moore's Top Ten. But, you know, with a shit ton more violence and implied fellatio. Aw, it was OKAY!
WELCOME TO THE BAYOU PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX (AKA PUNISHER AKA PUNISHERMAX) #71-74 Art by Goran Parlov Written by Victor Gischler Coloured by Lee Loughridge Lettered by VC's Cory Pettit Covers by Dave Johnson The Punisher created by John Romita Snr, Ross Andru & Gerry Conway Marvel©™®, $3.99 each (2009)
This one is just junk. Unapologetic trash. Just...trash. It’s great. Basically, and I do mean basically, it involves Frank wandering into a ridiculous Frankensteinian patchwork of grindhouse horror movies. There’s a bunch of spring breakers who make a fateful pit stop , a cannibalistic family , a giant gator, a deformed nutter in bib overalls with a sack on his head, bbq cannibalism and probably a whole bunch more of such sophisticated cinematic concoctions I failed to pick up on. It’s not exactly spiritually enriching stuff. In short it’s trash as I said above. Crucially, though, it’s well done trash. Sure there’s much flagrant mugging of other people’s ideas, but it’s so blatant it’s kind of disarming, and they reconfigure everything into at least a semblance of freshness: things take a neat early twist with Frank outclassing his congenitally evil enemies to the extent that expectations become upended, and he seems the monster and they the prey. But sure as eggs is eggs genre will out, and it quickly reverts back to factory settings. It’s brutal, tasteless stuff with a light comedy glazing, all given the appropriate tone of flip goonery by Parlov’s sure handed blend of ludicrousness and realism. Frank himself looks more like a raybanned update of Carl Critchlow’s Thrud The Barbarian than anything that ever drew breath in reality. And the way Parlov controls the pacing and flawlessly connects with the jump scares is evidence of genius at play on the page. Sure, the outcome of the story might never be in doubt, but Parlov & Gischler consistently give your expectations a good hard Glasgae kiss. Ayup, Frank sure has to jump through some (Tobe) hoop(er)s in this one. Welcome To The Bayou knows what it is and runs headlong with it into a secluded thicket of VERY GOOD!
Weirdly, despite its obvious borrowings the only movie anyone mentions in the story is Deliverance, which is aiming a bit high since that was written by the poet James Dickey and not, say, Ray Garton. Mind you, despite Deliverance being written by the 18th United States poet Laureate, most people do tend to remember it as just a classy survivalist flick. That’s folk for ya. What a lot of people who’ve seen Deliverance don’t know is that Dickey saw active service in both WW2 and the Korean “Police Action”. Maybe the nascent poet, awaiting his next nightfighter mission, propped his ass on a crate and uncurled a battered paperback of Punisher-esque he-man nonsense. I like to think so, and I'm sure the current purveyors of he-man nonsense considered above would echo that sentiment.
6) Concluding Remarks:
In the future no matter how advanced we as a species become somewhere there will be a man scratching his ass and smelling his fingers. And there's probably some value in that.
NEXT TIME: Will it be a message from a freshly birthed Socialist Utopia or the same quasi-fascist and morally diseased Selfish State? Either way it'll involve - COMICS!!!
So I took a break and now I’m back! Like rickets! So here’s far more words than anyone sane would ever need to read about a two-issue comic Howard Victor Chaykin did in 2006. Because, that’s why. Just because. Also: because. Because. GUY GARDNER: COLLATERAL DAMAGE by Chaykin, Madsen & Balsman
GUY GARDNER: COLLATERAL DAMAGE #1-2 Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Written by Howard Victor Chaykin Coloured by Michelle Madsen Lettered by Phil Balsman DC Comics (2006) Green Lantern created by Gil Kane, John Broome, Bill Finger, Martin Nodell and Gardner Fox Guy Gardner created by Gil Kane, John Broome G’Nort created by Keith Giffen & J. M. deMatteis
“Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage” is part of the second of Mount (as in “Mountain”; it’s not an instruction) Chaykin’s twin creative peaks. The first peak, as any fule kno, was in the ‘80s when Howard Victor Chaykin stopped putzing about and found his suave groove. In this period, covering “American Flagg!” thru to “Black Kiss”, Chaykin was amazing. The second, less trumpeted, peak occurred in the ‘00s and marked Howard Victor Chaykin’s full-time return to comics after toiling in the soulless arena of Television for much of the ‘90s. What he did in Television was make money, any more detail and you’ll need someone who gives a shit about Television. A comic writer with an Image book, say. Me, I think a talking car was involved and some Marvel show about mutants; I’m already falling asleep, zzzzzzz. Anyway, everyone needs money so whatever and well done to him. Howard Victor Chaykin burst back onto the comics scene with “Mighty Love”, and followed it with a fiesta of fun concepts, nut-tight art, smart scripting and…no one gave much of a shit, to be honest. Which is a stain on Comics’ collective Report Card. (Also, Comics must try harder in gym and stop being so easily distracted, there are no jobs out there for class clowns.) Luckily I am here to heroically, singlehandedly and, above all, modestly rescue Howard Victor Chaykin’s ‘00s output from the ignominy of thoughtless neglect. I picked “Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage” because as we’ll see it is an unlikely place (a continuity burdened Event tie-in) for his characteristic strengths to find purchase. But, like Nature, Howard Victor Chaykin finds a way. Also I’d just bought it on The ‘Ology.
Yes! This aptly named series originally appeared in 2006 as two “prestige” format comics and is now available in 2017 digitally (and, crucially, cheaper) on the ‘Ology. This means I can write about it without breaking the spines of my originals while scanning them. (Such are the trials which mar my life!) The book lived up to its title (“Collateral Damage”, see) by being barely noticed on publication due to most eyes being filled to the brim by the rest of the “Infinite Crisis” lardfest, of which this was but one small part. In the same way that “House of M” (2005) sounded the death knell for my interest in Marvel’s output, “Infinite Crisis” would place the pillow over the face of my interest in DC and begin to apply pressure. Lest we forget, because after all it was 11 years ago now, “Infinite Crisis” was the core series in which Geoff Johns wrote a load of typically mawkish continuity-chuff drizzled in saucy gore, and peppered with his childish resentment at internet commentators; all in an attempt to hornswoggle the audience into believing something of merit and depth had occurred. (It hadn’t.) Worse, there were ancillary mini-series like “The Rann-Thanagar War”, which, while decently written, was a waste of the unique talents of Dave Gibbons. Getting Dave Gibbons to write corporately mandated tie-ins to short-term sales bloating events is a bit like getting Isambard Kingdom Brunel in to unblock your sink because the boss is coming round for dinner. It’s unseemly, and speaks to a total lack of appreciation of his gift. Which is the ability to draw real well, DC Comics. I thought I should spell that out for you; although I guess for DC the real gift of Dave Gibbons is his ability to maintain a dignified silence while they fart once more into the face of “Watchmen”’s corpse. Although there is a certain grim irony in the fact that DC’s latest attempt to reduce one of the (very few) decent cape comics into something they can eventually team-up with Scooby fucking Doo starts with Batman finding a “Watchmen” promotional button in his cave. After all DC’s underhand antics with promotional badges are what started the whole sorry “Let’s All Hunt And Kill Alan Moore” shitshow off aren’t they? (Yes.)
But this isn’t about that, this is about a Howard Victor Chaykin comic which was secreted somewhere within muddled parpstorm of a terrible Event. An Event so larded in extraneous chaff that I’ve hardly even begun to scratch the surface. I can’t even be arsed to look it up, so demoralising is the memory of all that Trex, so I may have a few facts wrong when I say there was also “The OMAC Project” which involved Greg Rucka, so it was probably a bit like drowsing while watching a TV show about a strong! independent! female! written with all the élan and excitement of a spreadsheet macro; “Villains United” which tried to make Catman a sexy badass, so enough said there, and a series about the return of Donna Troy (imaginatively and thrillingly entitled “The Return of Donna Troy”) which I imagine no one read, since no one shares DC’s insane belief in the character of Donna Troy. Although it is sobering to note that they have treated Donna Troy, a fictional character, with more love and respect than they have treated Alan Moore, a real human being. Maybe Alan Moore should start wearing a tight cat suit with little stars on it; it wouldn’t change anything but I think the world would be fundamentally a far sexier place. He could maybe jump around a bit and giggle for Peak Sexy. Uh, anyway, Donna Troy, I don’t know; that probably went about as well as expected, I think they found her weeing in a grate outside IKEA while singing showtunes. I could be wrong. Oh, and then all the regular DC series had a tie-in of some description, that description probably involving the terms “irritating”, “disruptive” and “unwelcome”. Best of all (i.e. worst of all) every title then zipped forward 12 months and the series created specifically to fill in this blank, “52”, didn’t. But everyone writing it had fun and readers did get to see small child torn to pieces by a talking crocodile, which is worth more than rubies to Geoff Johns. In essence the “Infinite Crisis” Event turned out as well as any Event could which starts off with the chirpy schmuck Blue Beetle’s brains being blown out. Fucking grown up stuff, that. If I have made any errors in that brief rundown I want to assure you now that I don’t care. Not a jot. What is undeniable is that the only worthwhile reason to brave this blizzard of inconsequential pablum was Howard Victor Chaykin; who, working diligently away in a neglected corner of the DC Universe, produced another Howard Victor Chaykin comic.
Given the nature of the Event beast Howard Victor Chaykin must here sup from the cup of continuity somewhat deeper than is his wont, yet Chaykin still ably finagles his way into writing what he’d rather be writing about: a horny jackass accidentally doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons. First though he has to pay lip service to the corporate tie-in friendly setup, which is that G’Nort (AKA G'nort Esplanade G'neesmacher the canine looking alien Green Lantern) is looking for an independent entity to broker peace between Rann (the planet of boffins Adam Strange knocks about with) and Thanagar (the planet of winged fascists like that Hawkman). Caught between these two cheeks of the same warmongering arse G’Nort’s home planet has fared poorly. What with his family having being offed the usually played for laffs character is thus portrayed as a bitter champion of peace. An upright talking dog with a magic wishing ring rancorously lamenting its slaughtered family is a pretty good joke about “gritty” superheroes, I think. So, back at the point: G’Nort chooses Guy Gardner, who is the “edgy Green Lantern”. Since the only Green Lantern I have any familiarity with is Hal Jordan, in comparison to whom even I appear “edgy”, I don’t really know how “edgy” Guy Gardner is usually. I’m not really interested either. Here Howard Victor Chaykin writes Guy Gardner as “Howard Victor Chaykin” (Legal Note i.e. not really Howard Victor Chaykin but the cartoonish exaggeration he uses as his default protagonist. Hence the rabbit’s ears round his name.) Or “Howard Victor Chaykin” if he owned his own bar (namely Warriors: “…the finest meat rack the world’s ever seen”) and had a magic wishing ring. It goes without saying that this is the single best set up for a series ever, ever, ever and the very real tragedy is we only have two issues. To recap for Green Lantern newbs: If you stick your finger in Guy Gardner’s ring and make a wish, that wish briefly becomes a physical, but green, reality. But should you stick your finger in Howard Victor Chaykin’s ring and make a wish you end up with a few less teeth and a restraining order. A little lesson in the difference between fantasy and reality there, kids. So, yeah, since there’s a six-issue mini-series occurring somewhere beyond these pages about the Rann-Thanagar War the whole peace process business is a bit of a McGuffin. Okay, a lot of a McGuffin. Everyone gathers in Guy’s bar and then the Tormocks burst in and wreck it and the comic forgets what it was supposed to be about while Guy goes and finishes off the Tormocks. The Tormocks having just finished off the Vuldarian race. I just looked on Wikipedia and, oh wow, it turns out Guy Gardner is the first successful example of the merging of Vuldarian (the Tormock’s hated enemies) and human DNA. Guy was also born in Baltimore, Maryland. There are people out there who know all that but don’t know who their MP is. Think about that for a minute. This comic is a lot of fun but not quite as much fun as imagining Howard Victor Chaykin’s face as he read Guy Gardner’s backstory. Bojemoi!
Given his oft expressed preference for comics’ form over comics’ content I was amazed that Chaykin had immersed himself in Guy Gardner’s typically ridiculous (not a criticism) continuity to the extent he had, but it’s all part of Chaykin’s sleight of hand as he refocuses the tie-in not too subtly onto his pet concerns. Basically the Tormocks allow him to provide his arrogant schmuck of a protagonist with the usual “moral cripple” opposition. Since Guy Gardner is the “hero” it’s important he come into conflict with someone demonstrably worse. Which is kind of tough because Gardner is a leering oaf, a blunt concoction of braggadocio, poor impulse control and genitally driven self-interest. And he also has the worst haircut in comics. The guy’s a walking pile of soiled jock straps with all the self-awareness of a stump. Much of the comedy comes from Chaykin nakedly embracing Guy’s faults, with only Guy’s wishing ring’s sardonic commentary, acting as a kind of unheeded conscience, as a balm to the buffoonish sexism on display. I kid you not when I say there are no less than three panels in which Gardner is clearly ogling a boob while talking to its owner, and his interest in heroism is a poor second to his interest in troilism. Even back when it was just called dickheadedness Chaykin showed a concern with toxic masculinity, a concern which persists in his work. Because he doesn’t actively undermine it to the extent people expect someone to I think he gets a raw deal, and people interpret his depiction as an endorsement. (Also it’s easier to dismiss him that way.) Chaykin’s mature (i.e. Flagg! onwards) work is festooned with protagonists hampered by their toxic masculinity. Usually violent, sexually aggressive and emotionally restricted many of Chaykin’s male leads are walking (but charming) embodiments of toxic masculinity. But the stories they inhabit are often misinterpreted as celebrating this, because Chaykin doesn’t tut and shake his head enough to sate political correctness. Yet Chaykin’s usually kneecapping male bravado as thoroughly as a bolt gun. in “American Flagg!” our cocky protagonist is brought firmly down to earth, only prevailing through fear driven violence and ending a weeping wreck in the arms of a woman despite all the swagger of preceding issues. “Midnight Men” is as much about a man breaking out of the emotional inertia of maleness so he can finally mourn his father, as it is about the joys of punching assholes in the face. Blackhawk doesn’t win by fighting, he wins by thinking. Cass Pollack in “Black Kiss” is thoroughly punished, emasculated even, for his moral feebleness. And Guy Gardner, well, Guy Gardner is just an unrepentant prick. And remains so. Which is fine, but it makes it hard to root for him. Hence the Tormocks. This bunch of charmers are basically engaged in ethnic cleansing on a universal scale, and not only kill people but turn them into a kind of paste and then get schwifty while rolling about in it. So, yeah, as unrepentant as he may be Guy Gardner doesn’t look too bad in comparison. I’ll take toxic males over space Nazis anyoldday.
Visually, Chaykin returned from Television with a new lucidity and boldness which the pages of “Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage” testify loudly to. His figures are big and his layouts regimented. It’s easy to rip the piss out of the predictability of his layouts, with their strict regime of vertical or horizontal panels interrupted by insets, but it works because his aim is clarity, not pizzazz. Sometimes his aim’s off though. No, it’s not all unrestrained gushing from my end (ooer!), Chaykin’s pages definitely work best on the horizontal pattern; the vertical doesn’t give him enough space to stage action, which he forgets sometimes. Confusion ensues. (A dependency on vertical panels would somewhat tarnish, and for some fatally undermine, the many other pleasures of the later “Century West” OGN) Mostly though it’s good lookin’ stuff! There’s a real bounce to it all, a real sense Chaykin’s having a good time. This pleasure is particularly evident in the glee with which he yanks back the clock on the sci-fi stuff. Chaykin’s space jalopies are fantastically old school, each a knowing throwback to the thrilling days of yesteryear. Specifically 1938-40, when Olympic swimmer Larry “Buster” Crabbe (1908-1983) was so virile he portrayed not just Flash Gordon but Buck Rogers to boot. With their rococo ornamentation and redundant aerodynamic tapering Chaykin’s ships just need a fire cracker stuck up the jacksie and to be hoisted aloft by wires moving in a circular but persistently vertical motion. (Also, I’m pretty sure one of the characters is using a hairdryer as a gun at one point.) This obvious affection for the outmoded, impractical but beautiful would find later and fuller expression in Chaykin’s “Buck Rogers” revamp. Here though it’s super heroes a-go-go and Chaykin goes appropriately brash and big with the figurework. Surely no heart can remain unmoved by the five (count them: five!) double page splashes which open the book in a suitably dynamic and sweeping style. Oh yeah, there’s also some debonair styling going on as Chaykin continues his wholly understandable love affair with the visual of a man in a nice suit. And woven in among it all are some sweet little touches of humour, such as the repeating GL symbol on Guy’s tie. It helps that the book’s coloured by Michelle Madsen, whose contribution to this ‘00s second peak period of Chaykin is considerable. Embracing lurid and fruity colours as befits such a lurid and fruity book, Madsen’s colouring here is delightfully essential rather than dutifully unobtrusive. The lettering is fine, but it’s not Ken Bruzenak. It’s fine though. But not Ken. Okay I’ve run out of time so “Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage” is undoubtedly a minor work by a major talent, but it’s still VERY GOOD! Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power – COMICS!!!
In which I aimlessly amble around Howard Victor Chaykin’s recent series ‘Midnight of the Soul’ and see what strikes my fancy. No, really, even more than usual, I just sort of prattle on rather aimlessly and hope some kind of coherent point emerges. It probably won’t, but as I haven’t written it yet we’ll have to find out together. Take my hand, fellow stranger in paradise! Take my hand... MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL by Chaykin, Arbutov and Bruzenak Anyway, this...
MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL #1-5 Written by Howard Victor Chaykin Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Coloured by Jesus Aburtov Lettered by Ken Bruzenak Image Comics, $3.50 each (2016)
On one level ‘Midnight of the Soul’ is exactly the kind of comic everyone thinks Howard Victor Chaykin makes, but on another level it isn’t, and the abrasion between what you expect to read and what you actually read creates some smart sparks. I think. The success of Chaykin’s smuggling run in 'Midnight of the Soul' is aided no end by the fact he draws it and so, inevitably, it looks just like a Howard Victor Chaykin comic. This is the bit that misleads because the surface is flawlessly “Chaykin”. Obviously. What did you want, Dave McKean? The guy’s in his sixties, he’s not likely to be suddenly incorporating mixed media and sculpture into his work. Not when “Diagnosis: Murder” is on and there’s kosher Franks in the pan! Thus, the art is as Late Chaykin as Late Chaykin gets. And, yes, it breaks my heart too, but it is getting late in the Seasons of The Chaykin. But dry your eyes, o feral child, because he’s still with us, and he’s still delivering his pugnaciously suave art. Sure, some eyes will still be perturbed by the clip art that doesn’t quite gel and flinch at the odd lapse in positioning. I’m a Chaykin maniac but I’m not blind to his transgressions; there’s one panel of Patricia in a doorway that doesn’t work – at all, and he’s stuck himself with a motorbike image that doesn’t always suit the angle of his composition, and that precise image of a woman was in Satellite Sam, and that cop’s all out of whack with that barrier and, and, and, you know, we could carp all day, but what matters is that for the most part, most of it works. As your eye sweeps over it, as you read it, it works. If you sit and look at each panel, eh, not so much. But who’d do that? Whaddya think comics are? Art? Comics are for reading first and looking at second. 'Midnight of the Soul' is a VERY GOOD! read.
The occasional glaring visual infelicity aside, Chaykin definitely gets in a major artistic victory by resurrecting a sense of of New York as 'twas. While Arbutov’s colours remain a little too garishly lacquer-ish for my sedate tastes, they contribute enormously to this effect as well. The interiors of the dance halls and gin-joints are particularly noteworthy and Arbutov lays down some seriously hot pinks and cool greens. So, y’know, yay. The ‘50s being the Golden Age of The Billboard, omitting to mention the phantasmagoria of styles and fonts Bruzenak scatters as gloriously and as evocatively as the notes Gershwin throws over the opening of ‘Manhattan’(1979) would be a serious dereliction of duty. Bruzenak also subtly colour codes his speech bubbles so you know who is speaking even when they are “offscreen”. The big thing about Big Ken Bruzenak is that he never stands still (artistically, that is), and his stylistic evolution continues here with a pretty darn exciting and innovative mock 3-D lettering effect, used sparingly and effectively. Conjuring a particular time and a particular place from the past into the present via paper and ink is a very Chaykin preoccupation. The man’s rightly proud that locations in the original ‘Black Kiss’ are so redolent of ‘80s Los Angeles that readers’ noses start convulsing for coke in sympathy. In ‘Midnight of The Soul’ Chaykin (and Arbutov and Bruzenak) work a similar feat for ‘50s New York, though here it’s your stomach that rumbles for coffee and a doughnut, rather than your nose for Class ‘A’s.
Not that the New York of ‘Midnight of the Soul’ is drug free. Au contraire, mon frère! On past evidence Chaykin’s not one of those selective amnesiacs who thinks the past was a magical Eden, to which the present is a disgraceful relative. If anything he’s prone to wallowing in the seamier side of things, and we’re not just talking about stockings there. And so it goes that Joel Breakstone’s search for his errant wife brings him up against a rash of rascals, a pair of gun slinging gunsels (in the correct sense of "catamites"), a saucy whip-smart dancer, a corrupt cop, and a boss man with a ginger flattop. This is after all, the ‘Midnight of The Soul’, so a certain sense of threat and moral conflict come with the territory. I mean, I could be wrong, but I believe the title alludes to ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’ (AKA ‘Noche obscura del alma’). That’s not because I am an expert on the poetry of St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), but because ‘Midnight of the Soul’ has a familiar structure, one which accords with the ‘time of testing’ the poem assures us we must all go through before reaching a state of Grace. Something to look forward to there, kids. That’s some high falutin’ stuff, poncho! Don’t worry, it just means ‘Midnight of the Soul’ is a lot like, oh, ‘After Hours’ (1985). Basically in these things you get some dude (or maybe a lady these days) out of his depth flailing about a thoroughly threatening city, encountering threats embodying his inner failings, while his intended goal remains persistently out of reach until his ordeal has suitably shriven him for the final confrontation. After which he’s a lot more at peace than he was when he started. And so it is for our slightly schmucky and typically Chaykin-esque looking lead, Joel Breakstone.
Joel’s a failed writer but a successful drunk who slouches despondently in the garage of a house he sold to his Brother-in-Law to clear debts accrued, pecking out unwanted alt-History tales of a World where Germany won WW2. If Joel punched himself every time he ate a bagel he couldn't be more obviously a self-hating Jew. He doesn’t hate himself because he's a Jew though, he hates himself for some unpleasantness which occurred during the liberation of a Concentration Camp in WW2. Something, as Joseph Heller famously had it, happened. Coming to terms with that memory is Joel's key to Grace, but to do it he'll have to navigate his 'Midnight of the Soul'. Meanwhile, just to underline his emasculation, his wife is out bringing home the bread working as a night-court stenographer. Except she isn't, as Joel finds out while pathetically creeping the house for booze. Turns out she's turning tricks. The lit match of his self-righteous indignation plops straight into the accumulated reservoir of self-hatred, and the resulting explosion of dumb machismo is sufficient to propel the cuckolded schmuck out into the city in search of vengeance. New York, however, has other ideas. 'Midnight of the Soul' is a picaresque adventure comic in which a man finds out a lot of the things he thought he knew about himself aren't true, and that the truth might hurt but not as much as living a lie does. Also: violence, jazz, profanity, blow jobs, snappy patter, racism, jokes and a man dressed as a baby in an Irish bar. 'Midnight of the Soul' has something for everyone! Except humourless drips.
Joel's a luckless boob for the most part, but he is ultimately lucky because he gets to inhabit one of Chaykin's more vital narratives. From the first loaded word (“Parallels”) there’s a sense of Howard Victor Chaykin pushing through the pages of the narrative at the reader. The explicit fictional narrative of the book seems shaken every now and then by subsurface ructions, barely repelled authorial outbursts, which threaten to make it lose its footing. Which it never quite does, but it comes close. There’s a lack of commitment to the pulp fiction on show, as though Howard Victor Chaykin is intermittently is gripped by the urge to be doing something else. And I think he probably is. In a sense 'Midnight of the Soul' works as a big kiss-off to a bunch of tropes you suspect Chaykin feels he’s outgrown. Joel enters a midnight world of Chaykin standards, but always at an odd angle, always a few beats behind thee action, always playing catch-up, as though trying to find his way into the story proper. A story which seems to be occurring in parallel(!) to his search. This story, the story Joel circles for the bulk of the book, is the “usual” Chaykin, the Chaykin we expect; all bad behaviour, colourful characters, sassy patter and blunt force violence. For much of the book Joel never quite connects with this pulp strand, instead he keeps bouncing off it into a more sedate but no less colourful screwball romantic comedy. Both strands hinge on a portrait of New York anchored by visual verisimilitude and the odd nod to reality (is that Joe Gould reciting 'The Face on The Bar-room Floor'? In #3?) but both run parallel(!) to each other; until the final pages, anyway. And it's on these final pages that Chaykin seemingly states his current genre preference. But is it “Goodbye” or just “Au Revoir” to the genre staples that made his name and brought him fame? Alas, despite what I tell ladies in bars, I don't know Howard Victor Chaykin personally, so we'll all just have to wait and see together...
NEXT TIME: Take a guess, punchy. That's right - COMICS!!!
There's a little bit of Dredd in this one, a smidgeon mayhap. However there is a whole lot of Carlos Ezquerra and he's really making his computer colouring work in this one. Some real freaky skyscapes going on in the background of these panels. If you're a Carlos Ezquerra fan you'll probably want to pick this one up. Oh, looks like I started the review early, better put the rest under the jump. See ya, wouldn't want to be ya! CURSED EARTH KOBURN by Carlos Ezquerra
JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 67: CURSED EARTH KOBURN Art by Carlos Ezquerra Written by Gordon Rennie Lettered by Ellie DeVille and Annie Parkhouse Originally serialised in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 211-212, 221-223, 228, 239, 241-244, 314-318 & 361-364 © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2015 & 2016 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2016) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
‘Cursed Earth Koburn’ mostly features the exploits of circuit-Judge Koburn, rounded out by a Dredd adventure featuring the vengeful El Maldito. Both Koburn and Maldito hark back down the ages to Battle Picture Weekly and the strips 'Major Eazy' and 'El Mestizo', both of which were created by Carlos Ezquerra and Alan Hebden. I’ve written some slapdash slop about 'Major Eazy' before HERE, but just to recap for those too busy to click on a link: Major Eazy was a laid-back one man attack, as anti-authoritarian as he was effective in taking the fight to the Nazis. And since he was very effective indeed he was very anti-authoritarian indeed, as many a weak chinned officer type found out to his stuttering chagrin. Like most of Battle’s characters he was a direct reaction against the bright eyed and bushy tailed Tommy pushing back the baddies for God, Queen and Country, always with that distinct sense of good sportsmanship which defines the British in their own minds but in no one else’s. In comparison Major Eazy would fuck you up, and fuck you up good and he’d do it quick and nasty too. Because in war you get the job done, you don’t stop and have tea and scones while you do it. Visually Eazy was modelled on David Niven, as any fool knows. No, it was the American actor James Coburn (1928-2002), an actor with an easy-going and thoroughly amiable but subtly malevolent, screen presence., Despite apparently being born with the teeth of a much larger man the ‘70s were good to James Coburn, indeed as they were to British comics, and so the latter plucked the former’s iconic image from Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron and plunked it in a strip for kids, probably about 50 seconds after Hebden and Ezquerra left the movie theatre, since both film and character appeared in 1976. Which is why Eazy wears a German cap, usually pulled down over his narrow, calculating slits for eyes. He also usually has a cheroot drooping from his slim lip because Coburn was a keen smoker both on screen and off.
If you buy the Arrow blu-ray of 'Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia' not only will you have bought the greatest movie about Warren Oates and a head in a bag ever made, but you also get the documentary about Peckinpah, 'Man of Iron', in which Coburn probably appears, smoking. It’s highly likely because if you do buy that blu-ray (which I think you should. NOW!) you also get a disk with 10 hours (1!0! H!O!U!R!S!) of interviews, from which the contents of the doc are culled. I’m far too busy being a supercilious prick to have watched this yet, but I did treat myself to the first 30 mins or so, in which James Coburn appears, smoking. He is also, obviously, awesome. He is so awesome in fact that after a few seconds it’s like you’re sat opposite him while he suavely drawls about the past, smoking. So convivial is his company that at one point I almost tapped him for a smoke, then I remembered it was a recording, he’d been dead for 15 years and I no longer smoke. He’s a funny one because you always think he just showed up and did his stuff, but the interview reveals him as a proper artist with thoughts about his art and a real interest in the art of moviemaking. I mean, I never realised this, but James Coburn was second unit director on 'Convoy'. The last thing I ever envisaged James Coburn doing was sitting on a water tower waiting for instructions via walkie-talkie (like a mobile phone, kids) so he could film footage for one of Sam Peckinpah’s shittiest films. Man, the dude really dug Peckinpah. Oh, he also reveals what the ending to 'Cross of Iron' means, which is something I’ve been puzzling over for about four decades. (SPOILER: It’s hilarious, after all these years it turns out that the ending to 'Cross of Iron' means that Peckinpah set Coburn and Maximilian Schell loose on a set of exploding scrap until something happened. What happened was that Schell’s prop gun fell to bits in his hand and Coburn laughed his ass off in response. That’s it. Brilliant.) Basically James Coburn was awesome, and this was duly recognised by the Academy in 1998 with an Oscar® for his role in 'Affliction'. (Which is a great movie; one that should be on Blu-Ray, people!)
I don’t really know where I am now, uh, Major Eazy was based visually on James Coburn? Which is why Koburn is called Koburn. According to the interview with Rennie in the back of the book they tried lots of variations along the lines of “Eazy” but went with Koburn, which works. Turns out a fan suggested Ezquerra bring Eazy back, and that was Rennie’s impetus for introducing the basic character to the world of Dredd. The first strip “Sturm Und Dang” sets out the characters’ stall. Dredd is on a hotdog run with some cadets and picks up Koburn along the way. Koburn knows the territory because he’s a cursed Earth circuit-judge, a kind of itinerant sheriff with a given area to patrol. This set-up allows Rennie to play Koburn’s slackness off against Dredd’s rigidity, to effectively define how the character works. It’s a smart move. Key is the fact that both Dredd and Koburn get the job done. It’s no good being a laidback dude if you can’t snipe a guy’s eye out from two klicks at the drop of a hat. Koburn’s all pose but underneath his cool poise you just know he’s like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs (© Traditional). All Dredd can see is infractions of Dress code and lack of respect. But who ends up in a bath chair with a broken leg fighting a Panzer and who sashays his way through storms of bullets while barely breaking a sweat? That’s right. Oh, the panzer? Oh, yeah they are up against Comedy Nazis which isn’t ideal for me, because I’m not that into Comedy Nazis since that logically leads to Comical Concentration Camps and I have a hard time squaring that particular circle. And yet, I guess, yeah, it does acknowledge the roots of the character in a cheeky winkeyty-wink kind of a way, and no one gets hurt. Except the comical Nazis who get comically dead. Ezquerra is obviously having a whale of a time and gives The Cursed Earth his unique sheen of grubbiness while revisiting his war comic past, but with a quirky twist of Dredd. GOOD!
Next up is “Kuss Hard” in which Koburn gets a partner. Typically this is a female Judge, Judge Bonaventura, who is a bit more rules orientated than her shabby new partner, and so she’ll be getting a lesson in how things work in The Cursed Earth, dang straight! We get a bit of low-comedy where she walks in on Koburn being ridden by a Rubenesque whore and she’s all “Oh, my!” She’s a straight arrow, see. Did you get that? The mis-matched (sigh) pair set off on the trail of The Kuss Brothers who are suspected of Organ-Legging and are regulars on Koburn’s patch. To be honest Rennie seems to get distracted early on in this one and it all just sort of happens without any weight to anything. There’s a weird bit where Koburn visits the Brothers’ mom at the unsavoury jail she runs. When she’s less than forthcoming Koburn releases all the inmates and it’s like Rennie forgot Koburn was a Judge or something. He’s not some wandering vagabond laying down the law in his own special way; he’s a Judge! Even better (i.e. worse) their mom’s totally superfluous to proceedings, and it all ends, as it should have done a lot earlier, in a fight in a meat packing factory. It’s all a bit uninspired and flabby, which is unfortunate so early in the character’s run. But it does introduce Bonaventura for Koburn to play off, and old fogies will realise belatedly that she’s just a sex-swapped update of Sgt Daly, Major Eazy’s long-suffering subordinate. (Later I think Eazy acquired an Arab chap who liked cutting Nazi throats, but there are probably some things we should leave to the ‘70s. Despite what UKIP think.) OKAY!
“Burial Party” is up next, where Rennie widens the cast of the series to include Koburn’s fellow circuit-Judges, all of whom are either scarred or a bit nuts as befits the harshness of their lives. It’s a nice piece with drunken silliness giving way to sober reflection on occasion, as everyone drinks around the corpse of a fallen Judge, a blatant reminder of how they’ll all end up. Despite being mostly set in one room with a fixed cast all wearing very similar clothes, Ezquerra’s art is so good at making even the mundane visually interesting with his bold feathering and attention to grimy detail, it never feels visually constrained in the least. GOOD! Having established, koburn, Bonaventura, and their fellow circuit-Judges Rennie goes on to show us one of their regular duties in “The Assizes”. Titled after a now defunct British legal term describing courts held periodically around the country, The Assizes shows us Koburn doing precisely that small-scale King Solomon shtick in some Cursed Earth armpit of a town. The complaints of the scabby citizenry are of the "humorous" kind and are probably really funny if you think people fucking animals is hilarious. It’s the kind of stuff that would make Garth Ennis shoot Guinness out of his (broken) nose. Still, Ezquerra has fun, and it’s always nice to see his never entirely-absent skills as a caricaturist slide to the fore. Hit and miss stuff, basically. So little is there to “The Assizes” that a substantial part of it is the prologue to the next story. OKAY! “Malachi” is that next story and it’s where Rennie starts trying to inject some seriousness into his so far largely light-hearted strip.
Malachi is some dude who encountered Judge Death and, well, unlived to tell the tale. Now he roams about killing everything he meets while saying spooky things in those spooky word balloons that make spooky words everso much more spooky! I think he’s the physical manifestation of the hate The Cursed Earth dead hold for the living. Or something. It’s not entirely clear, but what is clear is nothing can kill him and he’s headed straight for Koburn and Bonaventura. Which is unfortunate as Koburn and Bonaventura are currently looking in on Spring Seeds, a Juve Offenders facility. This means there’s a lot of kids for Malachi to mangle unless someone can stop him, which is going to be tough as Malachi, as is demonstrated by his run-ins with the circuit-Judges introduced in “Burial Party”, is unstoppable. Just so we care, Rennie gives us a tough Juve who may be salvageable and his pregnant girlfriend to root for. Pregnant? Yes, even in a Juve Offenders facility nature finds a way. Which is not too big a surprise as later when Malachi bursts into the girls dorm they are squealing in negligees like someone got 'Porky’s' and 'Friday The 13th' mixed up. Negligees in a Cursed Earth Juve Offenders facility! Oh, Carlos Ezquerra, you cheeky Spanish rogue! There’s a real feel of impending doom, some characters to care for, a sense of jeopardy and a genuine question about how Koburn can stop such an unstoppable force. In the interview Rennie says the more serious strips don’t work as well, but I’d have to disagree here. GOOD! Blimey, this is a proper slog isn’t it? Last push, everyone!
In the final Koburn tale, “Going After Billy Zane” Rennie cranks up the seriousness and sets up a creepy tale in which the past which haunts the present bares its teeth. Koburn teams up with Judge Rico (who is basically another clone of Fargo; a younger Dredd) to track a Citi-Def squad lost on manoeuvres in The Cursed Earth. Unfortunately the Billy Zane Block Citi-Def squad are not lost but are tracking a distress signal, a distress signal sent by a man who died twelve years ago. Obviously they don’t know that, but we do. The squad are led by a female leader who lost her kids twelve years ago, the man who died twelve years ago was the Judge who broke Koburn in and, uh, about twelve years ago Rico had doubts about his lineage. (The original Rico being Dredd’s bent Judge brother. Judge Dredd's favourite joke: "My bent Judge brother has no nose! How does he smell?...") Which kind of reflects the strip in essence. That is, it struggles to link everything so that there’s a true sense of things coming full circle, a sense of inevitability but it..just…can’t…quite…make it happen. Which is a shame, because there’s some strong stuff on these pages. Strong enough certainly to entertain but not any stronger than that, alas. Ezquerra’s pours the creepiness on this one with a great inky ladle, making rocks and crevasses look far more menacing than you want them to . There’s a surface sense of unease and an undercurrent of violence running through all Ezquerra’s art here. The big noses and whiskery comedy chins stay at home and he breaks out the shadows and silhouettes to unsettling effect. The strip peters out on a cliff hanger which is as yet unresolved, but even that seems appropriate to the sense of amorphous menace it seeks to convey. Koburn’s last outing is GOOD!
Yes, that was Koburn’s last hurrah but there’s still one story to go: “El Maldito”. This strip is interesting for a couple of reasons, the most obvious of which I’ll save ‘til last. In this one a spooky figure is wading in on the side of the workers at a food processing facility in The Cursed Earth. What’s interesting here is that it’s not often that you see something so “up the workers!” in comics these days, which I find both odd and troubling. Mostly because this silence seems to reflect the increasing belief that somehow unions are bad things. Over here the papers (who are all to a greater or lesser extent in hock to tax dodging billionaires with their own freedom stifling agendas) endlessly roar at any and every episode of industrial action. And the vox pop is less than ideal, “how dare they inconvenience me!”, “I wish I could have the day off work!” and all that cretinous rot. Hey, poncho, I’ve been on strike. I’ve been on strike more than once, and I’ll let all you vox pop nincompoops out there into a little secret: you don’t get paid for strike days. And if I could afford not to get paid, pal, I wouldn't go to work. Those people striking? They are making a personal sacrifice to protest some form of injustice or proposed measure which will erode the safety of all involved. So, think on next time. Anyway, here we have a bunch of “peons” striking and acting up and generally getting in the way of business. Obviously that can’t stand, so the company send in the men with the batons. Apparently these workers want conditions improving or fair pay or somesuch socialist snowflake nonsense. Probably want treating like human beings or some other pie in the sky shit. So the plan is as ever, a few heads get cracked, names are named and the ringleaders get rounded up and hey ho we can all get back to work. Or you can. I’ll just spend all this lovely money while you put your back into it.
Unfortunately a lot of companies mistake salaried employment for indentured servitude, and even more unfortunately a lot of governments are happy to let them. Oh, don’t worry, my right wing chums, I’m fighting a losing battle. It’s okay, don’t ruffle your share portfolios over it; you’re winning while I’m whining. Today Theresa May sent her letter triggering Article 50 which will see us begin to leave the EU. Yes, we’ll be leaving all that “red tape”, all those pesky regulations that gave us holidays, safe working conditions and kept our food safe are all up for grabs now. And the Tories have the whip hand. So, yeah, good times ahead for people who want more human faeces in their drinking water and horse meat in their Bolognese. Regulation! Pah! Who needs it! Personally I think we should just go the whole hog and bring back hanging, National Service and 'The Black and White Minstrel Show'. Say, did you see that shit about “Empire 2.0”? And that’s the grown-ups in charge that is. I despair, I honestly and utterly despair. I also lose my track but always find my way back. The strikers are helped by this spooky figure who comes in times of need, this El Maldito. The company has Judge Dredd. Sparks fly and symapthies may not lie entirely where you expect. It’s a decent strip with good points to make about industrial relations, but Judge Dredd survives a massive explosion, uh, because, and the subplot about the guy and his kid doesn’t gel but, y’know, fun is had and salient points are made, so GOOD! Oh, the other interesting thing (besides how irritated you got when I went on about strike action) is that El Maldito is a tip of the hat to 'El Mestizo', which like 'Major Eazy' ran in Battle Picture Weekly. Unlike Eazy this was set in the American Civil War and involved a black slave turned mercenary having weekly and very violent adventures. Yeah, a black slave , and if you started any of that moaning about pandering to Social Justice Warrior Snowflakes shit he'd have stuck a stick of dynamite up your arse and kicked you off a cliff. And quite right too. Unfortunately while I do remember the strip, all I can remember is he looked like Jimi Hendrix as dressed by Sergio Leone and was balls cool. Although it was the ‘70s so we probably would have said he was “jolly spiffing” and then laughed at some homosexuals on TV. Since there were only 16 episodes someone should collect the 'El Mestizo' strips so I can buy them, you know, with money I earned while not striking. HAH!
NEXT TIME: If I don’t end up in jail for sedition, it’ll be more Judge Dredd and thus more COMICS!!!
What would Thunderbirds be like in the world of Judge Dredd? My dog has no nose; why isn’t Robbie Morrison funny? What if the messiah was susceptible to weed killer? What would be the absolute best name for a character in a very cold place? Can a gun be too big? And if war is so terrible why is it so good for John Wagner? All questions I’ll probably forget to answer in the latest jolly riverdance through the JUDGE DREDD MEGA COLLECTION. JUDGE DREDD: THE HEAVY MOB by P J Holden
JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 55: THE HEAVY MOB Art by Jim Murray, Clint Langley, Malcolm Davis, Nick Percival, Xuasus, David Millgate, Kevin Walker, Brian Bolland, Ron Smith and P J Holden Written by John Smith, Chris Standley, Robbie Morrison, John Wagner and Michael Carroll Coloured by Chris Blythe and Len O'Grady Lettered by Gordon Robson, Ellie DeVille, Steve Potter, Tom Frame and Annie Parkhouse Originally serialised in 2000AD Progs 122-125 & 1792-1796 & JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.31-2.33, 2.60-2.62, 2.70, 3.20-3.23, 3.29-3.33 & 240-243 © 1979, 1993, 1994, 1995, 2006, 2012 & 2015 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2015) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
HOLOCAUST 12: SKYFALL Art by Jim Murray Written by John Smith & Chris Standley Lettered by Gordon Robson Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 3.20-3.23 HOLOCAUST 12: STORM WARNING Art by Clint Langley & Malcolm Davis Written by John Smith & Chris Standley Lettered by Gordon Robson & Ellie DeVille Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 3.29-3.33
In the 1990s the JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE was so starved of content there was actually a strip based on a concept (The Holocaust Squad) which had appeared for less than a page in Judge Dredd a couple of decades earlier (see Father Earth below). Spotting that idea had legs was a pretty good spot, particularly as the 1990s were characterised by a bizarre fetish for trying to replicate the high-octane and content-light high-concept action movie style into comics. It didn’t work. Movies aren’t comics and comics aren’t movies. What zips past on the screen trundles across the page, and so this first outing for what is basically a fire brigade on steroids staffed by psychopaths seems to involve the world’s slowest space ship crash. It would have been even slower on its first appearance with the weeks separating each instalment. On screen there are also actors, so even the slimmest of characters can be fattened with unspoken character. On the page Cyrus “The Virus” is probably a bit flat but stick his words in the mouth of John Malkovich and we’re off to the races. Smith’s strip has no such advantage so his characters are just violent ciphers. Visually they are distinct because comics have art and Murray and Langley are certainly distinctive artists, but that’s about it. One of the Squad carks it in this first instalment and I couldn’t remember which one , and our POV character gets side-lined shortly after he’s walked through a room and had everyone described to him. There’s a lot of “This is Cockthrottler Magoo. He can fart through cement and is just such a badass, well, it’s just plain scary is what it is!” A lot of telling not showing basically, and we all know how much we enjoy that. Smith is a good writer but some writers are good only in certain areas. The vagaries of comic writing mean the humble dreamweavers are often called upon to write something they aren’t really suited to. Disaster-action movie seems a particularly poor fit for John Smith’s body horror obsession and trademark bursts of stream of consciousness narration. It’s too constricting; Smith works best on horror because horror is a tad more elastic than the action movie. The action movie is all about the cliché, moving within that cliché, and stretching it maybe, but always solidly retaining that core cliché. Smith’s not one to work well within restrictions. He’s too cerebral for this shit basically; you practically can feel him switching of areas of his brain, limiting himself.
It’s not a complete loss, he certainly has some fun sneaking his gore in there. Lots of people die horrible deaths in both instalments and it sometimes seems like concocting vile ends for his bodies is all that’s keeping Smith awake. It’s pretty much all that kept me awake too, well, besides his always fun narrative captions, evidence that at least one comic creator enjoys modernist linguistic trickery. There’s a disaster, people die, the Holocaust Squad stop being naughty and set off, the clock is ticking, more people die, rescue is achieved. It’s all pretty much like that. In the first a spaceship fizzing with chemical death is crashing into the city, in the second the tallest building in the world (Chump Tower; ho ho!) is hit by a freak weather storm and a space ship, oh, and the zoo gets loose, because there's no such thing as overkill! In this second one Smith doesn’t make it easy to root for the victims as they are all rich arseholes (rissoles?) except for a manservant (maybe a nod to The Admirable Crichton (1957) there?) Ultimately Holocaust 13 just feels too restrictive a concept to have much room for Smith to manoeuvre within. Artistically the strip provides plenty of freedom for Murray and Langley (hmm, that sounds like a posh brand of paint) particularly in the realm of the grotesque. Although given a largely tech-based scenario Murray gets some nice gore in there, and has fun with his POVs. He takes the time to paint the reflected lights in a pool of blood and his SFX have a Vaughn Bode/Comix wobble to them. The reproduction dulls his fully painted but cartoony art, but Murray goes the extra mile indicative of someone enjoying themselves. Clint Langley goes several miles too far and may be enjoying himself far too much. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what you’re looking at on Langley’s metallically garish yet brutally dark pages. It’s like squinting at a metal zoo losing its collective mind in a catacomb. Langley’s obviously pushing the then available technology of photo manipulation to its extreme, and while it may be a struggle to read, it is just a step on the way to his current bizarre peak. For a couple of strips struggling so hard to be unpleasant, surprisingly there are pleasures in these Holocaust 13 strips but you have to hunt and peck for them. GOOD!
BRIT-CIT BRUTE Art by Nick Percival Written by Robbie Morrison Lettered by Ellie DeVille Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.31-2.33 BRIT-CIT BRUTE: TRILOGY Art by Nick Percival, Xuasus and David Millgate Written by Robbie Morrison Lettered by Steve Potter Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.60-2.62
I’m not spending long on this one as it’s clearly for people who found DC’s Lobo a bit highbrow. It’s supposed to be funny so you get our strapping lad of a lead being named Newt (because they are small!) and his boss who looks like John Major (British Tory Prime Minister 1990-97) is called Judge Major (because satire!) and some Elvis references (because he’s a lazy comedy staple!) and some underwear stealing (because the British!) and if you find your ribs being tickled by any of that you’ll soil yourself if you ever read any Mark Millar (ugh!). Brit-Cit Brute is bad is what I’m saying. And don’t be expecting any insight into Brit-Cit unless you are a massive fan of being disappointed. It’s hard to even tell what Brit-Cit looks like because Percival’s art is so unfocused. It’s the work of someone who likes drawing but hasn’t realised there’s more to comics than just drawing; there’s as much panel to panel continuity here as there is on Celebrity Squares. It’s a good job Robbie Morrison’s script is so tedious that it informs us of things we should be able to see , because thanks to Percival’s murky and stilted art we can’t actually see them anyway. There’s a two page interview with Percival at the back where he sounds very enthusiastic and likeable, which is nice, but doesn’t alter any of the artistic deficiencies here. However we do also learn he was very young and Brit-Cit Brute was very early in his career, so maybe enshrining it between hardcovers wasn’t such a hot idea, Rebellion? Xuasis and David Millgate fare better artistically, but none of it’s in any danger of hanging in the Louvre any time soon. Hopefully everyone involved had a great time because I didn’t. Brit-Cit Brute has only a handful of episodes but manages to outstay it’s welcome before even the first of them is over. CRAP!
WYNTER Art by Kevin Walker Written by Robbie Morrison Lettered by Ellie DeVille Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.70
He’s called Wynter ‘cause he’s up in the snow, and it’s proper snowy in winter, see. Clever wordplay, Robbie Morrison. Well, in the old days it snowed in winter, nowadays not so much. Definitely nothing to that global warming malarkey, mind. All made up by them Koreans to make America look bad, bribed all the scientists haven’t they? My lad’s all glum because every year they promise it’s going to be a “Bad Winter”, and it isn’t; so no sledging for the yowwun. We had a bit of a flurry but nothing special. I remember when it’d be knee high, and all the buses would stop and you’d have to walk to school. Mind you I also remember the Yorkshire Ripper, Margaret Thatcher and the IRA pub bombings so, you know, it wasn’t all roses. You can oversell nostalgia, kids. But it wasn’t that far back either; in the ‘90s I once got stuck halfway between home and Leeds because the snow was too much for the buses. Had to spend the night in a Fox’s biscuit factory. No lie. Got waved over to it by a plod who spotted me walking aimlessly about looking worried and trying to keep warm. Curled up on a leatherette sofa eating free biscuits and reading Helen Zahavi’s Dirty Weekend while the night shift kept those biscuits flowing, snow or no snow. I’ve had worse nights. Rang in and told work to **** off the morning after. Barely had any sleep had I? Got to get my beauty sleep or I’m no use to man nor beast. So, yeah, Wynter, clever word play. Except it drives me nuts that “cool misspellings” thing. I have to keep checking “Gil” knows you don’t spell “attacks” “attax” as in “Match Attax” and all the other everyday spelling atrocities which slip my mind right now. So, back at the comic, Wynter is a Judge in the snow, the Antartic Territories to be precise. All Robbie Morrison has to tell us about this exciting addition to the world of Judge Dredd is it’s cold, snowy, sparsely populated and it’s snowy, did I mention the snow? Luckily he remembers Michael Moorcock’s The Ice Schooner and has a boat zipping over the ice proper sharpish like. It’s crewed by ice pirates who have made off with some medical supplies and some chemical weapons. Wynter (recap: because it’s cold) has to get the chemical weapons and never mind the mega-Lemsips. But kids are dying so he’s not happy about that. There’s a bit of a ruckus and he makes the right choice. There’s not much too it but then I imagine no one imagined it’d ever be enshrined between hard covers, probably a last minute bit of filler unfairly maligned here by my rancorous self. The art’s okay though. Probably more of interest as a look at Kev Walker before he dropped all the extraneous detail and went a bit Mignola; a style which suits him greatly and is adequately represented elsewhere in this series. Here though he’s still drawing like someone who really liked Citadel miniature’s Warhammer 40K and thinks John Blanche is an artistic demigod (which he is). His action’s all over the shop as well, but he’d get (a lot) better and so he shouldn’t be too upset. I did like the way Robbie Morrison tried to give it some weight by starting off with Wynter (recap: brrr!) portentously informing us that he’d “buried a child today”. In the same way that chucking Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt over anything, even a video of a your cat cleaning its bum, makes it seem as important and moving as The Crucifixion, dead kids give stuff a bit of heft. Wynter (recap: because it’s a bit nippy!) is a bit of a waste of a dead kid really because it’ still EH!
JUDGE DREDD: FATHER EARTH Art by Brian Bolland and Ron Smith Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Progs 122-125
This is the best tale in the book by a hefty margin and it’s nobody’s fault except everyone surrounding it that it’s also the most elderly. This does mean a few of you will be suspecting that I have difficulty accommodating the present and like many withered old fusspots prefer to live in the past. Which is obviously true; after all I sit here in the sallow light of flickering candles inscribing these words upon parchment via quill and ink. There is a certain bit of the power of early imprinting at work because I can quite clearly remember several moments in this one and the attendant original thrill they induced quite clearly. But would it have imprinted so hard had it not been so good? I don’t know, and I don’t think it’s worth applying for a grant to find out. It is good; really, really good. It starts off small with a (rare for 2000AD) black couple encountering a Cursed Earth messiah, who looks like Alan Moore if he’d been designed to sell corn on tins for a living, at their trading outpost. Before the story ends Mega City 1 will have become besieged by mutants wearing dog heads like hats, a power tower will have gone a bit Pompeii, thousands will have lost their lives and a singing, killing plant will have meted out blackly ironic justice. It is a master class in serialised entertainment. Because not only is there all that stuff but there is also a tense bomb disposal scene (a la David Hemmings in JUGGERNAUT (1974)), comedy robots, Dredd failing to save a lady, and a major plot point hinges on the power surges in the 1970s whenever the whole country watched something on TV (e.g. there used to be power surges immediately after CORONATION STREET as everyone leapt up to put the kettle on) and of course…the Holocaust Squad!
These dudes appear for a half page, dropping out of the sky in sci-fi diving suits and into the maw of the power station turned volcano. After that we only hear their voices for a handful of panels as they go out one by one like candles in a draught. Which reminds me…hang on (lights candle and bends back over the parchment). The brevity of their appearance belies its power to shock the mind of a child. For the last few decades I thought they were the focus of a whole episode, but they barely get a page in reality. It really shook little me up reading their voices bravely passing the baton as they burnt up like tissues in a furnace. Wagner has many strengths as a writer and here we see two of them smashing boredom like twin hammers going at a pile of crackers. First is how much he can get out of so little; the robots get enough personality to make them humorous, but also enough for you to go “Oh!” when the bomb disposal goes to cock, and the Holocaust Squad have more impact over their petite sprinkle of panels than they do over two full stories by John Smith (see above). Secondly he is fearless in his use of imagination. A lot of comic writers write like they are scared they will never have another idea, Wagner writes like he’s convinced their flow will never cease. It takes some nuts to write like that, but it’s definitely the best approach. The art here is by Bolland and Ron Smith and it’s great too, although the reproduction is so awful you may have to take that on trust. Bolland fares worst with big areas of solid black swamping his detail but Smith uses a lighter touch and his art comes off better, if a little ghostly. Shame, but it doesn’t stop Father Earth being VERY GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: DEBRIS Art by P J Holden Written by Michael Carroll Coloured by Chris Blythe Lettered by Annie Parkhouse Originally published in 2000AD Progs 1792-1796
Michael Carroll is one of the new breed of Dredd writers currently tasked with chronicling Old Stoney Face regularly whenever John Wagner isn’t. Because I don’t follow The Tooth regular like anymore I’ve not read a lot of his stuff yet, but it seems competent enough, just lacking that essential Umpty factor. This Debris one is fine, I guess, but not exactly a stunner. It’s about a block seceding from the Meg and how it has a big gun on top to defend itself. There’s an interesting kernel there about how the block feels it’s better at protecting its inhabitants than the Judges, and it’s hard not to see their point as the story is set after another of the seemingly endless city filleting events. The gun on the top is the least interesting aspect but this proves to be the focus of the strip, which is unfortunate. Carroll seems unduly impressed by the fact that the gun hoovers® up debris (that’s right!) to fire. Sure, it’s an idea but it’s not a big enough or good enough idea to hang the story on. I mean, it’s a big gun so all you have to do is get under it so it can’t fix a bead on you and Bob’s your uncle and Fanny’s your Judge. This doesn’t seem to occur to any of the characters, who are bulked up by some Space Marines who themselves are bulked up by their armour (hence their inclusion in this volume). The Marines are there because the Judges are so depleted by the regular occurrence of extinction level events their numbers are running low, they might also be there to highlight the different approaches to situations between the military and judicial mind-set, they might not; it’s hard to tell because developing that would distract from the big gun, which Carroll is convinced we are more interested in. Unfortunately we’re not; or I wasn’t, you might be all over that big gun like a rash. Since it devolves quickly into action and shouting Debris takes up too much page space. After The Pit it’s pretty much established that the Dredd audience can manage the more talky stories, so Carroll’s swerve into the least interesting and more action packed approach is even more puzzling. Holden’s art is okay though; a little rushed and he fluffs some of the staging, but it’s chunky and funky in a Brett Ewins/Rufus Dayglo markers and rulers way. It’s no great shakes but Dredd seems like Dredd and entertainment is had. OKAY!
JUDGE DREDD: WARZONE Art by P J Holden Written by John Wagner Coloured by Len O'Grady Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 240-243
Not only is this one also illustrated by P J Holden but its events are also spurred into being by a recent Mega-City trashing event. One of the many (many) cool beans things about The World of Dredd is how Events happen and then there is a period of fallout from that Event which has to be navigated before the next corpse-piling Event occurs. Because, yes, astonishingly, it turns out that it is possible to segue from one Event into another while also providing satisfactory stories with beginnings, middles and (crucial this:) endings, characterisation and even internal logic; despite what writers of North American genre comics demonstrate on a monthly basis. (I mean seriously now, are you people even trying?) Anyway, Dredd’s after some bloke who was instrumental in terror attacks on the Big Meg. Wisely hiding out in a warzone the guy probably thinks he’s safe, unfortunately he doesn’t realise he’s the bad guy in a Judge Dredd strip so his days are numbered, like on a really morbid calendar. You can take the war comics off the child but he’ll only buy them again later in more expensive hardback formats. No wait, I mean you can take the writer out of the war comics but you can’t take the war comics out of the writer. Wagner might have started out writing girls’ (eeew!) comics but he got great during his stint on war comics, and Warzone is like a quick reminder to the world that where war comics are concerned John Wagner’s still got it going on. He hasn’t lost a step; he might even have gained a couple of new ones.
In less time than it takes a North American genre comic writer to have his characters discuss their favourite cereals Wagner has sketched in the personalities of each member of the group assigned to Dredd. Not only that but he’s also established the needlessness and futility of the conflict they are waging (it’s space-Vietnam). Sure the soldiers are types, but they are also alive; the noble sergeant who is more metal than man, the shell-shock case who can only utter profanities, the hov-grafted guy who lost his girl along with his legs, the ear-collecting Rogue Trooper-a-like, etc etc. Not an original one among them, but you’ll still give a shit when they get shot to bits. How does that happen? SPOILER: Good writing. There’s a tellingly protracted sequence after the big battle when time is spent just showing the bodies, all torn and mangled and host to a variety of carrion eaters, in which the reader is silently invited to ruminate upon exactly what their deaths have achieved. They died bravely and they died well but they are dead. Wagner being Wagner there’s also some humour because where there’s life there’s laughter. I particularly enjoyed Dredd’s abrupt curtailment of the campfire bonding. In the end as implacable as ever Dredd, bloody but never beaten, pushes his way past the war and manages to extract some small measure of Justice for the fallen. Warzone is John Wagner doing war comics and that’s still VERY GOOD!
NEXT TIME: Old British war comics make another unlikely appearance in the world of Dredd as a couple of familiar faces get a new coat of future-paint! Hoo ha -COMICS!!!
There now follows a change to our scheduled programme. Settle back as our Argentinian chums Eduardo Risso and the late Carlos Trillo take us on a trip to the near future where everything is awful; simply awful. Just dreadful, darlings. Ugh. (Oh, And I realise Argentina isn't in Europe but the book was originally published in Italy(?), which is in Europe so check and mate!) BORDERLINE by Risso & Trillo and Brandon
BORDERLINE Vol. 1 Art by Eduardo Risso Written by Carlos Trillo Translated by Ivan Brandon Dynamite, $19.99 (1995/2007)
BORDERLINE is set in a future dystopia and involves a sexy lady assassin and a troubled gruff male loner facing off in a world lit by the klieg lights of glaring subtext…oh no. OHO! Fret not, Euro-fan, it’s not as bad as it sounds. In fact it’s pretty neat. Usually that would be wholly down to the art, but the writing’s not half bad either; although it took me a bit to twig to that. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. I mean, “sexy lady assassin”! Not my favourite genre; the bulk of it being composed of any number of trite shite titles in the North American Mainstream. The whole “Men damaged her but now she’s damaging back! But not at the expense of her femininity! You can still be strong in a thong!” gets creepy pretty quick, particularly when it’s written by some dude you just know is rubbing himself against the underside of the desk as he writes, because, damn, this is some progressive shit. Whoooo, man writes Strong! Female! Protagonist! damn, gonna be statues of him in the streets! With every scissor kick and poisoned kiss sexism dies another death! But people obviously buy lots of “sexy lady kill” books; because if they didn’t they wouldn’t make them. So as genres go someone likes it.
Which is fine. I mean, I’m not a big fan of the whole “nurse passive aggressively hounds doctor in a borderline psychotic manner until he marries her” genre, but I hear Mills & Boon are still going. Spoiler: I’m not a woman so you know maybe I don’t have the right to react to this stuff. Or maybe I’m not reacting in the right way? I don’t know. I mean, I get that these sexy killin’ ladies have to be toned and limber; you can’t be lugging a load of excess weight about if you’re a top assassin. I like the occasional pie, and the odds of me rolling across any car bonnets with twin pistols flaring without there being a lot of ungainly sprawling and sliding, and not a few hefty grunts, are kind of on the poor side. And I’m not being sizeist there; I’m just trying to save you some grief on Careers Day. These are tricky times; lots of toes to be trodden on. Should I just say it’s the creepy way the whole “sisters with pistols!” thing slyly panders to men under the femme friendly surface? Because it is. But that’s okay, because BORDERLINE knows that too.
BORDERLINE shows that Risso and Trilllo know the genre and, better, they know how to toy with it. Games are very definitely being played here. First, and most obviously, you need a sexy lady assassin. Accordingly Risso’s heroine, Lisa, is a combination of sinew and pulchritude, topped by a black flare of Goth hair. The Sisters of Mercy, despite this sister having little of said quality, spring to mind and !bang! the viscous tang of “snakebite and black” springs to the throat as a Proustian moment flings you back to Bradford and a billion gigs of collapsed hair and sweat streaked eyeshadow. (Ask your parents.) Anyway, think an inhumanly aerobicized ‘80s era Beatrice Dalle draped in a leather rhino-shouldered jacket and sporting sprayed on jeans and you’d be in the right (erogenous) zone. Risso’s art has always been able to sell sex like the First Prize is a Cadillac El Dorado, Second Prize is a set of steak knives and Third Prize is you’re fired! But he never sells it cheap. Lisa is supposed to look ridiculously stimulating, so that she contrasts sharply with everything around her, because BORDERLINE is all about sharp contrasts. (It’s not an accident the book is in B&W.)
In keeping with the whole contrasts thing there is what Lisa looks like and what Lisa is. What she is is a piece of lethal meat exploited by everyone around her. Usually deadly ladies are all about their agency (for everyone born prior to 1990: this is their capacity to make choices, not who handles their bookings and headshots) and how they still have it goin’ on. Not Lisa. The only choice she has is not to pull the trigger, and that choice is fraught with the dangers of repercussion. Tradition dictates Lisa be damaged and tradition is fulfilled to a parodic degree here. Amongst other things (see below) Lisa is deaf. Since a deaf assassin would last about as long as a Raspberry Mivvi on a log fire I think we can safely identify some satirical intent here. She has so little agency that BORDERLINE makes the usual subtext text. Not only are her skills exploited, but so is her hawt body. During her down-time she is either being peeped on or pawed by Jack (or Mike) one of a pair of identical men (or women) whose race is as unfixed as their gender.
Usually this sexually predatory role would be filled by a fat sweaty, Caucasian male but BORDERLINE opens it up and recasts that character as both racially and sexually ambiguous; one who is also in a loving relationship, just to really mix it up . Now the defining aspect of the abuse has shifted; it is authority. Which is correct. Abuse is a consequence of the possession of power over another, not the possession of a penis. This is usually muddied by the fact most of the powerful people have penises (usually just one each) and false conclusions are then drawn. But it’s power that corrupts not the penis. (Except in ZARDOZ (1974) where “the penis is”, indeed, “evil.”) There’s a reason that no one says, “Penis corrupts and absolute penis corrupts absolutely.” Well, except for the occasional tipsy feminist in any Polytechnic Biko Bar circa 1990.
Speaking of penises, Lisa’s opposite number, the stubbled, moody male loner, Blue(!), is slightly less interesting because stubbled, moody male loners are mostly uninteresting; with the exception of me, because I am intrinsically fascinating. Also, it’s an overdone trope. Luckily for your reading pleasure Trillo and Risso kick the legs out from under this tedious trope pretty swiftly. It’s okay him mooning about (i.e. being “blue”; geddit!) after Lisa and spray-painting her face on walls (not a euphemism) and being all sad inside because, sure, all that’s super dreamy and romantic, but he’s still six feet of shit stuffed in distressed denim. (SPOILER: Turns out he turned out his chick for a hit. Pretty hard to walk back from that one, no matter how sexy you find troubled loners. Before we rush to judgement, ladies and gents, let’s not forget troubled loners like raunchy Richard Speck and dreamy David Berkowitz. Whoo! Is it hot in here, or is it just me?)
Look, the dude Blue didn’t just miss her birthday or have someone else’s knickers in his pocket, he traded her for a fix and, even better (i.e. even worse), Lisa was then harvested for organs before being rescued and having her organs replaced so she could be trained as an attractive assassin. So she’s traumatised beyond comprehension and deaf to boot. This pair of lovelorn killers dance the dance of death around each other, while their orbits threaten to collide with all the dramatic inevitability of any decent pulp fiction. Whereupon he looks at her with puppy eyes and then she forgives him and they get married and live in Mytholmroyd, where she looks after the house while he has a succession of joyless affairs at the Estate Agents where he works. No, not really because this isn’t real - it’s fiction! So you’ll just have to see what happens. On the understanding that a lot of it will happen in later volumes, since this is volume 1 of 6.
It being the first volume there’s a lot of world building but it’s a very simple world; there are two sides: one side controls its people by telling them there’s a reward after death, the other side is more materialistic. Both sides are ruled by bumbling chucklefucks boiling with psychological buboes, but society persists in functioning after a fashion, nevertheless. There are cities and subways and a civilisation of sorts. (Visually all this involves a lot of Besson’ing about; the tuxedoed thugs in the subway seem like a doff of the cap to SUBWAY (1985) and the refuse laden outlands strongly suggest LE DERNIER COMBAT (1983). Thankfully, there are no underage girls dancing to Madonna in their scanties.) People with money live in the cities and the people without money don’t. If you don’t live in the city you have to scavenge in the ruins of a world crumpled by an (as yet) undefined Event. The poor are twisted, crippled things with a tendency to throw themselves off high things such is the horror of life without Wi-Fi. Practically enough the poor are kept around so the monied can live off them; literally - by harvesting their organs, because fuck the poor, right? Damn straight. And everyone is controlled by drugs, particularly a drug called Hope which instils in the user a belief that everything will turn out okay. That’s right, there’s the key; it’s not really a world but a joke. The punchline being us.
It’s a good joke; a smart joke and Trillo’s writing here is a lot cleverer than I first thought. Narration and dialogue is sparse and this being comics Risso takes the brunt of the weight. But then why waste Eduardo Risso? What’s important is the writing you do is good not that you do a lot of it. And here Trillo pulls off an exceptionally nice trick. His narration addresses the reader directly, giving proceedings a nicely informal, chatty, air, and occasionally it shrugs past things or draws your attention to things. It’s the kind of device North American comic creators get all giggly about doing ,and think Grant Morrison invented. This is because they have no sense of history and mistake it for modern. But then if your highest ambition in writing is to end up as a fucking TV show then you are unlikely to use a mode customary in the 19th Century novel (e.g. Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862)) and if you did, you’d probably think it was first used on BJ AND THE BEAR (1979-81). Yeah, shit musical adaptations be damned, class lasts. Not content with being a classy bastard, Trillo occasionally, and whimsically, allows his “voice” to interact with the characters. It took me two reads to notice, because he doesn’t start waving his hands about and going “OOO! Look at me!” and thus critically kneecapping the suspension of disbelief along the way. No, he just smoothly slides it past you. And lest we forget, the fact that any of this good stuff strikes home is in part due to the translation skills of Ivan Brandon, who retains a tone at once formal and chatty in equal measure. Which can’t have been an easy gig. Via Brandon, Trillo’s done his job and done it well, the rest is up to you; if you notice, you notice…
What you can’t help but notice is the phenomenal art of Eduardo Risso, unless some rich sod has made off with your eyes. Risso builds a world of desolation punctured by clusters of degradation. In keeping with the almost comical overtness of its themes the book is, I remind you, drawn in black and white; stunningly so, natch. Robbed of the crutch of colour Risso’s art soars rather than falls. Which comes as no shock to keen Risso readers, since both his (originally coloured) work on LOGAN for Marvel©™® and Batman for DC Comics©™® were made available in B&W editions. Colour might enhance Risso’s work but it isn’t essential. That’s a sure sign of art soaked with structural integrity. The key of course is Risso’s high contrast approach, which here leaves great swathes of pages untouched; colour can be accommodated but so can its absence. Outside everything seems lit by a merciless sun, while inside it’s the unflinching glare of neon, and everywhere shadows as black as a banker’s heart anchor it all. It’s not without precedent of course; the cowboy boots embellished with swastikas are as much a giveaway as the detail bleaching; someone’s been studying their Frank Miller circa Sin City. Actually, lots of people have been studying their Frank Miller circa Sin City, but no one has managed to subsume it into their style as flawlessly as Risso. As dumbly fun as the stories were, the real story in Sin City was Frank Miller’s courageous shearing of detail right up to the brink of sense. The lessons Miller’s pages contained were not lost on Eduardo Risso. He isn’t copying, he’s picking up the baton and haring off in his own direction; which is no way to win a race, but I’m not very good with sports metaphors; I’m sure you know what I meant. There is so much absent from the pages of BORDERLINE another, lesser artist would have some serious explaining to do. But Risso is a better, greater artist and so his art explains everything. Less may well be more but only because Risso works the balls off what little there is.
BORDERLINE is VERY GOOD!
NEXT TIME: Maybe get back on schedule with a bit of Dredd, or maybe something random again. I don’t know about you but I’m getting that Chaykin feeling. Anyway, something, sometime from the wacky world of – COMICS!!!
Bit of a hybrid this time out. It’s a little bit European and a little bit American. Something for everyone! Also, Batman! Everyone loves Batman! Unfortunately it’s kind of terrible. But, wait! I’m getting ahead of myself… BATMAN: EUROPA by Parel, Camuncoli, Casali, Azzarello and Brosseau
BATMAN:EUROPA #1-4 Art by Jim Lee, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Diego Latorre and Gerald Parel Layouts by Giuseppe Camuncoli Written by Brian Azzarello and Matteo Cassali Coloured by Alex Sinclair Lettered by Pat Brosseau BATMAN created by Bill Finger with Bob Kane DC COMICS,$3.99 each (2015-2016)
Tellingly the most interesting thing about BATMAN: EUROPA is its appearance some ten years and change late. Announced in 2004, the series finally slouched out in 2015. What? Yes, Jim Lee is involved. However did you guess, Holmes! I guess Jim Lee struggled to find the time to draw an actual comic in between his high level corporate gig of wearing baseball caps and smiling his sunshiney smile. Maybe it’s unfair to blame Jim Lee though, maybe it was Brian Azzarello who was busy earning more money than I’ll ever see, vigorously, and ill-fatedly, palping the withered dugs of Frank Miller and Alan Moore in an attempt to express one last squirt of milky, milky cash; all for a company so bereft of ideas they mistake having Batman fight Rorschach for creativity. Or maybe it was one of the other folk involved that we’re not interested in because they sound a bit foreign and haven’t made awesome comics like, uh, that one that’s only any good because Eduardo Risso drew it, or whatever comic it is that makes people like Jim Lee’s scratchy tedium. (If you really need to like an artist who works at the pace of tectonic shift then I still think Barry “Windsor” Smith’s your best bet.) I don’t really know Matteo Casali but I hear Matteo Casali has written some Dylan Dog comics I’ve never read, so maybe he’s a byword for tardiness; maybe our continental chums are all like, “Dylan Dog would be a good comic if only it ever came out. Damn Matteo Casali’s eyes! That Mateo Casali makes Jim Lee look like a Japanese Rocket Train. Mateo Casali! Pah!” Ah, but do you want it now or do you want it right, someone who thinks I don’t know a diversionary tactic when I hear one is saying. Look, the Sistine Chapel ceiling took Michelangelo four years. Four years. Therefore it took DC Comics six years longer than it took Michelangelo to paint the Sistine chapel ceiling to produce a comic about Batman in Europe. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that a Batman in Europe comic that takes 10 years had better be some brand new high in Batman comics, if not a fresh peak for the very medium of comics itself. It isn’t.
Unsurprisingly BATMAN: EUROPA is mostly set in Europe. And so it’s called EUROPA, which sounds a bit like Europe. But I don’t know why it’s specifically called “EUROPA”, since that’s the website for the European Union (which we aren’t to speak of lest we be hung, drawn and quartered for Treason against Brexit Britain. TAKING BACK CONTROL!!!!) Or maybe Brian Azzarello thinks people in Europe all put ‘a’ on the end of words; like Italians in an old Chris Claremont comic (“I-a welcome-a you-a to-a Europe-a, Bat-a man-a! Bella! Bella!”) Anyway, whatever, as the kids are wont to spout. Or maybe it’s one of Brian Azzarello’s “amazing” puns (e.g. it’s Brian Azzarello on Batman, he probably got paid a shitload so EUROPA it’s good. Geddit! EUROPA it’s good! Diamonds, baby! Diamonds.) I should probably move on now, since I don’t get to be ten years and then some late; you know, like professionals do. BATMAN: EUROPA is four issues, each set in a different European city (Chisinau, Podgorica, Heidelberg and Chichester; no not really, it’s Berlin, Prague, Paris and Rome), each has a different European artist and, uh, that’s it. Well, except for the first issue which starts in Gotham, which is in America, which is not part of Europe, (also, it's not real) and so has Jim Lee tepidly involved before the series flings itself across the Atlantic to Berlin where Camuncoli picks up his pen. The premise, or the (inch) high-concept if you must, is: The Batman and The Joker are both infected by a deadly virus and have to team up and travel round Europe for a cure. And so EUROPA starts off with Batman and The Joker rolling about on the floor all bloody and kind of weightlessly sketched in that way Jim Lee will continue to do for the rest of his stint on the book. Hey, Jim Lee fans, does Jim Lee have some kind of clinical aversion to suggesting weight in his art? I’m just asking; he’s clearly talented, but everything looks too samey, and this together with the failure to allot weight to any of his visual elements just leaves his work looking like half-hearted sketches. I don’t mind Jim Lee’s art, but I’m not all that excited by it, basically. I see a picture of Jim Lee smiling in his latest baseball cap and I don’t begrudge him, you know. Equally though, I don’t get all tingly round the prepuce when I see his name. Despite Lee’s signature dreariness Azzarello/Casali try to create a mood of finality about this opener as though this time Batman will have to do the ultimate and…smash cut to splash page flashback! Ooh! What could it be? Four very disappointingly written issues will have to pass before you find out. And it’s not a bad punchline, but really four issues of set up require a punchline with a lot more, uh, punch.
You heard me right, pilgrim, four issues! Four issues this bumptious thing is! Four whole issues! Back when you could hate women openly in the street, this whole Batman and The Joker in Europe device would be the kind of throwaway gimmick Bob Haney would do in 22 poorly coloured pages of The Brave And The Bold, probably with some Jim Aparo goodness to boot. You know the kind of goofy borderline racist awesome that would result, but let’s go through it anyway because I’m fighting off sleep just thinking about this Mogadon® of a comic. In a better world, in a Haney world, in Paris they would face stripy jumpered, beret sporting thugs armed with onion bolas ; in Rome they would be homicidally wooed by stiletto armed lotharios; in Berlin they would attend an Einstürzende Neubauten concert (Blixa would be felled by a rogue blow and The Joker would have to chip in on “Keine Schönheit (ohne Gefahr)” to thunderous applause) and foil the cloning of Hitler’s dog, Blondi; in London they would discover it had all been a plot by Oliver Cromwell’s great, great, great, great, grandson, Barry; and it would all end with Buckingham Palace being attacked by bowler hat helicopters, the narrow averting of the assassination of King Henry XXIV and the escape of Barry Cromwell into a sudden pea-souper, only for him to be killed in a bitterly ironic last panel by a passing Jack the Ripper. The antidote would turn out to be a nice cup of tea and a biscuit, and all the while the Joker would go “Hoo! Hoo!” a lot. It would in short be very silly, not a little casually racist, and a ton of fun. Because Bob Haney comics were very silly and a lot of fun. Bob Haney not only survived the battle of Okinawa (01 April 1945), he also wrote the best Batman: Brave And The Bold comics ever; talk about The Greatest Generation! But Bob Haney was Then and this is Now, and North American genre comics are nothing if not needlessly po-faced, drab and kind of, well, insipidly joyless these days. Say, I bet Bob Haney wished he’d been 10 years late to Okinawa, but he didn’t get that option. Not everyone gets to be 10 years late. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying today’s comics writers would benefit from passing through the fiery hell of Okinawa. Mind you, I’m not exactly ruling it out either.
We’re all busy people so let’s not beat about the bush here; the writing is just bloody poor. The plot is a mere wisp of a thing and the actual events clinging weakly to it are so deeply unthrilling that they barely register. At one point there’s a giant robot for not much of a reason, and all it makes you think is, I wish Bob Haney was writing this. I love me some Bob Haney but I shouldn’t be missing him so hard in 2017. I mean, I won’t lie, I can’t even remember what happened in this comic it’s so relentlessly leaden. I remember a human plot shortcut in the form of a lady hacker. She hasn’t got any character as such but I remember her because at one point she is wounded and Batman leaves the Joker to tend to her. Guess how that works out. I guess they never bill him as “Batman – The World’s Greatest Judge of Character” with good reason. Ooh, there’s a mystery villain behind it all! Yeah, that reveal had all the dramatic weight of a meringue in space. I thought it was KGBeast, but I just checked (professionalism!) and it wasn’t. That’s how exciting it was. I’ve forgotten who it was again. As for motivation, well, I don’t know. Sure, killing Batman is kind of on any decent Bat-villains to-do list, but The Joker? You’d hand feed Cujo before you got that looney tune involved. And why such a needlessly protracted and highly unlikely method? I think the idea is the virus gives them a reason to follow a trail of, cough, clues so that by the end that are all tuckered out and the Guest Villain can best them. It’s a Bob Haney plan in its unlikely roundaboutness but it’s played like it’s Shakespeare. Bob Haney’s Macbeth, now there’s a thought to conjure with. Probably about a jillion times more entertaining than Azzarello/Casali’s Batman. But it’s not just Batman, it’s Batman and The Joker! “Hoo!” and indeed “Hoo!” Yes! Batman and The Joker together! Like Bing and Bob in on The Road To Europa! What a gift to a writer. Think of the cracklin’ dialogue and sinister mind games you could fill the pages with. Having to trust your life to a man who can’t even trust himself! It’s the very stuff isn’t it? The premise practically comes with a bow tied round it. Time to get your Shane Black on. More like bloody Shane Ritchie. Predictably enough nothing memorable occurs and it’s all largely page wasting, occasionally enlivened by a coughed up furball of facts about whichever city the undynamic duo are in. Basically the interaction is about as vibrant and electric as that of a long-married couple on a lengthy coach trip. Odd, isn’t it what with all these master dialogists in comics that there’s very little masterful dialogue around. Some people have an ear for dialogue, but most people in comics seem to have an arse for it; and more than one of those people are called Brian. But I digress. Frequently and with great vigour.
The art’s okay, sometimes it’s even really, really good; these guys are all Eurotalents after all; and I don’t want to upset anyone in North American genre comics, but the bar for art seems a bit higher abroad. True, I don’t want to upset anyone, but since it’s true I don’t actually mind upsetting anyone. Giuseppe Camuncoli is a known known since he drew much of Peter Milligan’s underrated run on Hellblazer. As ever his art here has a pinched and repressed air which I enjoy, and everyone looks hungry on a really deeply unpleasant level that goes way beyond the appetite for food. Creepy, in sum. His colours are a bit heavy and rob his images of energy but as individual images they are certainly pretty. But comics is all about the sequential image and he dips a bit there with a lack of flow. Diego Latorre is, sadly, not the Argentinian footballer known as the “New Maradonna”, but is still impressive in a murky way. Maybe too murky. He makes up for the murk with an experimental brio that makes it look like he's running a sizeable charge of electricity through his panels. Alas, I was more impressed than seduced by the effect. If you've ever had a migraine (no not a headache, a migraine!) then you'll probably agree that Latorre has successfully represented that visually here. Arresting stuff but maybe a bit too much so. Gerald Parel is less than fresh to me as he also illustrated the original Iron Man graphic novel I looked at HERE. He’s gone for a really lush and soft edged look. It’s a kind of accumulation of colours blossoming across the page without the hindrance of holding lines. I liked this smeary expressionism just fine, but I can’t shake the suspicion that this is what sight is like when cataracts start to kick in. He gets some real beauty going though, I'll give him that. And then there’s stolid old Jim Lee, cap at a jaunty angle and smiles for miles. His art’s boring though. Yet what does it matter how good any of these artists are when the writing’s as weak as a politician’s excuses. Your eyes feast on an image only to be brought up short by the Joker alluding to pissing on a woman (my, how edgey!) or a pun as poor as it is predictable (“Vaud-Villain.” Yeah, really). Here's the big secret about puns: they should be used sparingly, otherwise it's like reading a lushly illustrated Christmas cracker joke.
BATMAN: EUROPA is not a good comic. The first three post-splash pages (or whatever; I’m not checking) consist entirely of Batman smacking Killer Croc about. This is excellent stuff, but only if the script directions asked for as unengaging a depiction of violence as possible, and the artist was asked also to ensure that the location was never identified beyond some rudimentary lines suggesting bricks, maybe a wall if needs must, a trash can if absolutely necessary. I think they are fighting in an alley in this scene, but if so, it’s an alley with remarkably elastic dimensions. Azzarello/Casali seem to think alleys are odd in a city based on a grid, and they draw special attention to this in the reliably problematic narration. However, alleys are only odd in a grid based city if the city in question is New York; a city notable for its scarcity of alleys due to the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 omitting rear service alleys. Gotham is often taken as a stand in for New York sooooooooooo, okay, but I’m not sure many people have any clue about the distinctive absence of alleys in New York City, and this is Gotham so it could have loads of alleys, you know, what with it not being real and people making up its geography on the fly; so I don’t know why it needs special mention, particularly as by way of contrast no mention whatsoever is made of why Batman is smacking Croc about. What I’m getting at is, the storytelling priorities here are all skew-iff, basically. Sure, there’s mention, as Croc is loaded into an ambulance, of “victims” but of what? Usually Azzarello has Croc eating people because – EDGY! And sometimes crocodiles eat people or something. Christ alone knows what Croc’s been up to this time because Azzarello/Casali don’t deign to tell us, despite having had three pages to do so. Instead they keep telling us the same thing: Batman is off his game. It’s a good job they tell us, mind you, because there’s no particular visual indication of this fight being any tougher than any other Killer Croc and Batman fight. It’s not good comics, in essence. Unusually for comics where the art often picks up the writer’s/writers' slack all parties are at fault here; it’s a failure on two fronts. I don't know exactly what's happening and I have no idea why it is happening. It's like being at work! Presented with a visual spectacle as tedious as this a writer might attempt to punch things up with captions; maybe give it some context, some stakes, at a bare minimum some reason for the scene to be occurring. I guess that’s beneath Azzarello/Casali as what they supply instead is a load of sub-Miller tough-guy guff, which takes a whole lot of space to say very little indeed. It’s difficult not to imagine that the Azzarello/Casali team isn’t itself undermined by Azzarello’s compulsive need to avoid crafting a clear sentence, so much so here that it occasionally makes you think it’s a particularly poor translation from another language (any other language). That’s the first few pages, I’m not going on through the rest of the comic but, be warned, I could do because it’s not very good.
BATMAN: EUROPA, then. Bit like that time you went inter-railing round Europe with your mate, but you both got the trots and fell out just past Rouen after someone (naming no names, Terry Blesdoe) was sick on your copy of Camus’ The Outsider (US: The Stranger), and you had to suffer each other’s sulky presence for the remainder of the trip because you’d booked everything in advance. And your train was ten years late. Yeah, a bit like that, but BATMAN: EUROPA is, quite possibly, if anything even less thrilling. I’ve read some of them there European comics and, while there is a variety, mostly I think I’m safe in generalising wildly and saying that European comics can tend towards the grandiose, with large pictures and outsized ideas which kind of sweep past in a lustrous rush, one you have to plumb for meaning at a later date. It’s this kind of Euro comic BATMAN: EUROPA seems to seek to emulate. But Batman isn’t The Metabaron. And Brian Azzarello/Casali aren’t Jodorowsky. And Moebius is dead, baby. Moebius is dead. Four issues of big pictures and tiny ideas is what you get. Um, but some of the pictures are nice. I’m uttering a very Continental – “EH!”
NEXT TIME: We talk about the elephant in the…road? Ah, it must be the how you say – COMICS!!!
JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 80: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON Art by Paul Marshall, Peter Doherty, Laurence Campbell, Lee Townsend, Brian Bolland, Mick McMahon and Ian Gibson Written by John Smith, Rob Williams, John Wagner and Gordon Rennie Lettered by Tom Frame, Ellie De Ville, Tony Jacob and Simon Bowland Colours by Alan Craddock, Peter Doherty and John-Paul Bove Originally serialised in 2000AD Progs 47, 50-52, 57, 1017-1028 & 1468, JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 328-331 © 1978, 1996,2005, 2012 & 2016 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2016) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
JUDGE DREDD: DARKSIDE Art by Paul Marshall Written by John Smith Coloured by Alan Craddock Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Progs 1017-1028
The order of these stories are all to cock chronology wise. The earliest Luna-1 stories are later in the book. I'm not sure why that is but we start with another disappointing John Smith Dredd outing. All the more disappointing because there are some pretty nifty elements here, but it all fails to gel. Someone is murdering people on the Luna-1 colony, someone with Judge Dredd's DNA! Worse, old Stony Face is actually on the moon pursuing a perp while also accompanying Psi Judge Hassad who has had “premonitions of a premonition”, so it could actually be Dredd. In fact who else could it be? It's a really promising set-up, but Smith fails to capitalise on it and plays his hand far too soon. What you end up with instead of a murder-mystery is a lot of running about bumping into call-backs to older, better stories.
He's aided and abetted by Marshall's clean line and chunky directness, which in turn is lent pizzazz by Craddock's vivid colours, which include photographic elements. The colours give it an otherworldly touch and the art successfully casts everything in a serio-comic mode. But it's all for naught as the tale is torpedoed by Smith's failure to balance his disparate elements. Usually his blend of comedy and horror is jarring, but intentionally so. Here his hands are too heavy on the horror and the humour both; resulting in a tonal roller-coaster of brutal murders which keeps ploughing into the candyfloss stand of the overly broad comedy, because for some reason it's on the track instead of down below next to the boating pond. Some of this sense of humour failure stems from Smith's distaste for the Judicial System; having Dredd interrogated by a Teutonic sadist complete with monocle and duelling scars is slapstick rather than satire. Some of the sense of humour failure is...well, inexplicable really; Psi Judge Hassad's a step too close to the old “Dearie Dearie me!” stereotype for comfort, never mind comedy. (Later we'll see some more unfortunate stereotypes; being white, male and totes privileged I'm willing to give stuff from the '70s a grudging pass, but not from the '90s.) I get the impression John Smith doesn't enjoy writing Dredd much, which is fine, each to their own but unfortunately more often than not it ends up with the reader not enjoying reading Judge Dredd. That’s less than ideal. EH!
BREATHING SPACE Art by Peter Doherty,Laurence Campbell and Lee Townsend Written by Rob Williams Coloured by Peter Doherty Lettered by Ellie De Ville Originally published in 2000AD Progs 1451-1459
Regular Squaxx dex Kano will know that in the comments we've been having a bit of a think about who “gets” Judge Dredd; it being a bit of a notable failure on the part of some Dredd scribes. Turns out it's a matter of opinion! Anyway, here we have a good way of avoiding that problem; Judge Dredd isn't in Breathing Space. It's a space-noir which uses the enclosed environment of Luna 1 to excellent advantage. The newly appointed Chief Marshal of Luna 1, Judge King, steps onto the lunar surface and straight into a mess of corrupt Judges, corporate backstabbing and...MURDER! In a nice tip of the space-fedora to SUNSET BOULEVARD the story starts with a dead man, and then we go back and see how he ended up there. It's not so much whodunnit as a whydidhedowhathedunnit. Any greater detail risks an eruption of the Thrill Suckers' ambrosia – SPOILERS!
For such a sweet read it's odd to find in the text at the back that Breathing Space had a troubled gestation. Due to illness Doherty (he got better; don't send cards) draws only the initial episodes but Campbell & Townsend pick up from him so delicately that you barely sense a switch in style. Although episodes appeared regularly, apparently it was written over three years (by which I mean there was a ruddy great hiatus in there, not that Williams' was honing it over a three year period like some kind of Joycean perfectionist; as good as it is it's still space-noir not ULYSSES, people), but you'd not guess as the pared down style reads smooth as a successful getaway. The consistency is helped no end by Doherty's continued presence as colourist; his use of a strictly limited and thoroughly muted palette sets a suitably sombre tone for the dour proceedings. The whole thing zips glumly along and Williams' intelligent plot is peppered with characters just the right side of caricature, there's some nifty misdirection and the vital plot point is rooted firmly in the “Dredd” universe. Placed as it is after Smith & Marshall's misfire of dayglo clowning the success of Breathing Space's restrained doom-mongering seems all the greater. There's no Dredd in it but it's still VERY GOOD!
Thus starts a brief run of the original Luna 1 stories. It's not all of them; just those with art by Brian Bolland, because everyone likes to remember when you would get weekly doses of Bolland Thrill-Power. Fat chance of that now. I'll burn through these, because they are from that period when Dredd was finding its feet as a strip. Any elements that have survived into the Dredd canon (NOT cannon; that's a thing that fires projectiles. Make a note of that.) are sparse, since even for a strip which delights in exaggeration as Dredd does, Wagner is so far over the top here he risks clipping the moon itself.
JUDGE DREDD: LAND RACE Art by Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tony Jacob Originally published in 2000AD Prog 47
The Land Race is a riff on the American West tradition of the first person to stake a claim on a piece of land getting to own it. (And by “people” I mean European immigrants; the native Americans were not consulted. I always like it when the Americans descended from European immigrants get all pinch-arsed about immigrants. Dunces.) Bolland has fun designing the vehicles driven by the prospectors, but the mayhem soon gives way to a protracted scene involving an old woman being mind controlled into signing her land away. Amusingly the bad guys are from Interstellar Psionics Corporation, i.e. IPC (the then publishers of 2000AD). There's also a panel of Judge Dredd's head in the corner of which is an X-Wing from the children's entertainment STAR WARS. I think this was to do with a Competition at the time; where you had to find these scattered through the comic to win...er...something to do with STAR WARS. George Lucas' bum fluff? I don't remember that bit; the prize. Unfortunately, we also see here the two Mexican Judges who are, uh, a bit stereotypical what with the sombrero, 'taches and the “Thees” and the “heem”s. Weird in that way only kids '70s could be Walter The Robot gets a girlfriend in the form of Rowena The Robot. Best of all though we discover that Judge Dredd's palate is so disciplined that he can tell the difference between man-made cookies and those made by a robot. Personally I think more should have been made of this and Judge Dredd hereafter is a lesser character without his cookie tasting skills. Trains not taken, eh? All these things are more interesting than the story which is just a lively entertainment, wonderfully drawn by Bolland. But there are worse things to be than entertaining and drawn by Brian Bolland so OKAY!
JUDGE DREDD: THE FIRST LUNA OLYMPICS Art by Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tony Jacob Originally published in 2000AD Prog 50
Not much to this one beyond Bolland's reliably exemplary art and a horrifically un-Dredd moment. Most of it is a lot of simple jokes about The Olympics. The Sov competitors are full of drugs, and the bits that aren’t full of drugs are mechanical; the high jump is very high because of the low gravity; etc etc. Wagner nails the commentators' voices, and the jokes are mildly amusing jokes, but to his credit it's all a feint because at strip's end Dredd starts a war with the Sovs by accidentally shooting a Sov Judge. It's clearly an accident and the Sovs are over reacting, but Judge Dredd? An accident? Get outta town. I think this is the first appearance of the Sov Judges and Bolland totally nails their appearance; so much so that they have barely changed over the ensuing decades. I particularly like the way their helmets echo those odd toppings on the Kremlin. I thought I might have to do a quick run down of The Cold War and how America and Russia's nuclear cockfencing endangered the whole world. Luckily I don't have to because Putin and Trump have brought it all back. Personally I'd have preferred the return of the Rubik's Cube but there you go, they didn't ask me. Some okay jokes and a super unexpected cliff-hanger, with Bolland's comical realism on top like a tasty Kremlin Onion, is OKAY!
JUDGE DREDD: LUNA-1 WAR Art by Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tony Jacob Originally published in 2000AD Prog 51
WAR! HUH! Oh, you know that song! In the future Luna 1 War tells us, “Wars today are NO LONGER FOUGHT BETWEEN VAST ARMIES, But by Combat units consisting of FOUR SOLDIERS and one reserve!” This idea doesn't last any longer as the duration of this strip (The Apocalypse War certainly seemed more substantial than a ruck in a pub car park.) but it is a good idea nevertheless. Dredd watches from the side-lines saying awesome things like “We're no better than The Sovs. They use war as an excuse to grab land – we treat it as a GAME!” I'm a-okay with eight year olds reading that despite how it may sound to sophisticated twenty year olds and up. So you can stop rolling your eyes, pal. Anyway, the Sovs are a bad lot so they spike the M-C1 reserve with a “Hypo-Dart”. Big Mistake. Judge Dredd dons a suspiciously Dan Dare-esque helmet and gives those unsporting Sovs' hides a good tanning. For two issues now we've had to “listen” to Wagner's excellently aggravating sports caster (Bolland makes him look like a certain Daily Planet stringer. Heh.) so on our behalf Dredd chokes him with his own mike, turns to the audience and spits, “War is POINTLESS. War is EVIL. WAR IS HELL!”. Hey, sometimes the truth doesn't need nuance. GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: THE FACE-CHANGE CRIMES Art by Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Prog 52
Unlike the concept of war as a 10 man sporting event, the idea introduced here would persist for the duration of the Dredd strip, causing no end of bedevilment for our future Lawman. It does what it says on the tin, this face-change technology. So here we start with a bank robbery by Laurel and Hardy with Charlie Chaplin, where the robbers evade capture after a bit of !presto-changeo! by being evacuated with the faces of the (3) Marx Brothers. Needless to say Bolland's art is every bit the perfect fit for the bizarre sight of dead 20th century comedians robbing a future bank on the moon. Luckily Judge Dredd has a somewhat unlikely knowledge of deceased 20th Century Comedians and quickly zeroes in on his suspects. Freed by their lawyer, who is a dead ringer for the famous actor and acromegaly sufferer Rondo Hatton, Dredd is left kicking his heels but..."TWO CAN PLAY A DIRTY GAME…!", and he doesn't mean nude Twister. This is a fast and fun one, with Bolland's realism coming to the fore to underscore the visual lunacy of what's going on. You know, VERY GOOD! Personally I feel more could have been made of Dredd's credulity stretching knowledge of 20th Century trivia; it could perhaps have been combined with his amazing ability to tell who cooked what he's eating in order to solve future crimes. On second thoughts we're just a touch of smug irony away from a Matt Fraction Image comic, so forget I said anything. The world doesn't need any more of those.
JUDGE DREDD: THE OXYGEN BOARD Art by Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Prog 57
This strip is where the young John K(UK) was infused with a life-long detestation of the Free Market philosophy so beloved of soulless cankers who walk like humans. Regulation isn't the enemy, greedy psychopaths are. Sure, I know, I know, if we just leave the provision of services to find its own level no end of good will result. After all, human behaviour is improved no end by the possibility of earning ridiculous amounts of money without obstruction. And if you believe that fairy story/self justificatory pile of horse apples you probably think you can eat the moon on crackers. Anyone who has ever ridden a train in England or received a utility bill know that The Oxygen Board isn't just a possibility; it's inevitable. You also know that Free Market philosophy makes about as much sense as wearing hats made of shit. And if they could charge you for it they'd tell you that was a good idea too. And some of you would do it too. So, uh, yeah, on the moon, oxygen is piped in and billed and if you don't pay your bill...well, that's on you! It's a wicked and powerful punchline most writers would make much hay out of, but Wagner slaps it at the end of a tale of thieves who have robbed the very Oxygen Board itself. Their ironic comeuppance turns the whole thing into a darkly prescient parable. It's drawn by Brian Bolland too, and if that's the only thing that gets people looking at what is a tiny masterpiece then all the better. VERY GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: FULL EARTH CRIMES Art by Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Prog 58
This one is better than its simple premise might indicate. On the moon people go loco at Full Earth like people are purported to do on Earth when the moon is full. We then get a conveyor belt of crimes punchily slapped down by the living genius Mike McMahon. It's a succession of funny future crime set-ups each followed by a Dredd-is-a-hard-bastard punchline. E.g Dredd saves a leaper but then gives him 90 days Penal Servitude for public nuisance. Wagner doubles down by having a lady bystander tell Dredd off, because the guy is clearly not the full shilling, only for Dredd to fine her 2,000 Creds for obstructing Justice. Then, with a poker face like iron, Wagner TRIPLES down and when she complains Dredd ups the fine to 4,000 credits. Actually, it is quite funny now I think about it. There’s a bunch of that kind of thing before Dredd goes home exhausted. It's just a string of jokes really, with the double page opening by Bolland and the actual meat of the story by Mike McMahon. Call me unstable but I will always have room in my mind for the final panel where Walter faithfully tucks a blanket around “Dear Judge Dwedd...” OKAY!
JUDGE DREDD: GLOBAL PSYCHO Art by Ian Gibson Written by Gordon Rennie Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE #328-331
Oh, thank Grud. We’re nearly at the end! Oh, you're all feeling the fatigue, what about me? I went to C**********d and back halfway through writing this (round about the Luna-1 War bit) because people think I have to contribute to the social life of the family or something! It was cold and windy enough to require my big coat too! Straight back with “school shoes” and here I have to go on about Gordon Rennie, while fielding black looks from the person cooking the tea. Anyhoo, Judge Dredd is outfoxed by a serial killer in a oner which sets up the somewhat chunkier one which follows on below. Ian Gibson draws in his kind of diseased kid's illustrator style and once again his colours are a delight of polished inkwashes. The most interesting thing for me with Global Psycho is the fact it shows a bum and a bit of tit on a killer's strung up victim. We didn't need a bit of bum and tit in my day! Not in Judge Dredd anyway. What we did our own homes was another matter. It's just a setting up strip so it's OKAY!
JUDGE DREDD: KILLER ELITE Art by Paul Marshall Written by Gordon Rennie Greytones by Jean-Paul Bove Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE #328-331
Gordon Rennie acquits himself quite well here; it helps he's given himself a strong premise. The psycho from Global Psycho is dying, but before she pops off she collects the galaxy's greatest murderers and has them all face off on the moon. The prize is the seat aboard an escape pod. It doesn't sound like much of a prize, but the complex will explode in sixty minutes and there is only one seat on the escape pod. Dredd's in there because he is after all “the greatest mass murderer in human history”; which by this point in his history is probably understating the matter. It's nice to be reminded how much blood is on Joe's hands every now and again. Particularly if you've recently watched him get tucked up snug by a fawning robot. A whole lot of mayhem ensues but to avoid it all getting a bit one-note Rennie builds the trap around Dredd so tightly that by the time he reaches the pod with another survivor you really don't know how he's going to get out of it. It's fast and fun, and if not quite as fast or fun as Rennie might think, it's fast and fun enough. The only let down is the art. While there's nothing wrong with Marshall's typically sturdy work, someone has made the (cost cutting?) decision to go for gray tones instead of colour. This makes it all a bit visually drab, so much so it starts to undermine the art. The swathes of gray don't allow anything to pop, even when you know what you are looking at should be popping like Space Dust on a pre-teen's tongue. But Dredd's convincingly Dredd, and Rennies' Most Dangerous Game is dangerous enough so GOOD!
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON shows that Luna-1 is whatever any particular writer requires of it; empty and forbidding in Breathing Space, noisy and garish in Darkside, bustling and crazed in the original strips and the moon is just, well, there as a deadly backdrop in Killer Elite. It doesn't really matter as the freedom allows all these different approaches; and while some work (Breathing Space) and some don't (Darkside) none of that's down to the setting. As a volume it's GOOD!
NEXT TIME: Manners maketh the Judge, so says Judge Mum and - COMICS!!!
JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 77: HORROR STORIES Art by Brett Ewins, Ian Gibson, Dave Taylor, Mick McMahon, John Burns, Andrew Currie, Xuasus and Steve Dillon Written by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Gordon Rennie and John Smith Lettered by Tom Frame and Annie Parkhouse Colours by Chris Blythe Originally serialised in 2000AD Progs 359-363, 511-512, 1523-1528, 1582-1586 & 2005, JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.27-2.29, JUDGE DREDD ANNUAL 1981, JUDGE DREDD ANNUAL 1982 and 2000AD WINTER SPECIAL 1994 © 1980, 1981, 1984, 1987,1994, 2004, 2007, 2008 & 2016 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2016) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
JUDGE DREDD: THE HAUNTING OF SECTOR HOUSE 9 Art by Brett Ewins Written by John Wagner & Alan Grant Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Progs 359-363
I know we've all wondered more than once what Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House would be like if it was set in Mega-City One. Well, The Haunting of Sector House 9 answers that pressing question. Apparently there would be a lot less sublimated sapphism and repressive social mores and a lot more mouths exploding from walls, zombies, disembodied hands and big men in leather shouting. On reflection it might not have that much to do with Shirley Jackson's timeless terror tome after all. It definitely has to do with Judge Dredd stolidly yelling things like "DAMNED if I'll give in to a SPOOK!" and Brett Ewins wonderful ability to draw warped flesh and matter splattered walls. I really dug this one on its first appearance way back when, there was just something unsettling about the sci-fi world of Dredd suddenly morphing into a barnstorming full-on horror flick. Wagner and Grant pace this demon baby just right with each chapter containing something icky and an incremental revelation of the solution to the mystery. And they don't even cheat on the solution, it's not just "Well, I guess we'll never know. There are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your comportment, Judge Dredd." No, there's a proper (and very "Dredd") reason for all the poltergeisting about.
Much of the fun comes from Dredd's refusal to treat the supernatural any differently to a perp with a knife and an Umpty habit. Here he shares the stage with a couple of other Judges, most notably Judge Omar who has a turban so is, I guess, a Sikh. Although Dredd's world appears overwhelmingly secular there are still familiar religions (something Alan Grant would explore in his Judge Anderson strips; we'll get to those volumes. Patience.) Omar is also a PSI Judge. I used to think that a PSI Division was about as likely as a Healing Crystals Division (Judge Credulous, presiding) but over the years the strip has worn down my resistance, also it turns out fascists have a penchant for all that silly shit so, yeah, okay, PSI Division it is. Best used sparingly though, like nutmeg. The Haunting of Sector House 9 is good little thunder through spooky tropes with a satisfying pay off, but a lot of its success is down to the atmosphere and that's wholly down to Bret Ewins' art. Which is unfortunate, because these volumes reprint some very old strips, and I guess occasionally the original materials have gone AWOL. (Or Rebellion/Hatchette haven't bothered to source them.) In this particular case the poor reproduction annihilates the delicacy of Ewins' line. Despite his art being all about blunt impact, a kind of brusque shove to get your eye's attention, there's always a surprising amount of detail in there. Detail that isn't served well by the heavy handed reproduction. You can still see all Ewins's trademarks through the murk; particularly those shiny, shiny Judge helmets. It's just a shame his crisp, clear linework is swamped by blacks for the most part. Despite this The Haunting of Sector House 9 is pulpy sprint of a thing adorned by the art of one of Dredd's more under-rated artists. GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: JUDGEMENT Art by Ian Gibson Written by Gordon Rennie Lettered by Annie Parkhouse Originally published in 2000AD Progs 1523-1528
Here Gordon Rennie manfully struggles to give Dredd and Anderson a supernatural mystery to solve, and for the most part he is successful enough. A ghostly Judge is dispensing justice on the streets, which just isn't on, and so Dred investigates along with Anderson and SJS judge Ishmael. Judge Ishmael, er, has a beard, and contributes little to the narrative before just fading into the background. He's the kind of story flab a Wagner or a Grant would have excised completely, but not Rennie, alas. This unnecesary heaviness weighs the strip down, it all seems overly convoluted in order to get to where it's going. The pacing plods, in short. And Rennie is inconsistent in his spookiness. A ghost judge whose shell casings are material enough to be traced? Um, no. I have trouble believing in gravity so if you want me to be all-in on vengeful revenants you can't trip me up with stuff like that.
But it's not without entertainment and Rennie gets a couple of very good moments in there, such as when the gang boss realises he's just made a biiiiiiiiiiiiig mistake. And the mystery itself is pretty good, there's just the odd leadfooted moment which makes you pause just long enough to irritate. A bit of red pencil would have helped. It's close to good, but what hurls it across the line is Ian Gibson's phenomenal art. Or to be more precise Gibson's phenomenal colouring. Seriously, there's some crackerjack colouring going on here. Done in something resembling ink wash, the colours are a work of art in themselves. The indigo Ghost Judge really pops out from the world it is haunting. For that world Gibson chooses a really chirpy and upbeat palette with warm pinks, deep blues and jolly greens which, draped over his lithely curvaceous lines, create images so ebulliently cartoony they are a joy. In Judgement Rennie does okay, but Gibson raises things up to GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: ROAD STOP Art by Dave Taylor Written by Gordon Rennie Lettered by Annie Parkhouse Originally published in 2000AD Progs 1582-1586
Gordon Rennie again! This time Rennie picks up a bunch of genre cliches, each of which would be insufficient for a story this length and mushes them all together to create a kind of creepy comicbook rumbledethumps. And, I have to say, it's not half bad. Hmmmmm! For a bunch of reasons which can all shelter under the umbrella of Plot Convenience (which is much better than hunching under the bus shelter of Plot Contrivance) Judge Dred is stranded until a storm passes at a decrepit Road Stop with a serial killer, an assassin, a coach trip and several other cits. That's pretty good. But the Road Stop comes under attack from a mutant gang and, yes, and, the owners of the Road Stop have something hungry in the basement. It should be overstuffed but, credit to Rennie, it moves along with quite a bit of zip and not without a few surprises. There's never a dull moment, but then with that lot going on there shouldn't be. (Again, though, Mr. Editor should have pointed out that you don't tell someone who has just revealed themselves as an assassin that you would love to help them but you have to pack all this stolen money..oops, you're dead!) Fun for the most part, writing-wise.
But the art? Grud on a Greenie! Who is this Dave Taylor! He's the Tip-Top Top Cat and no mistake! His art has a wonderfully European inflection and a super robust sense of physical dimension. He doesn't stint one jot on the characters or the locations either. The road house is wonderfully designed, with a real sense of novelty to every room, rather than a jaded sense of yes-I've-seen-Blade-Runner-too-it-was-forty-years-ago-can-we-move-on-now-please. And there's no stinginess with the character designs either. Most folk would have saved the robot with a monkey’s head or the electric-circuit person for their own projects. But here they are just part of a bunch of wild designs which get less page time than Judge Dredd's bike. Dave Taylor goes all-in is what I'm saying. I looked him up on Wikipedia and it turns out he's English so that explains everything. Apparently he also had a double hernia. I doubt that's the secret of his ridiculously good art though. Road Stop is solid stuff so GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: THE FEAR THAT MADE MILWAUKEE FAMOUS! Art by Mick McMahon Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD ANNUAL 1981
In 1981 Judge Dredd got his own Annual! (Well, I guess in 1980 strictly speaking). This was pretty momentous if you were 11 years old, because that meant that Christmas would bring not only the 2000AD Annual but also a Judge Dredd one! (Family finances permitting; the ‘80s was a hard time for us, we had to let one of the planes go). North American genre comics have annuals too, but these are published too randomly to suggest anyone producing them actually knows what the word means, and are basically just fat comics. A fat comic chucked out intermittently is not an “annual”, North American genre comics! In Britain where we understand the value of routine and the meaning of words, Annuals come out just before Christmas, are magazine sized with hard covers and cater to a range of interests; sports, puzzles, etc and, yes, comics. The 2000AD Annual would bulk itself out with old reprints (one year I’m sure Rick Random Space Detective was in there. Rick Random! I’m sure Rick Random has his charms, but it was a bit like interrupting a kid’s party with a lecture on the Joys of Accounting. Rick Random isn’t exactly FLESH!) but IIRC Judge Dredd’s Annual was all new stuff. Even if it wasn’t, even if I’m wrong, it had an awesome Mike McMahon drawn strip (yes, this strip!) which took advantage of the big pages and extra length to really go Total McMahon.
The story isn’t much; Dredd is chasing down a bad mutant hombre but comes unstuck when the Milwaukee dead rise up to exact revenge for their nuclear annihilation. It’s a bit of zippy fluff which gets by on the visual joke of the bad guy and Dredd’s refusal to give an inch in the face of a city of restless spirits. Mostly it's McMahon's show. McMahon’s art here is a summation of his “scabby” style, which he would immediately start moving away from, like the restless genius that he is. You can really see here his technique for making the most of his page count by creating pages within pages; that is, a group of three or four panels which are read together within the larger page on which they nestle. He really covers some ground like that, and it leaves him free to have a big image dominating the layout to boot. He also colours it like a gifted child armed with felt tip pens; if Lynne Varley had done it we'd all be shaking a tail feather over it. His pages here were so scrumdiddlyumptious that even an 11 year old could tell. I spent a lot of 1981 copying Mike McMahon’s art from the Judge Dredd Annual 1981 in biro on some wallpaper offcuts we had lying about (remember wallpaper?). Yes, I should have got out more. The Fear That Made Milwaukee Famous! is not only a pun on an ancient Schlitz beer advertising slogan but, drawn by Mike McMahon, it is thus VERY GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: THE VAMPIRE EFFECT Art by Mick McMahon Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD ANNUAL 1982
JUDGE DREDD: THE VAMPIRE EFFECT by McMahon, Wagner and Frame A space ship carrying alien life form samples crashes into Mega City one and an energy vampire is on the loose! The more it eats the bigger it gets and by the time it has eaten a few under-city dwellers it is pretty hefty and ready to chow down on Mega City One. Can Judge Dredd and his fascist pals stop it before it's too late? Yes, obviously. But how? Yeah, smart guy, how? There's not much to this solidly scripted effort other than a steady ratcheting up of the stakes and a pervasive sense of hopelessness, which is quite a lot really; and most of that is probably down to the art by Mike McMahon.
One year later and we can see just how much hunger McMahon's talent has for fresh artistic conquests. The man gobbles up challenges like the in-story vampire chows down on energy. Ravenously. His art still retains a grubby patina but is far more visually controlled now. There's a discipline in the straightness of lines strong enough for him to perch his more expressionistic tendencies atop them. The flare of Dredd's helmet is starting to reach the point where he'll be forced to enter rooms sideways, but the exaggeration is consistent with the larger landscape of visual hyperbole it inhabits; which makes it Art rather than a goof. Fret not, though, McMahon's art has lost none of its playfulness despite his apparent turn towards the stern. His colours are more subdued here with the odd pop of a green knee pad leavening the dourness, but there's still wit; see the negative colouring on people “bitten” by the vampire, and his refusal to make the vampire anything other than a blob speckled by colour. The reproduction here is a crying shame, tending as it does to the blurry. But The Vampire Effect is still drawn by Mike McMahon and so it is VERY GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: HORROR HOUSE Art by John Burns Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD WINTER SPECIAL 1994
A one episode punchline strip in which Dredd has to rescue a kidnapped kid from an animatronic house of horrors. This is from a Winter Specuial which, unlike an Annual, is a fat comic released at seasonal intervals. Used to be we just had Summer Specials which were an awesome part of being a kid. Looks like we now have Winter Specials because profits in the third quarter are down, or whatever. I don't know, but I for one am not sitting on a Blackpool beach in my trunks reading Shiver'n'Shake in November, thanks. Must be getting old. So, yeah, the old lag John Burns (b.1938) has scads of fun with the different dioramas in the Mega-Tussauds’ of Terror, and my eyes enjoyed his lovely tides of colour breaking over the page. Burns’ style is very European, characterised by pin-sharp linework so awesome that he took over Modesty Blaise from Enrique Romano in the ‘70s. Burns was beloved by kids of the ‘70s for his art on the smutty newspaper strip George & Lynne, by the ‘80s he was blazing trails of awesome on the page for 2000AD, where his work embraced colour with a vigour that would make a vicar blush. I like John Burns’ art. Unfortunately while the script’s punchline isn’t bad as such, it landed leadenly as I hadn’t realised there was anything amiss with Dredd’s behaviour. He’s not exactly chatty Cathy at the best of times is he now? Anyway, John Burns drawing Judge Dredd fighting things is always GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: CHRISTMAS WITH THE BLINTS Art by Andrew Currie Written by John Wagner Coloured by Chris Blythe Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Prog 2005
This is the finale of a long running storyline about Dredd failing to catch Ooola Blint, who is addicted to euthanasia-ing unwilling people, and her useful idiot of a husband, Homer. The problem with this series of mega-books is here we just get the end of the chase. Maybe the other bits are in other books, I don't know. Anyway, although robbed of much of its cumulative impact, the script is the usual drly comic Wagner effort wherein romance and murder become so intertwined it gets hard to distinguish between the two. At heart this is pretty sick stuff but thanks to Wagner's deadpan delivery this very sickness becomes part of the humour.
Christmas With The Blints is more of a characer piece than an action piece so Currie has his work cut out for him. Fortunatley Currie seems to have a yen for caricature, so fun with faces is right up his street, and his “acting” is well up to snuff(heh!) for the duration. He does a particularly sweet Morgan Freeman whose sloping contours suggest the influence of the Master Caricaturist Mort Drucker, which is nice to see in a Dredd strip. It's a wordy episode but Currie keeps it interesting and his crisp, clean style is attractive if never eye boggling. Christmas With The Blints is GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: THE JIGSAW MURDERS Art by Xuasas Written by John Smith Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.27-2.29
I really like John Smith as a writer, and I really, really like Judge Dredd as a character but I don't think John Smith writes a good Judge Dredd. The Jigsaw Murders doesn't change that opinion. Smith has his very own range of obsessions he rarely deviates from: body horror, fractured stream-of-consciousness inner monologues, creepy malefic beings whose reality can be a bit dubious and a rigid dislike of authority. This latter quality overshadows his more intriguing aspects on Dredd, because he gives the impression he's holding his nose whenever he has to write Dredd himself. I don't know how he gives that impression but he does. So what I do is, I just read it as a John Smith story and that usually works out okay. Here then I ended up reading about a serial killer who dismembers his victims to disguise his less than sane search for a replacement arm. This being a John Smith joint he rides about in an ice cream truck and is haunted by The Giggler, a creepy kid's toy, and is pursued by Judge Dredd, who looks like our Judge Dredd but is an inflexible asshole prone to bad one-liners. He's not as bad as Millar and Morrison's tone-deaf interpretation of Judge Dredd, but then at least here he's in a decent story which is something that pair never managed to conjure up. As John Smith stories go it's pretty good, there's a hilarious bit where the Jigsaw Killer finally gets his arm and it's all kind of icky and nasty like a good John Smith tale should be.
It's illustrated by Juan Jesus Garcia, who likes to be called “Xuasus”, in a fully painted style which I like to call “mostly successful”. It's got some real heft to it thanks to Xuasus' penchant for lumpiness and there's a winning ugliness to everything, not least the characters. However, stiffness is an issue when he paints people in motion, and while it didn't entirely convince there was always the odd stand-out like the panel below. Interesting, I guess I'd go for. The Jigsaw Murders is pleasantly odd thanks to Smith's script and Xuasus', uh, heavy approach. So, GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: THE BEATING HEART Art by Steve Dillon Written by John Wagner & Alan Grant Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Progs 511-512
This is a little two parter, a playful update of Poe's “Tell-Tale Heart” which is amusing enough in its way, but is of note largely because of Steve Dillon's art. In 2015 comics lost Brett Ewins (see above) and in 2016 Steve Dillon died, which makes this volume a bittersweet read. It does provide a reminder that Dillon's sparky art could lift a trifle like this out of the filler category and up into GOOD! without breaking a sweat. Dillon may only ever have drawn one female face but he put atop it a cascade of Bizarre '80s hairstyles that would give a Studio Style executive a chubby, and while his décor could be minimal his pacing was precise. Best of all Dillon would always remember that it was Judge Dredd's strip and really nail his Dredd bits down hard. Ciao, Steve Dillon! Ciao, Brett Ewins! And thanks for all the Thrill-Power!
And as all the best horror stories end with a hand coming out of the ground…
NEXT TIME: I'm not sure but probably Judge Dredd in some - COMICS!!!
Hey kids! Who’s up for a heroically opaque fable about a vengeful castrato, illustrated in a darkly twisted melange of Gustav Klimt and José Muñoz! Okay, howabout if I describe it as CH Greenblatt’s Chowder via E.T.A. Hoffman? Ooooh, your little ears perked right up! Yes! It’s Euro-comic time! Everybody loves The Eurocomics! FOLIGATTO by Nicolas de Crécy and Alexios Tjoyas
FOLIGATTO Art by Nicolas de Crécy Written by Alexios Tjoyas Translated by Quinn and Katia Donoghue HUMANOIDS, $24.99 (2013)
I think it’s only fair to state at the outset of the clueless drivel which follows that Foligatto, illustrated by Nicolas de Crécy and written by Alexios Tjoyas, is way out of my intellectual weight-class. It’s one thing to be able to dance nimbly around some tawdry work-for-hire featuring a character invented by men seemingly high on cough syrup, laying on the odd low blow and pretending something of worth has been achieved, but quite another thing to unwrap this gleefully fetid bon-bon. See the critic quail before the might of actual Art! See him run behind the skirts of Batman! Ah, not quite, or at least not quite yet. Because while I may come off like Tom Waits in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stokers’ Dracula (phew!), all unctuously hunched and servilely importuning as regards the imminent arrival of the masssster (de Crécy, not Dracula) while in fact only hastening my own ignominious end, it’s worth the risk if someone picks up this masterpiece, this Foligatto. Hopefully everyone will buy Foligatto, because only when De Crecy and Tjoyas are choking on gold can this world have the slightest claim to being Just.
I’m not propelling a visible suspension of carbon or other particles in air (typically one emitted from a combusting substance) up your posterior when I claim Foligatto is a masterpiece. Seeing may be deceiving, but not today! Your eyes don’t lie! You can tell just by looking at Foligatto that it’s a different class of comic altogether. It’s the artwork that hits you first and hardest, pummelling your fragile skull with the capital “A” of Art. It is classy stuff, you might want to comb your hair and polish your shoes for this one. It’s the art you’ll hold hardest to your heart but, hopefully, not at the expense of the script. Tjoyas’ script is undeniably erudite and imbued with a cultural intelligence lacking from the average Spider-man comic, which is a shame as I’m more intellectually equipped for Spider-Man comics. Still, failure is my sweetheart so I’ll press on. Spiritually Foligatto’s art and story are saturated with German Romanticism. Alas, this does not mean there are crowds of Teutonic men proffering flowers and holding doors open for ladies in big hats, it refers instead to the European Romanticism which developed in the late 18th/early 19th Centuries in opposition to the typically dourer English Romanticism and the Enlightenment as a whole. The Enlightenment being known to close personal friends as “The Age of Reason”, German Romanticism naturally pushed back with an emphasis on the unnatural, the fantastic. Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (E. T. A. Hoffmann) is the go-to-guy for examples of the fantastic as a burgeoning genre, and his work fits right into the Foligatto attitude.
I’ll not fib, being a low class act I am primarily familiar with E.T.A. Hoffman via Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1951 cinematic adaptation of Jacques Offenbach's opera, Tales of Hoffmann (1879/1881). The handy link is that Offenbach’s opera is based three Hoffman tales: Der Sandmanon (The, er, Sandman), Rath Krespel (Councillor Krespel/The Cremona Violin) and Die Abenteuer der Silvester-Nacht (A New Year's Eve Adventure). At the risk of spoiling your next trip to the opera, the uncanny shenanigans include a man falling in love with a female automaton, a woman who risks death if she sings too much and the attempted theft of a reflection from a mirror. Fun stuff, kind of thing we all like to read about, because opera (“A bunch of fat people who got dressed in the dark, shouting.” said my Dad) might make most of us scarper sharpish but it turns out we’re just talking about the fantasy genre after all. Basically, Opera is just comics for fops. Who knew? Probably Nicolas de Crécy and Alexios Tjoyas. They mayhap overtly reference the Offenbach influence by having Foligatto be a castrato Opera singer, and the Hoffmann influence by, well, having a world where absurdity and surrealism are the norm. The astonishing trick Tjoyas and De Crecy pull is they make the multitude of nonsensical aberrations on show credible. While reading Foligatto you will accept the fact that a man can pick up his severed head and trot off with it as easily as you do the fact of gravity. In fact gravity seems much less convincing on reflection because it isn’t drawn by Nicolas de Crécy.
On the showing of Foligatto alone de Crécy’s art seems capable of anything. This is incredible stuff. Fully painted with maybe a touch of mixed media, this is art worthy of display to the public in one of those places. You know, one of those places Angie Dickinson sits looking at pictures in while being sex stalked in Dressed to Kill (1980). Gallery! Gallery, that’s what I’m getting at! Thanks, Brian De Palma. As it is the Art World is a closed shop, so every panel will have to settle for hanging in the gallery of your mind. They’ll hang Gustav Klimt but not de Crécy! Bah, their loss. De Crécy is clearly working in an allegorical mode with a hefty undercurrent of symbolism, but just as Klimt did he’s bringing his own themes and preoccupations. Whatever they are. Klimt was blessed with an audience cultivated and educated enough to decode his work. De Crécy isn’t that lucky; I have no idea what he’s on about, beyond the delightfully twisted surface narrative. However, I may lack cultivation and education but I do have WiFi, so who’s laughing now? Don’t worry though, unlike Klimt there’s not a sniff of the pornographic. The only way Foligatto will make the bald man cry is if you hit Brian Bendis on the head with it. (Legal Note: I’m in no way condoning this course of action.)
I jest there, but I jest not about the quality of the art; every panel is a little miracle, a joyful tweak of the possible, where the sheer delight of the artistry on show is the only threat to the ceaselessly downbeat tone of the work as a whole. This is bleak stuff, m’dears. The city setting of Eccenihilo resembles a nightmare vision of 19th Century Italy. Grand, arresting buildings of dense stone loom over a warren of snaking streets populated by hunched, skittering, grotesques. Characters have faces so deeply quarried by life they resemble hangdog golems, except for Foligatto whose tautly rounded face is gravid with malevolence, a boil on the cusp of explosion. Life in the world of Foligatto is miserable and confounding even before the portly nightmare starts throwing people out of windows like perplexed puppets. The sky is a bleakly toned miasma and everything beneath it has the air of a fairy tale, but one spoiled and corrupted. Like a tale once told filled with gold and innocence has grown up along with us, and become as venal, baffled and lost as our adult selves. Think Andre Maurois’ Fattypuffs and Thinifers (1930) with illustrations by a depressive Raymond Briggs working largely in shades of faeces. That’s a comparison and as such short-changes the work, this Foligatto; the actuality is purely and wholly original, and purely and wholly the result of the ridiculously skilled pair, de Crécy and Tjoyas.
tl;dr: Foligatto is EXCELLENT!
NEXT TIME: I scamper back to my Comfort Zone of English – COMICS!!!
In which I look at a comic featuring a man whose head is on fire. It’s by Clayton Crain and Garth Ennis; so no soft lads past this point. BRAAAAAAAAAAAS! GHOST RIDER: ROAD TO DAMNATION by Crain, Ennis & Eliopoulos
GHOST RIDER: ROAD TO DAMNATION #1-6 Art by Clayton Crain Written by Garth Ennis Lettered by Chris Eliopoulos Marvel Comics, $2.99 each (2005-2006) GHOST RIDER created by Mike Ploog, Gary Friedrich & Roy Thomas
I’m probably not the audience for this one, as the only exposure I’ve had to motor-biking is when my dad used to go arse over tit every Friday after the pub, sending our fish suppers skidding across the drive’s tarmacadam. Being a small child at the time, the experience didn’t really endear the manly art of riding about very fast indeed to me. But, being a large child at this time, I do quite like the idea of a man whose head is perpetually aflame, which is very much what this comic is about. In fact the book itself mentions the ceaseless flickering of our undead chum’s combustible noggin on more than one occasion. Either because he profoundly underestimates his audience’s ability to retain information or because he profoundly overestimates the humour of doing so, Ennis repeatedly goes out of his way to remind us, in case we had forgotten, that the man with the head on fire we are looking at, is in fact a man with his head on fire. He also has a good beery laugh at the expense of names like Johnny Blaze and Richard Rider because they sound a bit, well, unmanly. Dick Rider! Hurrr! It’s okay having a pop at the camp names from old comics, but if you wrote one of the most hilariously repressed comics ever (Preacher, obviously) you might want to think about motes, beams, eyes and the removal of such. See Matthew 7:3 -7:5, as Garth could no doubt tell you, him being such a keen Biblical scholar.
Or maybe not a scholar as such. There’s his usual guff about angels and devils and Heaven and Hell, which suggests wee Garth Ennis wasn’t listening too hard when old Sister Clodagh was giving it the old Scripture business. The angels are as bad as the devils, seems to be the thing he’s going for here (#EDGEYSTUFF) but it’s all undone by the fact he’s clearly having more fun with the Hellish emissary, Hoss. Hoss is a big fat cowboy type, who is all down homey and grits, and all that big belt buckle stuff; he’s probably a real hoot if you are, uh, well, Garth Ennis. Or Jason Aaron. (Ironically, Jason Aaron AKA "the house-trained Garth Ennis", would later have a really quite decent run on GHOST RIDER.) And get this (it’s awesome) he has a biker (get ready for awesome town) stick his own head up (buckle up! Awesome City limits up ahead) his own anus (HOO! HOO!) and that’s how the guy remains for the rest of these series. Classic, Garth. Just classic. Better yet he’s called “Buttview.” Because he has his head stuck up his butt. Oh, my aching ribs. Yeah, Buttview’s up there with Garth Ennis’ other nuanced creations Arseface and, uh, Shithead. Excuse me while I crush this beercan on my forehead. BOO-YA!
All of which is just Garth Ennis’ usual cheeky playground humour schtick. But his schtick comes unstuck this time out. While it is really super edgey to declaim there is no difference between Heaven and Hell, it is a bit confusing. I’m not sure which creed Ennis is addressing here; which is kind of important if you’re wanting to believe he’s making any points at all; besides how bloody proper bloody hard he bloody is. It doesn’t work, basically. The angels in the book are a couple of effete berks who cause a woman to miscarry because she can see them, and Ruth, a lady angel in a white pantsuit, who makes a kid stick a pencil in his own eye because he can see her wings. Which is the big problem of wearing white pants suits. HA! See I did a joke about pantie pads just for all the manly fellas out there! Hurr! Who’s up for an Indian? Now, as the sages say, the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum so it is possible that miscarriages and self-blinding children might be real thighslappers somewhere, but it’s doubtful. It just doesn’t work and the book knows it. The giveaway is that the kid’s traumatic eye injury occurs off panel but we get to see the biker put his head up his butt on panel. The shift from the harmlessly crass humour beloved of booger-eaters the world over, to the sadistically nasty is too sharp. They don’t sit right together. Sure they are both violence but the mix is off. You don’t put pepper in your Angel Delight do ya? Call me picky but I’m not sure miscarriages and blinded children sit so well with, say, Miss Catmint, the mousey downtrodden assistant with the 1970s comedy name. “Oooh, can I just look in your drawers, Miss Catmint!”, no one says but you bet Garth though hard before deleting it. That's right he even thinks hard! What? Yes, I get it: they're all the same, they're all bastards. Great. That's useful. As observations go, it's fit only for funnybooks. And while I have some sympathy for what some inclined towards academia might view as a pointed erosion of the traditional hero (Johnny is basically a clueless f-wit all too eager to think the best of people, even demons), let's not forget it's a book about a man who's head is on fire.
The plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, but is basically a kind of cut down Wacky Races with Hell, Ghosty and Heaven all competing to stop Squiddlybipbopbop the Demon from bringing Hell to earth. Ennis makes such a hash of explaining things that I’m a little unclear really about why anyone is doing anything. Particularly as it all seems to revolve around keeping schtum about some kind of spiritual insider trading so that God doesn’t catch on. Now it’s been a few decades since Sunday School but I’m pretty sure one of the big things about God is that whole omniscient thing so, uh, I guess omniscience isn’t all it’s cracked up to be or someone’s been overselling The Big Yin for the last few thousand years. Or, uh, muhwuhmuhmu, look his head’s on fire! Did we mention his head's on fire! Basically, when it comes to specifics this plot has a strong air of oh, is that the time, must dash! Which is fair enough since this is a comic featuring (and it’s important to bear this is mind) a man whose head is permanently aflame, so no one’s expecting intellectual rigour. Worse though is the brevity of the race. There’s all of one fight scene involving a bus full of hapless chumps being wielded like a mallet, and then the various racers are where they need to get to. Why they couldn’t appear right where they needed to get to in the first place, what with them all being supernatural and that, is a question only someone who doesn’t know how hard it is to fill six issues would ask.
On the upside Clayton Crain’s art is…difficult to judge, honestly. Mainly because it’s really dark for the most part, not in a “Ooh! Kind dark! Kinda edgey! That won’t play in Peoria!” way, but in a “Hey, Who forgot to pay the light bill!” way. Squinting through the gloom though, he seems to have an ambitious array of grotesquerie on display. His Hell is a kind of smouldering meatscape, with Ghost-ado being pursued over what looks like barbecue holocaust by escapees from a demon butchers. He has a lot of fun visualising the demons, especially Shabbadoowaaa who is all spinal cord and wheels, like some kind of roaring, sentient, apocalyptic car accident; definitely Hellish looking. The normal scenes obviously interest Crain less, but they are okay; he has a lot of fun with the bloated paraplegic businessman, but the more normal folk get short shrift. But no one is reading a Ghost Rider comic to see thrilling evocations of the mundanity of day to day life. No, they are here to see nauseating physical monstrosities and a man with his head on fire. And there is where Clayton Crain delivers. In spades. The ace of spades! I loved the liquid quality of the flames crowning Ghostarino's dome in particular. In fact Crain’s art is probably better than it looked to me, because he’s obviously using them there computers, and back in 2006 that was a pretty avant garde. Also, In the interests of not being a total jerkwad I went and looked at the preview pages on Comixology and I have to say that his art pops a lot more in digital. A lot of the FX such as the butane-blue flames are so blurry in print as to not be worth the bother. So I binned all my dark unto uselessness scans and skanked all the panels off Comixology. It seemed like the only way to give Crain a fair shake. No, it's okay, I'm made of time. There's nothing I'd rather be doing with my swiftly disappearing lifespan. Anyway, Digital did the art some favours, but it didn’t improve the script. Funny that. It's a good book to look at, but not so hot to read.
Fair’s fair though, the art makes GHOST RIDER: ROAD TO DAMNATION a step up from autopilot Ennis (oh, throw a stick you’ll hit one), sure and it’s not a big step. The book struggles to be more than a six issue round of Garth Ennis Bingo (1st Prize: a big auld steak and a six pack o’stout. 2nd Prize: A dog-eared Sven Hassel novel. 3rd Prize: That ‘70s poster of the tennis player scratching her bare arse). And don't worry he manages to get in the old maudlin whinny of "Noo Yawk! As pretty as a fair Collen passed out in her own sick with her drawers round her ankles! Oh, New Yawk! Let me paw your arse!" Christ, show some decorum, man. What is it with the Irish and New York? Whatever it is, give it a rest. Mainstream North American genre comics being what they are It’s not uncommon for Ennis (or anyone) to do work-for-hire about a central character he clearly has little interest in, but unfortunately here he seemingly struggles to find anything he does have an interest in. But, you know, it’s w-f-h so maybe he had an editorial remit to fulfil rather than this being a personal work of searing truth; The Ghost Rider Story He Had To Tell. You know, all that waffle falafel they come out with. (“After I handed in the final draft of SPIDER-MAN: BOOMBOX BOONDOGGLE I wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”) It reads like someone rang him and said, “That Preacher you did? The kids like that, Garth, so do six issues of that stuff. Just remember to stick a bloke whose head is on fire in there. ” And he saw the cheque and went, “Konichi wa! Fair dinkum, boyo!” and got stuck in. And why not? We’ve all got bills to pay. This was EH!
NEXT TIME: More GHOST RIDER by Garth Ennis? JUDGE DREDD mayhap? Or a Euro-Comic? I don’t know, I’m trapped in a Hell of – COMICS!!!