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
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!!!
JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 56: BEYOND MEGA-CITY ONE Art by Brendan McCarthy, Steve Dillon, Dermot Power, Charlie Adlard and Inaki Miranda Written by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Garth Ennis, Mark Millar & Grant Morrison and Gordon Rennie Lettered by Tom Frame, Mark King, John Aldrich, Annie Parkhouse and Simon Bowland Colours by Wendy Simpson, Chris Blythe Eu de la Cruz Originally serialised in 2000AD Progs 485-488, 727-732, 859-866, 1382-1386 & JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 246-249 © 1986, 1991, 1993, 2004, 2006 & 2016 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2016) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
ATLANTIS Art by Brendan McCarthy Written by John Wagner & Alan Grant Lettered by Tom Frame & Mark King
Have you ever seen a British Bobby’s helmet? Ooooh, don’t! Get you! Stop it! OoooOOOOooooOOOOOOh! No, really, back when they walked the beat tipping the wink to the ladies, dispensing directions and gruffly moving on the ruffians and all that, before they became swaddled in bullet proof jackets and started cradling matt black engines of death while licking their chapped lips, back before that, did you ever seen a British bobby’s helmet? We used to call them “tit heads”, because kids have no respect and, also, they were a pretty ridiculous bit of gear. And yet thoroughly British in their ridiculousness, due to their air of wonky pomp. Brendan McCarthy’s design for the Brit Judge embraces this tradition and carries it into the future like a sheikh carrying a blonde lady on the cover of a Mills & Boon romance. Smoothly, that is. It also suggests he is the only person in existence who ever looked at Calos Ezquerra’s original Judge design and thought, “Hmmm, pretty impractical, but not impractical enough!” Pity the poor sap who has to patrol the mean streets of Future Little Tidworth in this get-up.
It works on the page though because Brendan McCarthy is a design genius, and part of that genius must be due to his total refutation of physical practicalities. Not only is the Brit Judge get-up visually delightful it is also very British, what with its lion(s) rampant and multiple Union Jacks (The Royal Union Flag, to any Canucks out there). All the kind of garish tat in fact which symbolises the overcompensation this nation makes for its reduced circumstances and present global irrelevance. I wouldn’t be surprised if the kneepads alternated playing the national anthem and Churchill’s speeches, and the belt pouches contained the fixings for a nice cup o’ char. Preposterously impractical and ostentatiously nationalistic, like fascism filtered through buffoonery Brendan McCarthy’s design captures the British character to a tee. I like it. Other than that though we learn little as Brit-Judges just act like Judges and the strip isn’t set in Brit-Cit but instead in Atlantis, which is not a mythical sunken city but a way station on the sea bed. The strip is a shaggy mutie story that earns its length by introducing Atlantis and Brit-Cit judges, and by being drawn by Brendan McCarthy; it’s worth reading just to see McCarthy’s giant manta rays alone. Throw in the bumptious bobby design to boot and it’s GOOD! Stuff.
EMERALD ISLE Art by Steve Dillon Written by Garth Ennis Coloured by Wendy Simpson Lettered by Tom Frame
Bejabbers! If and it isn’t the quare man hissownself now, Garth Ennis! To be sure, and there’s been many a pot o’ gold at the end o’ his rainbow o’writing! To be sure, to be sure! Oho, oho, oho! But this’ll no be one of ‘em! See and if he’s not brought his sense of humour with him! Ah now, ‘tis a turrible, turrible ting his sense o’ humour is. Aye now, ‘tis a sorry tale indeed. In the immortal words of Alan Partridge, “Der’s more to Oirland dan DIS!” What? Oh, it’s racist when I do it is it? I see. I better stop then. When Garth Ennis does it it’s satire. Except it isn’t. Unless you are a lot less demanding than me. You know that particularly poor satire that’s so bad it is actually indistinguishable from what it purports to satirise? Well, after reading Emerald Isle you will. I guess it’s a satire of people’s ideas about Ireland but it’s kind of painful. Mind you, me and Garth Ennis’ sense of humour will always at odds. Mostly because I have an outdated belief that humour should be funny. A little bird tells me though that different people find different things funny, so if you think having a Guinness harp© on a Judge’s helmet and potato guns that you can set to “chips” are funny, then you tuck in!
Unconvincingly mixed into this hilarious stuff is a more grounded tale of a M-C1 hitman who hides out with a bunch of terrorists. Terrorism is apparently just a bit of a jape until the proper crook turns up, then things get heavy. The insouciant Emerald Isle Judges are unprepared for the sudden explosion of pitilessly thuggish activity. Luckily Judge Dredd lends a hand. Personally I’m a bit unconvinced that terrorism in Ireland and organised crime were not inextricably linked but I’m not going to argue that point with anyone from Ireland. Say, has anyone else seen that crackin’ John Boorman movie THE GENERAL (1998)? Brendan Gleeson’s in it and it’s well good. Based on Dublin Crime Lord, Martin Cahill, it probably soft soaps the harsher reality but still, Brendan Gleeson. Lovely, lovely Brendan Gleeson. ORDINARY DECENT CRIMINAL (2000) stars Kevin Spacey and apparently covers the same ground. I’ve not watched that one so I’d not know. Meanwhile, back at the point, the late, great Steve Dillon draws “Emerald Isle” in his usual sturdy fashion whereby he avoids drawing anything too demanding but his stylistic charisma prevents it all getting too bland. He’s also wise enough to know that Dredd’s the star, so he’ll ensure at least one really great image of Dredd being Zarjaz! He’s a right good choice for such a whipsaw mix of comedy larks and brutal violence given his style can accommodate both at the expense of neither. It may not be the craic it thinks it is but “Emerald Isle” is GOOD!
BOOK OF THE DEAD Art by Dermot Power Written by Mark Millar & Grant Morrison Lettered by Tom Frame & John Aldrich
I’m stretching charity to its limits when I say that Mark Millar and Grant Morrison’s Judge Dredd work is the high point of neither of their careers. Considering how little I rate anything by Mark Millar this should be warning enough. At this stage of their careers (the crazysexyfuntime ‘90s!) Millar & Morrison had teamed up and were giving interviews like they were pop stars in the vein of Pepsi and Shirley or something; they seemed pretty committed to the novel artistic approach of just telling people they were awesome without actually making any decent comics to back that up. A right self-promoting pair of capering mountebanks they were. Preening narcissists, some might say, because people can be very cruel. Morrison and Millar were all mouth and no trousers, as we say over here. Morrison would eventually snap out of it and lower himself to write some decent comics, which very clever people would read a great deal more into than was actually present. I don’t know what happened to him after, because the last thing I read by him was something odious about Siegel and Shuster’s treatment by DC which, while I can’t remember the specifics, certainly sounded like “Goodbye, John” to me. Apparently, because I ceased paying attention long ago, Millar would just defiantly plod on regardless, cultivating his lucrative furrow of thundering chicanery and creative impoverishment to spectacularly rewarding effect. Financially, not creatively rewarding, obviously. Before that though, the team were steadfast in their belief that if they reduced Judge Dredd to the level of a shit ‘80s straight to video action twat, this would be a good thing. At no point in their complacently leaden tenure on the strip would their approach bear any fruit other than arse grapes.
“Book of the Dead” is a pretty representative bunch of those very arse grapes. Here the legends in their own minds send Dredd to the city of Luxor in Egypt, where they can’t be bothered to invent a future society, because they are busy modelling Speedos© for Deadline, or taking about being punk while actually being about as punk as Barry Manilow, or whatever and who cares, so they just make it a really superficial idea of how Ancient Egypt was, you know, pyramids, pharaohs, mummies, etc. but with hover cars, energy staffs and Resyk. Given the amount of thought involved we’re lucky the Judges don’t ride about on robot camels and Dredd doesn’t come home with a rug from a mega-bazaar. Whenever Dredd’s abroad some folk’s antennae start twitching in case any casual racism slips in, but I think the mental sloth on show here is damning enough. It’s just a multi-part punch-up and a piss poor use of Dermot Power’s not inconsiderable talents. Power fully paints the strip with a level of skill and artistry better suited to a script where someone was, you know, actually trying. There’s some lovely muscle work on show reminiscent of the master of muscle magic, Mr Glenn Fabry, and at no point does Power succumb to the twin pitfalls of fully painted 2000AD art: drab colours and visual inertia. His work here is so lovely for seconds at a time I forgot how insultingly contemptuous the writing was of its audience. It’s only because of Dermot Power that this gets OKAY! rather than CRAP!
GULAG Art by Charlie Adlard Written by Gordon Rennie Coloured by Chris Blythe Lettered by Tom Frame
Charlie Adlard draws this one. Charlie Adlard is famous for drawing The Walking Dead, which is itself famous for being successful and unerringly mediocre. You knew that, but did you know that Charlie Adlard is now the UK Comics Laureate. Disappointingly, unlike the Poet Laureate, this does not mean that he has to produce comics on the Queen’s birthday or royal births and marriages, and public occasions, such as coronations and military victories. Her Madge’s Royal God-appointed face as she opened up her birthday card to find a picture of a rotting corpse tottering around a valiantly nondescript America would be quite the thing! No, it seems it’s more of a charitable position whereby the noble art of The Comic is promoted with the hope that one day it will be as popular as poetry. (<--- joke!) If you didn’t know that, then it probably evaded your attention that Dave Gibbons was the last UK Comics Laureate. As part of his promotional efforts I like to think The Gibbons used to squeeze himself into his Big E leotard from his Tornado days and leap into libraries scattering comics like startled gulls into the receptive faces of the next generation of comics’ readers. And old people sheltering from the cold. That probably didn’t happen but I think we all feel a bit better having imagined Dave Gibbons dressed as Big E. Take your pleasure where you find it doesn’t just apply to Wilson Pickett fans.
The story? Oh, “Gulag” is about Judge Dredd getting a bunch of stubbornly unmemorable Judges together to rescue some POWS from a Siberian Gulag. Yeah, by the way, in case it hasn’t become obvious these reviews aren’t the kind which tell you significant character appearances (e.g. here: Psi Judge Karyn), who created them (Dean Ormston and Alan Grant), which story they first appeared in (Raptaur), where that story first appeared (Judge Dredd Megazine #1.11-1.17) and when (1991). No, these are just what an old man of questionable lucidity manages to crank out in the time allotted by circumstance. Reviews, but not as we know them. There’s little rigour or design to them. It’s less Douglas Wolk and more a shaky old gent muttering to himself in a library (Dredd…zarjaz!...Rico…BAD! Pat Mills…lovely teeth! Space Spinner…Big news for readers inside! Etc etc), before Dave Gibbons unwisely clad in the rags of yesteryear, bursts in and causes me to vapor lock in shock. Prone to divergence at no notice, yeah? Particularly when dealing with Gordon Rennie, who here writes about Judge Dredd and chums in Siberia. In “Gulag” Sibera is less than rewarding as a locale as it is just full of snow and bits of barbed wire, and the differences in the Sov Judges’ uniforms is minimal. It’s not worth the trip really. Rennie huffs and puffs about the stakes at, er, stake but I could never rid myself of the impression that it was all just a big fight over an empty shed in a snowy field. Charlie Adlard fails to ignite events, but everything he draws looks like what it’s supposed to be. I mean, it certainly wasn’t worth a butt of sack but it was OKAY!
REGIME CHANGE Art by Inaki Miranda Written by Gordon Rennie Coloured by Eua de la Cruz Lettered by Tom Frame, Annie Parkhouse & Simon Bowland
“Regime Change” is the second Rennie penned tale and had an equal impact on my memory as that one in the snow, what’s it called? The one with, uh, the snow and, uh...Anyway, Dredd goes to Ciudad Barranquilla (AKA Banana City) which spawls over most of Central America like a gaily coloured, city shaped metaphorical sombrero. Pretending to give a shit about missing cits Dredd and a multi-national “peace keeping force” show up and nose about. Turns out though, in a twist that could only surprise a Daily Mail reader, that they are actually just there to depose the Judge Supremo and install someone more to M-C1’s liking. When the corpses of fourteen M-C1 citizens are found in a mass grave they have all the excuse they need. What shocking cynicism! The sheer gall of Gordon Rennie to even suggest to imply such a thing! It’s fine. It’s drawn by Inaki Miranda whose art I don’t like because everyone is drawn with a tiny wee head like Thrud The Barbarian, and it’s all just a bit too busy for me. One of the problems with comics is that you can come up against a style you just don’t like. It doesn’t mean it’s “bad”, it’s just not to your taste. Guess what? That’s right. So, “Regime Change” is OKAY!
It was a bit dull that wasn’t it, a bit normal. Sometimes I’ll do that, sometimes I’ll just start on a craven apology for not having done these sooner. Because, yeah, I started writing up these Dredd partworks in 2015 and then…I stopped. A lot of that was down to apparently I like to make promises I can’t keep. That way I think I get to keep the guilt up. I’m still feeding off the guilt of not carrying on with the Planet of the Apes Weekly, but that was a lot of work to be fair, I kind of aimed to high on that one. Not doing the Dredds as well was too much guilt though. It was getting oppressive. Mind you, about two write-ups in, when I first started, it was pointed out to me that Douglas Wolk had written up every Judge Dredd strip ever so…I felt a bit like a spare prick at a wedding. If Gus van Sant had been halfway through making PSYCHO when someone told him this guy Fred Hitchcock had already had a go, I like to think he would have had the sense to stop. It’s about knowing your place, innit. Alas, that didn’t stop me feeling bad; yes, I felt bad, and I still feel bad because “Drac” in the comments was all gung-ho about following along from his Australian location. And I just pisseded off and left him or her hanging. That’s shabby behaviour. So, too late to make up for it, I’ve started again. I’m banging them out now but that won’t always be possible (because, life), but as slow as the flow may become I’ll carry on. Sometimes I’ll try and do a proper job and sometimes I’ll just amuse myself, depends. Personally I find it difficult to say much about Gordon Rennie, so it’s unfortunate that we have two of his storylines in this book. Bit of a mixed bag this book, to be fair the Rennie ones are part of a longer uberplot involving the machinations of an embittered Sov, so they lose out by being isolated here. BEYOND MEGA CITY ONE is a GOOD! Read overall, I guess.
NEXT TIME: I haven’t thought that far ahead. So surprises in store for us all!
BONUS: A NO DOUBT OUTDATED MAP OF THE WORLD OF JUDGE DREDD!
So while I was musing, as is my wont, upon THE LAST AMERICAN it occurred to me that it could also be read as a riposte to another strip involving a trek across a post-nuke landscape. One Wagner was also involved in, but which was driven mainly by Pat Mills. The difference between the two approaches is telling. But I don't tell you about that, instead I just ramble aimlessly in my irritatingly hyperbolic style. It's “An Impossible Journey Through a Radioactive Hell...” It's “The Cursed Earth”! JUDGE DREDD: THE CURSED EARTH by McMahon & Mills
JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 32: THE CURSED EARTH Art by Mick McMahon, Brian Bolland (Dave Gibbons inks one episode) and John Higgins Written by Pat Mills, John Wagner, Chris Lowder and Alan Grant Lettered by Tom Frame, Peter Knight and John Aldrich Originally serialised in 2000AD Progs61-85 & JUDGE DREDD ANNUAL 1988. © 1978, 1987 & 2015 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2015) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
“The Cursed Earth” started in Prog 61 of 2000AD and is when Judge Dredd, for me (yes, it’s all about me!), became not just one more very good thing about 2000AD, but the very best thing about 2000AD. Pat Mills seizes the reins, with an assist from John Wagner & Chris Lowder, and starts hacking all the ballast from Dredd’s first appearance (in Prog 2) back to the raw necessities, and there’s a marked emphasis on cohesion of backstory. The first shaky steps on this road had been made in the “Robot Wars” and “Luna-1” extended story lines, but it’s “The Cursed Earth” where things really start to click into place and the mythological underpinnings really lend the strip its own unique flavour. Basically Judge Dredd starts to feel a lot less like Dirty Harry in the future and a lot more like its own crazysexy thing. In these 21(*) episodes (each roughly 7 pages in length) the strip savagely shears off the generic elements and imprints the series with the signature super-satirical lunacy, mega violent mayhem and boundless imagination which will propel it through to 2017. Also, it’s also a fuck ton of fun.
Oh, it’s still a work in progress and there’s still some pruning to be done; witness the first episode, set in 2100AD, when Dredd’s old friend, Red, a space pilot returns from a plague ridden Mega City Two with a desperate plea for help. In hindsight not only is it unlikely Dredd would have a friend who was not a Judge, the idea of Dredd having friends of any description seems to soften the character to almost Mr Tumble proportions. Dredd comes off as strangely naïve throughout; quick to recognise the decency in radlanders (“I guess all mutants AREN'T crazy and evil...”) and often appalled by the depths people sink to (At one point he even writes “SOMETIMES THE HUMAN RACE MAKES ME SICK!” in his notebook in block CAPS with underlining, like a disillusioned adolescent. Not quite the stony faced arbiter of authoritarianism we will all come to both fear and pity. But then this is mostly Pat Mills' baby and so it is a heady blend of shrieking polemic and apocalyptic violence, events are so awesomely unhinged the characters have to shout their way through them as though they can't believe what's happening either (“THE BRUTE'S TRYING TO EAT THE KILL-DOZER!”) Chris Lowdner would be lost to the mists of time and John Wagner would cover himself in glory hereafter but “The Cursed Earth” is very much a Pat Mills strip. On the upside, for those who find Mills too antagonistically blunt, there’s a dizzying explosion of world building on show. Mega City Two is first mentioned here, and expands Dredd’s world considerably, being a West coast equivalent of Mega City One. Well, at least it is until 2114AD when it is nuked to ash during the “Day of Judgement” epic. Fourteen years earlier though, in order to prevent the whole of Mega City 2 devolving into feral cannibals Dredd will have to deliver an antidote to the 2T(FRU)T (that’s right, “oh Rudy!”) virus by crossing “over a thousand miles of hostile radioactive desert!” The Cursed Earth! which is named here for the first time.
The mind thrashingly bizarre encounters include The Last President of America, Robert “Smooth” Booth, (affording us our first glimpse of how the Judges came to power), escaped genetically engineered dinosaurs (linking Judge Dredd to “FLESH!” (AKA “The Best Comic Strip Ever!”; thus spaketh the sage John Kane (age 7)), masses of mutants both good and bad (which will provide much grist to the strip’s mill in the decades ahead) and the war droid survivors of The Battle of Armageddon (2071AD). (These last and the dinosaurs will also be linked by Pat Mills later to his ABC Warriors strip, which will itself become linked to “Invasion: 1999” etc etc etc) And that’s just the continuity stuff I can remember. Then there’s the crazytown who make sacrifices to flying rats, Mount Rushmore with a special addition, the mutant slavers, the Las Vegas mafia Judges, sad faced telekinetic Novar and his spindly metal tree, Tweek the rock eating alien who is more human than the humans who degrade him, and I know I already mentioned the dinosaurs, but I did not specifically mention SATANUS, THE SON OF OLD ONE-EYE! And I don’t think it’s possible to mention rampaging genetically engineered dinosaurs too much. SATANUS! SATANUS! Rah! Rah! Rah! Cough, uh, anyway Dredd’s band is hassled by that eyeboggling lot as they cross The Cursed Earth. Oh, they have to go by land, see, because the cannibals have taken over the spaceports, or there are “death belts” of rocks in the air which are never ever mentioned again, or both; I can’t recall. It doesn’t matter. No one said it was drum tight stuff. It’s 1978! Just go with it. Dredd soon crews up, gears up and sets off into one of the most entertaining uses humanity has ever put paper and ink to - “The Cursed Earth”. You think I’m exaggerating? It’s drawn by Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland.
Dredd and his team of elite Judges (Gradgrind, Patton and, uh, Jack) are accompanied by Spikes Harvey Rotten and some war droids aboard the Modular Fighting Unit. Continuity is bolstered by the return of Judge Jack from “Robot Wars”, and Spikes Harvey Rotten, who is drawn here by McMahon completely differently from Bolland’s original in “Death Race 5000” (but Bolland here gamely follows McMahon’s lead). The names of Dredd’s compadres are a nice touch too, adding another level of fun to the proceedings. Judge Gradgrind recalls Charles Dickens’ character Thomas Gradgrind (from HARD TIMES (1854) and whose surname has become a byword for hard hearted philistinism); Judge Patton is named after the flinty WW2 U.S. General, as famous for slapping a wounded soldier as for his nickname of “Old Blood and Guts” (which also foreshadows “Old Blood and Nuts” who crops up later); and Judge Jack is called that because that’s what he was called last time. Mills often has fun with names, witness also Judge Fodder who lives up to his jokily obvious name in short order (“AAAGH!!”).
You might think that that stuff might be above most 8 year olds and you wouldn’t be wrong, but since it’s 2017 and we’re still here talking about a comic from 1978, I will stand by my belief that it’s always better to write up to than to write down to your audience. Essentially though, the primary audience in 1978 was most definitely kids, so it was a smart move to base the Modular Fighting Unit on the MATCHBOX ADVENTURE 2000, K-2001, "COMMAND RAIDER" toy. Also, having a physical reference would have helped keep McMahon and Bolland on-model, because stylistically those two were/are apples and oranges, Ditko and Kirby, ham and eggs, Hammerstein and Ro-Jaws, Bogie and Bacall, uh, pretty different but both great, yeah? And a bit of visual consistency never hurts. Lest we forget each of these episodes originally appeared weekly, so it’s no surprise that McMahon shoulders most of the burden since Bolland’s never really been built for speed. His art may be a crisper, cleaner and altogether more elegant affair, but it’s little Micky whose scruffy bursts of inky mania prove a far better fit.
JUDGE DREDD: THE CURSED EARTH by McMahon, Mills & Aldrich
Back in 1978 Bolland’s the better draughtsman, but his Cursed Earth is a tad too antiseptic. That alien slaver might have a nose festooned with boils but it still looks like you could eat your dinner off 'em. It’s attractive stuff artistically speaking and Bolland’s astonishingly accomplished even at this early stage but Mike McMahon? Look, Bolland is beautiful, but Micky’s the Man. You wouldn’t even want to eat your dinner off a dinner plate if Mick McMahon (circa ’78) drew it. His art here is just such raw bloody fun and the sheer talent on show is immense. Each of McMahon’s pages is so hectic with incident and so deceptively detailed that in lesser hands they would collapse into eye boggling unintelligibility. The control of flow and density of information is that of a master, but the energy and chutzpah is that of a sugar rushed kid. It’s a killer combo for a strip paced as crazily as Judge Dredd circa ’78. Most comic artists could work a lifetime and never reach this peak, but for little Mick McMahon it was just the start. And the stuff both Bolland and McMahon are called upon to draw is punishing and unrelenting in its demands.
In 2017 most comics hunger to be TV shows or movies and so the imagination on show is (unconsciously?) limited by implicit budgetary restrictions. Back in 1978 it was understood that comics were movies without budget, and thus there were no limits to the imagination. Back then, basically, Brit comics blew the bloody doors off. Jim Lee would sue for mental cruelty if he had to draw an episode of “The Cursed Earth” in a week. Or even a panel. In one panel McMahon has to draw a T-Rex smashing through a prison wall while all the prisoners react in a fairly understandable fashion. Another finds our T Rex drooling mutilated bodies from its flesh glutted mouth as it rampages about. What? No, not splash pages, panels. About six of those things to a page, each imbued with so much atmosphere you can practically smell the fetid stench of theT-Rex's breath. It’s a strong style, sure, and it’s not for everyone, which is why in the halls of my mind he will evermore be known as Mike “Mango Chutney” McMahon.
JUDGE DREDD: THE CURSED EARTH by McMahon, Mills & Frame
“The Cursed Earth” is kind of wonky, and lopsided but it is drawn by two All-Time Great artists, and has a narrative festooned with visions of the impossible which sear themselves indelibly into your soul. It would be a stony heart indeed which could be left unmoved. And the bit where Dredd finally staggers into Mega City Two battered, rad-burned, stubborn beyond sanity and still defiant is a comic book moment up there with Spidey and his machinery lifting.“The Cursed Earth” is VERY GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: LAST OF THE BAD GUYS by Higgins, Wagner, Grant & Frame
The book also contains a later strip from the JUDGE DREDD ANNUAL 1982 by Wagner, Grant & Higgins. “Last of the Bad Guys” is inessential stuff, notable mainly for Higgins' queasy colour scheme and the ability of Wagner and Grant to pad out an idea more suited to 7 pages to 30 pages without leaving you feeling too short-changed. It's OKAY!
(*) Originally “The Cursed Earth” was 25 episodes long but this reprint omits the “Burger Wars” and “Soul Food” chapters, 4 episodes in total. Since the strips mocked the copyrighted characters of McDonalds, Burger King, and Green Giant (amongst others) and this led to legal action, these were not reprinted until 2016 in ““The Cursed Earth” Uncensored”. This was due to a 2014 change in the law implementing a European directive on copyright law allowing the use of copyright-protected characters for parody. Bloody Brussels! Bloody unelected bureaucrats! Coming over here and staffing our Health services! Grrr! Oh, wait…Anyway, I can’t remember the missing episodes having only read them once, and so “The Cursed Earth” no longer includes them in my head. Basically I’m not fussed that this book is “incomplete”, but you might be. You know how funny you can be about these things.
JUDGE DREDD: THE CURSED EARTH by McMahon, Mills & Frame
NEXT TIME: A flamboyantly insane man-child achieves the highest office in the land endangering the lives of millions! Is it reality or – COMICS!!!
I’ve not had time to write up any comics, but I have written up some movies. I didn’t do a proper intro either. See?All complaints to the management, pal.
THE YAKUZA (1974) Directed by Sydney Pollack Starring Robert Mitchum, Ken Takakura, Brian Keith, Herb Edelman, Keiko Kishi, Eiji Okada with Richard Jordan as “Dusty” Screenplay by Paul Schrader and Robert Towne, Story by Leonard Schrader Music by Dave Grusin
She said: “Robert Mitchum is always a good time.”
Richard Jordan! I know! Fellow elderly readers have just threatened the purity of their incontinence pants! Whatever happened to Richard Jordan? He seemed to be in every movie made for about five minutes back in the ‘70s. And then: nada. (See also: Michael Sarrazin) Anyway, like you care, with your youth and your lattes and your wild ecstatic dancing. So, yeah, Richard Jordan is in this as the young scamp supporting Robert “Bob” Mitchum as he glides through Japan on a vengeance tip like a ferocious rock on a Segway®. A super cool rock, mind. One that returns to Japan to re-spark a WW2 romance while extracting a pal out of a jam with the Yakuza. Violence and stifled erotic yearning ensue. Based on a Paul & Leonard Schrader (with some Robert Towne tinkering) script it’s directed by Sydney Pollack. Unfortunately Pollack seems a poor fit for something that would benefit from being punched up with some of the shabby insanity of, say, Paul Schrader’s ROLLING THUNDER (1977). But then that’s a perpetual problem with Pollack’s stuff, a glaring lack of last act whorehouse shootouts. Particularly so in TOOTSIE (1982). THE YAKUZA keeps trying to be classy, basically. Too classy for the neo-noir material really. If you can get past that (and a truly jarringly inept flashback sequence) this is a pretty fun time. Not only do you get to see Mitchum placidly fuck the Yakuza up, but as an added bonus the perpetually underappreciated Brian Keith is gallantly sporting a quite remarkable hairpiece. This was on TCM so the print was hardly spectacular but still worth a watch, if only for the sight of Robert Mitchum bursting through paper walls and emptying his gun into Japanese gangsters with all the emotion of a fridge. If nothing else THE YAKUZA proves that paper walls are no defence against elderly enraged Gaijin on the vengeance trail. GOOD!
CHILD’S PLAY (1988) Directed by Tom Holland Starring Catherine Hicks, Chris Sranadon, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif, Dinah Manoff with Jack Colvin as “Dr. Ardmore” Screenplay by Don Mancini, John Lafia and Tom Holland Music by Joe Renzetti
She said: “It’s silly.”
She’s not wrong, but it’s meant to be silly; so that’s okay. I got this on Blu-Ray just t’other day, because My Lady of Perpetual Suffering got herself gussied up as Chucky for Hallowe’en, but had never seen the movie. I know! Talk about an impoverished upbringing! One of the great unacknowledged burdens of Modern Life is the seeming inability to directly address any of life’s glaring injustices. Seven pounds sterling and twenty four hours later and I had kicked the lack of Chucky movies in my loved one’s life to the curb. Next week: John ends world poverty. In the meantime I’ll tell you about CHILD’S PLAY, mainly so that I can claim the seven pounds back as “Business Expenses”. Thankfully, Tom “FRIGHT NIGHT” Holland is clearly not pulling a Pollack here and smartly plays down to the premise’s nutty strengths. Which is a good idea, as here he’s dealing with Brad “WISEBLOOD” Dourif’s serial killer escaping death by possessing an overpriced kid’s toy and then offing a bunch of people, before trying the same soul swap trick on Catherine Hick’s resourceful single mom’s kid. Given the not entirely straightforward premise the script does a remarkable job of cramming exposition, character work, set pieces, horror and humour into its wiry 87 minutes. No one’s going to give CHILD’S PLAY an Oscar® (unlike TOOTSIE) but as low budget ‘80s horror movies about foul mouthed killer dolls go it’s a pretty fun time. The fact it’s Brad (EXORCIST III) Dourif hissing expletives out of the chubby plastic face doesn’t hurt, obviously. For the time and the money they do a remarkably good job on the Chucky stuff. Which is clearly important as he’s (it’s?) the star, no matter how much fun Chris (FRIGHT NIGHT) Sarandon has with his Bwanx! accent. But Sarandon gets the best scene where, in a spirited blend of horror and physical comedy, he has to fend off Chucky’s attacks while driving a speeding car. But all the kills are well staged being either silly (Mr McGee from the Hulk gets electro shock) or flinch-making (the voodoo bone breaking. OH!) or creepy (Chucky skittering around the apartment like a barely glimpsed homicidal, ginger wigged cockroach). It’s an ‘80s movie so there are scenes of hobos with shopping carts, hairspray, a “spunky” best mate ripe for a spectacular fall, an explosion caused by someone putting the gas oven on, smoking, and a niggling sense that there was a lot of ruby and violet lighting (even though there probably wasn’t). It’s not as good as FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) but CHILD’S PLAY is still GOOD!
STAGE FRIGHT (1987) Directed by Michele Soavi Starring David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Robert Glogorov, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Clain Parker, Loredana Parrella, Martin Philips with James Sampson as “Willy” Screenplay by George Eastman and Sheila Goldberg Music by Guido Anelli, Simon Boswell and Stefano Mainetti
She said: “This is just fucking awful; I’m going to bed.”
My paramour having been pummelled into early retirement by a distressingly ‘80s dance sequence, I was left alone to savour this, a poorly dubbed Italian slasher flick in which a bunch of thesps rehearsing an awful musical are stalked by an escaped nutter wearing a massive owl mask. The dialogue and the acting are kind of terrible, but that’s not why we’re here. No, we are here to see an escaped nutter wearing a massive owl mask off some thesps in inventive, suspenseful and, hopefully, excessively gory ways. Which is what happens, oddly enough. Since Aristotle first posited the notion of catharis, the belief has persisted that watching stuff like this is, uh, cathartic, stopping us from doing bad stuff by soaking up nasty urges. Since I have never heard of anyone donning a massive owl mask and offing a bunch of thesps, the evidence, anecdotal as it may be, is on Aristotle’s side. Who knows how many poorly dubbed thesps’ lives this movie has saved simply by existing? No one knows. Because it’s a stupid question. Putting aside the pretentious crowbarring in of ancient mega brains in an attempt to class this up Sydney Pollack-like, STAGE FRIGHT is a slasher flick and slasher flicks are all about the kills. Oh, there are some sweet “kills” in this one. Hurr. Kills. Hurr. I like the kills. Hoo! Hoo! See how they die! Hey, Aristotle said it’s good for me, so don’t you be judging me! For the more erudite cineaste there’s a brilliantly staged piece of suspense where the heroine has to retrieve a key from right by the killer’s feet by shimmying under the stage, all the while unaware of whether the killer’s caught on, because of the giant face occluding owl mask he’s wearing. The choppy and unpromising start can drive the more sensible viewer away, but if you can tolerate the initial stretch of almost hallucinatory poor, well, everything STAGE FRIGHT rewards you with some hectic homicidal mayhem. It gets a bit odd at the end, with a character repeating things like he’s suffered a brain injury and a “shocking reveal” that centres on the inability of the police to count. But, y’know, I came to see an escaped nutter wearing a massive owl mask slaughter a bunch of thesps and I got exactly that. So STAGE FRIGHT was OKAY!
TARNISHED ANGELS (1957) Directed by Douglas Sirk Starring Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, Robert Middleton with Jack Carson as “Jiggs” Screenplay by George Zuckerman Based on the novel 'Pylon' by William Faulkner Music by Frank Skinner
She said: “Everyone is having emotions!”
Here Douglas Sirk adapts William Faulkner’s 1935 novel ‘Pylon’, reportedly much to William Faulkner’s apparent 1957 displeasure. Lighten up, Billy Faulkner! I know, I know, TARNISHED ANGELS looks like one of those movies you watch with your elderly parents on a Sunday afternoon. That’s what it looks like, what with Rock (SECONDS) Hudson as a tipsy reporter in a hat, Robert (AIRPLANE!) Stack as a moody stunt flyer, Jack (MILDRED PIERCE) Carson as the cheeky mechanic, Dorothy (WINTER KILLS) Malone as the woman caught between them, and Chris Olsen as the tow headed child alternating between weepy and cheeky in the background. To top it all off Rock Hudson’s character is called Burke Devlin, a name so butch it’s got hair on its knuckles. And most names don’t even have knuckles. Unthreatening Sunday matinee material a-go-go then. Ah-ah-ah, not so fast! This is a Douglas Sirk movie, so for a start the emotions on display are so intense they almost exist independently of the actors expressing them. Being English and thus an emotional invert I find Douglas Sirk movies quite traumatic viewing. Where war movies have bullets and horror movies have monsters, Douglas Sirk movies have emotions. And in Douglas Sirk movies emotions wound like bullets and maul like monsters. Some mock Sirk for being a kind of bland romantic, but TARNISHED ANGELS for one is one sleazy movie about really unhealthy relationships and horribly damaged people. It’s a movie which is only saved from being vilely unsavoury by the slight dilution afforded by the restraints of the time. Unfettered, I feel Douglas Sirk would have made movies that made REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000) look like TOOTSIE (1982). I mean, Christ, in one scene here we are cruelly forced to view a child trapped on a fairground plane ride hysterically freak out as he watches his dad’s fatal plane crash mere yards away. And if that pitilessly harrowing scene isn’t a perfect summation of the Sirk approach, it’s only because it isn’t soaked in sumptuous swathes of lush Techni-color. Alas, TARNISHED ANGELS is in B&W but otherwise it’s as SIrk as Sirk can be. EXCELLENT!
FROM BEYOND (1986) Directed by Stuart Gordon Starring Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree with Ted Sorel as “Dr. Edward Pretorious” Screenplay by Dennis Paoli, Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon Based on the short story by H. P. Lovecraft Music by Richard Band
She said: “There’s just too many tits in ‘80s horror movies!”
And she wasn’t talking about Malcolm McDowell. BOOM! BOOM! Prudes beware; this is based on the H. P. Lovecraft short story ’From Beyond’ in the same delightfully vulgar way as the same team’s REANIMATOR is based on ol’ shovel chin’s ‘Herbert West: Reanimator’. Which is to say that if H. P. Lovecraft ever saw either one he’d probably expire forthwith, face empurpled and eyes agog. Because FROM BEYOND is Trashy McTrash, no doubt. But it’s unapologetically trashy; trash which winks because it’s smarter than you think. No, for 21st Century citizens with their elevated tastes there’s just no getting around the fact that Barbara (YOU’RE NEXT) Crampton’s arse gets a good airing and her chest gets a good mauling by gooey claws, while Jeffrey (THE FRIGHTENERS) Combs slowly transforms into a giant phallus, and poor old Ken (DAWN OF THE DEAD) Foree’s good-natured cop can only try to keep spirits up with his dumplings and gravy. But why would you want to get around any of that? You should wallow in it, wallow, I say! Otherwise you’re watching the wrong movie. Try ****ing TOOTSIE (1982) if you want inoffensive claptrap. So, having built a “Resonator” (as one does) to stimulate pineal glands (!) Dr. Pretorius’ head brutally disappears leaving a babbling Crawford Tillinghast (Combs) and an upset neighbour in curlers in its wake. Eager to make a name for herself Crampton’s shrink (Dr Kate McMichaels; who must have started studying medicine at the stately age of 4) takes Tillinghast back to the scene of the weird science crime to find out what happened. Slightly concerned about the headless corpse and the fact that Tillinghast was the only suspect, the police insist Detective Bubba Brownlee (Foree) accompany them. (To be honest this might not be an entirely accurate reflection of police procedure.) McMichaels has the bright idea of repeating the experiment, and then things get a bit rudey-roo and gooey-goo as reality is invaded by creatures and impulses …from beyond! FROM BEYOND is unusually bawdy for a horror movie, but it’s got plenty of the old claret splashing and brain munching as well as some freaky creatures. Everyone acts like they are having a blast, and since most of the FX are physical it stands up to blu-ray pretty well; the blue screen stuff suffers, but since that’s minimal it’s hardly a deal breaker. Taken optically, FROM BEYOND provides your RDA of saucy horror tomfoolery. VERY GOOD!
WE ARE STILL HERE (2015) Directed by Ted Geoghan Starring Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Lisa Marie, Larry Fessenden with Monte Markham as “Dave McCabe” Screenplay by Ted Geoghan Music by Wojciech Golczewski
She said: “That’s really shit me up, that has!”
This was an impulse view and, boy, this was a good one. You could almost smell my relief as I found that my aging impulses remain sound. Unhealthy, sure, but still sound. I didn’t know anything going in to WE ARE STILL HERE and it was all the better for it. Hence the brevity of this review, as I seek to replicate that experience for your good self. In essence though, Barbara (FROM BEYOND) Crampton and Andrew Sensenig play a couple still shell-shocked by grief for their recently deceased son, who move into a remote house in a snowy and bleak bit of ‘70s America. Creepiness ensues. It really would be a shame to spoil it, but the best thing was how it ended up crushing expectations like a still beating heart in a vengeful corpse’s fist. WE ARE STILL HERE starts off all elegantly measured and mournful, with brief glimpses of disquiet and then it lunges suddenly into, well, something else. Clearly the people involved all love horror movies and know how to make ‘em, but most impressive was the acting. Everyone’s acting is top notch, really , really top notch; everyone nails the characters just right. But even so, unsung screen vet Monte Markham stands out with his enormously entertaining affable bastardry. Damn, this was just such fun. You’ll probably never look at a sock the same way again. WE ARE STILL HERE is still VERY GOOD!
THE NAKED ISLAND (1960) Directed by Kaneto Shindô Screenplay by Kaneto Shindô Starring Nobuko Otowa, Taiji Tonoyama, Shinji Tanaka, Masanori Horimoto Music by Hikaru Hayashi
She said: “That was sad. Good, but sad.”
This is a Japanese movie about a family of four whose hard scrabble life is dominated by the farming of a harsh lump of an island in the Setonaikai archipelago . Most of each day is taken up with rowing to the neighbouring island to draw the water essential for life and agriculture. For part of the day the two children attend school. The school together with the water bearing and trips to sell crops are their only links with the wider society. The movie is minimal and realistic; Shindô and his cast and crew lived on the island throughout the filming. No words are spoken for the first half hour, and for the most part the movie just follows the family’s bleak, repetitive existence, creating a soothing rhythm until the inevitable occurs, and the lack of things we take for granted takes a terrible toll. Then life resumes and then life goes on. With THE NAKED ISLAND Shindô is as quiet as Sirk is loud but to no lesser emotional effect. THE NAKED ISLAND is the kind of deceptively artless movie which seems to be doing nothing but is quietly doing everything. Unlike ***ing TOOTSIE. Whatever, THE NAKED ISLAND is EXCELLENT!
NEXT TIME: Oh, go on then – COMICS!!!
Yes! The post no one demanded! All the visual ephemera I could find within my battered back-issues of Battlin' Bill Mantlo and Michael "is" Golden's fizzy kid's comic confection THE MICRONAUTS. I may have missed one or two, but even so here is art from Michael Golden, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Butch Guice etc.. which may very well be shortly lost to time. Not on this old fool's watch! Feast your eyes! BONUS: Is MICRONAUTS #39 the "Rosebud" to Citizen Hibbs? Wilder things have happened, pilgrim! Have a happy Bank Holiday, from your pugnacious pal Jabberin' John K of the UK! EXCELSIOR! MICRONAUTS#39 by Steve Ditko, Danny Bulandi, Bill Mantlo, Jim Novak & Bob Sharen
Thanks, Battlin' Bill and all your artistic partners! This kid appreciated it!
NEXT TIME: Words about COMICS!!!
Um, here's a gallery of comic book covers from a series that Marvel published from 1979 - 1984 as a tie-in to a terrible line of toys. It was also, as of issue 38, part of Marvel's first tender dalliances with Direct Market only comics (see also MOON KNIGHT and KA-ZAR). The unfortunate Bill Mantlo scripted the series solidly (as was his wont) for its duration, but the real attraction was the cavalcade of artistic talent who put food on their table drawing this stuff. Michael Golden! Gil Kane! Steve Ditko! (Howard Victor Chaykin even did some innards but, alas, no covers). Because of legal what have you, and the fact it was so heavily intertwined with the Marvel Universe it's unlikely the series will ever be reprinted, so here for your baffled perusment I present without words and purely in pictures, the mighty MICRONAUTS... MICRONAUTS by Michael Golden, Josef Rubinstein, Bill Mantlo, Tom Orzexhowski & Glynis Wein.
They are old and they are yellowed but, by Dallan, they are - COMICS!!!
Of late I've been a regular Chatty Cathy and no mistake, so as a change of pace I've scanned in some House Ads which ran in DC Comics from (and it's totally arbitrary this) March 1989 to August 1990. I always enjoy looking at these things when I dig out my back issues; they remind me of stuff I have tucked away (and even sometimes forgotten), or nudge me about stuff I mean to pick up at some point before...I come to my senses and start acting my age. Sometimes they just make me shake my head and wonder how that turned out for everyone. Heck, it's just fun looking at them, basically, and I hope you share my fascination...
While this is an image heavy post, and so you do get off lightly, you don't get off Scott-free as I have some words as well. Looking at the ad for SKREEMER I am reminded of one of several reasons why I will always be happy to give Peter Milligan a hug i.e. the ferocious passion with which, early in his career, he sought to make James Joyce an influence on comics. Now with most (mainstream North American) comic writers rarely straying to any level higher than that of Glen A. Larson or The Disney Channel his example is missed more than ever. Also, SKREEMER is not only violence and intelligence beautifully and cheekily intertwined via Milligan's script and Dillon/Ewins' art, but it is also still in print today. So go and buy a copy before I do a more in depth write-up on it, is what I'm getting at there.
JUSTICE INC. by Helfer & Baker isn't in print and (AFAIK) has never been reprinted. This is bad. However, you can pick up both prestige format issues for pennies. Which is good. Particularly if you want a comic which wades into the same troubled waters of America's History as Ellroy's UNDERWORLD USA trilogy and Don Winslow's POWER OF THE DOG. Not only that, but it does so by avoiding Ellroy's grating (if historically accurate) racism and Winslow's risky dalliance with cliché. JUSTICE INC. is also funnier. Not only that but Helfer's scripts show that if your dialogue is going to make the art play second fiddle, then it better be pretty immaculate dialogue. Which his is. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a stylistic chameleon like Kyle Baker on board either, and he makes every artistic inch begrudgingly allotted him work like a pastel shaded dream.
Additionally, from this aged vantage, I well recall Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle's Batman run(s). As well I should, as it's the only comic I allowed myself while, ahem, studying due to the fact that Guinness doesn't buy itself. (Sometimes I weakened and bought SHADE THE CHANGING MAN as well. Shhhh.) Those were some rock solid Batman comics and I'm pretty sure I can't be alone in being keen on a comprehensive collection of them appearing one day.
I note also that there's an advert for THE ART OF WALTER SIMONSON down there, and that volume is packed full of Simonson's early DC work, and is a humongous joy for any Simonson fan (which should really be any fan of Comics). It's also cheap to pick up today; so you just ran out of reasons for not owning it, chum. The magnificent Gil Kane's there as well; still alive back then, and fulfilling his personal dream of adapting (with Roy Thomas) Richard (not John) Wagner's The Ring Cycle. That's easy to find too in 2016, and if you like Gil Kane (as well you should) then that's you sorted. I never read Pepe Moreno's BATMAN: DIGITAL JUSTICE, which was probably for the best as I believe it's now considered to be to DC Comics as E.T. THE VIDEO GAME was to Atari.
There's lots of other stuff there, and feel free to share your recollections and misgivings regarding them. But before I go, it has always struck me as a bit of a dick move on the part of The Flash to challenge Superman to a race. Do you not think? And on that note, stick your face right into The Past and enjoy...COMICS!!!
NEXT TIME: Take a wild guess, that's right - COMICS!!!
Yes! It’s that thing where I watch some movies you aren’t interested in and then tell you what I think about them, while prefacing my words with a comment My Lady of Infinite Patience made about them. Look, I just haven’t had chance to read anything lately. Sorry but, uh, them's the breaks. Anita Strindberg in Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key (1972)
Anyway, this… PHENOMENA (1985) Directed by Dario Argento Written by Dario Argento & Franco Ferrini Starring Jennifer Connelly, Daria Nicolodi, Fiore Argento, Frederica Mastroianni, Fiorenza Tessari, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Patrick Bauchau and Donald Pleasence as Professor John McGregor. Special Guest Chimp “Tanga” as Inga Music by Simon Boswell and Goblin
….and she said, “I think I’m going to be sick…”
That wasn’t a comment on the movie; we were barely forty minutes in when She of The Streaming Content was taken badly. This left me with a dilemma: I could either watch a ridiculous movie in which a baby-faced Jennifer Connelly hunts a serial killer in a Swiss girls school aided only by her ability to communicate with insects together with wheelchair bound pathologist Donald Pleasence and his trained chimp, Inga, or…or…or I could provide succour and comfort to my ailing heart partner. Obviously, I watched the movie. Now, before you trip over yourself in your rush to judgement may I just remind you that this was a ridiculous movie in which a baby-faced Jennifer Connelly hunts a serial killer in a Swiss girls school aided only by her ability to communicate with insects together with wheelchair bound pathologist Donald Pleasence and his trained chimp, Inga. Sometimes Life’s all about priorities, kids.
Even though we (well, I. Sorry, dollcakes) watched it via a streaming service and so it wasn’t HD, and thus it was like watching it through a piece of soiled muslin, Argento’s much lauded stylishness was still more than apparent. Having avoided his work thus far in my life I am really warming to Dario Argento; there is just something supremely endearing about the seriousness and sheer graft with which he approaches the most preposterous baloney. As preposterous baloney goes PHENOMENA is amazingly so right until the end. At which point the preposterousness and the baloniness reach such a hysterical pitch that they pummel you into submission. Truly, the ending to PHENOMENA is just a thing of wonder and a joy forever, because this ending goes on for a good half hour and just keeps piling insane nonsense atop insane nonsense, in a kind of splendidly insane nonsense Jenga of an ending. And somewhere in there Donald Pleasance is “doing” a Scots accent to boot. HELP MABOAB! Look, if you are okay with a barely pubescent Jennifer Connelly attempting to locate the killer’s house by taking a fly on a bus ride then you, sir or madam, are in for an intoxicating treat. PHENOMENA was PHENOMENAL! (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Shame is for lesser men!)
TENEBRAE (1982) Directed by Dario Argento Written by Dario Argento Starring Anthony Franciosa, Giulana Gemma, Christian Borromeo, Mirella D’Angelo, Veronica Lario, Ania Pieroni, Eva Robins, Carola Stagnaro, John Steiner, Lara Wendel, Daria Nicoldi, Giuliano Gemma and John Saxon as “Bullmer” Music by Massimo, Fabio Pignatelli and Claudio Simonetti
…and she said, “Do they not have bras in Italy then?”
Oh, we both liked this one. Belay that, we both loved it! Sure, enjoyment was expected but amore was a pleasant surprise. That Dario Argento, the tricksy scamp, outflanked me by making a wicked-smart movie; one not just with a plot that made sense but one with real cinematic smarts too. The stuff cineastes adore is here with “doubling” abounding, a meta-textual message to his critics embedded in the meat of the movie (one that needs to be reconsidered once the movie ends) and playful jumps between diegetic and non-diegetic sound. Or, cough, so I hear. For us layfolk who are here for the entertainment that’s all well and good, but it’s probably nicer that with TENEBRAE Argento’s got several people who can act in the cast, rather than the usual just one or two (or none). Also, style? This thing is lacquered in style. It’s so ‘80s I was tempted to try and snort it through a rolled up tenner. TENEBRAE may mean shadows (or darkness) in English but the movie is shot in such a way as to eradicate as much shadow as possible. This is Hell in the glare of a neon flare. Murder in a world lit like a Supermarket. (Some of my trademark overstuffed writing there in case you were missing it.) Even a chase through a park at night denies the quarry the safety of shadows. A park at night, even! That’s visually tricky stuff to pull off that is. But Argento et al pull it off, alright. There’s just something fantastically right about TENEBRAE; as though it’s the movie Argento was working towards and everything after it could only ever be a decline. (Calm down, Argentophiles: That’s relatively speaking; his “decline” still includes PHENOMENA see above). Argento is just ON with this one. He even has one of the most flamboyantly pointless camera moves in history and it’s just a delightful indulgence soundtracked by the best blare of Death Disco soundtrack yet.
Anthony Franciosa winningly essays a charmingly jovial author whose new schlocky horror novel (‘Tenebrae’, natch) is found at the scene of a brutal murder which leads to the police taking an interest in him, and his taking an interest in the crimes. After all, imagine if “Peter Neal” (for 'tis he), could catch a killer - imagine the book sales! Unfortunately he fails to consider what might happen should the murderer have other ideas –imagine the bodycount! Don’t worry you won’t have to. You’ll see it. There’s some mighty fine murders in this one. Although Franciosa’s persistently upbeat performance owns the movie he gets good support from the ever sturdy John Saxon (who has fun playing with his hat and wiggling his eyebrows), the cops (Carola Stagnaro and Giulano Gemma) are sympathetically puzzled and Daria Nicoldi gets the best of the female civilian roles (most of the other female roles involving screaming and bleeding) and, really, the only weak spot in the main players is what seems to be a young Martin Amis in a bad jumper. But, you know, for an Argento movie the cast is like MAGNOLIA solid. Not only that but the plot makes sense. I know! I wasn’t expecting that at all. Usually you’d have more chance identifying the killer by opening a book of Baby Names at random, but this time if you’ve got your wits about you the smug luxury of being right is within your reach. TENEBRAE’s not perfect, there are still some of Argento’s bad habits like some truly ridiculous plot contortions to get a character to accidently enter the killer’s den and some stilted lesbian arguing but when it ends you won't remember any of that. When TENEBRAE ends you'll just remember that sometimes the darkness is within. TENEBRAE is TENEBRAE!
YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (1972) Directed by Sergio Martino Screenplay by Adriano Bolzini, Ernesto Gastaldi and Sauro Scavolini Story by Luciano Martino and Sauro Scavolini Based on the story The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe Starring Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, Luigi Pistilli, Ivan Rassimov, Franco Nebbia, Riccardo Salvino, Angela La Vorgna and Enrica Bonaccorti as “Hooker” Music by Bruno Nicolai
…and she said, “Phew! For a minute there I thought we weren’t going to see her breasts.”
Seriously, who could resist a movie with a title like that? Not I, honeythighs. YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY ! It’s like something a bell-bottomed Howard Victor Chaykin would use to chat up “foxy chicks” in the ‘70s at a roller disco: “YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY!” (Subtext: THE KEY BEING MY PENIS!) Fan-tastic. Obviously the movie doesn’t live up to that promise of staggering ridiculosity, but it certainly has an admirable crack at it. YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY is a 1970s Italian movie adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat, but in a really sleazy giallo stylee. So, there’s pair of gloved hands, some heavy breathing POV, blaringly cool murder tunes, scads of stabbing and a pint pot of plot twists. That’s the giallo bit taken care of. The 1970s bit is covered by the unpleasantly leering air, the use of unfortunate racial terminology, a supercrazysexygroovy party scene, excessive motocross footage, asphyxia mocking levels of smoking, and wardrobe choices which turn everyone into a sartorial criminal.
Well, everyone except Luigi Pistilli who has that distinctly craggy machismo which enables him to carry off looking like a disco shepherd. Anyway, he sulkily plays a debauched writer who can’t write, and so like any writer fills his time by drinking, smoking, throwing supercrazysexygroovy parties, drinking, abusing his wife (Anita Strindberg doing a nice line in “Crazy Lady Eyes”©®), smoking, drinking, feeding his black cat (“Satan”, natch), smoking, drinking and knocking off (in a sexy sense) his ex-student. Then someone knocks off (in a dead sense) his ex-student and things escalate into a crazy slasher flick for a bit before calming down into a movie normal human beings might endure at a push, but then his sexually, uh, accommodating niece (a very, uh, vigorous Edwige Fenech) turns up and things hurtle off into the a realm of mental delirium so unapologetic Poe would probably approve. (Although he’d probably have had conniptions over the surfeit of tits.) YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY was DELIRIOUS!
So, um, next time – COMICS!!!
It's Halloween! Gather round, gather round! O, you lucky children! Feast your tiny dead fly sized eyes on a ghoulish gallery fit to chill even the hardiest of souls! Halloween! Sil-VER SHAMROCK! Oh alright, I just scanned in my incomplete Saga of the Swamp Thing comics run. No tricks here, m'dears; only treats! It's mostly covers but also some pin-ups and even Swamp Thing's death certificate. Morbidly apropos eh, what? I hope you enjoy looking at them while I creep up behind you. HOO-HA! Gonna wear your face like knickers! SWAMP THING by Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, Alan Moore, Tatjana Wood & John Constanza
SWAMP THING Created by Berni Wrightson & Len Wein
I started reading Saga of the Swamp Thing (SotST) with # 2 because I was 12 and a morbid little thing. Oh yes, Horror was my jam. I spread it liberally on my toast of terror. I was there, so let me tell you that the 1980s were a pretty awesome time all around for horror in movies, prose and comics. Probably even jam; horror was everywhere. Probably because the 1980s was a pretty awesome time for horror in real life: Thatcher, AIDS, Clause28, The Cold War, Reaganomics, The Miners Strike, Phil Collins; sometimes you just wanted to pull the covers over your head. But then you ran the risk of missing some fab Horror jam. Like SotSW. I stopped reading SotSW with #6. Not because it was rubbish, but because it stopped appearing at my local market cum newstand. Those early issues by Tom Yeates and Martin Pasko aren't the ones people remember but they were pretty decent. Issue 3 with the vampires was nice (nice enough for Moore to call back later in #38 & #39) and #4 had a children's entertainer who entertained himself with children in a bad way. It was far from rote and just about worthy of note. I restarted reading SotSW with #35 when it suddenly reappeared back on my stands. That fella from Warrior and 2000AD whose stuff I liked only turned out to be writing it, didn't he! (It would turn out he'd been writing it for a while.) My surprise and delight at the chillingly efficient tales this Moore fellow was producing was rather upended when Swamp Thing promptly died at the end of #36. Well, fuck a duck, I thought (I was a potty mouthed child).
But then he brought him back. Later on he'd kill Swampy again, but I'd got the knack by then and just hung on til he was back. With #64 Moore moved on and even brought back Tom Yeates for a fitting finale. But Moore didn't push off before he'd written a pile of the most entertaining comics it's ever been my pleasure to read. (And re-read. And re-re-read. Etc.) So much so that I went back and filled as many gaps as I could, before TPBs were a thing at which point I, as they say, completed the set. It took time and it took money but it was worth it. From the early issues which recast old horror tropes in fresh robes of relevance, through the inevitable team up with Batman (one which actually had weight and consequences for once) through the tail end whistle stop tour of the DCU, Alan Moore brought the words. And plenty of them. But that's okay because they were good words. I have a weakness for writers who love language; I'm odd like that. And as ever with any long comics run you could tell he stayed too long, but rather than phone it in he simply concentrated on keeping himself entertained, and in so doing kept me entertained.
But there are more than words in a comic; otherwise it would be prose. There are pictures. And the pictures in SotST are the equal of Moore's words, mostly. From the titanic trio of Bissette, Totleben & Veitch whose jagged, fractured pages seemed to stab the horrors displayed right into your mind, to the stalwarts called in at short notice: Alfredo Alcala, Stan Woch, Ron Randall et al. And of course, Shawn McManus. Shawn McManus who gave Moore's script for POG (#32) a heartwrecking cartoony beauty. Everyone on the book seemed to be having a blast and so I had a blast. John Totleben certainly had fun, fun which culminated in, with #60, his flamboyantly futuristic issue-long recasting of Kirby Collage technique. John Totleben's eyes are tired, so they say, but he can hear well enough, so let's all say that, you, John Totleben rocked, and you rocked never harder than on #60 of The Saga of the Swamp Thing (unless it was that issue of Miracleman (yeah, that one). SotST is often spoken of as being Alan Moore's but that's just convenient shorthand. SotST and its many, many successes belong to everyone on its pages. Most notably those already spoken of, and particularly Steve Bissette's dark swathes of ink. SotSW is a remarkable run of comics; remarkable in its consistency, intelligence and heart. Yes, heart. Because for a horror book it was surprisingly keen to remind us of what it meant to be human; how that can be the worst thing in the world, but also how it can be the best thing in the world. That's not bad for a comic book about a plant that dreamt it was a man.Sage of the Swamp Thing was EXCELLENT!
You've all been very patient so here's the gallery:
Sometimes...I am almost...frightened...by my own – COMICS!!!
Borag Thungg, Earthlets! Clearly I have nothing useful to do with my time because I have bodged up a master list of the JUDGE DREDD MEGA COLLECTION. As each volume is released I will update the list and the accompanying image gallery. Should I “review” a volume I will link to that volume in the list. So, interested in the JUDGE DREDD MEGA COLLECTION as “reviewed” by yours truly, then this is the list for that. Pretty clear stuff. No questions? Anyone? Good. If anyone wants me to look at a particular volume, just drop me a comment. The volumes aren't released in order so it's not like I have a sensible plan of attack. If anyone wants me to stick them where the sun don't shine I suggest you keep that sentiment to yourself, cheers. Right, that laundry won't wash itself. Pip! Pip!
Anyway, this... JUDGE DREDD THE MEGA COLLECTION Published by Hatchette/Rebellion UK, 2014 onwards.
Judge Dredd Created by Carlos Ezquerra, John Wagner & Pat Mills
24 - JUDGE DREDD: MECHANISMO Cover by Colin MacNeil
26 - 27 -
32 – JUDGE DREDD: THE CURSED EARTH Cover by Mick McMahon
33 - JUDGE DREDD: THE DAY THE LAW DIED Cover by Mick McMahon
34 - 35 -
49 - JUDGE DREDD: DAY OF CHAOS: THE FOURTH FACTION Cover by Henry Flint
50 – JUDGE DREDD: DAY OF CHAOS: ENDGAME Cover by Henry Flint
52 - 53 - 54 -
55 – JUDGE DREDD: THE HEAVY MOB Cover by Dylan Teague
56 -JUDGE DREDD: BEYOND MEGA-CITY ONE Cover by Brendan McCarthy
58 - 59 -
61 - SHIMURA Cover by Colin MacNeil 62 - 63 - 64 - 65 - 66 - 67 - CURSED EARTH KOBURN
69 - 70 - 71 -
75 – JUDGE DREDD: ALIEN NATIONS Cover by Cliff Robinson
77 - JUDGE DREDD: HORROR STORIES Cover by Brett Ewins
80 - JUDGE DREDD: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON Cover by Brian Bolland
Judge Dredd! He is the – COMICS!!!
It's the 7th October 2015 and that means it's been 65 years of the chunky wee thermodynamic miracle Howard Victor Chaykin! Today is his day, so I'm going to shut my yapper and below the break you can feast your eyes on 65 images culled from The Chaykin Section in The Kane
Garage Archives. Raise your root beers high and let's all drink to another 65 years of the amazing Mr. Chaykin!
THE SHADOW by Chaykin, Bruzenak & Wald
Happy Birthday, Mr. Chaykin and thanks for all the - COMICS!!!
Sorry! I hate the silent times too, but needs must sometimes. Alas, due to circumstances and stuff I haven’t read any comics for weeks. This is no reflection on comics, but it does leave me with little to lighten your lives with. It may well be that absence makes the heart grow fonder but it doesn’t make writing any easier. (Secrets Made Flesh Dept: Not writing is an astonishingly easy habit to get into. Scarily so.) So bear with me as we all endure a warm up about some movies I watched while gormlessley slumped in a chair at various points during the last howdiddly ever long it’s been. I have prefaced each with the best thing my long suffering life partner said about the movie in question. Those are the best bits, but if she thinks she’s getting paid for ‘em she can go whistle.
Anyway, this… THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987) Directed by Fred Dekker Written by Shane Black & Fred Dekker Starring: Andre Gower, Robby Kiger, Stephen Macht, Duncan Regehr, Tom Noonan, Brent Chalem, Ryan Lambert, Ashley Bank, Michael Faustino, Mary Ellen Trainor, Stan Shaw, Lisa Fuller, Jason Hervey, Adam Carl, Carl Thibault, Tom Woodruff Jr., Michael Reid MacKay, Jack Gwillim and Leonard Cimono as “Scary German Guy”
“If he’s up tonight, you’re handling him.”
I watched this with “Gil” because he’s at that stage where he wants to watch a horror flick even though he still gets nightmares and wanders into the room to startle me into incontinence at all hours of the night. To temper his disappointment that I wouldn’t let him watch EVIL DEAD 2 or MOTEL HELL (what can I say, cinematically speaking I’m a high-brow fucker). I found this on one of those streaming services we appear to have subscribed to in such abundance I suspect someone thinks we have a lot more time (and money!) on our hands than we actually do. Also, I’ve wanted to watch this for years. Whenever I’ve read about it it sounded like a solid bit of fun so it seemed like the perfect choice for some of that bonding stuff I’ve read about before the boy starts hating me in about, oh, two years. Turned out it was a bit of a mess (I suspect some poor editing decisions and studio tinkering there) so quite a lot of it didn’t make sense. But then again this is a kids movie so expectations are adjusted accordingly. It’s kind of THE GOONIES but with the Universal monsters chucked in (i.e. Dracula, Frankenstein(‘s Monster), the Mummy and The Creature From The Black Lagoon; it’s 2015 now so someone will need this list, I’m afraid). The kids are engaging and just rude enough for “Gil” to think he was getting away with something, and it was spooky enough for him to get comfortably creeped out while being occasionally gory enough for me to reconsider my decision. All the adults are familiar faces and all of them are enjoyable but Tom Noonan’s Monster and Macht and Shaw’s cop buddy double act stood out most. The script is as snappy as you’d expect from Shane Black; sure, it’s no KISS KISS BANG BANG but it’s crisp and clever and, remember, (it’s crucial this) it’s for kids. Fred Dekker directs and seeing his name reminded me I enjoyed NIGHT OF THE CREEPS way back when I had hair, and I don’t know where he ended up, but two movies I like makes me hope he’s happy out there. “Gil”, our lady of multiple streaming subscriptions, and even myself, The Bitterest Man In England, all had a GOOD! time.
PROMETHEUS (2012) Directed by Ridley Scott Written by Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Emun Elliott, Benedict Wong, Kate Dickie with Peter O’Toole as “T.E. Lawrence”
“How could anyone think that was good!?!”
It was a good question. A better question than the movie merited, I think. Jesus, I hardly have the highest of standards (I just ordered LIFEFORCE on blu-ray. Oho! Now who’s judging who! You scamp!) but PROMETHEUS was a bloated, ponderous and, in essence, thuddingly dull exercise in polishing the ancient crock of horseshit made famous by Erich Von Daniken with all the Brasso 21st Century CGI could bring to bear. It looked good, but looking good isn’t enough. Having failed to float through life on my spectacular physical beauty alone I can assure you of that, PROMETHEUS. Actual grown ass adults have told me this is an intelligent movie, this despite the fact that the script is basically all that silly shit Jack Kirby turned to creative gold back in the 1970s with The Eternals and all that Celestials stuff. All those millions of dollars and thousands of people and hundreds of thousands of people-hours, and a sun faded and badly foxed 1970s Jack Kirby comic still comes out on top. The level of intellect on show here is just pitiful. It’s just a stupid, stupid, stupid movie. And while stupid isn’t a deal breaker (see below), it’s unpleasantly stupid; there’s no fun in it and that, muchachos, is a deal breaker. On a couple of occasions the movie forgets its pretensions and lowers itself to deliver an action scene but these are poorly executed and weightless. The bloody thing is even badly directed is what I’m getting a there. Christ, everyone on screen acts like a complete moron. All the time. It’s like being at work. Charlize Theron states at one point that she has spent “trillions” on getting them all into space; she should have saved some money on interior décor and employed a better crew. These cretins are mostly scientists but they wilfully endanger themselves and everyone around them like safety and control aren’t actually built into scientific endeavour. The pilot (who we are supposed to like because he is Idris Elba and he has a squeeze box which once belonged to Stephen Stills) is so stupid he doesn’t move the ship closer to the whatever; consequently we spend a fifth of the movie watching people to-ing and fro-ing from one place where they endanger themselves to another place in which they endanger themselves. (The pilot is also so stupid he spent his money on a squeeze box which once belonged to Stephen Stills. Who gives a flying fuck. Memo to writers: Just because you think something is cool doesn’t mean everyone else does. Stephen fucking Stills. I ask you.) I could spend all night writing my way through every stupid thing in PROMETHEUS but it’s not like they aren’t all right here in front of everyone who watched it. If you didn’t see them you chose not to. The best scene in the movie is a clip from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA which sums up the whole thing nicely with a bit of tweaking: “Of course it’s shit! It’s not minding it’s shit that’s the trick!” Yeah, yeah, Fassbender is great in it, but if he wanted to be the best thing in CRAP! he should have pursued a career in scat.
TERROR AT THE OPERA (1987) (AKA OPERA , and THAT’S THE LAST TIME I LET YOU PICK A FILM, SONNY JIM) Directed by Dario Argento Written by Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini Starring: Cristina Marsillach, Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini, Daria Nicolodi, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, Antonella Vitale, William McNamara
“You like some real shit you do.”
This is not a good movie but it was an amazingly enjoyable one. I used to watch shedloads of naff crap like this while pissed off my tits, but I am older now and I don’t drink around “Gil” (don’t worry, in all other respects I am a terrible, terrible parent. He’s currently playing that new MGS, so prison beckons for this bad Dad. (Also: A fire whale; WTF, Japan?)) Luckily, this movie is so exuberantly preposterous from soup to nuts it’s like watching something while shitfaced without actually having to get shitfaced. Jesus, where to start with this thing. I guess it’s the Phantom of The Opera but updated to be absolutely addlepated. Like some sadistic pre-teen’s idea of The Phantom of The Opera; with all the nuance and intellectual rigour that suggests. It’s the kind of movie where someone plays their own mother in a flashback by putting on a wig; it’s the kind of movie where someone knocks out the killer and instead of dropping a sewing machine on his head (or just running right the fuck off) creeps back reeeeaaaaalllllllyyyyy s-l-o-w-l-y to remove his mask (that ends well for her); it’s the kind of movie where they are putting on a production of Verdi’s Macbeth but the only Shakespeare I recall anyone quoting is from Hamlet; it’s the kind of movie where someone says “If you had ten pairs of hands it would still be a pile of crap!” and it’s the best line in the movie; it’s the kind of movie where everyone is dubbed badly, even the people who seem to be English speakers; it’s the kind of movie where a small child castigates her mother for being naked all the time, and it’s the second best line in the movie; it’s the kind of movie where the ventilation system in an apartment building allows fully grown adults to scamper around it like it’s one of those kids play tunnel things they have in pubs which end with a slide into a ball pool; it’s the kind of movie where the Italian police forensics department apparently can’t tell the difference between a dummy and a human corpse without weeks of tests; it’s the kind of movie that doesn’t have three good lines; it’s the kind of movie where people go on holiday to the Swiss alps and relax by tying a bluebottle to a piece of fishing line and film it buzzing about (I have no idea. Really. Answers in the comments. Please. Hurry!); it’s the kind of movie where someone has paid Bill Wyman to do some of the music (perhaps Stephen fucking Stills was busy squeezeboxing. Stephen fucking Stills. Just don’t.); it’s the kind of movie where while you know the plan to unmask the killer will be ridiculous it still manages to exceed your expectations by several football pitches (why is that dude inside the cage?!? Why didn’t he just walk over and open it from the outside?!?); it’s the kind of movie where ravens out act the humans by a comfortable margin; all of which is to say it’s unique. Hopefully. However, in all fairness the bit with the aural misdirection involving the lady carrying crockery was good.
Cineastes and horror connoisseurs will be baying for my face on a stick by now because this was directed by Dario Argento who they regard as a genius. Sadly, I’m not here to make friends, so they are all wrong and a bunch of delusional fools, every man Jack of them. No offence. Argento’s movies are essentially exercises in sumptuously executed set pieces of sadism strung together by ridiculous horseshit with, at best, one person who can actually act in the cast; which is fine. Honest. Recently I’ve watched THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, CAT O’NINE TAILS and DEEP RED; all were entertaining exercises in style over sense (the clockwork dwarf: WTF?!?), but here the style is leaden, the set pieces outstay their welcome, the token actor has been omitted and the unrelenting deluge of horseshit suggest the knackers yard is on the cards for this ailing nag of a movie. If anyone says this is a good movie ask them what lenses Brian DePalma used on MISSION TO MARS and I bet they can tell you. Bully for them! But I’m not that kind of movie fan(atic), just a casual viewer so TERROR IN THE OPERA was CRAP! (but FUN!)
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000) Directed by Kar Wai Wong Written by Kar Wai Wong Starring: Tony Chiu Wai Leung, Maggie Cheung, Ping Lam Siu, Tung Cho ‘Joe’ Cheung, Rebecca Pan, Kelly Lai Chen, Man-Lei Chan
“She had to be sewed into those dresses, you know.”
Despite the fact that at no point during the sprightly 98 minutes running time of this slow punch to the heart of a movie does anyone wrestle a big starfish with a mouth like a lady’s woo-woo, use dressmaker’s scissors to cut open a sternum, blow up a werewolf with dynamite or, indeed, do anything more physically exhilarating than run to avoid the rain while buying some noodles this is almost certainly the best movie here. I would tell you what it’s about but since part of the joy of the movie is having it unfold in front of you I’m not going to. Tough shit, kiddo; going in cold is how the grownups do it. Know this though: IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE is pure cinema; a supersaturated wonder of movie making. It’s very definitely the best movie I watched out of all of these thus far, and I suggest very strongly that you just trust me on this one. Find someone you love, watch it together and let it carry you both with it. Warning: emotions may occur. Cinema? It’s still got it. EXCELLENT!
THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980) Directed by David Lynch Written by Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergen and David Lynch. Based on the books by Frederick Treves and Ashley Montagu Starring: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt,, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Freddie Jones, Michael Elphick and Stephen Stills as “Squeezebox Johnny”
“You can watch that one on your own. It’s very good, but it’s too sad.”
Worst superhero movie ever. EVER. I mean, really. You know how when JURASSIC PARK came out there was CARNOSAUR, and when (the children’s entertainment) STAR WARS hit big there was STAR CRASH and a billion other ropey rip-offs? Well this big pile of blatant opportunism is clearly the latest cheap, quick cash in on Marvel©®’s exquisite cinematic concoctions. Oh, the hot stink of money has brought all the chancers and Johnny-Come-Latelies out of the woodwork, all wanting a slice of that fat cash pie but without wanting to put any of the artistic effort of Marvel®© in. None of them have been more abject than this effort from some David Lynch guy. I don’t who he is but he’s clearly no auteur like Joss Weed On. Any fule kno that the first flick should be the origin, but this Lynch guy just sails right past that stuff with a really muddled and unclear opening. Mind you, that’s probably just as well because, apparently, Elephant Man is the result of his mom being either raped or trampled by elephants. You have to be operating at the giddy heights of a Mark Millar to get away with something that sick. And this David Lynch guy? He’s no Mark Millar. Then later on this rapey tramply shit gets retconned into an illness, like that makes it more realistic or something. Lynch seems to consistently miss the point about super heroes at every opportunity. It’s not just about having a costume and fancy name; you got to have powers, dude. Elephant Man’s powers seem to be an inability to speak properly, the power to shamble very slowly around and, best of all, the power to build ornate matchstick models of buildings he can only see a bit of from his Elephant Den window. Look out crime! And all the while El Phanto’s dressed up like some cheap DARK MAN rip-off. I hate it when reviewers tell creators what they should do as it displays an arrogant obliviousness of monumental proportions but, for instance, and I’m just saying this to help, Elephant Man could spit peanuts like bullets or maybe strangle people with his trunk (which he does not have! Look up elephants some time, David Lynch! They are trunk city! And ears! Ears like palm leaves!) Sure, Lynch does have enough sense to give Elephant Man a rogues gallery but even this is an opportunity for further Fail. The first bad guy is a boozy porter who hurts Elephant Man’s feeling by bringing whores to laugh at him. A thrilling fight does not ensue; no, he gets fired by Top Hat Man, who is kind of Elephant Man’s mentor; like Ras Al Ghul in Batman Begins, but not evil. Oops, spoiler. Next up is (promisingly) a kind of Joker played by a stubbly old man with a face like collapsed fruit studded with British Teeth© who steals Elephant Man off to his spooky carnival lair. Hopes are raised for a kind of riff on Killing Joke but, no. Instead, once again Top Hat Man turns up and after a bit of shouting takes Elephant Man home. A bit of shouting; it’s not exactly BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT is it? Clearly he’s no Christopher Nolan, this Lynch guy. And Elephant Man’s kryptonite? His big weakness? Turns out it’s not having enough pillows. That’s lamer than Donald Blake.
Oh, and in a pitiful bid to make this industrial sized lump of Fail seem more interesting it’s all set in this sort of made up Steampunk world with hissing pipes and top hats and frock coats. But it’s totes lame steampunkery because no one has a calliope chain-gun or even a zeppelin hat. Now, I’m not one for pointing fingers but the roles for women in this are appalling; they are either nurses, whores or entertainers. Sexist much, Mr. Lynch? And don’t get me started on non-Caucasian representation! What is this, Victorian England? I think we need a strongly worded article from The Beat. Stat! Honestly, this Lynch guy can’t get anything right; at one point we get the obligatory shirtless bit, but John Hurt’s no Chris Hemsworth amiright, Beat gals? No one wants to ogle some pasty English dude who looks like he’s sculpted from tubers.
Not only does Lynch film it in B&W like it’s the 1940s or something but, fatally, nobody in this film is less than forty, they are all like old and stuff. If I wanted to watch old people I’d be, well, I’d be a pervert. Ugh, old people, with their crêpe faces and fear of Social Media! Entertainment is just for the under thirty-fives! Check your demographics, David Lynch! Old people don’t watch movies that’s why there are dominos and sleeping! No one ever made a profit by taking the audience for complacent fools, so Lynch has reaped what he sowed and, I hear, has had to run off to television. Mind you he’ll find the competition tougher than he expects now the crème of comics like Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick are wallowing about in the old cathode ray money trough. Frankly, cinema’s better off without chancers like this David Lynch fellow. Here’s to the next Phase of Marvel movies! Excelsior! (Oh, c’mon, THE ELEPHANT MAN will always be EXCELLENT! It doesn’t even need saying.)
Yes! There it is, finally, that endearing combination of lofty disdain, overworked and painfully obvious humour, terrible grammar and disproportionate sarcasm which means I have entered that heavenly zone of judgemental prickishness for which I am renowned. Next time (at some point) – COMICS!!!
What could be better than War Comics? Western comics! But what’s better than Western comics? Why it's surely when I don’t talk about comics at all, and start banging on about some book like I even know what the Hell I’m talking about! Truly, we here at The Savage Critics know how to serve your needs. Look, you’re probably going on holiday, so why not let a complete stranger recommend a really upsetting, but very well-written book? Dettol©® won’t help with this boo-boo, because this? This isn’t just violence, this is…GBH!
Anyway, this… GBH By Ted Lewis SOHO CRIME (Soho Press, Inc), h/b, £19.99 (2015)
As all connoisseurs of thatch-cheeked 1970s Brit-crime authors know, the very great Ted Lewis popped his clogs in 1982 so what we actually have here is a 2015 reprint of his final, sublimely unpleasant novel from 1980. This edition is ballyhooed as its first publication in America, so I thought I’d better let America know it was out, and what America has let itself in for. Then America can run out and buy it and tuck into the magic of Ted Lewis. Don’t make me feel like I’ve wasted my time here, America! I know you’re out there, America! I can hear you breathing.
First up, even if you don’t realise it you’re probably aware of Ted Lewis’ work from JACK’S RETURN HOME (1970) which was filmed in 1971 as “Get Carter” by Mike “Flash Gordon” Hodges. Everyone’s seen that one, and if they haven’t, well, they just aren’t trying and those people need to up their game; just like the poor in Cameron’s Britain. Word on the street is that it was also filmed Blaxploitation style(?) by George Armitage in 1972 as “Hit Man” starring Bernie Casey and Pam Grier. I haven’t seen that one, but I imagine it’s…something. In 2000 another movie called “Get Carter” appeared and I did see that one; it starred Sylvester “F.I.S.T” Stallone and it was…nothing. As remakes go it was like Blackpool Tower is to the Eiffel Tower. And I mean a plastic souvenir Blackpool Tower that’s fallen behind the radiator in that tat and crap shop; the one next to the fortune teller’s with the picture of Madame Zsa Zsa shaking Sid Little’s hand in the window. So successful was the 1971 movie that the novel was renamed thereafter, and even today Hodges’ movie remains an unsettlingly accurate visual record of a time and place best left gone. Due to its surface wit and style “Get Carter” is frequently perceived as a stylish lad flick, but it is in fact the deeply unpleasant story of a vile man who is quite happy dishing shit out but reacts quite badly when some of it splashes on him. There were two print sequels (JACK CARTER’S LAW (1974) and JACK CARTER AND THE MAFIA PIGEON (1977)) and while the quality decreases as the titles lengthen, neither are quite as pointless as the end of the original might lead you to believe. They are a good time, but not a great time, basically. From what I’ve read (7 of his 9 novels) Ted Lewis never actually wrote a wholly bad book as such and, even better, he wrote a couple of real corkers. GET CARTER being one and GBH being t’other.
GBH is often referred to as Lewis’ “lost masterpiece”; over here (in the UK; the clue’s in my name) it’s only seen print in 1980 and 1994, and in paperback at that. So you are being truly singled out for special attention, America. Don’t throw this back in Soho Press’ face! Anyway, “lost” means no one bought it, I guess, because in the 10 years since GET CARTER Lewis had written some good books but hadn’t had a run of consistent crackers like that one everyone liked, so he’d probably slipped out of the public eye somewhat. Also, drinking. Unfortunately there aren’t any hard and fast rules about booze and creativity; some authors thrive on it but, let’s face it, most only think they do. Largely because they are drunk and their senses are impaired, obviously. After five pints even a ceaseless self-loather like me thinks he’s fucking marvellous, so Christ alone knows what happens in writers’ heads, modest folk that they often be. Anyway, it was his liver to do with what he would. Where the booze paid off (that price – Lewis died at 42. Ker-ching! Beat that Hot UKDeals!) was in a pretty honest portrayal of it, particularly on these pages. Like many a man in a hard-boiled yarn George Fowler sucks the booze down like it’s going out of fashion. Unlike most men in hard-boiled yarns the liquor isn’t used to enhance his manliness (and by proxy that of the (mostly male) audience) but rather ends up unmanning him. George Fowler gets very drunk indeed and the man who wrote George Fowler knew what it was like to get very drunk indeed. Getting very drunk indeed doesn’t do anyone any favours; fact. And getting very drunk indeed is the last thing a man in George Fowler’s position needs. George Fowler needs his wits about him. Because George Fowler is trapped in Mablethorpe. Out of season.
See that probably fell a bit flat because America probably isn’t as up on Mablethorpe as it expects the rest of the world to be on, say, Portland. (No, me neither.) So, Mablethorpe is a British seaside resort; a loose but highly centralised collection of shops, hotels, bars, bright lights and fast, thrillingly rickety rides which clings to the coast purely to soak up cash off visiting inlanders during what we laughingly refer to here as Summer. Things have probably changed by now, but back when the book was written (and is set) the British seaside’s charms were more of an exercise in collective wishful thinking than an actuality. Mablethorpe! Where dreams come alive! No one has ever said that. Cheap and cheerful was the order of the day back then, British seaside wise, but we didn’t know any better so we made do. Donkey rides! Postcards of toothbrush tashed husbands leering at ladies melons! Chips trod in vomit A sea too brown for comfort, and too cold to breach! Proper holidays they were. Out of season things were even less fun, with just the sea sullenly remaining but now even browner and colder; a vast turd consommé. The suicide rate in such places probably challenged that of dentists. And Lewis beautifully evokes this drab Purgatory Fowler has exiled himself to, from the awful architecture beneath the perpetually overcast sky to the snippy, chippy malcontents who fill the hours until the brief salvation of the next Summer with booze and backbiting. Fowler stands out amongst them as a sophisticate because Fowler is from The Smoke (i.e. London) and the attention his novelty attracts distracts him from his problems, but because of his problems attention’s the last thing he needs.
Fowler’s problems are back in The Smoke and he’s not overly keen for them to appear here in The Sea. When the book opens we know he has some problems, set-backs if you will, but not what they are. In a series of alternating chapters (The Sea, The Smoke, etc) we find them out as these twin narratives reveal Fowler’s twin losses; first that of his lifestyle and then, perhaps, that of his sanity. Or maybe his sanity’s already flown the coop and the final loss will somewhat more final in nature. Hard to tell with a bloke like George, sanity wise. Now, Jack Carter’s a crap but George Fowler is a monster. Of course, like all good monsters George thinks he perfectly normal, so it’s a clever move to tell the tale (mostly) from his POV. And then we did this, and then we did that, says George , all matter of fact, all low heart rate and slow eye-blink, and then the pieces come together in your mind and you choke back a bit of sick, but you can see George is wondering what all the fuss is about, of course, he continues, after that we had to clean up, and you wonder where the door is, but Ted Lewis has locked it behind him, and it’s just you and George now. And then the lights go off.
George is such a deep, dark pit of shit in fact that it’s entirely due to the titanic level of skill Lewis applies throughout that this reader could not only bear the big shitter longer than a page but even, every now and again, caught themselves actually rooting for him. Sure, I felt dirty but I admired the trick. George is a nasty man in a nasty business but he sees neither as such; he’s just a man and business is, well, business. And we get to know George’s business intimately as the book progresses, and while business may be good for him it is also very, very bad for others. Actually, it’s bad for him as well but he can’t see that. Lewis was always good at showing men arrogant in their belief that they were untouched by the things that damaged others, and then detailing the slow explosion of their unravelling when this belief evaporated like Scotch Mist. (Which is a drink; get me?) That’s only a piece of the parting gift Ted Lewis gave us here, as GBH also provides a convincing depiction of the underworld of the time, with its nasty antics and corrupt symbiosis between villains, filth and hacks and a good old wallow in the abhorrent brutality of a life lived in crime without once glamourising it. Some people (men, mostly) come away from GET CARTER liking Jack, but I can’t see anyone coming away from GBH liking George. It doesn’t mean you won’t feel for him though, because Ted Lewis’ parting shot is to convince us that even evil can love; but it’s still evil for all that. VERY GOOD!
Evil might well love but it gives short shrift to - COMICS!!!
This time out it’s The Bojeffries Saga by Steve (RESIDENT ALIEN) Parkhouse and Alan (CROSSED PLUS ONE HUNDRED) Moore. What? Yes, I am still in a mood. THE BOJEFFRIES SAGA by Steve Parkhouse & Alan Moore
Anyway, this… THE BOJEFFRIES SAGA Art by Steve Parkhouse Written by Alan Moore Top Shelf Productions, £9.99 (paper), £2.50 or something equally paltry (Digital) (2014) The Bojeffries Saga created by Steve Parkhouse and Alan Moore
Collected herein are all the extant Bojeffries Saga stories drawn by the sublime Steve Parkhouse and written by the astonishing Alan Moore. Having them all in one place is extraordinarily handy as the stories themselves were spread around a number of publications (WARRIOR, DALGODA, A-1, etc?) over a period of several decades and I don’t know about you (I’ve heard tales though) but my days of rooting about in longboxes like a pig hunting truffles are long gone. It’s just unseemly for a man of my age, you know. Also, I don’t live anywhere near my LCS. There’s even a previously unpublished strip to round out the book and further tempt the unconvinced. Anyway, a little clearing of the throat and we’re off. AAAahhhurrruHHHffluGGH-ACK-ACK! Oh, god, what is that! Um, it’s a fact: The Bojeffries Saga started in 1983 within issue 12 of Dez Skinn’s UK based monthly B&W anthology magazine WARRIOR. And, let’s be honest here, most of the appeal went over my then thirteen year old head. Far more appealing to my teeny tastes were Moore’s splashy reinvention of super-heroics (with Garry Leach and Alan Davis) in Miracleman and his (and David Lloyd’s) boldly political reinvention in V For Vendetta of The Abominable Dr Phibes as a stylish gutting of the vigilante trope (V isn’t a hero, just sayin’). In comparison with such lurid company The Bojeffries Saga was a somewhat more sedate proposition with, it turned out, equally lasting if far more subtle pleasures. The Bojeffries Saga didn’t change the course of capes comics forever and nor did it encourage people to protest capitalism en masse while sporting masks depicting a crap traitor purchased from a multi-national corporation. However, it did make me laugh. Which I think is the point of a comedy.
THE BOJEFFRIES SAGA by Steve Parkhouse & Alan Moore
Yes, The Bojeffries Saga is a comedy; it is essentially a comic book sit-com about a family. But one written by Alan Moore so the situation in question is, mostly, a humble British terraced house, and the family domiciled therein could only be described as a nuclear family because the baby is a sentient China Syndrome. Grandad Podlasp is a rapidly de-evolving Cthulloid mess, Glinda is a walking super-ego unfettered by self-awareness or restraint, uncle Raoul is a werewolf who isn’t the full shilling, uncle Festus is a vampire singularly failing to adapt to modernity, Reth, the son, consciously refuses to age past eleven and in their ridiculous midst paterfamilias Jobremus Bojeffries is just trying to keep the household running. Now the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum, what might be right for you might not be right for some! SHAZBAT! and I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson, today, and all that, right? No, America, because not all comedy is like your comedy.
THE BOJEFFRIES SAGA by Steve Parkhouse & Alan Moore
The Bojeffries Saga is nothing like all that business, because The Bojeffries Saga is quintessentially British and very consciously of its time. This does not (Does. Not.) mean it is dated and its humour has faded. It’s still funny and fresh because Parkhouse & Moore’s comic is so beautifully executed I suspect it will prove to have a half-life equal to one of the aforementioned irradiated baby’s motions. Also, by having its nonsensical cast rub up against the actual times in which it was produced like a needy moggy, it produces a kind of satirical static electricity every time the book is opened. You know what I mean. Timeless, innit. On these pages Parkhouse & Moore build up a picture of a Britain that never existed but a picture so informed by authenticity of detail and experience it becomes, satirical excesses aside, a historical document of a Britain which did exist. Remarkable.
THE BOJEFFRIES SAGA by Steve Parkhouse & Alan Moore
And it is, yes, that’s right, it is the little things. (No, see, I’m not making a joke about my penis here, because I have standards (but mostly because you expected one)) If The Devil is in the details then on the evidence of The Bojeffries Saga he’s got quite the sense of humour. (He’s still The Devil though; shun him!) Details, then. Christ, it’s like being back at school this. Okay, details it is. One chapter is written as a libretto by Moore and, logically enough, visually choreographed by Parkhouse as a dance number, and while the lightly comical way this captures and satirises the various gender and class divisions of the average British street of the time is remarkable in its efficiency and precision, being older than your pubes I was most struck by the reminder that car alarms were once as alien as having a werewolf as an Uncle. When the Bojeffries go on holiday the accumulation of only ever-so-slightly embellished detail made it feel like a recovered memory of all the tepid yet in retrospect deeply odd holidays I had endured as a child. Bloodbaths in Little Chefs initiated by PTSD riddled children’s toys (“Action Ears”!) aside, obviously. And industry? Remember when Britain had industries? When the majority of people worked in factories. Making stuff. And things. We used to be the best in the world at that! Making stuff and, er, things. Stanchions and that. Grommets. Instead today half the populace is employed in ringing up the other half of the populace to see if they have had an accident at work (not your fault!) or have purchased PPI recently. And the other half (yes, the third half. Glad to see you’re awake.) of the population have made a lifestyle choice to be poor and are getting fat on my taxes, isn’t that right David Cameron. Ey, David Cameron? Poverty is a “lifestyle choice” alright, you utter ****. (It’s okay, Brian, no need to get Legal involved, nobody reads this shit.)
THE BOJEFFRIES SAGA by Steve Parkhouse & Alan Moore
So, yeah, cough, uh, in one of the summers between terms working hard to piss away my parent’s dreams by failing to get a decent degree I worked for about three seconds in a pet food factory. In a very Bojeffries Saga touch I filled and assembled big cardboard Christmas crackers meant for dogs. They had dog biscuits in ‘em, rather than a very poor joke, a vinyl fish that can tell how sexy you are and a paper crown, obviously; what are you, nuts? The knack was in the folding; skills for life there. Now, limited as my horny handed experience was I can attest that Moore and Parkhouse’s chapter on Raoul’s workplace and their hilariously incendiary night out captures perfectly the bizarrely banal behaviour which passes for normalcy on the factory floor. Yes, in a dismayingly hilarious way Parkhouse and Moore convey all the fun and magic of the now mostly extinct manufacturing environment; with all its tedium, casual racism, cheeky misogyny and ever present threat that unspoken grudges will suddenly flare into violence. Good times, no, but the dog crackers got through. The later chapters might betray a slackening of the satirical noose as the targets seem slightly more obvious, the battles already lost. Mocking Reality TV probably only means something to people who still bear a grudge over the national shock when the light entertainer and Tory (natch) Leslie Crowther exhorted the British public in 1984 (game, set and natch) to “Cuhmm Ahhn DAWHN!”, and they did. It wasn’t Reality TV, but it was the thin end of the wedge. After Leslie Crowther, the deluge. So it’s 2015 and Reality TV has become as accepted as car alarms, but once both were new and both were funny and The Bojeffries Saga is a record of that time. History moves quicker now but The Bojeffries Saga just about kept up.
THE BOJEFFRIES SAGA by Steve Parkhouse & Alan Moore
I mean no disrespect to Steve Parkhouse when I say that Alan Moore’s the draw here because Moore’s the writer and that’s how comics, a primarily visual medium, works. Also, public awareness-wise Steve Parkhouse has missed a trick or two by not dressing like a Victorian dandy or worshipping a sock. Those being actual “lifestyle choices”, David Cameron, as opposed to poverty - which is not. Cowardly one sided baiting of our majority emboldened leader aside, the success of The Bojeffries Saga is down to Steve Parkhouse as much as Alan Moore, but it needs both to succeed, as anyone who has ever read the repellent and woeful Big Dave (which Parkhouse drew for 2000AD) will back me up. That piece of **** has never been reprinted, which is a mercy; for while there was nothing wrong with Parkhouse’s art the, ahem, script by Grant "Rebel, Rebel" Morrison (MBE) and Mark "The Socialist"Millar (MBE) is everything The Bojeffries Saga is not. And I mean that in a really bad way. A really bad way indeed. Posterity got it right by having The Bojeffries Saga survive and so we can still appreciate the lively and joyous art of Steve Parkhouse. Sure, the art on the part of Steve Parkhouse is a delight here, but then when is Steve Parkhouse’s art not a delight. (That’s rhetorical.) Right from the very first episode Parkhouse uses his deft draughtsmanship to conflate the scruffy fun of Leo (Bash Street Kids) Baxendale with the fidgety detail of Robert (Oh, come on now, really? Fritz The Cat, then.) Crumb while also providing facial cartooning the equal of Naoki (Monster) Urasawa. Parkhouse’s art develops, during the volume, from a fastidious approach with a slightly surreal filigree to a looser, and thus, more sprightly approach. Both styles are great but seeing the development flow through his work over the course of these pages is greater still. And Alan, Oor Alan, what of Alan Moore? Alan Moore seems to be having a ball here. Stylistically he shimmies about all over the shop, which is always a sign he’s enjoying his mystical self. There’s a libretto here, a story in the style of a (really) old Brit comic, plenty of fucking about with phonetics, and it’s all pretty ticklish round the funnybone region. Mind you, he still has a tendency to take a running joke and push it so hard that whether or not it passes through The Wall and breaks the tape like Seb Coe (a Tory) depends entirely on the reader. Other than that slight criticism, I’d have to say that The Bojeffries Saga by Steve Parkhouse and Alan Moore was very, very funny, which in real terms equates to VERY GOOD!
Sure, I could have saved us all a lot of grief and just said it was Eastenders by Monty Python directed by Mike Hodges, but where in that lot is there anything about - COMICS!!!
Being a gallery of comics covers featuring The Unknown Soldier, drawn mostly by Joe Kubert (1926-2012). Yes, okay, a cursory bit of staid analysis and a little tearful nostalgia too, but mostly some timelessly exciting imagery. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did (and continue to). Art by Gerry Talaoc
Anyway, this... It will be readily apparent to even the most bleary of eyes that the majority of the covers below are by Joe Kubert. The rare exceptions are by Ernie Chua (Ernie Chan) and Al Milgrom. The difference is striking. Noting that difference is certainly no slur on either man as Joe Kubert had few equals when it came to cover art and design, and even fewer equals when it came to war comic cover design.
Because Kubert provide covers for the majority of the Faceless G.I.'s escapades this gallery, incomplete as it may be, highlights several aspects of Kubert's cover art. There's no escaping Kubert's fondness for the cover delivering the chilly thrill equvalent to the "He's Behind You!" of children's pantomimes. (e.g. #166,#174, #181 etc) Joe Kubert would never get tired of this device and because Joe Kubert was an amazing talent it never got old. So amazingly talented was Joe Kubert that he could produce covers which could still capture the eye despite teetering dangerously close to the generic. (e.g. #185, #192,#193 etc) Back then it was not uncommon for covers to be held on file for use in the event of a deadline chrunch, so this explains the lack of specificity here rather than any disinterest on Kubert's part. Those are the least of these covers, and they are also the fewest. (They are still good though.) Outnumbering them by far are images so pulpily explosive I want to go and find out what's going on inside that comic right now. And I already know!
And just as I can recall the exact page of Gullivar Jones: Warrior of Mars where I fell in love with Gil Kane's work, so I can remember exactly which comic cover sold me on Joe Kubert for life. It's #195. An American relative visited us when I was under 10 and brought with them a pile of comics. Yes, even then everyone knew no good would come of me. I can't remember any of the other comics but I remember that one. I remember that one because the charge of violent menace coming off it was almost palpable. I recall that for several months I kept it beneath my bed and, when feeling brave, would lean over and inch it out with my finger until I could take its horrid promise no more and scoot it hurriedly back into the darkness. Brrrr!
Sometimes I think The Unknown Soldier is in danger of being forgotten by Comics, but I shouldn't worry because Comics will never forget Joe Kubert and their legends are entwined. He co-created him after all.
The Unknown Soldier was created by Joe Kubert & Robert Kanigher
So, no, I don't have the final issue. Humph!
You know what those were right? COMICS!!!
This week I visited my library and took out and read a recent-ish TPB of some quite old Conan comics, 1982 or thereabouts. Then I tried to put my thoughts about ‘em into what them there clever folks call words. I think it worked out about as well as that usually does for me. Probably a lot less well for you. One thing I did discover was that the Hyborian equivalent of Occam’s Razor was Conan’s Rock:
Anyway, this… THE CHRONICLES OF CONAN VOLUME 20: NIGHT OF THE WOLF AND OTHER STORIES Art by John Buscema, Gary Kwapisz, Ernie Chan, Steve Leialoha, Bob Camp & Rudy Nebres Written by Michael Fleisher Lettered by Janice Chiang Coloured by Peter Dawes, Wil Glass and Donovan Yaciuk Conan created by Robert E Howard Dark Horse Comics, $18.99 (2010) This volume collects Conan the Barbarian issues #151- #159 (originally published by Marvel Comics), newly coloured, with all of the original series covers, a foreword comprising the first short part of an interview with Ernie Chan, and with a brand new pinup by Ernie Chan.
My first thought on seeing this book was to wonder who in the name of Belit’s water wings needed twenty Dark Horse volumes of reprinted Marvel Conan comics. My second thought, and one which ran so hard on the heels of the first it risked tripping it up, was how could I get every single one of all those twenty Dark Horse volumes of reprinted Marvel Conan comics. Seeing Conan comics on the shelves of my local library had transported me (sigh; yes, that’s right, figuratively not literally) back to the days when those Marvel comics were actually coming out and also back to the days when my reading erred towards quantity rather than quality. This is a point often overlooked when it comes to kids and reading; it doesn’t really matter how good the reading matter is, it only matters that there’s lots of it. Basically, the kids that do read, well, they really read. They really go for it reading wise, those kids that read, and quality doesn’t really come into it. They don’t even particularly have to be interested in what they are reading, they just have to not be disinterested in it. Which is why I find it baffling that Comics Companies act like the kids demographic is beneath them. First, nothing is beneath Comics Companies (nothing, I say!) and second, Kids would eat that violent crap they poop out up with a spoon. Or if you’re uncomfortable with the unfortunate and unintended mixing of kids and scat back there let’s say they’d read it with their eyes. After all, the young me read every Robert E Howard (REH) etc Conan book in the library but I didn’t actually care for them all that much. I didn’t dislike them or anything. I only really remember that the covers were the most exciting bits, they were published by Sphere (I don’t know why I remember that; I was boring even then?) and I enjoyed the Conan comics way more. Years after it came out I remember getting that Conan Treasury Edition (#4) from a market stall on a day trip to Blackpool; at the stately age of ten Barry Windsor Smith and Roy Thomas’ adaptation of REH’s Red Nails seemed like the most grown up thing in the world. Except for my Dad, anyway. Of course the twin hidden tragedies of this opening, digressive and purely warm up paragraph are that I no longer have that Conan Treasury edition and the young me is dead now. So, let’s see what the old me, in his bitterly truculent way made of some old Marvel Conan comics reprinted between two covers by Dark Horse.
It takes Michael Fleisher a couple of issues to get over his impulse to regularly update us on the state of Conan’s thews (e.g. in #159 they are “bronzed”), and this initially distracted me from noticing that the stories in here are pretty basic on the Conan Scale. Which is okay because, and I make no apologies for this, I don’t mind my Conan being basic. Your basic Conan story should involve a woman, a wizard, a monster and a horse. Conan should ride off on one of those carrying another after having have killed all the rest. Usually he’d ride off on the horse with the woman but we’re all more open minded these days so more permissive permutations may be indulged in the safety of your own skull. Michael Fleisher (with an assist from Buscema, see later) recognises that there’s still plenty of room to manoeuvre even within that format and gives us werewolves, demons in metal dungarees, flying people, Hyborian Age rohypnol and other things I’ve forgotten. To be honest Conan stories have a hard time holding my attention, mostly because of the made up names which just fail to gain traction in my head. Except when there is a wholly unintended comical effect. Such as when Michael Fleisher names his winged lady character Alhambra. Now, he may be doing so purely for the evocative sound of the name; he may even have in mind the famous Spanish stronghold built circa the 9th Century which remains a notable tourist attraction still worthy of the Moorish poets’ description of it as “a pearl set in emeralds” (citation needed); however, and alas, Alhambra also has a namesake in Bradford, West Yorkshire, which is a theatre built in 1913 which remains a notable attraction during the Christmas season for anyone wishing to subject their children to the sight of Christopher Biggins dressed as a woman and talking about the size of his pumpkins. Additionally and endearingly a lot of these stories contain a panel which seems to be an overly literal visual representation of a colourful but slightly unsuccessful imaginary sexual euphemism; see Conan strangle an eagle!; see Conan stab the Demon’s heart!; see Conan sup from the lady’s cup!
Of particular interest in this volume is the fact that John Buscema is allowed a few extra links in his artistic chains so he can stumble out of his inky illustrator’s cave and trespass for a few steps on the sun warmed ground usually earmarked for those weavers of dreams, the writers. What I’m saying is he gets to chuck some ideas and plots at Fleisher for a quick polish and a very nice how do you do to boot. Pleasingly the quality of the stories takes a swift upswing with Buscema trying to open things out of the established formula a bit with a lighter tone and a particular eagerness to get some expanded characterisation going in the vicinity of Conan himself. At times the barbaric One appears downright avuncular. This is dangerous ground Buscema is treading, however, as I personally believe that the occasions when Conan experiences emotions should be kept to a minimum; when he does feel something more than hunger, anger, lust or disgust at men who perfume themselves and live by words rather than actions (PAH!) he should always have a sort of slightly surprised air like a lion seeing a hot dog stand for the first time. But that’s just me, basically John Buscema does okay with the pen as well as the brush. Who knew?
Gary Kwapisz provides the art for an issue and also a couple of covers, all of which are nicely done with promise aplenty; but I won’t lie I don’t really know who he is. I was just going to make a crack about how his name sounds like he probably left comics and went off to play chess in a tin foil hat but I realised that would be rude and dismissive which isn’t like me at all(!), so I Googled him instead and found out that he’s still active in comics; he recently illustrated a Chuck Dixon series about the American Civil War (as opposed to the English Civil War which I imagine Chuck Dixon finds somewhat less interesting). So, yeah, Kwapisz’s stuff here is nice, being sinewy as opposed to Buscema’s brawn. But this is Conan and so art wise this is John Buscema’s show. Or, more correctly Ernie (Chua) Chan’s show. For even a great noble beast of an artistic Shire horse like John Buscema must have been tiring by this stage and Chan’s inking works hardest of all the inkers present to bolster Buscema . Certainly as we join John Buscema here, several years into bearing most of the weight of both the colour Conan and the B&W Savage Sword of… magazine, his art is typified by body language, staging and character design worn into familiar patterns by the repetition inherent in his colossal workload and the insanity inviting narrowness of the subject matter. Were the “he” in question not John Buscema this would likely be a critical hit, but as it is even the most cursory of his pages retains a well-honed gift for flow and all the essential cues other hands would require to beef it up to presentation standard. Basically, on these pages John Buscema’s art is saved from the gauzy weightlessness of a harem dancer’s veil by the efforts of both the inking (mostly by Chan (Chan’s the man!) but also Leialoha, Camp and Nebres) and, surprisingly, the colouring by various hands. Now (spoiler!) I’m not usually a fan of modern comic colouring technology applied to old timey comics but here I reckon it works. Earlier Dark Horse Conan volumes disastrously swamped Barry Windsor Smith’s delicately evolving lines under all the technological bells and whistles available; a no doubt well-intentioned but ultimately ill-judged attempt at updating the art which ended up resembling only aesthetic philistinism (he said sputtering wildly). Here, however, the colours lend vigour and spark to art which, unlike Windsor-Smith’s, is open enough to accommodate all the technology Dark Horse can chuck at it.
It can’t come as much of a surprise given its title that THE CHRONICLES OF CONAN VOLUME 20 showcases a series past its prime. But nobody herein disgraces themselves and every story between its covers is entertaining if not entirely sensible. It’s pulp fluff that was meant to entertain for the moment never giving a fig for posterity yet here it is in 2014 and I had a good time so I say THE CHRONICLES OF CONAN VOLUME 20 is OKAY!
And remember, what is best in life? COMICS!!!!
Man, I just about read the ink right offa these pages when I was just a young ‘un. And I just read ‘em agin right now. If you’re of a mind to, sit back and whittle awhile and I’ll flap my yapper concernin’ ‘em. Anyway, this…
What follows is a gentle amble through the contents of a comic from 1981. That’s all. It should not be taken as the latest shaky salvo in an attempt to prove old comics are better than new comics. Because they aren’t. Or rather; sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. A good comic is a good comic no matter when it was made. It’s what makes it a good comic that’s of interest. And that’s of interest because it’s never constant. So, you know, don’t take this as a personal attack on modern comics from an old man having trouble adjusting to the fast moving world of today (Indoor plumbing! Ladies in trousers! Talking apes!) Oh, you can if you want. Life’s too short to be writing provisos this long. So, I read an old comic and this is what happened inside my head as I did so.
JONAH HEX #55 Art by Tony DeZuniga Written by Michael Fleisher Coloured by Bob Le Rose Lettered by Shelley Leferman DC Comics, $0.61 (1981) Jonah Hex created by Tony DeZuniga & John Albano
I’m a traditional guy, so let’s start at the beginning; let’s start with the cover. It’s worth doing because this issue of Jonah Hex is graced by one of my all-time favourite covers. I just totally groove on the daring use of perky yellow to frame a typically DeZuniga-n scene of dust, desperation and violence. The huddled group being picked off by circling riders is a scene immediately recognisable to anyone familiar with the tale of General George Custer. This being a not unlikely freight of knowledge for the audience of a comic about a violent cowboy. Whether such familiarity was formed by hagiography or revisionism (e.g They Died With Their Boots On (1941) vs. Little Big Man (1970)) the clear inference in the image is that there ain’t no one getting out of here alive. Even allowing for you being a real smart alec and knowing Jonah’s likely to be okay because, well, this wasn’t the last issue of Jonah Hex, there still remains the question of how. I saw that cover and I wanted to know what was going on behind it. That’s some powerful cover medicine right there.
Image by DeZuniga, Fleisher, Le Rose & Leferman In a move which would give modern creators conniptions this comic just jumps right on in, picking up as it does immediately from the last issue’s cliff hanger. I think it’s called in media res but I could be wrong; never was one for book learning. True, this page basically reiterates the end of the previous issue which is Bad now, but was Good then because back in days of yore you could never gauren-damn-tee that the previous issue had made it across the ocean, and the idea that single issues of Jonah Hex would be collected between two covers was still a pretty plumb loco proposition. We join the action as, apparently, Jonah Hex and a pretty senorita called Carmelita have just escaped from El Papagaya only to confront the guns of a bunch of grey coats hot for Jonah’s hide. We’re only a page in and, in a shock move, Carmelita The Senorita turns out to have been working for the Fort Charlotte Brigade (FCB). These being the grey coats in question, who are a bunch of ornery owl hoots who want Jonah to pay for his betrayal of his own troops at Fort Charlotte. Jonah is innocent of course; well, Jonah is innocent of that particular charge at least. So, Carmelita The Senorita throws Jonah to the FCB and Micah, the leader, throws her some gold. Man, this comic is moving like a freight train. Say what you like about Michael Fleisher (just run it past a lawyer first) but the dude’s Jonah Hex books have got some momentum.
People mill about for a bit and introductions are made; motives established. Your basics; your meat and potatoes. You know, solid stuff; stuff I’d like to see more of. I like that DeZuniga’s drawn one of the FCB swigging from a canteen. That’s a nice touch; people aren’t just standing about lollygagging. Hey, I wonder what’s in that canteen, maybe it pays off later? Yeah, Tony DeZuniga (1932 – 2012) drew this. I should talk about the art. Everybody on the internet has been told to talk about the art; to tell you how it makes them feel. Tony DeZuniga’s art makes me feel like a leopard in heat; it makes me feel like a motherless child; it makes me feel like a shopping trolley that won the lottery. Tony DeZuniga’s art makes me feel like I just saw some heavily photo referenced pictures the artist made cohere into a satisfactory whole via lashings of gritty spackle and high contrast lighting. And that, muchachos, that’s a good feeling because DeZuniga was a good artist even if his realism is often slightly undermined by stiff staging. Dusty is the word when it comes to DeZuniga; I unconsciously wipe my hands on my shirtfront after reading a DeZuniga book. I also do that after eating crisps and then blithely walk around with crisp crumbs down my front like a simpleton. Drives milady nuts, that does.
So, yeah, see how happy Carmelita is! See how she laughs! I wonder what brought her to this pass. What kind of life she must have had to make her betray trust for gold. What an interesting female character, I look forward to learning more about her in the pages ahe..oh, she just got shot off her horse. It appears Carmelita will not be joining us for the rest of the issue. I wasn’t expecting that; a brutal move but certainly an arresting one. Now here’s a thing, many people die in this issue and DeZuniga, more often than not, got to draw a big jammy splash of gore erupting out of the appropriate area. In 2014 and in comparison to, say, the idiotically violent Damian: Son of Batman these are just papercuts, but in 1981 and compared with, well, anything else in a kid’s reach this is like Sam Peckinpah level shit. This is one violent-ass comic, you just wait. I don’t know how they got away with this; I’m glad they did. This kid just ate it up, and I turned out alright. Cough.
Like many of the supporting cast suspense is short lived in Jonah Hex and it is immediately revealed that El Papagaya shot Carmelita The Senorita. He also calls her a “puta” which, children were unhelpfully informed via a footnote, meant “tramp”. In 1981 in England a tramp was usually a male of advanced years who had chosen a life of vagrancy and begging. This is not the same as a homeless person who can be any age and has had the choice made for them and whose presence is a living indictment of any society in which they exist. Boom! Boom! Try the organic chicken sourced from Fair Trade vendors! Tramp also means "whore", but don't tell the Kids! This issue of Jonah Hex was surprisingly educational; by reading it you would also learn the following terms: pistolas (pistols) and compadres (companions). Enough to get anyone through a weekend break south of the border!
Image by DeZuniga, Fleisher, Le Rose & Leferman Meanwhile, back at the rocky outcrop we find El Papagaya. Now, El Papagaya is a rare thing in Jonah Hex; a recurring villain. This rarity being down to Jonah’s tendency to deal quite decisively with anyone posing a threat to him. He’s prone to go blood simple at the drop of a hat, that Jonah Hex. But El Papagaya is a wily one and always lives to taunt another day. Because that’s the big thing about El Papagaya; his taunting. Loquacious only begins to describe him. He’s called El Papagaya which means parrot because he has one but also, he never shuts the hell up. Well, I think that’s funny. I think El Papagaya is a funny guy he’s so blatantly disingenuous but at the same time totally transparent. He’s probably modelled on the kind of big hatted stereotypes that gave Humphrey Bogart a bad time in those old movies. But El Papagaya has a parrot and is dressed as flamboyantly as an ice skater so he’s better.
It’s a tight bind Jonah and his crew are in and no mistake. To escape Jonah sets light to the dry grass so that the smoke will cover their exit. I know this because it is mentioned several times in the course of two pages. Now, unless Michael Fleisher thought his audience were prone to sudden attacks of amnesia, this isn’t particularly smooth writing. I don’t really know why it’s mentioned so much but I think comic writers used to be a bit insecure and made sure there were lots of words on those pages for a couple of reasons. One is, I guess, they didn’t know who’d be drawing it or if they did they had no guarantee how it was going to turn out. They couldn’t just fire off a chummy E-Mail and get a scan back thirty seconds later. Pure supposition this; also, they were very, very clear about what was going on to avoid any possible confusion. This means this comic is overwritten to Hell and back but it also means I’m not going “Wait, What?” at any point. Anyway, El Papagaya obligingly lets the smoke build to a sufficient density to permit our band to escape.
Now here’s some sexy shit; two whole pages of an old man and his slave talking in a graveyard. It’s not even very good talking but there is plenty of it. Now, the poor quality and large quantity are quite in line with current trends but, unfortunately for him, Fleisher’s made the schoolboy error of putting information in his dialogue. This makes it exposition (which today is Bad) instead of aimless drivel which is stellar character work (which today is Good). Exposition isn’t actually bad in and of itself but there is such a thing as badly executed exposition. Which this is. There’s so much of it in fact that Turnbull’s face is obscured throughout by his exposition bloated word balloons. That’s on purpose that is; so we can’t see him but I don’t really know why that is.
Why we can’t see his face that is. I mean we’re unlikely to recognise him. It’s not like eventually he’s revealed to be Harry Osborne’s dad or anything. He’s just some mad old, bald, fat white guy. Oh my God, it’s me! It was me all along! No wonder they hid his face. It all makes sense now! I’m joking; I’m not fat. Anyway, there’s all this exposition about how Jonah Hex caused Turnbull’s son to be killed and how, By God, Turnbull will see Jonah Hex in his grave for it and all that kind of spittly lipped, stick waving thing. To be fair, this stuff does do a few things, although it does none of them subtly. It corroborates the mission of the men who have captured Jonah Hex so we know they aren’t just delusional lunatics; allows Fleisher to (and it is quite smart this) put the truer spin in the mouth of Solomon so that Turnbull can bat it away out of hand showing both a) Turnbull just wants someone to pay; the truth is moot and b) Solomon’s superficial equality is purely that; superficial. Yeah, it’s clumsy as a sprinter with wooden legs and real feet but it still gets quite a lot of stuff done. It’s convenient to forget that this is the fundamental purpose of a genre comic; getting stuff done. (I know I repeat that later; that’s for reinforcement not because I didn’t re-read this for glaring shittiness. Oops! Missed a bit!) Also, after all the words the sudden silent panel where Turnbull kneels at his son’s grave actually has some impact. Surprisingly so; bonus points for that one.
Back at the camp Jonah and the FCB take a break from TCB and indulge in some more expositionary chit chat. Jonah has noticed that one of their number is a little short in the tooth to have been at Fort Charlotte but, alas, his Dad wasn’t. Jonah tries to explain what (whut) happened but the kid is having none of it and plumb hawks one up right in Hex’s bacony face. Even though there are a lot of words here DeZuniga does a good job keeping things interesting by dropping detail out entirely at some points so the central image is bracketed by blankness and varying the POV as things progress. When the script slackens the art keeps things taut; it’s a joint effort. Words and pictures, you know how that goes. This scene’s pretty important (hey, maybe it pays off later?) but its immediate significance is in the fact that in its first panel the dude with the water flask is going “hic!” Maybe he drank his water too fast and got an upset tummy? Do you think that’s going to pay off soon? Do you think this piece is ever going to end? (Maybe it’ll be like the Tristram Shandy of nostalgic old man comics writing? maybe my heart will give out first?) Remember when drunk people went “hic”? They used to do it in movies too. In real life though they just get angry and violent. Ah, good times. Hic!
We’re on page 8 (PAGE EIGHT!) now, in case anyone’s keeping score and things start moving like a heated tomahawk through someone’s face from hereonin. So far the comics been overwritten (like this piece; like that was on purpose!) and expositing like expositing is a real thing, but Fleisher’s been setting it all up. All the pieces are now in place; El Papagaya’s in pursuit, Hex has connected with the kid, there’s a boozer loose and it’s all about to pay off over the next few pages. And you best believe it’s going to pay off in death and sorrow. Hey, Kids! Comics!
Page eight is where the ordure becomes authentic. Despite Hex’s protestations the boozer (Shenandoah!) wobbles off and picks up a feather from the ground. Why, what harm coul…OMG! A feather! Like a parrot has! It’s El Papa..the ground immediately appears to eat Shenandoah and there is a child scarring two panel sequence of him falling onto some stakes (GHAAAAAAAAAA!). You don’t see anything really. Just the falling body suspended above the stakes below and then an inset of his screaming face, which has been charmingly hued a deep red. That shit sure shook me up when I was a kid. It was AWESOME! GHAAAAAAAAAAA! Hell, yeah! I wouldn’t get this excited again until I saw Walter Hill’s magnificent beast of a movie Southern Comfort (1981; coincidence?). In all honesty I get mixed messages from Walter Hill films. Do you think Southern Comfort knows it is skewering machismo even while it seems to be paying homage to it? It doesn’t really matter because, Powers Boothe. Anyway, I have a weak spot for fiction involving people in a hostile environment being picked off one by one. Some folk are like Hmm, chocolate or Awww, cats but me, I’m all Aw yeah, people in a hostile environment being picked off one by one! And it’s all this comic’s fault. Mind you, it hasn’t escaped my notice that people in a hostile environment being picked off one by one is basically Life, so there you go. Anyway everyone knows how that people in a hostile environment being picked off one by one stuff goes and that’s how this comic goes for the remainder of its pages.
The point, he said realising he was late to take his kid to Cubs and he had paced this badly, is that this tale of Jonah Hex is 17 pages long but, boy howdy, it covers some distance. The actual comic book is a mite longer since there is also a one pager about dead sheriffs, a letter column and a Gary Cohn and Tom Yeates strip called Tejano. Consequently Fleisher and DeZuniga don’t have space to faff about, so they don’t. By the 8th page Fleisher and Dezuniga have worked like ditch diggers to get the reader up to speed with who everyone is, what they want and how they all relate to each other while also defining a deadly scenario to shape the events following. None of it is elegantly done but it all gets done. Round these parts that’s what genre comics are all about; getting’ it done. Fleisher and DeZuniga get it done quick and dirty and it all ends with an overwrought moment of emotion which is still not entirely unmoving despite its relative lack of sophistication. Jonah Hex #55 (“Blood Trail”!) mebbe weren’t quite as good as I remembered, but it still entertained like all get out and that makes GOOD! Did it deserve all those words? No, but like the man said, “Deserve’s got nothin' to do with it.”
As the sun sets sadly on the West Jonah Hex#55 (“Blood Trail”!) couldn’t be more – COMICS!!!
This time out it's a tale of Vampires in World War Two. COMICS! The gift that never stops giving! Anyway, this... FIENDS OF THE EASTERN FRONT Art by Carlos Ezquerra, Colin Macneil Written by Gerry Finley-Day, David Bishop, Dan Abnett Rebellion, £9.99 (2010) Fiends of The Eastern Front created by Carlos Ezquerra and Gerry Finley-Day Originally serialised in 2000AD Progs 152-161,The Judge Dredd Megazine 4.17 & The Judge Dredd Megazine 245-252
At the stately age of 10 there were few pleasures which could compare with the arrival of a new Prog of 2000AD weekly, and only one which could exceed them; the end of a storyline. With the end of a storyline I would be free to pull all the relevant Progs out, crack open the biscuits and weak orange drink and get stuck in. Naturally, every week I would have read each episode of any given series but once complete a full re-read would be on the cards, and intermittently thereafter and for a far greater portion of my life than might strictly be deemed healthy. I got my money’s worth is what I’m saying there. This irregular revision of the strips of 2000AD probably accounts for the fact that when I saw a collection of Fiends of The Eastern Front listed I could maybe have sketched out several of the pages from memory and most definitely outlined the plot with a truly spooky degree of accuracy. Since I am no longer 10 this would have been the behaviour of a madman so I settled for ordering it.
In 1980 when this strip first appeared the three greatest works of Art I had been exposed to were Flesh, Shako and Fiends of The Eastern Front. How foolish and how very like a child this seems in retrospect. Now 30 years and change later I have experienced the movies of David Lynch, stood toe to toe with Rothko’s work in the Tate Modern, read Shakespeare and seen Batman Live. Consequently the three greatest works of Art I have now been exposed to are Flesh, Shako and American Flagg! Why then the loss of Fiends of The Eastern Front from the Kane canon?
The simple answer for those of you with a bus to catch is that it just isn’t up to snuff like that other stuff. But it’s still a far cry from awful. It had, after all, remained entrenched in my memory for several decades which is no mean feat for a strip which ran for a meagre 10 weeks and in toto comprises 44 pages. But what pages they are. Oh, what a nightmarish war. Oh, what pages Ezquerra and Finley-Day have gifted posterity. If posterity loosened its knickers a bit and appreciated them anyway.
Gerry Finley-Day may be a name more unfamiliar to most than Carlos Ezquerra but he has his place in Brit Comics History; and it is hardly a negligible one. Like many of the men who would go on to change the face of British boys comics Finley-Day started being of historical interest in the ‘70s with his work on IPC’s girl’s comics. Here he and Pat Mills etc honed their skills writing as though they wished to seriously emotionally disturb their audience. They would carry this approach across to the boy’s weeklies Action, Battle and, of course, 2000AD. Although there are exceptions (Harry Twenty On The High Rock, Ant Wars) Finley-Day’s boy’s comic work was largely war orientated. On Battle and Action he appears to have had a particular penchant for The Good German (Panzer G-Man, Hellman of Hammer Force etc.) And if these did not influence a tiny Garth Ennis then I’m French. 2000AD had a ready made place for Finley-Day in its regular Future-War slot which he dutifully filled with enduringly popular series such as The V.C.s and, most notably, Rogue Trooper.
Fiends of The Eastern Front is a throwback to Finley-Day’s WW2 strips set as it is on the Eastern Front. Like his straighter stuff the main character is a Good German and like Rat Pack in Battle he is paired up with Carlos Ezquerra on art. Unlike any previous strip the pair had inflicted on the febrile male minds composing their audience here they doubled down on the horrors of this war with the addition of Rumanian vampires into the unholy vortex of the Russian Front. The first few episodes embrace formula with the Germans being attacked weekly by a new iteration of the Russian Army (tanks, Cossacks, paratroops, ski-troopers) which the Rumanian vampires best and leaving Hans Schmitt somewhat conflicted and questioning in the final panel. With the fith episode things turn around rather sharply for Schmitt and he and the entire German army are on the back foot of a sudden. Because it turns out that Rumania didn’t stay on the German side for the duration. And it’s at this mid-point the strip abandons any pretence of everyday logic and embraces the nonsensical non logic of nightmare. And becomes all the better for it. It becomes as outlandish as a fever dream and it succeeds as such because of Carlos Ezquerra.
In all fairness Fiends of The Eastern Front is not a fit testament to the scripting skills of Finley-Day. It is rushed, haphazardly plotted and clumsily contrived. It has the feel of a fill-in; something pulled out of a hat at the last minute to fill ten week’s worth of pages. Finley-Day rises to that (assumed on my part) challenge as best he can but the success of Fiends of The Eastern Front, the reason why it causes unease in me thirty four years later is due to two things: the suicidal pacing and Carlos Ezquerra’s dark, dark art. Pacing wise Fiends of The Eastern Front doesn’t just move it hurtles along like a sprinter with his hair on fire. The speed of Finley-Day’s script seeks to pull you through the pages at such a pace that you don’t have time to notice all the deficiencies. Because they are deficiencies, but they also don’t really matter. The pleasures of Fiends of The Eastern Front are more sensual than cerebral. And this works because Fiends of The Eastern Front is a nightmare and nightmares aren’t about thinking they are about feeling; they are about feeling fear. And if you want fear on the page you’re on to a winner with Carlos Ezquerra.
Carlos Ezquerra may be one of the best horror artists in the business despite his forays into fear being far fewer than his war and S-F strips. He is, after all best known as the co-creator of Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog and, to more recent readers, his name will be hard not to associate with Garth Ennis’ war comics. As adaptable as his art is to many genres it always has the same base elements; grubby tickling and flat blacks, blunt faces and scrappy holding lines. He only has to punch these up a little and his tattily tactile and grottily grubby art seems Hellishly apt to the horrors on these pages. The misshapen and unclean aspects of Ezquerra’s art totally convince in their depictions of things that could never be, things that should never be.
The book ends with a Dan Abnett 2006 reimagining of the strip with the addition of Ezquerra’s Strontium Dog character Durham Red. Most notably this reveals Ezquerra’s art has become more disciplined and focused without losing one jot of the essentially Ezquerra-esque qualities present in the 1980 strip. Additionally laid over the art is some lovely colour work in which browns and greys are played off against beautifully lurid purples and reds to queasy effect. Sandwiched between the two Ezquerra strips is a Dave Bishop and Colin MccNeil resurrection of the concept which appeared in The Judge Dredd Megazine.
Bishop’s Stalingrad set script is as (intentionally?) daft as Finley-Day’s original but MacNeil is less successful in diverting attention from this. Don’t get me wrong, MacNeil is a talented artist (with particularly great work showcased in Judge Dredd: America) but here his art is a little too stiff and defined in comparison to Ezquerra’s to survive unscathed. And also I wasn’t 10 when I read it although that’s neither Bishop nor MacNeil’s fault. In the end it’s mostly Carlos Ezquerra’s fault that Fiends of The Eastern Front is GOOD!
"Four hundred years ago my vampiric kiss transformed the woman I loved into a soulless thing called Mary, Queen of Blood! Today an unholy order follows her evil designs, and the blood they spill is on my hands!..." But enough about me. What about Andrew Bennett? What about "I...Vampire!"
Anyway, this... I…VAMPIRE! Art by Tom Sutton, Ernie Colon, Adrian Gonzales, Paris Cullins, Dan Day and Jim Aparo Written by J M De Matteis, Bruce jones, Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn and Mike W Barr Lettered by John Constanza, Gaspar, A Kawecki, Andrews, Ben Oda, Todd Klein, Jun Roy Talactac Coloured by Adrienne Roy I...Vampire! created by Tom Sutton & J M De Matteis (Contents Originally appeared in House of Mystery #290, 291, 292, 293, 295, 297, 299, 302, 304-319 & The Brave And The Bold #195 (1981-1983)) DC Comics, $29.99 (2011)
The younger, far more agreeable, me used to buy House of Mystery off the spinner rack in the UK so I didn’t always get to see every issue. The issues I did see I usually bought because they had such damn fine covers. It’s a truism that the covers of DC’s “mystery” line of anthologies were usually the best bit, mostly because it’s true. Oh, they had nice art inside but the stories were mostly pointless things that stopped rather than ended and banked on the fact that some supernatural trappings would distract you from all the other failings. They looked like Twist-In-The-Tale tales but the Twist was usually that there was barely a Tale. I still bought ‘em because they looked good and had werewolves and skeletons in. Look, here’s the big thing about kids and entertainment; they aren’t that picky. Anyway, things picked up content wise for HoM when, in 1981, it started running "I…Vampire!” This was a, rare for these books, continuing series which lasted until 1983. Of course the downside to continuing episodic serial fiction for filthy foreigners such as my self was, as I said, that the younger, far more agreeable, me used to buy House of Mystery off the spinner rack in the UK so I didn’t always get to see every issue. But that’s okay because here, in this volume, there is every one of the 24 original chapters of "I…Vampire!” And also, an issue of Brave And The Bold in which "I…Vampire!" teams up with Smilin' Batman! Remember when Batman smiled? Good times.
Upholding the “mystery” line tradition the covers are the best bit here, but in a welcome break from tradition the actual comics are pretty neat too. It’s just that the covers are by Joe Kubert and Michael William Kaluta. I mean, come on now. Mind the carpet; I believe your cup just did runneth over! Both artists provide fantastically atmospheric and alluring covers despite their conspicuously different styles. Kubert’s usual superficially wild lashings of ink retain their timeless impulsive energy and his signature imprecision creates a sense of instability, of flux; one wholly apt for the gaudy transformative horror of the strip. Kaluta, naturally, is far more precise with a far lighter line producing a far more ethereal and desiccated effect which, unlike Kubert, serves to underscore the melodramatic pathos at the heart of the lead character. Because "I…Vampire!" one Andrew Bennett by name, is a right whining mimsy and no mistake.
Mind you, he’s every reason to be moody what with his wedding preparations being interrupted by his sudden initiation into vampirism via a passing manky monk. Even in 1591 I imagine weddings were fraught enough affairs, as the mobile disco had yet to be invented, without being turned into an undead leech on humanity. A vampire I’m talking about there, not a lobbyist. Somewhat rashly Bennett shares his curse with his betrothed, Mary, only to find that she takes to it with somewhat more alacrity. Rebranding herself as Mary, Queen of Blood she organises her fellow nosferatu into The Blood Red Moon and embarks on a crusade to enslave humanity. When we first join him in 1981 Bennett is busy trying to kill the woman he loves and foil her evil schemes. Hobbies are important to men, after all. Luckily he isn’t alone. There’s Dmitri Mishkin who throughout the series will provide creepy oedipal fun aplenty as he tries to kill his vampiric mother. Sadly Dmitri probably isn’t related to Dan Mishkin one of the series’ later writers as that would be really weird and suggest a serious reappraisal of all our realities. Now as alluring as matricidal elderly Russian men are DeMatteis chooses to provide Bennett with a more traditional love interest in the form of Deborah Dancer. Yes, her name was Deborah. Deborah. But whether she had woodchip on the wall or, indeed, her house was very small remains unrecorded. That’s the basic set up then for the series with a bit of an alcoholism subtext as Andrew struggles to survive without taking a human life. This setup takes a whole ten pages, and stands De Matteis in good stead freeing him up to dash off in a number of unfeasible but entertaining directions. After five issues he runs out of puff and passes the baton to Bruce Jones.
Jones barges right on in and starts marking his territory in no uncertain times. Initially he resets the series to the TV Hulk template. Now Bennett will be meandering down the lonely road to intersect episodically with different people with terrible consequences. Mostly for them. There’s an absolute cracker of an episode where Bennett takes up with the wife and child of a man whose death he has caused. Now, obviously lessons will be learned, closure achieved and there’ll be a sad departure leaving everyone wiser and richer. I don’t want to spoil anything but let’s just say that Bruce Jones sets about your expectations with a ball peen hammer and doesn’t let up until they are unrecognisable. Bruce Jones’ is really good at undercutting expectations is what I’m saying there. This is aided and abetted by this disdain for logic, but I’m guessing entertainment is a greater consideration for Bruce Jones than sense. I say that with some confidence because quicker than Threshold got cancelled he remembers he likes time travel and things get entertainingly insane fast as the series becomes a chronally unstable race between Bennett and Mary to save/kill the ancestors of the inventor of the cancer cure which is, in the 1980s, killing all the vampires. You hardly need the gift of Second Sight to know that Jack The Ripper turns up, Gaw Blimey! He’s near sawed ‘er head clean orf!
In comparison to Jones' satisfyingly eventful irrationality Mishkin and Cohn serve up altogether more sedate fare which favours the adventure elements largely to the detriment of the horror and occasionally steps straight into the puddle of preachiness. Don't mistake me, they aren't terrible, but it just takes them time to fling off their inhibitions and skinny dip in the straight faced silliness the strip requires. Also, in "By The Time We Got To Woodstock..." a vampiric threat is destroyed by a combination of Jimi Hendrix playing live and the combined Love emanating from a field full of self obsessed drug addled Hippies. Which is terrible on an almost cellular level. But it is still amazing; I’ll give them that much. By the time the strip climaxes they have, fair’s fair, rallied their talents enough to provide Andrew Bennett with a finale as fittingly inventive, daft, moving, horrific and optimistic as he deserves. And then there's Tom Sutton. Tom Sutton who provides the bulk of the art on these pages and proves himself a showstopper and no mistake.
TOM SUTTON (d.2002)! If this book is worth a place on anyone's shelf (and it is. Mine!) it is because of Tom Sutton. Tom Sutton makes this series work. It’s difficult to believe that Sutton's art ever found a more suitable vehicle than "I...Vampire!" Maybe it did, let me know. I assure you, I'm all ears. Look, Tom Sutton is a maniac on these pages. Forever throwing in one nifty bit of business after another; if it's not innovatively having the contents of a panel bleed across the gutters into another, it's a series of panels showing motion or physical transformation in a manner reminiscent of psychedelic wig out movies. Tom Sutton is clearly enjoying himself here and his enthusiasm is as infectious as the vampirism he’s called upon to illustrate.
Sutton's stuff isn't pretty, elegant or, in panel to panel continuity terms, particularly consistent but it doesn't need to be. In fact I'd say it spits on such stuff. Because while energy isn't unusual (although it could do with being more usual) in comic art, Sutton's energy has a definite edge of anger to it. Fitting the strip to a tee there's a sense of dissolution permeating every one of Sutton's panels. An unsettlingly organic feel, as of fruit past its best and sliding into sweet rot. Sutton's work lifts the series out of melodrama into debauched melodrama, spectacularly flamboyantly debauched melodrama at that. Sutton's art looks like it actually has an odour. And it looks like you should thank your luck stars you can't smell it, as it would be a rank and vinegary one I'm guessing. It’s not all bug eyed hell for leather ostentation though. Sutton’s smart enough to vary the intensity of his art so that although the whole thing looks like you're viewing it through eyes hot and misted with fever, at times it goes beyond even that; Sutton’s images become deliriously inflamed and pass seamlessly into the realm of the rawly hallucinatory.
I single Tom Sutton out because while everyone else here does good work they all did better work elsewhere, but I'm not Sure Tom Sutton did. His garish, visually mushy sensibility lines up with "I...Vampire!" so well he effectively makes it what it is. And thanks, primarily, to Tom Sutton "I...Vampire!" is like Liberace wrote Interview With A Vampire but in COMICS!!!!
Now, how can that not be GOOD!