A very special throwback this time out! As requested some time ago by someone whose name I've mislaid I finally look at a series from way back in the mists of 1990-91. This one is for everyone who has a very special place in their heart for John Boorman's ZARDOZ. This one's for all the dreamers! WORLD WITHOUT ENDby Higgins, Delano and StarkingsRead More
What would Thunderbirds be like in the world of Judge Dredd? My dog has no nose; why isn’t Robbie Morrison funny? What if the messiah was susceptible to weed killer? What would be the absolute best name for a character in a very cold place? Can a gun be too big? And if war is so terrible why is it so good for John Wagner? All questions I’ll probably forget to answer in the latest jolly riverdance through the JUDGE DREDD MEGA COLLECTION. JUDGE DREDD: THE HEAVY MOB by P J Holden
JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 55: THE HEAVY MOB Art by Jim Murray, Clint Langley, Malcolm Davis, Nick Percival, Xuasus, David Millgate, Kevin Walker, Brian Bolland, Ron Smith and P J Holden Written by John Smith, Chris Standley, Robbie Morrison, John Wagner and Michael Carroll Coloured by Chris Blythe and Len O'Grady Lettered by Gordon Robson, Ellie DeVille, Steve Potter, Tom Frame and Annie Parkhouse Originally serialised in 2000AD Progs 122-125 & 1792-1796 & JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.31-2.33, 2.60-2.62, 2.70, 3.20-3.23, 3.29-3.33 & 240-243 © 1979, 1993, 1994, 1995, 2006, 2012 & 2015 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2015) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
HOLOCAUST 12: SKYFALL Art by Jim Murray Written by John Smith & Chris Standley Lettered by Gordon Robson Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 3.20-3.23 HOLOCAUST 12: STORM WARNING Art by Clint Langley & Malcolm Davis Written by John Smith & Chris Standley Lettered by Gordon Robson & Ellie DeVille Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 3.29-3.33
In the 1990s the JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE was so starved of content there was actually a strip based on a concept (The Holocaust Squad) which had appeared for less than a page in Judge Dredd a couple of decades earlier (see Father Earth below). Spotting that idea had legs was a pretty good spot, particularly as the 1990s were characterised by a bizarre fetish for trying to replicate the high-octane and content-light high-concept action movie style into comics. It didn’t work. Movies aren’t comics and comics aren’t movies. What zips past on the screen trundles across the page, and so this first outing for what is basically a fire brigade on steroids staffed by psychopaths seems to involve the world’s slowest space ship crash. It would have been even slower on its first appearance with the weeks separating each instalment. On screen there are also actors, so even the slimmest of characters can be fattened with unspoken character. On the page Cyrus “The Virus” is probably a bit flat but stick his words in the mouth of John Malkovich and we’re off to the races. Smith’s strip has no such advantage so his characters are just violent ciphers. Visually they are distinct because comics have art and Murray and Langley are certainly distinctive artists, but that’s about it. One of the Squad carks it in this first instalment and I couldn’t remember which one , and our POV character gets side-lined shortly after he’s walked through a room and had everyone described to him. There’s a lot of “This is Cockthrottler Magoo. He can fart through cement and is just such a badass, well, it’s just plain scary is what it is!” A lot of telling not showing basically, and we all know how much we enjoy that. Smith is a good writer but some writers are good only in certain areas. The vagaries of comic writing mean the humble dreamweavers are often called upon to write something they aren’t really suited to. Disaster-action movie seems a particularly poor fit for John Smith’s body horror obsession and trademark bursts of stream of consciousness narration. It’s too constricting; Smith works best on horror because horror is a tad more elastic than the action movie. The action movie is all about the cliché, moving within that cliché, and stretching it maybe, but always solidly retaining that core cliché. Smith’s not one to work well within restrictions. He’s too cerebral for this shit basically; you practically can feel him switching of areas of his brain, limiting himself.
It’s not a complete loss, he certainly has some fun sneaking his gore in there. Lots of people die horrible deaths in both instalments and it sometimes seems like concocting vile ends for his bodies is all that’s keeping Smith awake. It’s pretty much all that kept me awake too, well, besides his always fun narrative captions, evidence that at least one comic creator enjoys modernist linguistic trickery. There’s a disaster, people die, the Holocaust Squad stop being naughty and set off, the clock is ticking, more people die, rescue is achieved. It’s all pretty much like that. In the first a spaceship fizzing with chemical death is crashing into the city, in the second the tallest building in the world (Chump Tower; ho ho!) is hit by a freak weather storm and a space ship, oh, and the zoo gets loose, because there's no such thing as overkill! In this second one Smith doesn’t make it easy to root for the victims as they are all rich arseholes (rissoles?) except for a manservant (maybe a nod to The Admirable Crichton (1957) there?) Ultimately Holocaust 13 just feels too restrictive a concept to have much room for Smith to manoeuvre within. Artistically the strip provides plenty of freedom for Murray and Langley (hmm, that sounds like a posh brand of paint) particularly in the realm of the grotesque. Although given a largely tech-based scenario Murray gets some nice gore in there, and has fun with his POVs. He takes the time to paint the reflected lights in a pool of blood and his SFX have a Vaughn Bode/Comix wobble to them. The reproduction dulls his fully painted but cartoony art, but Murray goes the extra mile indicative of someone enjoying themselves. Clint Langley goes several miles too far and may be enjoying himself far too much. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what you’re looking at on Langley’s metallically garish yet brutally dark pages. It’s like squinting at a metal zoo losing its collective mind in a catacomb. Langley’s obviously pushing the then available technology of photo manipulation to its extreme, and while it may be a struggle to read, it is just a step on the way to his current bizarre peak. For a couple of strips struggling so hard to be unpleasant, surprisingly there are pleasures in these Holocaust 13 strips but you have to hunt and peck for them. GOOD!
BRIT-CIT BRUTE Art by Nick Percival Written by Robbie Morrison Lettered by Ellie DeVille Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.31-2.33 BRIT-CIT BRUTE: TRILOGY Art by Nick Percival, Xuasus and David Millgate Written by Robbie Morrison Lettered by Steve Potter Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.60-2.62
I’m not spending long on this one as it’s clearly for people who found DC’s Lobo a bit highbrow. It’s supposed to be funny so you get our strapping lad of a lead being named Newt (because they are small!) and his boss who looks like John Major (British Tory Prime Minister 1990-97) is called Judge Major (because satire!) and some Elvis references (because he’s a lazy comedy staple!) and some underwear stealing (because the British!) and if you find your ribs being tickled by any of that you’ll soil yourself if you ever read any Mark Millar (ugh!). Brit-Cit Brute is bad is what I’m saying. And don’t be expecting any insight into Brit-Cit unless you are a massive fan of being disappointed. It’s hard to even tell what Brit-Cit looks like because Percival’s art is so unfocused. It’s the work of someone who likes drawing but hasn’t realised there’s more to comics than just drawing; there’s as much panel to panel continuity here as there is on Celebrity Squares. It’s a good job Robbie Morrison’s script is so tedious that it informs us of things we should be able to see , because thanks to Percival’s murky and stilted art we can’t actually see them anyway. There’s a two page interview with Percival at the back where he sounds very enthusiastic and likeable, which is nice, but doesn’t alter any of the artistic deficiencies here. However we do also learn he was very young and Brit-Cit Brute was very early in his career, so maybe enshrining it between hardcovers wasn’t such a hot idea, Rebellion? Xuasis and David Millgate fare better artistically, but none of it’s in any danger of hanging in the Louvre any time soon. Hopefully everyone involved had a great time because I didn’t. Brit-Cit Brute has only a handful of episodes but manages to outstay it’s welcome before even the first of them is over. CRAP!
WYNTER Art by Kevin Walker Written by Robbie Morrison Lettered by Ellie DeVille Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.70
He’s called Wynter ‘cause he’s up in the snow, and it’s proper snowy in winter, see. Clever wordplay, Robbie Morrison. Well, in the old days it snowed in winter, nowadays not so much. Definitely nothing to that global warming malarkey, mind. All made up by them Koreans to make America look bad, bribed all the scientists haven’t they? My lad’s all glum because every year they promise it’s going to be a “Bad Winter”, and it isn’t; so no sledging for the yowwun. We had a bit of a flurry but nothing special. I remember when it’d be knee high, and all the buses would stop and you’d have to walk to school. Mind you I also remember the Yorkshire Ripper, Margaret Thatcher and the IRA pub bombings so, you know, it wasn’t all roses. You can oversell nostalgia, kids. But it wasn’t that far back either; in the ‘90s I once got stuck halfway between home and Leeds because the snow was too much for the buses. Had to spend the night in a Fox’s biscuit factory. No lie. Got waved over to it by a plod who spotted me walking aimlessly about looking worried and trying to keep warm. Curled up on a leatherette sofa eating free biscuits and reading Helen Zahavi’s Dirty Weekend while the night shift kept those biscuits flowing, snow or no snow. I’ve had worse nights. Rang in and told work to **** off the morning after. Barely had any sleep had I? Got to get my beauty sleep or I’m no use to man nor beast. So, yeah, Wynter, clever word play. Except it drives me nuts that “cool misspellings” thing. I have to keep checking “Gil” knows you don’t spell “attacks” “attax” as in “Match Attax” and all the other everyday spelling atrocities which slip my mind right now. So, back at the comic, Wynter is a Judge in the snow, the Antartic Territories to be precise. All Robbie Morrison has to tell us about this exciting addition to the world of Judge Dredd is it’s cold, snowy, sparsely populated and it’s snowy, did I mention the snow? Luckily he remembers Michael Moorcock’s The Ice Schooner and has a boat zipping over the ice proper sharpish like. It’s crewed by ice pirates who have made off with some medical supplies and some chemical weapons. Wynter (recap: because it’s cold) has to get the chemical weapons and never mind the mega-Lemsips. But kids are dying so he’s not happy about that. There’s a bit of a ruckus and he makes the right choice. There’s not much too it but then I imagine no one imagined it’d ever be enshrined between hard covers, probably a last minute bit of filler unfairly maligned here by my rancorous self. The art’s okay though. Probably more of interest as a look at Kev Walker before he dropped all the extraneous detail and went a bit Mignola; a style which suits him greatly and is adequately represented elsewhere in this series. Here though he’s still drawing like someone who really liked Citadel miniature’s Warhammer 40K and thinks John Blanche is an artistic demigod (which he is). His action’s all over the shop as well, but he’d get (a lot) better and so he shouldn’t be too upset. I did like the way Robbie Morrison tried to give it some weight by starting off with Wynter (recap: brrr!) portentously informing us that he’d “buried a child today”. In the same way that chucking Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt over anything, even a video of a your cat cleaning its bum, makes it seem as important and moving as The Crucifixion, dead kids give stuff a bit of heft. Wynter (recap: because it’s a bit nippy!) is a bit of a waste of a dead kid really because it’ still EH!
JUDGE DREDD: FATHER EARTH Art by Brian Bolland and Ron Smith Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Progs 122-125
This is the best tale in the book by a hefty margin and it’s nobody’s fault except everyone surrounding it that it’s also the most elderly. This does mean a few of you will be suspecting that I have difficulty accommodating the present and like many withered old fusspots prefer to live in the past. Which is obviously true; after all I sit here in the sallow light of flickering candles inscribing these words upon parchment via quill and ink. There is a certain bit of the power of early imprinting at work because I can quite clearly remember several moments in this one and the attendant original thrill they induced quite clearly. But would it have imprinted so hard had it not been so good? I don’t know, and I don’t think it’s worth applying for a grant to find out. It is good; really, really good. It starts off small with a (rare for 2000AD) black couple encountering a Cursed Earth messiah, who looks like Alan Moore if he’d been designed to sell corn on tins for a living, at their trading outpost. Before the story ends Mega City 1 will have become besieged by mutants wearing dog heads like hats, a power tower will have gone a bit Pompeii, thousands will have lost their lives and a singing, killing plant will have meted out blackly ironic justice. It is a master class in serialised entertainment. Because not only is there all that stuff but there is also a tense bomb disposal scene (a la David Hemmings in JUGGERNAUT (1974)), comedy robots, Dredd failing to save a lady, and a major plot point hinges on the power surges in the 1970s whenever the whole country watched something on TV (e.g. there used to be power surges immediately after CORONATION STREET as everyone leapt up to put the kettle on) and of course…the Holocaust Squad!
These dudes appear for a half page, dropping out of the sky in sci-fi diving suits and into the maw of the power station turned volcano. After that we only hear their voices for a handful of panels as they go out one by one like candles in a draught. Which reminds me…hang on (lights candle and bends back over the parchment). The brevity of their appearance belies its power to shock the mind of a child. For the last few decades I thought they were the focus of a whole episode, but they barely get a page in reality. It really shook little me up reading their voices bravely passing the baton as they burnt up like tissues in a furnace. Wagner has many strengths as a writer and here we see two of them smashing boredom like twin hammers going at a pile of crackers. First is how much he can get out of so little; the robots get enough personality to make them humorous, but also enough for you to go “Oh!” when the bomb disposal goes to cock, and the Holocaust Squad have more impact over their petite sprinkle of panels than they do over two full stories by John Smith (see above). Secondly he is fearless in his use of imagination. A lot of comic writers write like they are scared they will never have another idea, Wagner writes like he’s convinced their flow will never cease. It takes some nuts to write like that, but it’s definitely the best approach. The art here is by Bolland and Ron Smith and it’s great too, although the reproduction is so awful you may have to take that on trust. Bolland fares worst with big areas of solid black swamping his detail but Smith uses a lighter touch and his art comes off better, if a little ghostly. Shame, but it doesn’t stop Father Earth being VERY GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: DEBRIS Art by P J Holden Written by Michael Carroll Coloured by Chris Blythe Lettered by Annie Parkhouse Originally published in 2000AD Progs 1792-1796
Michael Carroll is one of the new breed of Dredd writers currently tasked with chronicling Old Stoney Face regularly whenever John Wagner isn’t. Because I don’t follow The Tooth regular like anymore I’ve not read a lot of his stuff yet, but it seems competent enough, just lacking that essential Umpty factor. This Debris one is fine, I guess, but not exactly a stunner. It’s about a block seceding from the Meg and how it has a big gun on top to defend itself. There’s an interesting kernel there about how the block feels it’s better at protecting its inhabitants than the Judges, and it’s hard not to see their point as the story is set after another of the seemingly endless city filleting events. The gun on the top is the least interesting aspect but this proves to be the focus of the strip, which is unfortunate. Carroll seems unduly impressed by the fact that the gun hoovers® up debris (that’s right!) to fire. Sure, it’s an idea but it’s not a big enough or good enough idea to hang the story on. I mean, it’s a big gun so all you have to do is get under it so it can’t fix a bead on you and Bob’s your uncle and Fanny’s your Judge. This doesn’t seem to occur to any of the characters, who are bulked up by some Space Marines who themselves are bulked up by their armour (hence their inclusion in this volume). The Marines are there because the Judges are so depleted by the regular occurrence of extinction level events their numbers are running low, they might also be there to highlight the different approaches to situations between the military and judicial mind-set, they might not; it’s hard to tell because developing that would distract from the big gun, which Carroll is convinced we are more interested in. Unfortunately we’re not; or I wasn’t, you might be all over that big gun like a rash. Since it devolves quickly into action and shouting Debris takes up too much page space. After The Pit it’s pretty much established that the Dredd audience can manage the more talky stories, so Carroll’s swerve into the least interesting and more action packed approach is even more puzzling. Holden’s art is okay though; a little rushed and he fluffs some of the staging, but it’s chunky and funky in a Brett Ewins/Rufus Dayglo markers and rulers way. It’s no great shakes but Dredd seems like Dredd and entertainment is had. OKAY!
JUDGE DREDD: WARZONE Art by P J Holden Written by John Wagner Coloured by Len O'Grady Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 240-243
Not only is this one also illustrated by P J Holden but its events are also spurred into being by a recent Mega-City trashing event. One of the many (many) cool beans things about The World of Dredd is how Events happen and then there is a period of fallout from that Event which has to be navigated before the next corpse-piling Event occurs. Because, yes, astonishingly, it turns out that it is possible to segue from one Event into another while also providing satisfactory stories with beginnings, middles and (crucial this:) endings, characterisation and even internal logic; despite what writers of North American genre comics demonstrate on a monthly basis. (I mean seriously now, are you people even trying?) Anyway, Dredd’s after some bloke who was instrumental in terror attacks on the Big Meg. Wisely hiding out in a warzone the guy probably thinks he’s safe, unfortunately he doesn’t realise he’s the bad guy in a Judge Dredd strip so his days are numbered, like on a really morbid calendar. You can take the war comics off the child but he’ll only buy them again later in more expensive hardback formats. No wait, I mean you can take the writer out of the war comics but you can’t take the war comics out of the writer. Wagner might have started out writing girls’ (eeew!) comics but he got great during his stint on war comics, and Warzone is like a quick reminder to the world that where war comics are concerned John Wagner’s still got it going on. He hasn’t lost a step; he might even have gained a couple of new ones.
In less time than it takes a North American genre comic writer to have his characters discuss their favourite cereals Wagner has sketched in the personalities of each member of the group assigned to Dredd. Not only that but he’s also established the needlessness and futility of the conflict they are waging (it’s space-Vietnam). Sure the soldiers are types, but they are also alive; the noble sergeant who is more metal than man, the shell-shock case who can only utter profanities, the hov-grafted guy who lost his girl along with his legs, the ear-collecting Rogue Trooper-a-like, etc etc. Not an original one among them, but you’ll still give a shit when they get shot to bits. How does that happen? SPOILER: Good writing. There’s a tellingly protracted sequence after the big battle when time is spent just showing the bodies, all torn and mangled and host to a variety of carrion eaters, in which the reader is silently invited to ruminate upon exactly what their deaths have achieved. They died bravely and they died well but they are dead. Wagner being Wagner there’s also some humour because where there’s life there’s laughter. I particularly enjoyed Dredd’s abrupt curtailment of the campfire bonding. In the end as implacable as ever Dredd, bloody but never beaten, pushes his way past the war and manages to extract some small measure of Justice for the fallen. Warzone is John Wagner doing war comics and that’s still VERY GOOD!
NEXT TIME: Old British war comics make another unlikely appearance in the world of Dredd as a couple of familiar faces get a new coat of future-paint! Hoo ha -COMICS!!!
There now follows a change to our scheduled programme. Settle back as our Argentinian chums Eduardo Risso and the late Carlos Trillo take us on a trip to the near future where everything is awful; simply awful. Just dreadful, darlings. Ugh. (Oh, And I realise Argentina isn't in Europe but the book was originally published in Italy(?), which is in Europe so check and mate!) BORDERLINE by Risso & Trillo and Brandon
BORDERLINE Vol. 1 Art by Eduardo Risso Written by Carlos Trillo Translated by Ivan Brandon Dynamite, $19.99 (1995/2007)
BORDERLINE is set in a future dystopia and involves a sexy lady assassin and a troubled gruff male loner facing off in a world lit by the klieg lights of glaring subtext…oh no. OHO! Fret not, Euro-fan, it’s not as bad as it sounds. In fact it’s pretty neat. Usually that would be wholly down to the art, but the writing’s not half bad either; although it took me a bit to twig to that. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. I mean, “sexy lady assassin”! Not my favourite genre; the bulk of it being composed of any number of trite shite titles in the North American Mainstream. The whole “Men damaged her but now she’s damaging back! But not at the expense of her femininity! You can still be strong in a thong!” gets creepy pretty quick, particularly when it’s written by some dude you just know is rubbing himself against the underside of the desk as he writes, because, damn, this is some progressive shit. Whoooo, man writes Strong! Female! Protagonist! damn, gonna be statues of him in the streets! With every scissor kick and poisoned kiss sexism dies another death! But people obviously buy lots of “sexy lady kill” books; because if they didn’t they wouldn’t make them. So as genres go someone likes it.
Which is fine. I mean, I’m not a big fan of the whole “nurse passive aggressively hounds doctor in a borderline psychotic manner until he marries her” genre, but I hear Mills & Boon are still going. Spoiler: I’m not a woman so you know maybe I don’t have the right to react to this stuff. Or maybe I’m not reacting in the right way? I don’t know. I mean, I get that these sexy killin’ ladies have to be toned and limber; you can’t be lugging a load of excess weight about if you’re a top assassin. I like the occasional pie, and the odds of me rolling across any car bonnets with twin pistols flaring without there being a lot of ungainly sprawling and sliding, and not a few hefty grunts, are kind of on the poor side. And I’m not being sizeist there; I’m just trying to save you some grief on Careers Day. These are tricky times; lots of toes to be trodden on. Should I just say it’s the creepy way the whole “sisters with pistols!” thing slyly panders to men under the femme friendly surface? Because it is. But that’s okay, because BORDERLINE knows that too.
BORDERLINE shows that Risso and Trilllo know the genre and, better, they know how to toy with it. Games are very definitely being played here. First, and most obviously, you need a sexy lady assassin. Accordingly Risso’s heroine, Lisa, is a combination of sinew and pulchritude, topped by a black flare of Goth hair. The Sisters of Mercy, despite this sister having little of said quality, spring to mind and !bang! the viscous tang of “snakebite and black” springs to the throat as a Proustian moment flings you back to Bradford and a billion gigs of collapsed hair and sweat streaked eyeshadow. (Ask your parents.) Anyway, think an inhumanly aerobicized ‘80s era Beatrice Dalle draped in a leather rhino-shouldered jacket and sporting sprayed on jeans and you’d be in the right (erogenous) zone. Risso’s art has always been able to sell sex like the First Prize is a Cadillac El Dorado, Second Prize is a set of steak knives and Third Prize is you’re fired! But he never sells it cheap. Lisa is supposed to look ridiculously stimulating, so that she contrasts sharply with everything around her, because BORDERLINE is all about sharp contrasts. (It’s not an accident the book is in B&W.)
In keeping with the whole contrasts thing there is what Lisa looks like and what Lisa is. What she is is a piece of lethal meat exploited by everyone around her. Usually deadly ladies are all about their agency (for everyone born prior to 1990: this is their capacity to make choices, not who handles their bookings and headshots) and how they still have it goin’ on. Not Lisa. The only choice she has is not to pull the trigger, and that choice is fraught with the dangers of repercussion. Tradition dictates Lisa be damaged and tradition is fulfilled to a parodic degree here. Amongst other things (see below) Lisa is deaf. Since a deaf assassin would last about as long as a Raspberry Mivvi on a log fire I think we can safely identify some satirical intent here. She has so little agency that BORDERLINE makes the usual subtext text. Not only are her skills exploited, but so is her hawt body. During her down-time she is either being peeped on or pawed by Jack (or Mike) one of a pair of identical men (or women) whose race is as unfixed as their gender.
Usually this sexually predatory role would be filled by a fat sweaty, Caucasian male but BORDERLINE opens it up and recasts that character as both racially and sexually ambiguous; one who is also in a loving relationship, just to really mix it up . Now the defining aspect of the abuse has shifted; it is authority. Which is correct. Abuse is a consequence of the possession of power over another, not the possession of a penis. This is usually muddied by the fact most of the powerful people have penises (usually just one each) and false conclusions are then drawn. But it’s power that corrupts not the penis. (Except in ZARDOZ (1974) where “the penis is”, indeed, “evil.”) There’s a reason that no one says, “Penis corrupts and absolute penis corrupts absolutely.” Well, except for the occasional tipsy feminist in any Polytechnic Biko Bar circa 1990.
Speaking of penises, Lisa’s opposite number, the stubbled, moody male loner, Blue(!), is slightly less interesting because stubbled, moody male loners are mostly uninteresting; with the exception of me, because I am intrinsically fascinating. Also, it’s an overdone trope. Luckily for your reading pleasure Trillo and Risso kick the legs out from under this tedious trope pretty swiftly. It’s okay him mooning about (i.e. being “blue”; geddit!) after Lisa and spray-painting her face on walls (not a euphemism) and being all sad inside because, sure, all that’s super dreamy and romantic, but he’s still six feet of shit stuffed in distressed denim. (SPOILER: Turns out he turned out his chick for a hit. Pretty hard to walk back from that one, no matter how sexy you find troubled loners. Before we rush to judgement, ladies and gents, let’s not forget troubled loners like raunchy Richard Speck and dreamy David Berkowitz. Whoo! Is it hot in here, or is it just me?)
Look, the dude Blue didn’t just miss her birthday or have someone else’s knickers in his pocket, he traded her for a fix and, even better (i.e. even worse), Lisa was then harvested for organs before being rescued and having her organs replaced so she could be trained as an attractive assassin. So she’s traumatised beyond comprehension and deaf to boot. This pair of lovelorn killers dance the dance of death around each other, while their orbits threaten to collide with all the dramatic inevitability of any decent pulp fiction. Whereupon he looks at her with puppy eyes and then she forgives him and they get married and live in Mytholmroyd, where she looks after the house while he has a succession of joyless affairs at the Estate Agents where he works. No, not really because this isn’t real - it’s fiction! So you’ll just have to see what happens. On the understanding that a lot of it will happen in later volumes, since this is volume 1 of 6.
It being the first volume there’s a lot of world building but it’s a very simple world; there are two sides: one side controls its people by telling them there’s a reward after death, the other side is more materialistic. Both sides are ruled by bumbling chucklefucks boiling with psychological buboes, but society persists in functioning after a fashion, nevertheless. There are cities and subways and a civilisation of sorts. (Visually all this involves a lot of Besson’ing about; the tuxedoed thugs in the subway seem like a doff of the cap to SUBWAY (1985) and the refuse laden outlands strongly suggest LE DERNIER COMBAT (1983). Thankfully, there are no underage girls dancing to Madonna in their scanties.) People with money live in the cities and the people without money don’t. If you don’t live in the city you have to scavenge in the ruins of a world crumpled by an (as yet) undefined Event. The poor are twisted, crippled things with a tendency to throw themselves off high things such is the horror of life without Wi-Fi. Practically enough the poor are kept around so the monied can live off them; literally - by harvesting their organs, because fuck the poor, right? Damn straight. And everyone is controlled by drugs, particularly a drug called Hope which instils in the user a belief that everything will turn out okay. That’s right, there’s the key; it’s not really a world but a joke. The punchline being us.
It’s a good joke; a smart joke and Trillo’s writing here is a lot cleverer than I first thought. Narration and dialogue is sparse and this being comics Risso takes the brunt of the weight. But then why waste Eduardo Risso? What’s important is the writing you do is good not that you do a lot of it. And here Trillo pulls off an exceptionally nice trick. His narration addresses the reader directly, giving proceedings a nicely informal, chatty, air, and occasionally it shrugs past things or draws your attention to things. It’s the kind of device North American comic creators get all giggly about doing ,and think Grant Morrison invented. This is because they have no sense of history and mistake it for modern. But then if your highest ambition in writing is to end up as a fucking TV show then you are unlikely to use a mode customary in the 19th Century novel (e.g. Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862)) and if you did, you’d probably think it was first used on BJ AND THE BEAR (1979-81). Yeah, shit musical adaptations be damned, class lasts. Not content with being a classy bastard, Trillo occasionally, and whimsically, allows his “voice” to interact with the characters. It took me two reads to notice, because he doesn’t start waving his hands about and going “OOO! Look at me!” and thus critically kneecapping the suspension of disbelief along the way. No, he just smoothly slides it past you. And lest we forget, the fact that any of this good stuff strikes home is in part due to the translation skills of Ivan Brandon, who retains a tone at once formal and chatty in equal measure. Which can’t have been an easy gig. Via Brandon, Trillo’s done his job and done it well, the rest is up to you; if you notice, you notice…
What you can’t help but notice is the phenomenal art of Eduardo Risso, unless some rich sod has made off with your eyes. Risso builds a world of desolation punctured by clusters of degradation. In keeping with the almost comical overtness of its themes the book is, I remind you, drawn in black and white; stunningly so, natch. Robbed of the crutch of colour Risso’s art soars rather than falls. Which comes as no shock to keen Risso readers, since both his (originally coloured) work on LOGAN for Marvel©™® and Batman for DC Comics©™® were made available in B&W editions. Colour might enhance Risso’s work but it isn’t essential. That’s a sure sign of art soaked with structural integrity. The key of course is Risso’s high contrast approach, which here leaves great swathes of pages untouched; colour can be accommodated but so can its absence. Outside everything seems lit by a merciless sun, while inside it’s the unflinching glare of neon, and everywhere shadows as black as a banker’s heart anchor it all. It’s not without precedent of course; the cowboy boots embellished with swastikas are as much a giveaway as the detail bleaching; someone’s been studying their Frank Miller circa Sin City. Actually, lots of people have been studying their Frank Miller circa Sin City, but no one has managed to subsume it into their style as flawlessly as Risso. As dumbly fun as the stories were, the real story in Sin City was Frank Miller’s courageous shearing of detail right up to the brink of sense. The lessons Miller’s pages contained were not lost on Eduardo Risso. He isn’t copying, he’s picking up the baton and haring off in his own direction; which is no way to win a race, but I’m not very good with sports metaphors; I’m sure you know what I meant. There is so much absent from the pages of BORDERLINE another, lesser artist would have some serious explaining to do. But Risso is a better, greater artist and so his art explains everything. Less may well be more but only because Risso works the balls off what little there is.
BORDERLINE is VERY GOOD!
NEXT TIME: Maybe get back on schedule with a bit of Dredd, or maybe something random again. I don’t know about you but I’m getting that Chaykin feeling. Anyway, something, sometime from the wacky world of – COMICS!!!
JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 80: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON Art by Paul Marshall, Peter Doherty, Laurence Campbell, Lee Townsend, Brian Bolland, Mick McMahon and Ian Gibson Written by John Smith, Rob Williams, John Wagner and Gordon Rennie Lettered by Tom Frame, Ellie De Ville, Tony Jacob and Simon Bowland Colours by Alan Craddock, Peter Doherty and John-Paul Bove Originally serialised in 2000AD Progs 47, 50-52, 57, 1017-1028 & 1468, JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 328-331 © 1978, 1996,2005, 2012 & 2016 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2016) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
JUDGE DREDD: DARKSIDE Art by Paul Marshall Written by John Smith Coloured by Alan Craddock Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Progs 1017-1028
The order of these stories are all to cock chronology wise. The earliest Luna-1 stories are later in the book. I'm not sure why that is but we start with another disappointing John Smith Dredd outing. All the more disappointing because there are some pretty nifty elements here, but it all fails to gel. Someone is murdering people on the Luna-1 colony, someone with Judge Dredd's DNA! Worse, old Stony Face is actually on the moon pursuing a perp while also accompanying Psi Judge Hassad who has had “premonitions of a premonition”, so it could actually be Dredd. In fact who else could it be? It's a really promising set-up, but Smith fails to capitalise on it and plays his hand far too soon. What you end up with instead of a murder-mystery is a lot of running about bumping into call-backs to older, better stories.
He's aided and abetted by Marshall's clean line and chunky directness, which in turn is lent pizzazz by Craddock's vivid colours, which include photographic elements. The colours give it an otherworldly touch and the art successfully casts everything in a serio-comic mode. But it's all for naught as the tale is torpedoed by Smith's failure to balance his disparate elements. Usually his blend of comedy and horror is jarring, but intentionally so. Here his hands are too heavy on the horror and the humour both; resulting in a tonal roller-coaster of brutal murders which keeps ploughing into the candyfloss stand of the overly broad comedy, because for some reason it's on the track instead of down below next to the boating pond. Some of this sense of humour failure stems from Smith's distaste for the Judicial System; having Dredd interrogated by a Teutonic sadist complete with monocle and duelling scars is slapstick rather than satire. Some of the sense of humour failure is...well, inexplicable really; Psi Judge Hassad's a step too close to the old “Dearie Dearie me!” stereotype for comfort, never mind comedy. (Later we'll see some more unfortunate stereotypes; being white, male and totes privileged I'm willing to give stuff from the '70s a grudging pass, but not from the '90s.) I get the impression John Smith doesn't enjoy writing Dredd much, which is fine, each to their own but unfortunately more often than not it ends up with the reader not enjoying reading Judge Dredd. That’s less than ideal. EH!
BREATHING SPACE Art by Peter Doherty,Laurence Campbell and Lee Townsend Written by Rob Williams Coloured by Peter Doherty Lettered by Ellie De Ville Originally published in 2000AD Progs 1451-1459
Regular Squaxx dex Kano will know that in the comments we've been having a bit of a think about who “gets” Judge Dredd; it being a bit of a notable failure on the part of some Dredd scribes. Turns out it's a matter of opinion! Anyway, here we have a good way of avoiding that problem; Judge Dredd isn't in Breathing Space. It's a space-noir which uses the enclosed environment of Luna 1 to excellent advantage. The newly appointed Chief Marshal of Luna 1, Judge King, steps onto the lunar surface and straight into a mess of corrupt Judges, corporate backstabbing and...MURDER! In a nice tip of the space-fedora to SUNSET BOULEVARD the story starts with a dead man, and then we go back and see how he ended up there. It's not so much whodunnit as a whydidhedowhathedunnit. Any greater detail risks an eruption of the Thrill Suckers' ambrosia – SPOILERS!
For such a sweet read it's odd to find in the text at the back that Breathing Space had a troubled gestation. Due to illness Doherty (he got better; don't send cards) draws only the initial episodes but Campbell & Townsend pick up from him so delicately that you barely sense a switch in style. Although episodes appeared regularly, apparently it was written over three years (by which I mean there was a ruddy great hiatus in there, not that Williams' was honing it over a three year period like some kind of Joycean perfectionist; as good as it is it's still space-noir not ULYSSES, people), but you'd not guess as the pared down style reads smooth as a successful getaway. The consistency is helped no end by Doherty's continued presence as colourist; his use of a strictly limited and thoroughly muted palette sets a suitably sombre tone for the dour proceedings. The whole thing zips glumly along and Williams' intelligent plot is peppered with characters just the right side of caricature, there's some nifty misdirection and the vital plot point is rooted firmly in the “Dredd” universe. Placed as it is after Smith & Marshall's misfire of dayglo clowning the success of Breathing Space's restrained doom-mongering seems all the greater. There's no Dredd in it but it's still VERY GOOD!
Thus starts a brief run of the original Luna 1 stories. It's not all of them; just those with art by Brian Bolland, because everyone likes to remember when you would get weekly doses of Bolland Thrill-Power. Fat chance of that now. I'll burn through these, because they are from that period when Dredd was finding its feet as a strip. Any elements that have survived into the Dredd canon (NOT cannon; that's a thing that fires projectiles. Make a note of that.) are sparse, since even for a strip which delights in exaggeration as Dredd does, Wagner is so far over the top here he risks clipping the moon itself.
JUDGE DREDD: LAND RACE Art by Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tony Jacob Originally published in 2000AD Prog 47
The Land Race is a riff on the American West tradition of the first person to stake a claim on a piece of land getting to own it. (And by “people” I mean European immigrants; the native Americans were not consulted. I always like it when the Americans descended from European immigrants get all pinch-arsed about immigrants. Dunces.) Bolland has fun designing the vehicles driven by the prospectors, but the mayhem soon gives way to a protracted scene involving an old woman being mind controlled into signing her land away. Amusingly the bad guys are from Interstellar Psionics Corporation, i.e. IPC (the then publishers of 2000AD). There's also a panel of Judge Dredd's head in the corner of which is an X-Wing from the children's entertainment STAR WARS. I think this was to do with a Competition at the time; where you had to find these scattered through the comic to win...er...something to do with STAR WARS. George Lucas' bum fluff? I don't remember that bit; the prize. Unfortunately, we also see here the two Mexican Judges who are, uh, a bit stereotypical what with the sombrero, 'taches and the “Thees” and the “heem”s. Weird in that way only kids '70s could be Walter The Robot gets a girlfriend in the form of Rowena The Robot. Best of all though we discover that Judge Dredd's palate is so disciplined that he can tell the difference between man-made cookies and those made by a robot. Personally I think more should have been made of this and Judge Dredd hereafter is a lesser character without his cookie tasting skills. Trains not taken, eh? All these things are more interesting than the story which is just a lively entertainment, wonderfully drawn by Bolland. But there are worse things to be than entertaining and drawn by Brian Bolland so OKAY!
JUDGE DREDD: THE FIRST LUNA OLYMPICS Art by Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tony Jacob Originally published in 2000AD Prog 50
Not much to this one beyond Bolland's reliably exemplary art and a horrifically un-Dredd moment. Most of it is a lot of simple jokes about The Olympics. The Sov competitors are full of drugs, and the bits that aren’t full of drugs are mechanical; the high jump is very high because of the low gravity; etc etc. Wagner nails the commentators' voices, and the jokes are mildly amusing jokes, but to his credit it's all a feint because at strip's end Dredd starts a war with the Sovs by accidentally shooting a Sov Judge. It's clearly an accident and the Sovs are over reacting, but Judge Dredd? An accident? Get outta town. I think this is the first appearance of the Sov Judges and Bolland totally nails their appearance; so much so that they have barely changed over the ensuing decades. I particularly like the way their helmets echo those odd toppings on the Kremlin. I thought I might have to do a quick run down of The Cold War and how America and Russia's nuclear cockfencing endangered the whole world. Luckily I don't have to because Putin and Trump have brought it all back. Personally I'd have preferred the return of the Rubik's Cube but there you go, they didn't ask me. Some okay jokes and a super unexpected cliff-hanger, with Bolland's comical realism on top like a tasty Kremlin Onion, is OKAY!
JUDGE DREDD: LUNA-1 WAR Art by Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tony Jacob Originally published in 2000AD Prog 51
WAR! HUH! Oh, you know that song! In the future Luna 1 War tells us, “Wars today are NO LONGER FOUGHT BETWEEN VAST ARMIES, But by Combat units consisting of FOUR SOLDIERS and one reserve!” This idea doesn't last any longer as the duration of this strip (The Apocalypse War certainly seemed more substantial than a ruck in a pub car park.) but it is a good idea nevertheless. Dredd watches from the side-lines saying awesome things like “We're no better than The Sovs. They use war as an excuse to grab land – we treat it as a GAME!” I'm a-okay with eight year olds reading that despite how it may sound to sophisticated twenty year olds and up. So you can stop rolling your eyes, pal. Anyway, the Sovs are a bad lot so they spike the M-C1 reserve with a “Hypo-Dart”. Big Mistake. Judge Dredd dons a suspiciously Dan Dare-esque helmet and gives those unsporting Sovs' hides a good tanning. For two issues now we've had to “listen” to Wagner's excellently aggravating sports caster (Bolland makes him look like a certain Daily Planet stringer. Heh.) so on our behalf Dredd chokes him with his own mike, turns to the audience and spits, “War is POINTLESS. War is EVIL. WAR IS HELL!”. Hey, sometimes the truth doesn't need nuance. GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: THE FACE-CHANGE CRIMES Art by Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Prog 52
Unlike the concept of war as a 10 man sporting event, the idea introduced here would persist for the duration of the Dredd strip, causing no end of bedevilment for our future Lawman. It does what it says on the tin, this face-change technology. So here we start with a bank robbery by Laurel and Hardy with Charlie Chaplin, where the robbers evade capture after a bit of !presto-changeo! by being evacuated with the faces of the (3) Marx Brothers. Needless to say Bolland's art is every bit the perfect fit for the bizarre sight of dead 20th century comedians robbing a future bank on the moon. Luckily Judge Dredd has a somewhat unlikely knowledge of deceased 20th Century Comedians and quickly zeroes in on his suspects. Freed by their lawyer, who is a dead ringer for the famous actor and acromegaly sufferer Rondo Hatton, Dredd is left kicking his heels but..."TWO CAN PLAY A DIRTY GAME…!", and he doesn't mean nude Twister. This is a fast and fun one, with Bolland's realism coming to the fore to underscore the visual lunacy of what's going on. You know, VERY GOOD! Personally I feel more could have been made of Dredd's credulity stretching knowledge of 20th Century trivia; it could perhaps have been combined with his amazing ability to tell who cooked what he's eating in order to solve future crimes. On second thoughts we're just a touch of smug irony away from a Matt Fraction Image comic, so forget I said anything. The world doesn't need any more of those.
JUDGE DREDD: THE OXYGEN BOARD Art by Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Prog 57
This strip is where the young John K(UK) was infused with a life-long detestation of the Free Market philosophy so beloved of soulless cankers who walk like humans. Regulation isn't the enemy, greedy psychopaths are. Sure, I know, I know, if we just leave the provision of services to find its own level no end of good will result. After all, human behaviour is improved no end by the possibility of earning ridiculous amounts of money without obstruction. And if you believe that fairy story/self justificatory pile of horse apples you probably think you can eat the moon on crackers. Anyone who has ever ridden a train in England or received a utility bill know that The Oxygen Board isn't just a possibility; it's inevitable. You also know that Free Market philosophy makes about as much sense as wearing hats made of shit. And if they could charge you for it they'd tell you that was a good idea too. And some of you would do it too. So, uh, yeah, on the moon, oxygen is piped in and billed and if you don't pay your bill...well, that's on you! It's a wicked and powerful punchline most writers would make much hay out of, but Wagner slaps it at the end of a tale of thieves who have robbed the very Oxygen Board itself. Their ironic comeuppance turns the whole thing into a darkly prescient parable. It's drawn by Brian Bolland too, and if that's the only thing that gets people looking at what is a tiny masterpiece then all the better. VERY GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: FULL EARTH CRIMES Art by Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Prog 58
This one is better than its simple premise might indicate. On the moon people go loco at Full Earth like people are purported to do on Earth when the moon is full. We then get a conveyor belt of crimes punchily slapped down by the living genius Mike McMahon. It's a succession of funny future crime set-ups each followed by a Dredd-is-a-hard-bastard punchline. E.g Dredd saves a leaper but then gives him 90 days Penal Servitude for public nuisance. Wagner doubles down by having a lady bystander tell Dredd off, because the guy is clearly not the full shilling, only for Dredd to fine her 2,000 Creds for obstructing Justice. Then, with a poker face like iron, Wagner TRIPLES down and when she complains Dredd ups the fine to 4,000 credits. Actually, it is quite funny now I think about it. There’s a bunch of that kind of thing before Dredd goes home exhausted. It's just a string of jokes really, with the double page opening by Bolland and the actual meat of the story by Mike McMahon. Call me unstable but I will always have room in my mind for the final panel where Walter faithfully tucks a blanket around “Dear Judge Dwedd...” OKAY!
JUDGE DREDD: GLOBAL PSYCHO Art by Ian Gibson Written by Gordon Rennie Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE #328-331
Oh, thank Grud. We’re nearly at the end! Oh, you're all feeling the fatigue, what about me? I went to C**********d and back halfway through writing this (round about the Luna-1 War bit) because people think I have to contribute to the social life of the family or something! It was cold and windy enough to require my big coat too! Straight back with “school shoes” and here I have to go on about Gordon Rennie, while fielding black looks from the person cooking the tea. Anyhoo, Judge Dredd is outfoxed by a serial killer in a oner which sets up the somewhat chunkier one which follows on below. Ian Gibson draws in his kind of diseased kid's illustrator style and once again his colours are a delight of polished inkwashes. The most interesting thing for me with Global Psycho is the fact it shows a bum and a bit of tit on a killer's strung up victim. We didn't need a bit of bum and tit in my day! Not in Judge Dredd anyway. What we did our own homes was another matter. It's just a setting up strip so it's OKAY!
JUDGE DREDD: KILLER ELITE Art by Paul Marshall Written by Gordon Rennie Greytones by Jean-Paul Bove Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE #328-331
Gordon Rennie acquits himself quite well here; it helps he's given himself a strong premise. The psycho from Global Psycho is dying, but before she pops off she collects the galaxy's greatest murderers and has them all face off on the moon. The prize is the seat aboard an escape pod. It doesn't sound like much of a prize, but the complex will explode in sixty minutes and there is only one seat on the escape pod. Dredd's in there because he is after all “the greatest mass murderer in human history”; which by this point in his history is probably understating the matter. It's nice to be reminded how much blood is on Joe's hands every now and again. Particularly if you've recently watched him get tucked up snug by a fawning robot. A whole lot of mayhem ensues but to avoid it all getting a bit one-note Rennie builds the trap around Dredd so tightly that by the time he reaches the pod with another survivor you really don't know how he's going to get out of it. It's fast and fun, and if not quite as fast or fun as Rennie might think, it's fast and fun enough. The only let down is the art. While there's nothing wrong with Marshall's typically sturdy work, someone has made the (cost cutting?) decision to go for gray tones instead of colour. This makes it all a bit visually drab, so much so it starts to undermine the art. The swathes of gray don't allow anything to pop, even when you know what you are looking at should be popping like Space Dust on a pre-teen's tongue. But Dredd's convincingly Dredd, and Rennies' Most Dangerous Game is dangerous enough so GOOD!
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON shows that Luna-1 is whatever any particular writer requires of it; empty and forbidding in Breathing Space, noisy and garish in Darkside, bustling and crazed in the original strips and the moon is just, well, there as a deadly backdrop in Killer Elite. It doesn't really matter as the freedom allows all these different approaches; and while some work (Breathing Space) and some don't (Darkside) none of that's down to the setting. As a volume it's GOOD!
NEXT TIME: Manners maketh the Judge, so says Judge Mum and - COMICS!!!
JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION Vol. 77: HORROR STORIES Art by Brett Ewins, Ian Gibson, Dave Taylor, Mick McMahon, John Burns, Andrew Currie, Xuasus and Steve Dillon Written by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Gordon Rennie and John Smith Lettered by Tom Frame and Annie Parkhouse Colours by Chris Blythe Originally serialised in 2000AD Progs 359-363, 511-512, 1523-1528, 1582-1586 & 2005, JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.27-2.29, JUDGE DREDD ANNUAL 1981, JUDGE DREDD ANNUAL 1982 and 2000AD WINTER SPECIAL 1994 © 1980, 1981, 1984, 1987,1994, 2004, 2007, 2008 & 2016 Rebellion A/S Hatchette Partworks/Rebellion, £9.99 (2016) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner
JUDGE DREDD: THE HAUNTING OF SECTOR HOUSE 9 Art by Brett Ewins Written by John Wagner & Alan Grant Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Progs 359-363
I know we've all wondered more than once what Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House would be like if it was set in Mega-City One. Well, The Haunting of Sector House 9 answers that pressing question. Apparently there would be a lot less sublimated sapphism and repressive social mores and a lot more mouths exploding from walls, zombies, disembodied hands and big men in leather shouting. On reflection it might not have that much to do with Shirley Jackson's timeless terror tome after all. It definitely has to do with Judge Dredd stolidly yelling things like "DAMNED if I'll give in to a SPOOK!" and Brett Ewins wonderful ability to draw warped flesh and matter splattered walls. I really dug this one on its first appearance way back when, there was just something unsettling about the sci-fi world of Dredd suddenly morphing into a barnstorming full-on horror flick. Wagner and Grant pace this demon baby just right with each chapter containing something icky and an incremental revelation of the solution to the mystery. And they don't even cheat on the solution, it's not just "Well, I guess we'll never know. There are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your comportment, Judge Dredd." No, there's a proper (and very "Dredd") reason for all the poltergeisting about.
Much of the fun comes from Dredd's refusal to treat the supernatural any differently to a perp with a knife and an Umpty habit. Here he shares the stage with a couple of other Judges, most notably Judge Omar who has a turban so is, I guess, a Sikh. Although Dredd's world appears overwhelmingly secular there are still familiar religions (something Alan Grant would explore in his Judge Anderson strips; we'll get to those volumes. Patience.) Omar is also a PSI Judge. I used to think that a PSI Division was about as likely as a Healing Crystals Division (Judge Credulous, presiding) but over the years the strip has worn down my resistance, also it turns out fascists have a penchant for all that silly shit so, yeah, okay, PSI Division it is. Best used sparingly though, like nutmeg. The Haunting of Sector House 9 is good little thunder through spooky tropes with a satisfying pay off, but a lot of its success is down to the atmosphere and that's wholly down to Bret Ewins' art. Which is unfortunate, because these volumes reprint some very old strips, and I guess occasionally the original materials have gone AWOL. (Or Rebellion/Hatchette haven't bothered to source them.) In this particular case the poor reproduction annihilates the delicacy of Ewins' line. Despite his art being all about blunt impact, a kind of brusque shove to get your eye's attention, there's always a surprising amount of detail in there. Detail that isn't served well by the heavy handed reproduction. You can still see all Ewins's trademarks through the murk; particularly those shiny, shiny Judge helmets. It's just a shame his crisp, clear linework is swamped by blacks for the most part. Despite this The Haunting of Sector House 9 is pulpy sprint of a thing adorned by the art of one of Dredd's more under-rated artists. GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: JUDGEMENT Art by Ian Gibson Written by Gordon Rennie Lettered by Annie Parkhouse Originally published in 2000AD Progs 1523-1528
Here Gordon Rennie manfully struggles to give Dredd and Anderson a supernatural mystery to solve, and for the most part he is successful enough. A ghostly Judge is dispensing justice on the streets, which just isn't on, and so Dred investigates along with Anderson and SJS judge Ishmael. Judge Ishmael, er, has a beard, and contributes little to the narrative before just fading into the background. He's the kind of story flab a Wagner or a Grant would have excised completely, but not Rennie, alas. This unnecesary heaviness weighs the strip down, it all seems overly convoluted in order to get to where it's going. The pacing plods, in short. And Rennie is inconsistent in his spookiness. A ghost judge whose shell casings are material enough to be traced? Um, no. I have trouble believing in gravity so if you want me to be all-in on vengeful revenants you can't trip me up with stuff like that.
But it's not without entertainment and Rennie gets a couple of very good moments in there, such as when the gang boss realises he's just made a biiiiiiiiiiiiig mistake. And the mystery itself is pretty good, there's just the odd leadfooted moment which makes you pause just long enough to irritate. A bit of red pencil would have helped. It's close to good, but what hurls it across the line is Ian Gibson's phenomenal art. Or to be more precise Gibson's phenomenal colouring. Seriously, there's some crackerjack colouring going on here. Done in something resembling ink wash, the colours are a work of art in themselves. The indigo Ghost Judge really pops out from the world it is haunting. For that world Gibson chooses a really chirpy and upbeat palette with warm pinks, deep blues and jolly greens which, draped over his lithely curvaceous lines, create images so ebulliently cartoony they are a joy. In Judgement Rennie does okay, but Gibson raises things up to GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: ROAD STOP Art by Dave Taylor Written by Gordon Rennie Lettered by Annie Parkhouse Originally published in 2000AD Progs 1582-1586
Gordon Rennie again! This time Rennie picks up a bunch of genre cliches, each of which would be insufficient for a story this length and mushes them all together to create a kind of creepy comicbook rumbledethumps. And, I have to say, it's not half bad. Hmmmmm! For a bunch of reasons which can all shelter under the umbrella of Plot Convenience (which is much better than hunching under the bus shelter of Plot Contrivance) Judge Dred is stranded until a storm passes at a decrepit Road Stop with a serial killer, an assassin, a coach trip and several other cits. That's pretty good. But the Road Stop comes under attack from a mutant gang and, yes, and, the owners of the Road Stop have something hungry in the basement. It should be overstuffed but, credit to Rennie, it moves along with quite a bit of zip and not without a few surprises. There's never a dull moment, but then with that lot going on there shouldn't be. (Again, though, Mr. Editor should have pointed out that you don't tell someone who has just revealed themselves as an assassin that you would love to help them but you have to pack all this stolen money..oops, you're dead!) Fun for the most part, writing-wise.
But the art? Grud on a Greenie! Who is this Dave Taylor! He's the Tip-Top Top Cat and no mistake! His art has a wonderfully European inflection and a super robust sense of physical dimension. He doesn't stint one jot on the characters or the locations either. The road house is wonderfully designed, with a real sense of novelty to every room, rather than a jaded sense of yes-I've-seen-Blade-Runner-too-it-was-forty-years-ago-can-we-move-on-now-please. And there's no stinginess with the character designs either. Most folk would have saved the robot with a monkey’s head or the electric-circuit person for their own projects. But here they are just part of a bunch of wild designs which get less page time than Judge Dredd's bike. Dave Taylor goes all-in is what I'm saying. I looked him up on Wikipedia and it turns out he's English so that explains everything. Apparently he also had a double hernia. I doubt that's the secret of his ridiculously good art though. Road Stop is solid stuff so GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: THE FEAR THAT MADE MILWAUKEE FAMOUS! Art by Mick McMahon Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD ANNUAL 1981
In 1981 Judge Dredd got his own Annual! (Well, I guess in 1980 strictly speaking). This was pretty momentous if you were 11 years old, because that meant that Christmas would bring not only the 2000AD Annual but also a Judge Dredd one! (Family finances permitting; the ‘80s was a hard time for us, we had to let one of the planes go). North American genre comics have annuals too, but these are published too randomly to suggest anyone producing them actually knows what the word means, and are basically just fat comics. A fat comic chucked out intermittently is not an “annual”, North American genre comics! In Britain where we understand the value of routine and the meaning of words, Annuals come out just before Christmas, are magazine sized with hard covers and cater to a range of interests; sports, puzzles, etc and, yes, comics. The 2000AD Annual would bulk itself out with old reprints (one year I’m sure Rick Random Space Detective was in there. Rick Random! I’m sure Rick Random has his charms, but it was a bit like interrupting a kid’s party with a lecture on the Joys of Accounting. Rick Random isn’t exactly FLESH!) but IIRC Judge Dredd’s Annual was all new stuff. Even if it wasn’t, even if I’m wrong, it had an awesome Mike McMahon drawn strip (yes, this strip!) which took advantage of the big pages and extra length to really go Total McMahon.
The story isn’t much; Dredd is chasing down a bad mutant hombre but comes unstuck when the Milwaukee dead rise up to exact revenge for their nuclear annihilation. It’s a bit of zippy fluff which gets by on the visual joke of the bad guy and Dredd’s refusal to give an inch in the face of a city of restless spirits. Mostly it's McMahon's show. McMahon’s art here is a summation of his “scabby” style, which he would immediately start moving away from, like the restless genius that he is. You can really see here his technique for making the most of his page count by creating pages within pages; that is, a group of three or four panels which are read together within the larger page on which they nestle. He really covers some ground like that, and it leaves him free to have a big image dominating the layout to boot. He also colours it like a gifted child armed with felt tip pens; if Lynne Varley had done it we'd all be shaking a tail feather over it. His pages here were so scrumdiddlyumptious that even an 11 year old could tell. I spent a lot of 1981 copying Mike McMahon’s art from the Judge Dredd Annual 1981 in biro on some wallpaper offcuts we had lying about (remember wallpaper?). Yes, I should have got out more. The Fear That Made Milwaukee Famous! is not only a pun on an ancient Schlitz beer advertising slogan but, drawn by Mike McMahon, it is thus VERY GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: THE VAMPIRE EFFECT Art by Mick McMahon Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD ANNUAL 1982
JUDGE DREDD: THE VAMPIRE EFFECT by McMahon, Wagner and Frame A space ship carrying alien life form samples crashes into Mega City one and an energy vampire is on the loose! The more it eats the bigger it gets and by the time it has eaten a few under-city dwellers it is pretty hefty and ready to chow down on Mega City One. Can Judge Dredd and his fascist pals stop it before it's too late? Yes, obviously. But how? Yeah, smart guy, how? There's not much to this solidly scripted effort other than a steady ratcheting up of the stakes and a pervasive sense of hopelessness, which is quite a lot really; and most of that is probably down to the art by Mike McMahon.
One year later and we can see just how much hunger McMahon's talent has for fresh artistic conquests. The man gobbles up challenges like the in-story vampire chows down on energy. Ravenously. His art still retains a grubby patina but is far more visually controlled now. There's a discipline in the straightness of lines strong enough for him to perch his more expressionistic tendencies atop them. The flare of Dredd's helmet is starting to reach the point where he'll be forced to enter rooms sideways, but the exaggeration is consistent with the larger landscape of visual hyperbole it inhabits; which makes it Art rather than a goof. Fret not, though, McMahon's art has lost none of its playfulness despite his apparent turn towards the stern. His colours are more subdued here with the odd pop of a green knee pad leavening the dourness, but there's still wit; see the negative colouring on people “bitten” by the vampire, and his refusal to make the vampire anything other than a blob speckled by colour. The reproduction here is a crying shame, tending as it does to the blurry. But The Vampire Effect is still drawn by Mike McMahon and so it is VERY GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: HORROR HOUSE Art by John Burns Written by John Wagner Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD WINTER SPECIAL 1994
A one episode punchline strip in which Dredd has to rescue a kidnapped kid from an animatronic house of horrors. This is from a Winter Specuial which, unlike an Annual, is a fat comic released at seasonal intervals. Used to be we just had Summer Specials which were an awesome part of being a kid. Looks like we now have Winter Specials because profits in the third quarter are down, or whatever. I don't know, but I for one am not sitting on a Blackpool beach in my trunks reading Shiver'n'Shake in November, thanks. Must be getting old. So, yeah, the old lag John Burns (b.1938) has scads of fun with the different dioramas in the Mega-Tussauds’ of Terror, and my eyes enjoyed his lovely tides of colour breaking over the page. Burns’ style is very European, characterised by pin-sharp linework so awesome that he took over Modesty Blaise from Enrique Romano in the ‘70s. Burns was beloved by kids of the ‘70s for his art on the smutty newspaper strip George & Lynne, by the ‘80s he was blazing trails of awesome on the page for 2000AD, where his work embraced colour with a vigour that would make a vicar blush. I like John Burns’ art. Unfortunately while the script’s punchline isn’t bad as such, it landed leadenly as I hadn’t realised there was anything amiss with Dredd’s behaviour. He’s not exactly chatty Cathy at the best of times is he now? Anyway, John Burns drawing Judge Dredd fighting things is always GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: CHRISTMAS WITH THE BLINTS Art by Andrew Currie Written by John Wagner Coloured by Chris Blythe Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Prog 2005
This is the finale of a long running storyline about Dredd failing to catch Ooola Blint, who is addicted to euthanasia-ing unwilling people, and her useful idiot of a husband, Homer. The problem with this series of mega-books is here we just get the end of the chase. Maybe the other bits are in other books, I don't know. Anyway, although robbed of much of its cumulative impact, the script is the usual drly comic Wagner effort wherein romance and murder become so intertwined it gets hard to distinguish between the two. At heart this is pretty sick stuff but thanks to Wagner's deadpan delivery this very sickness becomes part of the humour.
Christmas With The Blints is more of a characer piece than an action piece so Currie has his work cut out for him. Fortunatley Currie seems to have a yen for caricature, so fun with faces is right up his street, and his “acting” is well up to snuff(heh!) for the duration. He does a particularly sweet Morgan Freeman whose sloping contours suggest the influence of the Master Caricaturist Mort Drucker, which is nice to see in a Dredd strip. It's a wordy episode but Currie keeps it interesting and his crisp, clean style is attractive if never eye boggling. Christmas With The Blints is GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: THE JIGSAW MURDERS Art by Xuasas Written by John Smith Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE 2.27-2.29
I really like John Smith as a writer, and I really, really like Judge Dredd as a character but I don't think John Smith writes a good Judge Dredd. The Jigsaw Murders doesn't change that opinion. Smith has his very own range of obsessions he rarely deviates from: body horror, fractured stream-of-consciousness inner monologues, creepy malefic beings whose reality can be a bit dubious and a rigid dislike of authority. This latter quality overshadows his more intriguing aspects on Dredd, because he gives the impression he's holding his nose whenever he has to write Dredd himself. I don't know how he gives that impression but he does. So what I do is, I just read it as a John Smith story and that usually works out okay. Here then I ended up reading about a serial killer who dismembers his victims to disguise his less than sane search for a replacement arm. This being a John Smith joint he rides about in an ice cream truck and is haunted by The Giggler, a creepy kid's toy, and is pursued by Judge Dredd, who looks like our Judge Dredd but is an inflexible asshole prone to bad one-liners. He's not as bad as Millar and Morrison's tone-deaf interpretation of Judge Dredd, but then at least here he's in a decent story which is something that pair never managed to conjure up. As John Smith stories go it's pretty good, there's a hilarious bit where the Jigsaw Killer finally gets his arm and it's all kind of icky and nasty like a good John Smith tale should be.
It's illustrated by Juan Jesus Garcia, who likes to be called “Xuasus”, in a fully painted style which I like to call “mostly successful”. It's got some real heft to it thanks to Xuasus' penchant for lumpiness and there's a winning ugliness to everything, not least the characters. However, stiffness is an issue when he paints people in motion, and while it didn't entirely convince there was always the odd stand-out like the panel below. Interesting, I guess I'd go for. The Jigsaw Murders is pleasantly odd thanks to Smith's script and Xuasus', uh, heavy approach. So, GOOD!
JUDGE DREDD: THE BEATING HEART Art by Steve Dillon Written by John Wagner & Alan Grant Lettered by Tom Frame Originally published in 2000AD Progs 511-512
This is a little two parter, a playful update of Poe's “Tell-Tale Heart” which is amusing enough in its way, but is of note largely because of Steve Dillon's art. In 2015 comics lost Brett Ewins (see above) and in 2016 Steve Dillon died, which makes this volume a bittersweet read. It does provide a reminder that Dillon's sparky art could lift a trifle like this out of the filler category and up into GOOD! without breaking a sweat. Dillon may only ever have drawn one female face but he put atop it a cascade of Bizarre '80s hairstyles that would give a Studio Style executive a chubby, and while his décor could be minimal his pacing was precise. Best of all Dillon would always remember that it was Judge Dredd's strip and really nail his Dredd bits down hard. Ciao, Steve Dillon! Ciao, Brett Ewins! And thanks for all the Thrill-Power!
And as all the best horror stories end with a hand coming out of the ground…
NEXT TIME: I'm not sure but probably Judge Dredd in some - COMICS!!!
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!
One of the best comics you haven’t read is coming back into print. I shamelessly try and big it up because it’d be nice if people bought it this time round. What with it being pretty great and all. Oops, spoiler! THE LAST AMERICAN by McMahon, Grant & Wagner
THE LAST AMERICAN: The Collected Edition (Digital Version) Art by Mike McMahon Written by John Wagner & Alan Grant Introductions by Garth Ennis, Dave Gibbons (and a hilariously self-deprecating one by) Mike McMahon © 1990, 2012 Alan Grant, Mike McMahon & John Wagner THE LAST AMERICAN created by Mike McMahon, John Wagner & Alan Grant
“The missiles are flying. Hallelujah, Hallelujah!” – President Greg Stillson (The Dead Zone, 1986)
“For myself and my loved ones, I want the heat, which comes at the speed of light. I don’t want to have to hang about for the blast, which idles along at the speed of sound.” – Martin Amis (Einstein’s Monsters (1987))
“Now the stage is bare and I'm standing there, with emptiness all around...” – Elvis Presley (Are You Lonesome Tonight, 1960)
Apocalypse, word wonks will tell you, means revelation of knowledge previously hidden. Nuclear apocalypse is the revelation that those turned to ash in the first few minutes will be the lucky ones. Pedantry will not protect you from 37.4 megatons of TNT, alas. THE LAST AMERICAN is about what happens after the apocalypse. It is set after the dust has settled. The dust that was once planning its retirement and worrying about missing MR ROBOT.
Some of that dust would have read THE LAST AMERICAN when it originally appeared in 1990 as a 4 issue mini-series from Marvel’s EPIC imprint. Being a darkly witty work of intelligence, one illustrated in a style spectacularly balancing the harrowing and the humorous, it sank without trace. Not even a silhouette burned into a wall. So little love did the series receive in the time of artistic titans like Liefeld and McFarlane that it wasn’t even collected until 2004 by COM.X, and now, apparently, in 2017 Rebellion will be reissuing the series in a TPB. Basically then THE LAST AMERICAN will be reprinted roughly every 13 years until you recalcitrant rabble pick up on its magnificence. And it is magnificent.
It’s magnificent for several reasons but chief of these reasons is that Mike McMahon draws it, and Mike McMahon is never less than magnificent. THE LAST AMERICAN is a full on MickMac Attack! In THE LAST AMERICAN Mike McMahon’s inveterately evolving style mutates once more, here into a eye-sexing fusion of meticulous exactitude and visual hyperbole. Take our protagonist, Ulysses S. Pilgrim, awakened from cryogenic suspension and searching for life 25 years after the earth has been scorched with nuclear fire. He is at once convincingly realistic in his details yet also disarmingly comic booky due to their preponderance. Visually Pilgrim is every inch the comic book hero, with his flashy insignia, his swollen shouldered jacket, high waisted slacks and ruffty tuffty boots all topped off with a cap gilded with laurels and lightning bolts. He looks every inch what he is - an Apocalypse Commander! Apocalypse Commander! Armed with a big gun! Driving a giant tank! Accompanied by two War Robots! With a comedy sidekick robot! Apocalypse Commander! In a Post Nuclear Wasteland! See the Apocalypse Commander and his mechanical allies face mutant tribes of violent mechanically gifted lunatics with a passion for punkish couture! Or not.
And it’s actually not. And it’s better it’s not, because you’ve seen that story before and you’ll see that story again, but you’ve never seen this story before and you won’t see it again. Because this is a more realistic post-apocalypse world than genre entertainment is used to; the cars are rusted tombs and the hairspray is past its sell by date. In THE LAST AMERICAN a comic book creation is dropped into the reality of a post-bomb world, and found wanting. Dubbed Apocalypse Commander by the President hissownself and entrusted with taking the fight to the enemy, Pilgrim instead finds nothing to fight but failing defence systems, tedium, haunting memories and the swift corrosion of his sanity in the face of a world encrusted with corpses. What could have been a one-note joke is lent poignancy and weight by Wagner and Grant’s inventive script.
They know that even if there’s just one human left then there’s an imagination, and even one imagination contains worlds entire. So a story about one man (and three robot)’s stroll through the dark night of all our souls is lit up from within by Wagner & Grant’s resourceful creativity. New York City may be dead but that doesn’t stop it getting up and dancing a star-spangled mish-mash of musical dreams, and a mind under duress can find itself in a very American heaven where Presidents past discuss the bomb while passing the canapes, and the diary of an autistic girl takes us into the murky heart of potential survival. This last is a gruelling work of genius that deftly sidesteps the mawkish. See, she doesn’t understand what’s happening and when it happens none of us will understand either. Those of us that live long enough to understand something has happened anyway. Ultimately THE LAST AMERICAN works as well as it does because the authors (Wagner, Grant and, yes, McMahon, whose deftly desolate cartooning cannot be overpraised here) know that if someone survives then laughter will survive too. Wait, did I mention it was funny?
Because it is funny. Which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone familiar with Wagner & Grant’s work for 2000AD (STRONTIUM DOG, JUDGE DREDD etc etc). Their gracefully mordant wit infects the whole of THE LAST AMERICAN right from the start with an intro that moodily apes the ALIEN wake-up scene punctured by an intrusively jarring ad jingle. And the book ends on a note of dark irony when all hope rests on the flick of a lighter, that delightful igniter of a billion cancer sticks. (Obviously cancer has nothing on nuclear war. Nuclear war has cancer beat on the old mega death score.)
In between there are jokes both large and small, dumb and smart, joyful and despairing. When Pilgrim finally teeters on the brink, it’s a joke as dark as it is smart that pushes him across the pit to the other side. It’s a hard world after the bomb and you have to look hard for the hope. But it’s there, even if it’s just in the mere presence of another human’s shit. A hard world doesn’t need a hard man, it needs a man who can flex under stress, and there’s no greater indicator of that than the man who can laugh in the face of global extinction. Whatever else the last American is he’s a man who laughs. THE LAST AMERICAN is EXCELLENT!
After the bomb there will be no – COMICS!!!
Sunday, and I've been caught a mite short. So I'll just blast through this and see how we do. It's an old Vertigo/DC Comic you might want to look out for in the dollar bins. And I'll tell you for why after the "More..." MOBFIRE by Pleece, Ushaw & Gaspar
Anyway, this... MOBFIRE #1-6 Art by Warren Pleece Written by Gary Ushaw Lettered by Gaspar Logo and publication design by Rian Hughes Art & Text © Gary Ushaw & Warren Pleece All other material © DC Comicss DC Comics/Vertigo, $2.50 each (1994-1995)
Inheriting the family firm at short notice due to the sudden demise of a parent is always a tricky business. For Jack Kellor it's trickier than usual since the Firm his dad ran was decidedly dodgy, not entirely kosher, a bit on the illegit side, you feel me. And that's putting it kindly. See, John Kellor's business was mucky business. Crime if you must. And if you really must then come tooled up, but mind it's with something a bit tastier than a shooter, because in this slightly-to-the-side-of-reality world the scallywags have got a bit of the supernaturals on their side. See, way back when you could leave your door unlocked at night (or were stupid enough to think you could) Jack Kellor ran into a black fellow in a severe state of duress and saved his bacon. Turned out he wasn't just some bloke over here to fill in the post-war labour shortage by driving a bus. Nah, only a blooming witch doctor wanne? And thereafter indebted to the man who saved his hide (because that's how magic works, and who am I to argue?) this Bocor gave John Kellor a decided edge, at least for a bit. After all, it may well have been magic and all that, but in the wrong hands it was just a new weapon, so the other gangs picked themselves some tasty talent handy with the old hocus-pocus and there you go, Bob's your uncle and Fanny's your aunt. That's the world Jack's now chucked into, bad enough to make you wish you'd stayed in bed. But Jack's a chip off the old block in that he has ambition, but where his dad's ambition was to build it up, Jack's going to burn it down. Unless the Bocor gets a whiff of it, because he owed Jack's dear old dad, not Jack; in fact he owes Jack shit, and it looks like he's going to try his level best to make him drown in it. So, no, inheriting the family business might not be all it's cracked up to be for Jack.
The six issues of MOBFIRE were published in 1994-1995 and thus far remain uncollected. This can only have been due to poor sales as pretty much everything was collected back then. If MOBFIRE did sell poorly it wasn't because of any lack of quality, but probably due to the lack of familiarity with the talent involved. I mean, I have no idea who Gary Ushaw is. I hope he's healthy and life has been kind to him, because he wrote a pretty good comic here. The first few issues of MOBFIRE are the densest and tightest, with by far the best writing which serves to suck you in quite nicely. Ushaw and Pleece then keep you on your toes with a surprising development at the fourth issue point, which then results in a lengthy guest appearance by John Constanine. As nicely written as that part is it's an odd choice for a creator owned series, and won't help the chances of a TPB now the rights have probably reverted. Shame, because for all of its six issues MOBFIRE is a pretty good time ,with a varied cast, some surprises and betrayals and it all ends in a bizarre fiasco of violence which is delightfully insane and resembles a Pampers advert directed by 1980s David Cronenberg.
Whoever Ushaw is and whatever he does now, MOBFIRE shows he could write a tidy little comic. The characters are varied and nicely sketched, including but not limited to the addict sister, the mother whose bitterness is rooted in denial of the filth her life style rests on, the chipper best mate and Jack's lady friend (who is not only a woman of colour, but also clearly stronger than Jack in every way without it coming across as unctuous pandering). Ushaw's also a dab hand at that '90s Brit Talent staple the Stream Of Consciousness Babble. You know , the one Morrison and Gaiman dabbled in, Milligan excelled at, and the ridiculously neglected John Smith claimed as his own kingdom and within which he has since dwelt, seeing off all comers quite successfully. Ushaw holds his own in this tricky arena, but his effort impresses perhaps more than it should as he cleverly uses it to confound any creeping misgivings about his portrayal of the Bocor as a largely monosyllabic slab of black Evil. Dude's got depths, just pray you never see them. While the whole thing's played mainly straight Ushaw's not above a bit of playfulness. At one point the criminal enterprise is explicitly explained in terms which make you momentarily wonder whether Ushaw is in fact describing the Free Market as gangsterism. Which he is. (As they say - it's funny because it's true.) Then there’s a Scots bloke who has spooky mirror powers, and if he isn't a cheeky riff on Mirror Master then I'm Beryl Reid. (I'm not Beryl Reid). Not only that but the wee scunner ends a violently bloody encounter by recreating a visual joke made famous by Harry Worth.
Don't worry if you're coming up blank there. Harry Worth is a particularly British reference point and Ushaw is pretty sweet at including these without over-egging the colloquial pudding. The singularly British references are there, but they don't run around on fire screaming in a catastrophic and self defeating bid for attention (see James Robinson's FIREARM. Or don't). E.g. at one point a couple of thick necked guards are partaking in some manly banter, and one mentions he won't be going “up The Arsenal” because “it's the big wedding on The Street.” Sure, the football reference is pretty basic, but the latter part is interesting because he's referring there to a wedding on the popular British TV soap opera Coronation Street (AKA “The Street”) rather than an actual wedding on his street. Britain not actually being that big on street weddings, since the weather is for shit and the folk are mostly miserable social inverts. Basically, for the duration of the book if you get the reference everything's better, but if you miss it there's no harm done. Best way really.
The uniquely British atmosphere is aided no end by the art of Warren Pleece which makes the book worthy of rediscovery all on its lonesome. Warren Pleece is a talented comic book artist, by which I mean he clearly understand the nuts and bolts of putting a page together, but more than that Warren Pleece is a singular talent, because over and above that stuff he understands the importance of conveying a sense of place. The place here is Britain and it looks like Britain. It doesn’t always, not in the comics. There's a bit more to it than Big Ben and a red bus, hard as that may be to believe. Pleece doesn't get much space to play with, but he makes the space he's given work like work is going out of fashion. In crowd scenes everyone is dressed differently, and there are a range of ages on display, but everyone has that singularly worn out and worn down lack of finish which marks every Brit out in a crowd. The shop signs proclaim “MARKS & SPENCER”, “C&A” and “WOOLWORTHS”. Yeah, Woolworths has gone now, but it used to be there; it used to be everywhere in the UK, and so Pleece's art captures not just a place but also a time. And there's also the infernal golden arches in a nod to the cultural homogenisation only just getting a toe hold back then. And Pleece packs all that in one panel on a seven panel page.
On another page he slides into sight the delights of typical pub grub, discreetly colouring the drinks with a typically urinous wash. Another panel on the same page shows us there’s a man in an England shirt with a tat on his neck (in every pub in England there's a man in an England shirt with a tat on his neck. Either that or he just left, or he's due in shortly. Bide your time and he'll be by, the man in the England shirt with a tat on his neck). Ella, who Jack runs with, lives in a flat and Pleece treats us to the sight of laundry flapping on the balcony and contrasts the visually tedious edifice with a short arsed but far more characterful terrace. In one panel, that is, on an eight panel page. Get the drift? Pleece's faces are distinctive with their porcelain sheen and implacable drift chinward towards Punchinello levels of grotesquery, and it's easily these that make the most marked impression. But the fact Pleece bothers to give them a fully realised world to move through lifts his work from the quirkily accomplished and into the great. Because of course it's a fully-realised world; it's our world and capturing that is a kind of magic I can believe in. Utltimatley though the book works because Ushaw and Pleece are firmly in creative cahoots, any doubts about that are kicked to the curb with the bit of business in #5 on p. 9 & 10 involving the flowers in the cafe. It does nothing to propel the plot, but does everything to assure you Ushaw and Pleece are having fun, and doing a bang up job while they are at it. Look, what I'm getting at is Ushaw's writing and Pleece's places make MOBFIRE VERY GOOD! So if you see it, tuck in!
NEXT TIME: Go on, guess! That's right – 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!!!
Anyway, this… THE JUDGE DREDD MEGA COLLECTION REVIEW INDEX
MECHANISMO JUDGE DREDD MEGA COLLECTION VOLUME 24 Contents: Introduction by Matt Smith, Mechanismo, Mechanismo Returns, Body Count, S.A.M. and Safe Hands, cover gallery, Colin MacNeil interviewed by Michael Molcher Art by Colin MacNeil, Peter Doherty, Manuel Benet, Val Semeiks & Cliff Robinson, and Jock Written by John Wagner and Gordon Rennie Coloured by Chris Blythe Lettered by Annie Parkhouse and Tom Frame Originally published in Judge Dredd Megazine 2.12. – 2.17, 2.22 – 2.26, 2.37 -2.43, 2000AD progs 1374 and 1273 Hatchette/Rebellion, £6.99 UK (2014) (It’s £6.99 because it was the second issue which is always, in partworks, more expensive than the first issue, but less expensive than the third issue which is when the real price (£9.99) sets in.) Judge Dredd created by Carlos Ezquerra, John Wagner and Pat Mills
I say, I say, I say, when is a comic book movie not a comic book movie? When it is Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop(1987): the best comic book movie ever(1). Yes, smarty pants, despite its not being a comic book movie. Yet, despite its having no direct single original comic book source it opts instead to indulge a cheekily blatant preference to plunder freely from many sources. Mainly though, it plunders from the best; its black humour, satirical edge, ultraviolence and taciturn (but sympathetic) central character all owing more than a little to Judge Dredd(2). In 1993 in the pages of Judge Dredd Megazine(3), no doubt having tired of waiting for acknowledgement or remuneration, John Wagner repaid the favour with Mechanismo; which is basically Judge Dredd vs. Robocop(s)(4). Due to the persistently apocalyptic nature of life in Mega City One Judges are getting a bit short in supply(5). Flying in the face of pretty much every piece of speculative fiction ever in which automata take on human tasks, Justice Department decide to bolster the Judges with automata. Better yet these are fiercely armed, heavily armoured automata with personalities based on Judge Joseph Dredd his own bad self. Dredd thinks this idea is less than ideal but he’s not Chief Judge. McGruder(6) is, so it’s her call. The Mechanismos get a test run and give Dredd a run for his money.
Surprising absolutely no one Dredd’s right, and things go wrong about 5 minutes after the droids’ boots hit the slab. People die, chaos puts on its dancing shoes and Dredd soon has to hunt a rogue droid imprinted with his own personality. Um, SPOILER! It’s okay, Mechanismo isn’t really about suspense; Mechanismo is a fleet footed blast of future-thrill action which reads better collected than it did when serialised. Initially these tales seemed a little lightweight for the amount of time it took for them to appear, but here they all are in one chunk and their upside becomes more apparent; what initially starts as a sassy riposte to a cinematic rip off (or homage) develops into something a little deeper(7). Playing Dredd off against his robotic doppelganger(s) is a neat trick since their distorted mirroring of Dredd’s appearance, speech and behaviour is amusing, and their embodiment of his personality unfettered by any humanity is revealing in itself. The Mechanismos aren’t Judge Dredd because they can’t ever be Judge Dredd as they aren’t human, and as little humanity as Dredd may have it’s what ultimately prevents him from becoming a monster. Or at least prevents him from becoming an inhuman monster. As monster’s go Judge Dredd’s a very human one, which is cold comfort but still some comfort. After all, where there’s humanity there’s hope(8).
Trouble kicks off because the units overheat and start disobeying orders. Or more precisely, they follow orders too inflexibly and are soon executing people for witnessing crimes and not reporting them. Having laws is all well and dandy but justice is about a bit more than that, says the book full of exploding heads and robots that look like killer Metal Mickeys. Tellingly by the end of the trilogy Dredd himself has been forced to do the wrong thing, but for the right reasons. Wagner’s writing takes a misstep here at the last by uncharacteristically labouring what Dredd has done and what it means. However, it is a big step in Dredd’s development(9) so it’s easy to see why Wagner’s usual lightness of touch becomes a little heavier than usual. Pretty much the whole point of robots in stories is that they’ll go wrong(10), or teach us a very special lesson about the magic of human nature(11). Here Wagner gives us both; although because he is John Wagner his very special lesson is a bit less sparkly than most. What starts out as a fast and funny, sunnily lit action romp pivots via a transitionary dank sewer set middle section into a final darkly subdued echo of the initial premise. The cheerful Robocop-esque overkill of the first chapter invites laughter as citizens are slaughtered for ridiculous reasons, but by the final chapter the same jokes have ceased to be played for laughs as the more mordant and downbeat world of Dredd takes precedence over its derivative cinematic would-be usurper.
As ever these strips appeared over a lengthy period of time and the creative teams are (Wagner aside) discrete. Sensibly, visual choppiness over the course of the trilogy is kept to a minimum by assigning each chapter to a particular artist. MacNeil chooses to paint the opener, Mechanismo, in a bleached out style awash with bright sunshine, like it’s perpetually high noon (of course - because there’s a showdown!) Everything has a lovely warm quality - even the smears of colour that were once people’s heads. (12) Signalling the shift in tone Peter Doherty’s Mechanismo Returns is a far darker affair, due to its night time and underground settings. Doherty has an oddly hesitant line, and the resultant tentativeness is an odd fit for the blunt world of Dredd. Also, his people look like they’ve been dead for six months; it’s an odd look all round. I like it, but it’s odd. Not unpleasant, just different(13). In comparison to MacNeil & Doherty Benet’s art on Body Count seems simultaneously both "European" and old fashioned; like a throwback to a 1970s Heavy Metal, or a coloured-in cousin of Casanovas’ work on Dredd (remember Max Normal?) I mean, Benet’s art is fine, it does the job but it can’t help but look a little stuffy and archaic after Doherty and MacNeil’s comparatively brisk and frisky stuff.
The book is filled out by a pair of tales falling within the unspoken remit of “robots gone wrong”. In S.A.M. Wagner writes a caustic take on bureaucratic pettifoggery which ostensibly involves Judge Dredd having to outwit a talking bomb, but is given satirical bite via its roots in the plight faced by an increasing number of folk in the real world. The ostensibly bizarre pairing of North American stalwart Semeiks’ pencils with the Bolland-lite inks of Robinson makes for a pleasing goofy result. Robbie Morrison’s Safe Hands is an example of the punchline approach to a Dredd strip and is weak in a probably-had-it-on-file-for-emergencies way. It’s still worth a look because it’s drawn by Jock. And that’s pretty much it. Plenty of Thrill-Power in this volume so Judge Kane’s verdict is a solid GOOD!
They can replace us all with robots but they’ll never replace – COMICS!!!
(1) Yeah, yeah, thinking about it now, Dobermann (1997), Sin City (2005) and Ghost World (2001) are close contenders, and, yeah, sure, you probably have your own favourite but I can’t read your mind, pal, so Robocop wins today (and mostly because I can’t be bothered to do a new opening).
(2) Oh, I’m sure there’s a quote somewhere about how no one involved in the movie had ever heard of Judge Dredd. But still and all, still and all…
(3) The actual issue numbers are up there. That’s one sexy time that is, copying that stuff out. I only do this so I can copy issue numbers out, don’t tell everyone! It’s my Secret Garden!
(4) It’s so obvious I kind of regret taking up all that space building up to such a non-revelation. The first chapter is upfront about it and has a bit of fun directly referring to the Mechanismo as both “the future of law enforcement” and “Robo Judge”. In the second chapter Wagner pokes fun at his own movie allusions with a character declaring “Number 5’s alive!” - the tag line to Short Circuit (1986); a quite different movie from Robocop. No, I haven’t seen Short Circuit; I was 16, why the blue blazes would I be watching a Steve Guttenberg comedy about a tiny robot. I was watching tawdry horror nonsense, probably involving Barbara Crampton screaming. And they let me breed.
(5) This takes place just after NECROPOLIS which had the Dark Judges take over Mega City One with predictably hilarious consequences.
(6) McGruder is a particularly confusing character when encountered in isolated stories. She’s of a distinctly mannish aspect and is functionally nuts, quite often referring to herself in the plural, and prone to paranoid fancies. Originally a Judge who took the Long Walk she returned to the City during NECROPOLIS and was hugely influential in overthrowing the Dark Judges. She means well but her eroding sanity is starting to take its toll. This a sensible footnote. You might want to frame it.
(7) But not that deep. It kind of introduces themes , characters and events which lead into the mega-epic WILDERLANDS which occurs beyond the covers of this book.
(8) You have to believe stuff like that if you have kids, otherwise you go nuts.
(9) Judge Dredd’s that rare character in comics whose character does indeed develop. He also ages and one day he will die. I doubt if he’d want flowers so send the money to a kid’s charity. It’s what he’d want.
(10) See Robocop. Although Robocop goes wrong by regaining his humanity which is right, this is still against his programming so it is also wrong. Look, just go with it.
(11) See Short Circuit. Probably, anyway. Because, no, I don’t know what lesson everyone is supposed to take away from Short Circuit. Like I say I was busy watching From Beyond or something erudite like that. We covered that earlier. Don’t you read these? I have other things to do, you know. I’m not sat around imbibing peeled grapes from servile hands while deigning occasionally to set some words down about Judge Dredd. This country’s turning to shit over here under the Tories, this is not a good time to be conscious and…sorry, 再见了!
(12) In the interview at the back of the book MacNeil explicitly acknowledges this luminous approach, but I’d just like to stress I’d already written about that bit before I’d read his interview. So I’m not stealing his words, I’m saying I was right. That was a pleasant surprise because I’m simply awful on colours.
(13) I’m pretty sure this is the same Peter Doherty who facilitates the excellent colouring on so many of Geoff Darrow’s grotesquely flamboyant creations. I could be wrong, I often am; it’s what keeps me modest.
(14) There is no fourteenth footnote. Go home.
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!!!
A bit of a break from war comics this time out. Because if there's one thing I know you folks love more than war comics it's Western comics. Damn, if I pander any harder I'm liable to break something! THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO by Truman, Magyar, Lansdale, Parsons & Joyce
THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO #1-4 Art by Timothy Truman & Rick Magyar Written by Joe R. Lansdale Lettered by Brad K. Joyce Coloured by Sam Parsons TOPPS Comics, $2.50ea (1994) The Lone Ranger created in 1933 by Fran Striker or George W. Trendle
When I was a kid I used to watch The Lone Ranger but then he got some curtains, and that was the end of that joke. A joke there almost as old as The Lone Ranger himself. Because not only did I (being a man whom we have established in past instalments is basically dust about to happen) watch the B&W TV show but so did my dad when he was a kid in Canada. That’s two very different places separated by decades, tons of water, different opinions on how to spell the word colour, and more miles than I can honestly be bothered to look up today. I checked with “Gil” and he only knows The Lone Ranger from the “poorly received” 2013 movie. He enjoyed it mind you, but since “poorly received” is polite Tinseltown speak for “the audience avoided it like it was trying to rub shit in their eyes” I imagine he was in the minority on that one. Prior to that there was a 1981 LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER movie, which even I’d forgotten about. I guess what I’m getting at is that by 1994 when these comics appeared The Lone Ranger’s appeal was somehat shy of raging like a prairie fire. While these comics would do nothing to change that state of affairs (a two-hour TV pilot was broadcast in 2003 on the WB channel and someone will one day admit to seeing it) they are by a talented team and if you’re partial to a Lansdale or Truman shindig you’ll probably like these comics too.
Posterity may have given this series short shrift but be assured that here the pair bring the same scruffy panache they brought to their three Jonah Hex series for Vertigo. Anyone who has read their salty take on the man with the fried egg eye will know that Lansdale & Truman are as safe a pair of hands as could be found for a property like this. Timothy Truman’s art always looks like it has escaped from The Old West as it is. Even when tasked with superheroes such as Hawkman Truman’s art brings with it a singularly malodorous air of malnutrition and poor sanitation. And I mean that in a good way. I like a strong style; you should see my ties. So, when depicting a world where malnutrition and poor sanitation were something to aspire to then Timothy Truman’s the man, true. His whole body of work shows an obvious affinity for The Old West, so much so that back in 1985 his SCOUT series for Eclipse Comics had been basically set in a futuristic dystopia informed by Native American mythology which was, well, the Old West, just with better hardware and totemic demons. (If I recall correctly there was even a serape a la The Man With No Name in the first issue.) Scout is also, commonly, the name of Tonto’s horse, but that may be a stretch to test Reed Richards there. Here, even though it’s an oater, Truman doesn’t just have to draw horses and horseshit and saloons and spittoons though, because this is also a Joe R Lansdale joint so Truman’s art also has to encompass visual absurdities which range from the plain unsettling to the plumb appalling. He’s up to it though. The tranquil horror of an unfeasibly large pile of bodies is as queasily affecting as a land boat racing across the prairies is ridiculously impressive. Nor does Truman stint none on the small scale stuff, with the creature on the loose (no spoilers) possessing a ball crawling combination of dainty finickitiness and implacability which static images shouldn’t really be able to impart, but my crawling balls can assure you they do here. The art here isn’t pretty and nor is precision at a premium; the utter dicksplash of a Governor looks like Ronald Reagan for only a couple of panels, but it’s enough to make the bit where The Lone Ranger And Tonto give him his comeuppance via sarcasm and cigars that much sweeter. But the value of Truman’s imprecision is the flexibility it allows him, flexibility shown to no greater effect than when a creature swallows a man whole in a series of panels which will have you gingerly touching your own throat like a defrocked vicar in a moment of stress.
While I’m trying to avoid spoiling this one it should be as clear as the river when the snows thaw that this time out The Lone Ranger and Tonto are up against a mite more than cattle rustlers or bank robbers. What they are up against is whatever fell out of Joe R Lansdale’s head while he was writing it, and what falls out of Joe R Lansdale’s head during the writing process can err towards the bizarre. And I mean that in a good way. I like a strong imagination; like when you used yours to picture my ties back there. Joe R Lansdale is of course America’s primo mojo storyteller hissownself. He writes weird fiction and crime basically. He ain’t exactly Don DeLillo, but sometimes you don’t want Don DeLillo. After all, you are large, you contain multitudes. So, stop putting yourself down. Comic reviews and a pep talk, no charge! You may know Joe R Lansdale’s work from the movies BUBBA Ho-TEP (2002) and Cold in July (2014), or the episode of MASTERS OF HORROR “Incident On And Off A Mountain Road” (2005). All of which are worth reading in their papery incarnations even if you have seen them. He’s also done a series of books starring Hap Collins and Leonard Pine which are profane and brutally violent in a way which never feels cheap because of the underlying moral horror which fuels them. Could be Hap and Leonard are a Lone Ranger and Tonto for the modern world, though they’d probably break your jaw and steal all your vanilla cookies for suggesting it. In photographs Lansdale looks like he’s stolen Robert Mitchum’s torso, and perpetually sports an expression of guarded tolerance at the very idea that someone would want to do a damnfool thing like take his picture with one of them new-fangled camera doohickeys. Basically the guy writes like he’s trying to smash through a wall. He’s good is what he is. And I don’t say that just because Joe R Lansdale ran his own dojo and could drop kick me so hard I’d be wearing my ass for a hat. No, he’s a good writer. The End. Part of why he’s a good writer is how lightly he wears his ingenuity. Instead of calling a fucking press conference to celebrate his meta antics when they occur he just ups and gets it done.
Look, huddle in here round this imaginary fire and picture the scene with me…we’re way back now in the primitive hell of 1994 and TOPPS want to revive the Lone Ranger IP but, well, look, no one wants to start any trouble here but there’s no way around this, while The Lone Ranger’s okay it’s his mate who’s the issue. Because if you have The Lone Ranger you have to have Tonto. (Oh I sense your confusion what with his name being Lone and that, but his name means there aren’t any other Rangers with him rather than he prefers his own company.) Although Tonto was tardy, turning up first in the 11th episode of the radio serial, thereafter he was always with The Lone Ranger. Because after that like Silver, silver bullets, powder blue tasselled jackets and white Stetsons, Tonto is always part of the deal with The Lone Ranger. Tonto had, over time, become built in and by 1994 he’s now part of the origin, being as he’s the one who rescues Allen King/Bill Andrews/John Reid/Luke Hartman/Uncle Tom Cobbley and thus enables him to make the peculiar decision to turn his dead brother’s vest into a mask, and ride about hither and yon firing ostentatiously expensive bullets at men of low character. Which stuff is all just dandy, if highly suggestive of a particularly flamboyant form of PTSD, but Tonto is a Native American and that kind of character has not been, uh, well served in popular literature. For starters his name, unfortunately, means “silly” in Spanish. (In early Martin Amis novels “tonto” means fucked in the head, for some reason. I don’t know why; I’ll ask him next time I see him.) While he spoke in broken English (Tonto not Martin Amis) this was because he had (naturally enough) learnt it as a second language (still talking about Tonto here, not Martin Amis). Despite this actually making Tonto smarter than a monolingual like, say, oh, me his lack of verbal facility was often taken as a sign of stupidity. Luckily, Joe R Lansdale knows how to work round that stuff; he just writes Tonto like an intelligent human being.
Which is smarter than it sounds and the smartness doesn’t stop there; he builds the obvious baggage the character brings right into the story itself. Throughout the mini-series references are made to the dime novels portraying the adventures of The Lone Ranger and Tonto. These are clearly meant to represent their earlier movies, books, comics, newspaper strips, etc with their, uh, less than ideal portrayal of Tonto and their possibly Ranger-centric approach. Again and again Truman’ delightfully scrofulous townsfolk treat The Lone Ranger like a movie star while his sidekick is kicked to the side. And it’s this stress between reality and public perception which is as threatening to the pair as any skin feasting fiend. Joe R Lansdale and Timothy Truman’s tale then is not just about a frightsome beast or revenge for sins past but also about two friends whose bond is riven by success and secrets. The entertainment is all in the ride because the end is never in doubt. After all, as all us old gits know, it’s part of The Lone Ranger’s credo that to have a friend one must be one. And The Lone Ranger and Tonto are many things to many people in many ages but they will always be friends to each other. (However, I suspect Tonto is the smarter of the two). THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO is whip-crack smart and scruffy stuff. In 2006 Dynamite would have greater success with a Lone Ranger series but I haven’t read that; I read this one and it’s GOOD!
They are how the West was won - COMICS!!!
There’s a new JURASSIC PARK movie out! I’m not particularly bothered! I won’t be going to see it! But I did read a comic adaptation of the first movie! So why waste happenstance! And that’s about as zeity as my geisty gets.
JURASSIC PARK by Kane & Perez, Simonson, Workman & Smith Anyway, this… JURASSIC PARK#1 -4 Art by Gil Kane & George Perez Written by Walter Simonson Lettered by John Workman Coloured by Tom Smith Based on the screenplay by David Koepp Based on the novel by Michael Crichton and on adaptations by Michael Crichton & Malia Scotch Marmo TOPPS COMICS, $2.95ea (1993)
In 1978 Michael Crichton wrote and directed the entertaining slice of speculative hooey WESTWORLD. This had robots run amuck in a theme park. Because genius cannot be hurried it would take Crichton a further 12 years to come up with the idea of replacing the robots with dinosaurs, which he did in his 1990 novel JURASSIC PARK. It would take a further 3 years before Steven “ALWAYS” Spielberg would deliver the technically innovative but peculiarly unsatisfying movie of the same name. As a tie-in the short lived TOPPS Comics threw this four issue adaptation out into the world. Several years later I bought them off E-Bay because I saw Gil Kane’s name on the listing. Last week I found them in the garage and finally read them. Which brings up to date, I think. I haven’t read the book so I’m not getting into that. I am as scientific as a chimp so I’m not getting into that either. But I do know I don’t really like JURASSIC PARK the movie and I know that because I’ve never owned it. And this is from a man who owned FALL TIME, TRACES OF RED and FTW on VHS. Yet never JURASSIC PARK. This is less because while JURASSIC PARK has many leathery denizens Mickey Rourke isn’t one of them, and more down to the fact I found JURASSIC PARK a bit underwhelming. I mean, it’s okay when you’re sat in front of it but as soon as you go and do something else there’s a nagging sense that you’ve just done something for the last 127 minutes but a maddening lack of specifics about what exactly that thing was. Usually when that happens I’m wearing a dress with blood in my hair and there’s a uniformed man outside with a bullhorn and some well-armed friends. All you know is it definitely involved Jeff Goldblum and a cup of water. For something that cost $63 million that seems like a remarkably poor return. Usually you can point at something about a movie and say That! That! is why it failed to entertain! But JURASSIC PARK is well directed, well scripted, ably cast, brimming with special FX which are special and, y’know, dinosaurs and…none of that ever actually comes together to make a good movie; it’s just stubbornly bland. As much of an achievement as the FX were at the time surely the eternal achievement of JURASSIC PARK is making a movie about resurrected dinosaurs running amok in an island paradise less engaging than sneaking a fart out.
Of course, I had already been somewhat spoiled on the old dinosaurs running amuck front by Pat Mills and Various European Gentlemen’s FLESH in 2000AD (1977-1978). Despite “Pat Mills and Various European Gentlemen’s FLESH” sounding like something that would be seized at Customs, it was in fact a luridly violent strip aimed at children which involved time travelling Future Cowboys harvesting dinosaurs, in the course of which the tables quickly, predictably, and violently turn. It was fast, nasty and punched its point home like it was trying to grab your spine. In comparison JURASSIC PARK is like a dinosaurs’ tea party where the worst that happens is T-Rex spills milk on a doily and the Velociraptors say something unfortunate about someone’s sister. I don’t want to be crass (but we aren’t always all we want to be) but how many deaths are there in JURASSIC PARK? Four or five? Six tops. That’s pitiful. There are six deaths on every page of FLESH. And if there aren’t (because someone will take me literally) it feels like there are. The deaths in JURASSIC PARK are frictionless punchlines to efficient action set-ups. The deaths in FLESH, however, are nasty and brutal with much screaming and precision about exactly what is happening and how unpleasant it all is. Look, In FLESH you get dialogue like “Gotta STAB this she-hag right in the BRAIN!” and that’s always going to trump “Have some ice cream. Twenty two flavours and I tested every one!” Sure, no one talks like people do in FLESH but then no one is going back in time dressed as cowboys and farming dinosaurs for future supermarkets. YET! If you’re calling foul on dialogue on that creative battlefield you’re getting hung up on the wrong barbed wire, pal. Maybe that’s it - JURASSIC PARK tries to marry spectacle to respectability. Come on, anyone trying to make a respectable dinosaurs run amuck movie has failed at the first hurdle. Basically then, I remain ashamed that I enjoyed CARNOSAUR more.
I can’t actually speak to how well the adaptation and the movie line up because I was unwilling to give up some of my valuable time spent staring into the middle distance and being disappointed in myself to rewatch it. And if you think that makes all this pointless exercise in self-amusement then have a banana! Take two; knock yourself out! Flash Fact: this is my free time. Anyway, parts of the comics adaptation are ridiculously faithful and I’m kind of thinking Walter Simonson simply and efficiently adapted the script (or at least a near to shooting script). I mean that’s basically all he does. I’m not making any huge perceptive leaps here. That’s no foul. Obviously expectations may be raised because of all that pushing-of-comics-into-weird-new-shapes-in-order-to-evoke-the-experience-of-the-movie he (and Archie Goodwin) did with ALIEN: THE ILLUSTRATED STORY. (I may have mentioned it previously. At length.) But Simonson doesn’t do that here so don’t be expecting what he hasn’t done. What he has done is deliver a meat’n’taters movie on the page. In fact, the most interesting thing visual invention wise is how John Workman positions his (as ever) wonderful lettering FX; they really help shunt the eye through the pages. Also interesting are the slight deviations from the movie I could identify. Unless I’m wrong there’s an extra scene with the lawyer at an amber mine (more lawyers talking to capable men in short sleeved shirts outdoors; that’s what JURASSIC PARK needed!) and I know I’m not wrong when Simonson has Kane & Perez illustrate Sam Neill’s “no one in the audience has ever heard of Raptors but you need to be aware of how awesome they are or all this build up simply won’t work…”speech to that random kid as a kind of dream sequence.
I also thought Bob Peck was in charge of the luckless wage slave bit at the start, but here it looks like it’s Howard Victor Chaykin sporting some shades. (And another thing, I mean, seriously, the whole fiasco is down to employers thinking they don’t have to adhere to basic Health & Safety because, what, it impacts on the “bottom line” and affects “targets” (trans: “money”). There’s a lot of huffing and puffing trying to make the lawyer the villain (because tradition) but all that dude wants is everyone to do what the law says. Fuck that dude, with his safety concerns; I hope he dies humiliatingly hiding in a portable loo. Look, I don’t care how cuddly Richard Attenborough is, he still values human life less than a theme park ride. That misty eyed reminiscence thing about the flea circus? Get real, people, Life is the Circus to Richard Attenborough and we, the people, are THE FLEAS! Dude’s a cock of the first order. Does he get eaten? No, he does not. That’s bloody Rule #1 in dinosaurs run amok movies- payback! Payback for the shitters of the world! Ultimately JURASSIC PARK is toothless (Oh God, that’s some great wordplay. Professional level shit there, John; keep that up! Publishers will be “interested” (trans: “money”) so it’s no wonder I can’t be doing with this movie.) Mind you maybe Gil Kane did that as a joke (recap: the Howard Chaykin in shades thing) because Gil Kane seems to be playing pretty loose character design wise.
Oh, yeah, that’s why I have these comics – Gil Kane. No, not because I ever believed the lie of easy riches implicit in the “Special Collector’s Edition” status of these books with their protective sheaths (which you have to re-insert the comics back into; if you close your eyes you can imagine putting a French tickler on Gumby) and the trading cards included therein. Man, never has a generation been so betrayed as the Comics Fans of the ‘90s. Life wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were all going to be rich. None of us learned life skills because we were going to cash on our mint holofoil BALLJUGGLER#1s and live a life resembling a blizzard of jizz and glitter but with added cats in speedboats. None of us can actually even talk to people never mind hold down a job! Shit like this is why I’m in favour of regulation. Well, that and the whole global financial collapse which threw my country rightwards and into the arms of the Tories. Other than that though, it’s definitely the whole trading cards thing. So, Gil Kane. We were talking about Gil Kane; well, Gil’s here but so is George Perez. Look, I have no beef with George Perez’ work usually; it’s fine. A bit busy and stolid for me personally, but if you want a lot of superheroes all in one place George Perez can do that pretty well. But, man, here in the place where there are no superheroes his heavy lines and consequent dearth of suggestive space where the reader’s mind can play really flattens Kane’s work into inertia. I guess it’s decent enough stuff; he keeps Kane’s basics intact, nothing is omitted. In fairness there are a couple of “imaginary” scenes where the detail gets pared back and in those bits Perez and Kane are a team to reckon with. But Perez’ signature insistence on specificity really hurts Kane’s inherent grace and flow. It’s just a less than ideal combination; both men on their own – smashing, but together, meh, not so much. Hey, that’s how it goes sometimes.
The salt’n’marshmallow art combo sure makes some of Kane’s faces look weird as well. There certainly seems to have been some kind of power struggle over Laura Dern’s face (artistically speaking). There’s no doubt in my fat and generous heart that Gil Kane was a phenomenal artist but he could only draw two ladies faces- either a goddess or a crone. Laura Dern is neither; she just looks like a normal human being. I’m saying it looks like George Perez redrew her face. Actually I don’t really know what’s going on with the faces here. Kane nails Wayne Knight (artistically speaking) but his Samuel L Jackson looks like he’s never heard of Samuel L Jackson, his Richard Attenborough looks like he’s got a mossy skin disease instead of a beard and (the late, great) Bob peck who looks like Gil Kane drew him in reality doesn’t look like Gil Kane drew him here. I find the face work in these comics fascinating but I can tell from the depth and regularity of your breathing that you want to move on. Why am I even talking about faces! It’s a comic about dinosaurs run amuck and I’m talking about faces! There’s the crux of the matter right there. I never got within about 2000 miles of Gil Kane but you don’t have to be Thought Jacker to guess he probably turned up here to draw dinosaurs, not a bunch of mostly normal looking people in drab clothes ambling about impressively unmemorable set designs. Eventually Kane does get to draw dinosaurs but Walter Simonson, tumbling into the trap of hyper-fidelity to the source, has knacked the pacing. So the bits where Gil can go dino-crazy are well worth showing up for but they are also kind of cramped and hurried. Meanwhile there are all these pages of weird faces saying words, none of which are why anyone turned up, least of all the audience.
I love Walter Simonson and I love Gil Kane, John Workman is a little cracker and George Perez ain’t never done me no harm so these comics weren’t a total wash. But Honesty, like Christ, compels me to admit they’ve both done better work elsewhere and there are even better dinosaur run amuck comics. So, sure, given the talent involved JURASSIC PARK may be EH! but then that goes for the movie too. So, as adaptations go it’s spot on.
What I want to know is, if dinosaurs were around for so long how come they never invented – COMICS!!!
Anyway, this… TOXIC GUMBO Art by Ted McKeever Written by Lydia Lunch Lettered by Clem Robins Coloured by Ted McKeever Special thanks to Maria-Elena D'Agostino DC Comics/Vertigo, $5.95 (1998)
In 1998 DC Comics published a comic written by Lydia Lunch and illustrated by Ted McKeever. In 1998 DC Comics published a comic written by Lydia Lunch and illustrated by Ted McKeever. I repeated that because it bears repeating. It’s strange enough to think that DC Comics once had a place for an artist so atypical as McKeever, but they did. Indeed they did. In 1998 he was well within a run of work for DC which would last until the noughties were exhausted. He even had a regular gig in Doom Patrol, although it was after everyone had stopped reading. Mostly though he oozed a bunch of miniseries roiling with his idiosyncratic aesthetic and some Elseworlds with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman shunted into a German Expressionism. We’ll get to those too, maybe. (No promises; promises are just time travelling lies). In 2014 DC Comics is a very different (trans: more banal) place so McKeever currently resides at Image, where his work provides a necessarily brusque corrective to all those underwritten begging letters to Hollywood propped up by fantastic artists. So, despite it looking odd that DC once had a place for someone who draws like everything is made of melting wax, it wasn’t really. Lydia Lunch is another matter. Admittedly, this wasn’t the first time Comics had felt the subtle touch of Lydia Lunch; in 1990 her work appeared in something called AS-FIX-E-8 and in 1992 there was Bloodsucker with Bob “Minimum Wage” Fingerman. Having seen neither I can’t comment, but it’s a safe bet they would have made Paul Levitz plotz. They were probably very Lydia Lunch what with Lydia Lunch having a quite distinctive artistic voice and all.
Lydia motherflossing Lunch! I’m just going to barrel right on in with an explanatory paragraph or two about Lydia Lunch because I don’t know how many people are familiar with the lady and her work. Chances are I’m underestimating some of you; you might still be having therapy to recover from that 8 Eyed Spy gig back in ’80, or still tearfully fondle your crumbling poster for The Immaculate Consumptive inbetween school runs and on-line food shops. Mostly though it’s a sea of blank faces out there, I’m guessing. Well, a sea of two, if the hit-count’s reliable. Lydia Lunch (real name: Mind your own ****king business, sunbeam.) was a mainstay of the New York post-punk No Wave scene and has stood defiantly on the neck of the intervening decades to remain an active creative force. Lydia Lunch is many things to very few people, but back when I was still actively engaged with the world her work was mainly in the realm of auditory assault. In the music papers of the time it was commonly described as aural terrorism; a winning blend of atonal dirges and vituperative shrieking which left the listener feeling like they’d just been hurled down some stairs by a scatological force of nature in female form. It’s not for everyone, the work of Lydia Lunch, is what I’m getting at there. If pressed I’d guess her stuff has its roots in the Beat tradition, but mostly it’s about rancorous anger and provocative hostility; it would probably beat tradition into a bloody mush with a nail studded baseball bat. Think neon lipstick and rat turds. Think lo-fi ‘80s NYC grot chic. Think Driller Killer. Then think about something more pleasant. When I was a Badly Dressed Boy I liked Lydia Lunch, but part of what I liked most about her was she was several thousand miles away.
Like many independently minded modern ladies Lydia Lunch likes to keep busy, she’s dipped a tiny toe into music, poetry, film, the spoken word and, according to the Internet, even a cook book. Apparently this has “sexy asides from the racy author” which just brings to mind an incensed Nigella with shit under her nails throwing knives at a cucumber while spitting sexual expletives. But that’s because I’m stuck in the past; I’m sure Lydia Lunch has mellowed and whips up a nice crumble these days. La Lunch’s work has always been marked by collaboration, so it’s neat she has great taste in confrères. Over the years she’s hitched her exquisitely bitter eccentricity to people like J G Thirwell, Sonic Youth, The Birthday Party, Rowland S. Howard, Die Haut and Gallon Drunk. It’s 2014 now and people don't hurl piss at Coldplay on sight so I realise some of you might actually struggle to place even the divine Birthday Party; if so then you’ve got no chance with the others. That’s okay; it’s not a contest. What I’m getting at is, in common with super heroes and wanton sack-artistes, Lydia Lunch does like a good team up. And comics is always up for a good collaboration, and Lydia Lunch and Ted McKeever is a good collaboration.
Toxic Gumbo, as the name suggests, is set in the Louisiana Bayou. Not the real one though. Visually this Louisiana Bayou belongs to Ted McKeever, because visually this Louisiana Bayou is all putrefaction and shadows, all tumble down shacks and tyre piles. This Bayou is populated by people who morph from panel to panel like they are made of warm tallow. If the real Louisiana Bayou is like the pestilential mess in this book then Heaven help the Tourist Board. In Toxic Gumbo McKeever certainly seems to be enjoying himself. Sometimes his pages are reminiscent of illustrated books with his queasy images silently swarming around a block of text, other times it’s more traditional comic pages but all with that unsettlingly feverish McKeever effect. In addition to his art there are also photos of some quite intricate dolls by D'Agostino which simply by contrasting with the drawn images punch up the unreality of everything around them. Most of the book is coloured flatly but on occasion the colours become deeper and more detailed before slipping back into a flat uniformity. It’s a nice touch. Basically, everything Ted McKeever draws looks like it’s just stepped out of Hell. Which is appropriate because Lunch’s script paints the Bayou as a Hell her heroine must navigate with only the briefest of lulls.
Typically for Lydia these respites seemingly exist only so that the pain burns our heroine all the fiercer on its resumption. The heroine here is Onesia who is spat from the womb when her mother goes into toxic shock after being stung by a caterpillar. Wasting no time in indulging her abhorrence of authority Lunch has Onesia raised by nuns. One of them is nice; which is one more than you expected. Like a malefic MacGyver Onesia uses a child’s chemistry set and some putrefied vermin to develop a concoction of rot which she uses to poison her overseers. Free to wander about Onesia quickly develops an interest and aptitude for swamp magic (i.e. poisons). What follows is a perversion of the picaresque as Onesia makes her way through a world of threat and filth killing people. Okay, mostly killing men. But, you know, for reasons, so it’s okay. Unlike in most male revenge fantasy narratives nothing is solved by these murders and Onesia doesn’t feel bad about them. Oh, wait, she does feel a bit bad about the guy who melts crotch first when he tries to cheer her up with his penis. She bounces back quite quickly though - resourceful. Oh, I forgot to mention that all Onesia’s bodily fluids are toxic. (Hmmm.) Which is why she finds it hard to make friends. Well, that and her friends tend to die violently. Luckily that isn’t such a big problem as most of the folk in the book are deranged shits. Of the two exceptions one gets shotgunned in the face and the other is a kind of deranged swamp Tom Bombadil singing about Jesus. The narrative’s explicit and insistent inability to see anything in any terms other than those of Heaven or Hell might be key. Maybe Toxic Gumbo is about how hard life can be if you insist on viewing it in extremes. I doubt it.
I’m going to stick with saying Toxic Gumbo acts as a satire of the lazy boner narrative, even though that’ll probably lead you to erroneously expect jokes and that isn’t really how satire has to work. I don’t know, Toxic Gumbo was definitely kind of darkly nuts and keen to stress that even when life is just endurance it’s still life. Which is very Lydia Lunch. Add in Ted McKeever and not only is it very Lydia Lunch it’s GOOD!
This one's for Teenage John And The - COMICS!!!
Batman. Michael T. Gilbert. Stories. Anyway, this... BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #94 'Stories' Art by Michael T. Gilbert Written by Michael T. Gilbert Lettered by Willie Schubert Separations by Digital Chameleon DC Comics, $1.95 (1997) Batman created by Bill Finger & Bob Kane
I’ve liked Michael T. Gilbert’s work ever since I noticed his inks energising P. Craig Russell’s Elric for Pacific back in (Ack! The years, they fly like the leaves!) 1982(?). There his enthusiastic disorder prevented Russell’s work from resembling too strongly the statuary it can often ossify into. When Russell departed to be awesome elsewhere Michael T. Gilbert carried on the series for First! with George Freeman; together they produced line work as seemingly casual as silk in the wind but in fact each silky line was tethered securely to a stout tree of storytelling chops. No, wait - Gilbert & Freeman brought just the right balance of Order and Chaos to Elric. Good stuff; certainly good enough stuff to be slated for a series of Titan reprints starting in 2015 (Hoo-HA!). But Michael T. Gilbert made his real mark on comics with Mr. Monster, a Golden Age obscurity resurrected as a tender comedy-horror tribute to all that was trashy, camp and old. Mr. Monster recently appeared in a number of issues of Dark Horse Presents which made me glad all over. Mostly I was covered in glad because the thing I like best about Michael T. Gilbert was still there; his energy. And in the following comic his energy is in full effect. Yes, yes, basically, I’m going to tell you about some old crap I found because you can’t stop me. (Cackles maniacally.) By the time 2015 rolls ‘round you’ll all love Michael T. Gilbert as much as I do!
Lovably enough "Stories" is literally a story about stories, and these stories are told by a group of people stuck in a lift on the 13th story of a building. You can see already that Michael T. Gilbert has already carried his conceit way too far for serious pipe smoking consideration, which is good as his work here eagerly spurns solemnity and dances the lambada with lunacy. The set-up is that a guy who wrote a book about some religious extremists is trapped in a lift with a few other people. They are all unawares that the impromptu stop is man-made and that the cause is on its way up the stairs to demonstrate the Love of God by machine gunning the author to death. It’s good the stalled folk don’t know that because just being stuck in a lift is enough to make the author come unstuck; everyone else trusts Batman will save them but, pointedly, the panicking author doesn’t believe in Batman. Everyone rallies round and tells him a Legend of The Dark Knight to keep his pecker up.
All that, though, is just there to shore up Michael T. Gilbert’s manic and lopsided gallop through the history of Batman. It’s a lot of fun is what I’m getting at from hereonin. First up is an elderly dame claiming to be Julie Madison whose insane ramblings are entirely Golden Age in their overwrought and energetic appropriation of the most sensational aspects of pop culture. In the space of four pages there are werewolves and vampires and robed maniacs and gorilla wrasslin'and gorilla strangling and The Bat-Man enthusiastically shooting people in the head and all while rationality rings in, rolls over, and takes a duvet day. It’s pretty crazy stuff but I don’t think even Michael T. Gilbert’s frothing dog approach makes it much crazier than the actual Detective Comics #31 (1939). There’s just so much crazy in any Golden Age tale that any more is just a case of straitjackets to bedlam. A cop then waves things down and launches into a story ("The Bulb Boss of Gotham City!") set after Batman has dropped the definite article and teamed up with a young boy dressed like the female lead in a panto. Oh, and they are scrapping a guy with a giant light bulb on his head who nabs things like implausibly valuable tulip bulbs. This is as absurd as the Golden Age tale but in a more sedately charming way. Next up in "Age is Unhealthy to Children and Other Living Things!" some hippie with a brain fried like bacon yammers on in a Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams’ “Damn The Man!” vein and it’s another layer of humour how Good Michael T Gilbert is at evoking Neal Adams’ signature Hysterical Realism©®. This one was my personal highlight because while I laud and appreciate O’Neil & Adams’ Relevance NOW! stuff, let’s face it, it's not aged any better than the stuff where Batman dressed as a zebra and fought dinosaur clowns on the planet Cher. Throughout none of the humour is mean-spirited or patronising; Michael T. Gilbert clearly loves this stuff, but he also knows you can laugh at something and still love it. Although I think his patience is thinner with the ‘90s Exxxtreme Killer Batman as he only spends a couple of pages with that iteration as though in recognition that that stuff mocks itself just by existing.
While it clearly makes not a lick of sense for someone in a Batman comic not to believe in Batman it works in this Batman comic. That’s because “Stories” isn’t intending at any point to flirt with realism. “Stories” is a story about stories; a story about Batman and how he changes with the times; a story about faith and blindness; mostly though “Stories” is the type of story that if Neil Gaiman had written it, it would be anointed as post-modern, as meta-textual, any inconsistencies would be due to magical realism and everyone with a mortgage could feel a lot better about reading Batman comics. Actually, hang on, Neil Gaiman did write this, as "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" and it was a foppish porridge of constipated whimsy with perhaps the most precious ending in comics’ history. Sure, before "Stories" ends you’ll already know the exact words it is implacably intent on finishing with and while, yes, that is predictable it is also satisfying, as everything clicks into place with the final period. But any sense of neatness is illusory. "Stories" is loose and messy and ultimately refuses to be tied to a single interpretation. It may look like a crazed babble of yelping tomfoolery but, okay, it is, but under all that "Stories” is still serious and seriously GOOD!
NEXT TIME on Everybody Loves Michael T. Gilbert…Superman! (but he’s naughty, not nice!)
Soberingly, I suddenly realised that they've been around longer than any of us - COMICS!!!
During 1990-91 DC Comics published one of the finest comics ever created. Its sales did not set the world afire. In December 2014 you get the chance to put things right. In December 2014 DC Comics are publishing, for the first time ever, the collected TWILIGHT by Howard Victor Chaykin, José Luis García-López, Ken (Kenneth) Bruzenak, Steve Oliff and Richard Ory. I like it and I think you will too. (Now UPDATED to include quotes and acknowledgements.) From TWILIGHT by Chaykin, Garcia-Lopez, Bruzenak, Oliff & Ory
Anyway, this… Acknowledgement: The words which follow are enormously indebted to the work of Brannon Costello whose Howard Chaykin: Conversations (2011, University of Mississippi Press) remains the go-to book for HVC reference. A house without a copy is an empty house.
TWILIGHT #1 to 3 Artist - José Luis García-López Writer - Howard Victor Chaykin Colour Artist - Steve Oliff Letterer - Ken (Kenneth) Bruzenak Backgrounds - Richard Ory DC Comics, $4.95ea (1990-91) Tommy Tomorrow created by Virgil Finlay, Howard Sherman, Bernie Breslauer, George Kashdan & Jack Schiff Star Rovers created by Sid Greene & Gardner Fox Star Hawkins created by Mike Sekowsky & John Broome Space Ranger created by Bob Brown, Gardner Fox & Edmond Hamilton Manhunter 2070 created by Mike Sekowsky Space Cabbie created by Howard Sherman & Otto Binder Knights of the Galaxy created by Carmine Infantino & Robert Kanigher
From TWILIGHT by Chaykin, Garcia-Lopez, Bruzenak, Oliff & Ory
"It takes all of DC's really stupid-ass science fiction characters in the '50s and '60s, except for Adam Strange, and coordinates them into a cohesive and self-supporting universe....These characters were very important to me as a kid." Howard Victor Chaykin in Amazing Heroes #132, January 1988. Taken from p.105 of Howard Chaykin: Conversations edited by Brannon Costello, 2011, University of Mississippi.
TWILIGHT was a three issue series originally published by DC in the prestige format during 1990-91. TWILIGHT is the story of a bunch of people who all get what they want and it ends up doing none of them any favours whatsoever. The bunch of people in question are mainly rejigged DC sci-fi characters who had lain mostly fallow since the ‘50s and ‘60s. Tommy Tomorrow, Star Hawkins, Manhunter 2070, Space Cabbie, etc. Even Chaykin’s own Ironwolf appears briefly, and his ridiculous wooden space ship proves pivotal to events. (If Adam Strange seems conspicuous by his absence; Richard Bruning had first dibs there). There are plenty of new characters but the gist of the thing was that these were yesterday’s characters of tomorrow, today. Oh, you know what I mean.
From TWILIGHT by Chaykin, Garcia-Lopez, Bruzenak, Oliff & Ory
"Homer Glint is Ned Buntline. The tagline of the material is, "You read these stories as a boy, now you're ready for the truth!" Howard Victor Chaykin in Comics Interview, November 1989. Taken from p.143 of Howard Chaykin: Conversations edited by Brannon Costello, 2011, University of Mississippi.
Howard Victor Chaykin’s cute conceit was that the old timeycomics were like the sci-fi version of Ned Buntline pulps; the ones which invented the sanitised Wild West we all prefer to the filthy and psychotic reality. Homer Glint narrates here as a sort of space Buntline setting the record straight in his twilight (Ho! Ho!) years. TWILIGHT, then, is what really happened as opposed to what you were told happened in fusty old code approved DC sci-fi Comics. TWILIGHT, then, is the real Wild West where Trigger bit Roy Rogers’ face off and Gabby Hayes was scalped and staked out for fire ants. But, y’know, in space. I think it would be fair to say that the audience familiar with these characters reacted badly to TWILIGHT. Which is weird, because Howard Victor Chaykin clearly loves these characters. The problem is that Howard Victor Chaykin loves these characters enough to imbue them with a lively fire more appropriate to the times he was writing in. No, that’s not the problem; the problem, and I’m just guessing here, is that comics fans think that embalming the characters they like at the point they met them is love. I sincerely hope they do not carry this attitude over to their dealings with real people. With TWILIGHT Howard Victor Chaykin sought to bring DC’s characters of the future into the present but it turned out the fans preferred them in the past. It’s a good job Howard Victor Chaykin likes irony.
"...it's the story of the introduction of immortality into the human eco system and how it destroys stuff." Howard Victor Chaykin in Amazing Heroes #132, January 1988. Taken from p.105 of Howard Chaykin: Conversations edited by Brannon Costello, 2011, University of Mississippi.
Like most folk who were awake during the 20th Century Howard Victor Chaykin seems to have come to the conclusion that in the end Humanity will do the right thing, but only after it has spent an impressive amount of time trying the wrong thing out first. When the book opens humanity has been playing God for so long that it has not only turned animals into an underclass but robots as well. Even in the future we’ll need someone to shit on, even if we have to build them. The next step, naturally, is to become Gods and, via a series of repellent occurrences, Godhood is attained by two characters, while everyone else gets the leftovers in the form of Immortality. TWILIGHT doesn’t shift from the tradition of short shrift accorded Immortality by fantastic fiction. Read enough of that stuff and it’s like there’s an unconscious realisation that Humanity just isn’t built for the long haul. Immortality is the gift Humanity’s always eager to receive but probably isn’t ready for; like an 8 year old with The Terminator on his Christmas list (no chance, “Gil”). TWILIGHT has an admirably simple premise: what if Humanity got everything religion promised. What if all those poetic allusions to greater truths manifested as day to day reality? Only good things! No, not really. Because no matter the level of progress, unless basic human nature changes we’re always going to struggle with it. TWILIGHT is about that struggle because, all else aside, TWILIGHT is about people.
"Tommy Tomorrow starts out as the character Peter O'Toole played in The Ruling Class and becomes The Antichrist..." Howard Victor Chaykin in Comics Interview #5, November 1989. Taken from p.143 of Howard Chaykin: Conversations edited by Brannon Costello, 2011, University of Mississippi.
As in life, so in TWILIGHT; people are complicated. Like many a long haul comics reader I’d been brought up to understand the hero was who the book was named after so I was a bit lost on the first pass. After all, there’s no one in the book called Terry Twilight. There is someone called Tommy Tomorrow in it, but he’s just simply awful, poppets. And so is everyone else. There are degrees of awful though. There’s a difference between being awful because you’re a prudish killjoy and being awful because you are a debauched genocidal maniac. Impressively in TWILIGHT there are actually more ways of being awful than there are characters because some of these folk are just rife with foibles . And, because of the plot, these folk can live a long ass time so their kinks work on their better natures like rain on cathedrals. Take John Starker, he starts off awful because he’s so busy trying to hump automata that he neglects his duty and people die. Now that’s awful but it’s within genre comics’ flawed-but-redeemable boundaries. But in short order he’s so consumed by his unrequited passion for a Katy Perry looking clanker (before Katy Perry was a thing, even; Howard Victor Chaykin – prescience personified!) he’s just straight up shooting people against the wall of a church. I mean, they’ve asked him to (Immortality isn’t for everyone; they get wicked bored) and, sure, he can’t look while he does it, but still and all. Shooting people against the wall of a church? Not a healthy use of one’s time, I’m thinking. Oh yeah, and he’s one of The Good Guys. You want feet of clay, sophisticated characterisation and those shades of gray (all 50, ‘mIright, ladies!)? Howard Victor Chaykin was hosing the place down with all that stuff in 1990. And ,boy, did Space Cabbie fans not want that in 1990. Apparently it’s all anyone wants in 2014 so I’m expecting big things from the comic audience this time out. It's the usual bawdy and raucous writing performance from Howard Victor Chaykin and if it leans a little heavily on synchronicity, well, he's built an out in this time; because that's how the Gods work, bubeleh!
"The artwork is coming in like I could never have imagined; it's far and away the best thing that Garcia-Lopez has ever done. I'm flattered by the work, quite frankly." Howard Victor Chaykin in Comics Interview #75, November 1989. Taken from p.143 of Howard Chaykin: Conversations edited by Brannon Costello, 2011, University of Mississippi.
TWILIGHT is illustrated in the main by José Luis García-López. Now, the big thing about José Luis García-López is not how many names he has but how ridiculously good he is at this comic book art lark. You know that thing you sometimes do where your eyes glaze over and you kind of stop registering the art and just take in the words? I’ve never done that with a José Luis García-López comic. Even when Elvis sang some cack handed doggerel you paid attention! Similarly, even when José Luis García-López was drawing some random issue of DC COMICS PRESENTS you were aware of a level of artistry out of all proportion to the subject matter. But he isn’t drawing DC COMICS PRESENTS here. No, José Luis García-López is drawing TWILIGHT. In TWILIGHT José Luis García-López is either working off breakdowns by Howard Victor Chaykin or is so sympatico to his taskmaster’s method that it’s as though he is channelling the Chaykin on every page. And, hoo ha, does Chaykin make José Luis García-López sing for his supper! TWILIGHT places ridiculous demands on its artist who is required to bring the same level of visual zip to a double page spread of dusty campaign insignias as he is to a double page spread of an ad-hoc satellite composed of Communistic accretions. Sing, José Luis García-López! SING! TWILIGHT takes place on a canvas as big as the universe and homes in on events as small as a cat stalking a bird. Sing José Luis García-López . SING! TWILIGHT requires José Luis García-López to trap a space armada, a rioting crowd or an explosive ascension within the same amount of space as a pipe smoking ape’s face. Sing José Luis García-López! SING! And José Luis García-López SINGS his little heart out. There’s a fucking artistic aria on every page of TWILIGHT, people. In 1990 no one bought it; no one cared! If TWILIGHT wasn’t written so damn well it’d still be worth looking at because José Luis García-López’s work is always worth looking at. I don’t want to overstate it but I feel privileged to have lived to see José Luis García-López’s art. I can’t afford those Artists Editions they do for the well-heeled comic fan but if they did an Artist’s Edition of TWILIGHT I’d find a way to afford it.
But, fair’s fair, the magnificent visuals of TWILIGHT aren’t solely due to José Luis García-López. There’s Ken (Kenneth) Bruzenak whose lettering always elevates the pages it graces (and if the pages it graces are by José Luis García-López, well, homina, homina, homina!) He doesn’t get off easy either, Howard Victor Chaykin doesn’t play favourites; Ken Bruzenak has to sweat for his pennies too. One character who has experienced a form of ascension talks in a different language and The Bruise has to come up with a font which suggests this, while still being perfectly legible. (SPOILER: he succeeds). Then there are the bits where Tommy Tomorrow is so consumed by his own self-love that he starts bellowing his own name in the form of his old comic book logo, or certain words are transcribed in the form of hot pink neon lettering… and that’s just the pages I flicked past while refreshing my memory. Throughout TWILIGHT the speech bubbles flare with the emotional freight of the words they contain, SFX enhance the atmosphere or heighten the illusion of chaos without ever overloading or crowding even the smallest of spaces in which Ken Bruzenak’s artistry is confined.
I am hopeless on colouring but I know for a fact that Steve Oliff worked his tuchas off on TWILIGHT too. I know that because it looks to my old eyes as though he’s used his "blue-line"(?) method; the one I recall from BLACKHAWK: BLOOD AND THUNDER (Chaykin, Bruzenak, Oliff & Ory. Uncollected) and TIME2 (ditto). And if I understood it correctly that seemed like a ridiculously time and effort intensive method of funnybook colouring. You could probably do all that with computers in a twentieth of the time now, I guess. It’s kind of staggering someone would go to those Herculean lengths back in 1990. But Steve Oliff did and TWILIGHT’s certainly worthy of his efforts. Given it was 1990 it’s possible that as lovely as they are Oliff’s colours were probably short changed by the printing methods of the time. So, I have high hopes for the collection; namely that DC haven’t just got an intern to photocopy the old comics and that Oliff’s colours will benefit from advances in production and will impress anew.
Richard Ory’s name doesn’t appear on this comic but I understand he did the backgrounds for José Luis García-López. I got no beef with the backgrounds so high fives for Richard Ory, holding his own in such esteemed company is nothing to be sneezed at. Yeah, that’s right I even went and found out the background guy’s name; I have done my due diligence because TWILIGHT is worthy of it. Every hand involved in the pages of TWILIGHT deserves their portion of praise. For I lied earlier; it’s not an aria on every page; it’s a choir. A choir composed of Howard Victor Chaykin, José Luis García-López, Ken (Kenneth) Bruzenak and Steve Oliff.
"I'd like to see Twilight back in print." Howard Victor Chaykin in Comic Book Artist Vol.2 #5, December 2006. Taken from p.239 of Howard Chaykin: Conversations edited by Brannon Costello, 2011, University of Mississippi.
It’s now 2014 so all the Space Cabbie fans have probably died off and everybody else could give a rusty tin shit about Tommy Tomorrow so, hopefully, TWILIGHT’s reception will be a little warmer this time out. Twenty fours year on and I remain adamant in my belief that TWILIGHT by Howard Victor Chaykin, José Luis García-López, Ken (Kenneth) Bruzenak, Steve Oliff and Richard Ory is EXCELLENT!
Sometimes we cook 'em in the oven of our Love for twenty four years - COMICS!!!!
Hello! You can blame this one on a conversation I had at a party. I say party but at my age that's four men in a suburban living room with some nibbles and tinnies with the conversation always one slurred word away from movies. At that point it's all about ALIEN from my end of the couch. And so is this huge block of stale drivel. It's a bit wayward but if you stick with it I do mention comics eventually. Dedicated to the enduring magic of the wrestler, teacher and actor Mr. Brian Glover (1934-1997).
Anyway, this... In The Interest of Clarity & Fairness John Tells You What He’s Up To This Time Out
Bodged together with duct tape as they may be my sensors indicate a sudden flurry of micro changes in air density in the Dark Horse licencing department lately. Either this is to soften the sting of
Weyland-Yutani Disney-Marvel nabbing back the licence to the children’s entertainment STAR WARS or because there’s a new ALIEN videogame out. Not actually being employed by Dark Horse I don’t really know. But it turns out that there’s a fat batch of interconnected limited series capped off by a finale issue. If I’ve got it right you’ve got four issues each of PROMETHEUS: RON & NANCY, ALIENS: PORK AND BEANS, ALIENS VERSUS PREDATOR: GREEN EGGS AND HAM, PREDATOR: FLARES & BEADS (or maybe they are all subtitled FIRE AND STONE, but where’s the fun in that, eh?) To top it all off there’s some bow tying by Kelly Sue DeConnick in a finale issue. No, I don’t know who’s drawing the finale but, yes, I know who’s writing it because that’s how comics (a primarily visual medium) works these days. So, you know, it’s been a while since I tried your patience so I thought I’d do something special for you. I ran the numbers and apparently in dollars the cost of all these comics comes to, let’s see, carry the one, and…a fuck-ton of money. It’s certainly a bit rich for my palate. So I’ll tell you what: I’ll look at the first issue of each. Financially it’s still a bit racy but that’s how much I love you. Hopefully the prospect of all this will grab you a bit more pleasantly than a big hand-crab trying to face rape you. Having actually read some of my writing I can’t guarantee that though.
It All Starts Promisingly enough But Then John is Immediately Side-tracked Into Talking About Movies he Hasn’t Watched For So Long He’s Really Just Talking About Memories And We All Know How Reliable That Jackass’s Memory Is
The idea was if nothing else I’d have a good time because, well, I’m enormously selfish and also because I really like ALIEN movies. Except after a moment’s thought I realised I didn’t. You can skip to the comics if you want at this point. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure Review!
Do you want to listen to an old man moan about movies turn to page 2.
Turn to page 243 and hear him complain about comics.
If you roll a 6 go and spend time with someone you love.
Take A Picture To Capture That Magic Moment Where He Shows Enthusiasm Rather Than Belittling Disdain or ALIEN (1979)
I do like ALIEN; ALIEN is great. No complaints on that score. ALIEN is the movie that comes for you in the night. ALIEN is one of those movies which you watch for the first time and you feel something click firmly home and you know you will be watching this movie for as long as you are watching movies. I have been watching ALIEN for about thirty years with the odd break here and there to live this life thing and I still never get bored of ALIEN. ALIEN is. ALIEN. ALIEN. ALIEN. Jeff “Altered States” Lester wrote about ALIEN here because Jeff Lester is a man of great taste. (Although in his characteristically dazzling piece he forgets that the big difference between ALIEN and STAR WARS is STAR WARS is for children.) Some of you might remember Jeff Lester and his partner in wonder Graeme McMillion$ from before. Before they set out for the new life which awaited them in the off-world colonies. I wonder how their new Patreon funded life of steak and fine wines is working out for them. Watch out for that gout, guys! Anyway, ALIEN; the pinnacle of people trapped in a hostile environment being picked off one by one movies. ALIEN; crew expendable: story of my life; story of all our lives. The massive (I’m talking creative not financial; sheesh) success of ALIEN is all very odd because ALIEN should just be a piece of enjoyably trashy genre hokum, but it is in fact far better than that. Decades after it burst into cinemas it still leaves me feeling soiled and twitchy after every viewing. And that’s hardly because I don’t know what’s coming; it’s because ALIEN has real power. ALIEN has the power of nightmares; the power of the poorly suppressed thought; the power of the suspicion that the Universe never got the memo about you actually mattering. In ALIEN as soon as they answer the distress call everything doesn’t just start going wrong, everything starts becoming wrong. I’m not even getting into all the stuff about the leathery egg sacs, organic openings and mobile, fanged phalluses (Phallusi? Phalluseseses?). ALIEN is. And it remains so to this day.
A Superficial Look At The Last James Cameron Movie He Enjoyed Ends Up With Us All In An Arcade In Cornwall or ALIENS (1986)
After that it’s ALIENS which is still good stuff. It’s James Cameron and the big thing about James Cameron is that the more money and freedom he has then the less interesting he gets. Luckily, with ALIENS he’s just about at the outer limits of my interest so I still have a good time. And that’s not bad for a movie that old; it still thrills and I still jump but it doesn’t wound like its progenitor does. There’s something redundantly comforting about ALIENS’ desire to explain (there are eggs; there is a Queen; they are like insects; I have killed the magic!) ALIEN doesn’t want you to understand what’s going on; some mystery stubbornly remains because, well, that’s unsettling. ALIENS explains things too much and becomes an action movie rather than a horror movie. It’s a very good action movie but it’s only a pretty good ALIEN movie. Experience tells me things get contentious quick with ALIENS but let me be clear here: I don’t mind ALIENS. The woman whose life I soil daily with my very presence thinks it has dated horribly. I don’t know, I think ALIENS still rocks. James Horner's urgent bin lids clatterthon of a score helps more than people admit. Could do without the kid though; Isn’t she plucky, now bugger off. Mind you, whenever the family unit goes on holiday we check out the arcades and have a pop on that ALIENS arcade game; the one with the mounted guns. That game is always somewhere in every arcade. I saw a new game where you shoot animals like an American but I don’t think that’ll catch on in Cornwall. Animals, no. Xenomorphs, yes. Stands to reason. Since I am a wholly regrettable human being I can only guess that the secret of a long lasting relationship is hunting down the ALIENS arcade game and playing it together. So, yes, I don’t mind ALIENS but it isn’t ALIEN. And, yes, someone out there will prefer ALIENS to ALIEN because the world will always need people who are mistaken.
“Thus arse RHEUM-ARE CuNDRoll!” or ALIEN3 (1992)
I’ll be uncharacteristically direct: ALIEN CUBED isn’t exactly a good movie. People let it off a lot because of its ‘troubled production’ and because David Fincher went on to do FIGHT CLUB. Me, I like it better than I probably should because it is filled with British accents. If ALIEN is HP Lovecraft’s BLUE COLLAR in space then ALIEN CUBED is HP Lovecraft’s PORRIDGE in space. It’s both comforting and amusing to think that in the far flung future no matter how far you go from Earth your lugs will still rattle to a Yorkshire bark. ALIEN CUBED is even more special to me because one of the accents is bellowed by Brian (KES) Glover, who not only looks like my Uncle Kenneth but, better yet, once pulled his car in on North Bridge to ask me and a mate directions to the digs he was due to stay in while treading the boards at the Civic Theatre. Yes, later in the ‘rub-a-dub-dub’ over some ‘laugh and titter’ we did both wish we’d told him to “stick to the road and stay off the moor”. I guess that’s not really my anecdote as such because I hung back in my usual fear of life but I nicked it anyway. Sorry, Justin. If you ever look up the unused scripts for ALIEN CUBED by William “Neuromancer” Gibson and David “PITCH BLACK” Twohy you’ll appreciate the filmed ALIEN CUBED even more as neither of the rejected scripts seem too concerned with the Alien. In fact they seem to begrudge the Alien’s contractually obliged interruptions of, respectively, the cold war analogy and the space prison hijinks which form the bulk of them. Both scripts continue the shift started by Cameron in ALIENS from movies about the Alien to movies about other things which happen to have the Alien in them. While ALIEN CUBED fails to be the former it at least struggles like a good ‘un not be the latter. Sure, like Twohy’s script, there’s a prison setting but, endearingly, Fincher & Co are clearly trying to make the Alien central again. The movie works hard not to have the Alien secondary to a larger analogy but to be integral to any analogies which might be occurring in the movie’s vicinity. I mean, it is a bit of a mess so I don’t quite know what it’s on about but I can tell it’s trying to be on about something; that always gets points in my book. I just looked and there’s a rejigged version on my Blu_Ray (I know; swanky!). It’s supposed to be well different with the Alien coming out of an ox rather than a dog and Brian Glover telling a protracted joke about remembering the Alamo (not really). I was surprised that, apparently, none of the dropped footage included Steven Berkoff as the movie largely consists of sweaty bald Englishmen shouting in thick accents so he seems an odd omission. Anyway, I should give that a decco. I’ll come back and edit this bit if I’ve had time to watch it. (I guess I didn’t get time.)
For The Entertainment of Children And The Easily Amused Faecal Matter is Referenced To Excess or ALIEN RESURRECTION (1997)
Similarly ALIEN RESURRECTION had a ‘troubled production’ but no one lets it off because it’s shit. It’s very pretty but it’s still shit. Here all ALIEN CUBED’s spirited resistance to the insistent trend of the Alien movies away from the Alien was steamrollered into the dirt. The result is a glossy action movie with a great cast (Brad Dourif!) and spectacular set design saddled with a script so shitty it smears everything about it. Worse, it might as well have had irradiated shih tzus in it as the Alien. My favourite reaction to this movie was that of the late and very great H R Giger in a documentary where, commenting on the Nu-Alien, he said something roughly on the lines of: “It was a piece of shit. Quite literally a piece of shit.” This terrible, terrible waste of everybody’s time, money and effort was written by Joss Whedon, but apparently it’s not his fault. He also did CABIN IN THE WOODS which I watched last week and that was also a piece of shit; this time because it was too busy being impressed with itself to actually be a movie. It was a lot like someone who thinks they’re above horror movies telling you about a horror movie they’d seen rather than, you know, watching an actual horror movie. It would have made a decent five minute skit, basically. Of course that’s because I’m old and certainly not because 90 odd minutes and several million dollars is a bit excessive for what is basically a smug joke about Scooby fucking Doo. Anyway, I’m sure that isn’t Joss Whedon’s fault either. So, yeah, where we? Oh, while ALIEN started it all off by beggaring expectations ALIEN RESURRECTION ends things by beggaring belief.
“I Ain’t Got Time To Bleed.” Or All The Other Stuff He’s Not Really Going To Bother Pretending He’s All That Interested In or PREDATOR/PREDATOR2/PREDATORS/ALIEN vs PREDATOR and PROMETHEUS
You shouldn’t really look so surprised when I tell you I really like PREDATOR, after all it is another people in a hostile environment being picked off one by one movie. It also has a script that’s as tight as a nut and just rolls like the goddamn thunder. Everything about it is great except the guy starring in it, but everything about PREDATOR is so great I can put up with him. Ugh, that guy; not even ironically, you feel me? PREDATOR 2 is okay; if it came on I wouldn’t leave the room but I wouldn’t seek it out either. People who know about science (“science-tists”) have told me that PREDATORS is a bit dodgy on the old science front. I’ll take their word for it but I thought it was a great-stupid pulp premise which, sadly, stubbornly refused to ignite the expected flares of delight in my hind brain. Maybe it’s because Adrien Brody is as convincing an action hero as Rod Hull. Also, Laurence Fishburne looked like he was in more danger from gout than predators. Maybe he was Patreon funded too. Now, you all know me and how I live in fear of being called an elitist but, holy fuck, really, I mean, those ALIEN VS PREDATOR moves sure suck. I’ll admit I’ve only seen the first one as that was enough; it was like an uncharismatic jumble of cut scenes from a video game. Perhaps the second one is the SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS of people in a hostile environment being picked off one by one movies. After all, at our works’ Christmas do (pies in a pub; the glamour of it all!) last year a gentleman in his twenties revealed these AvP things were his favourite movies. EVER. Yes, even better than COLOR OF NIGHT. I know! Basically though it’s hard to feel I was at fault in my dislike since by this point it had not escaped my notice that the Alien franchise was reduced to the level of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. Oh, and I haven’t watched PROMETHEUS. Can I go out and play now?
Meanwhile Back At The Point or THE COMICS!!!!
PROMETHEUS: FIRE AND STONE #1 Art by Juan Ferrya Written by Paul Tobin Lettered by Nate Piekos of Blambot® Cover art by David Palumbo Dark Horse Comics, 22 pages, $£3.99 print/digital or $1.99 digital after a period of time (2014)
This begins oddly with a prologue featuring a probe which is mobile enough to travel billions of miles through space and smart enough to analyse an entire environment but is neither smart nor mobile enough to avoid somebody’s foot. This foot is either a shout out to the movie (which I haven’t seen) or a secret to be revealed at its own sweet pace; it’s hard to tell because the story then jumps forward around 129 years whereupon Tobin proceeds to treat us to, well, a rerun of ALIEN basically. Sure, Juan Ferrya busts his talented nuts trying to disguise this by draping everything in the high-end hotel bathroom aesthetic of PROMETHEUS as opposed to the bedsit squalor of ALIEN, but it’s basically ALIEN all over again. That’s not a bad idea but unfortunately everything’s kind of pumped up to the extent that it starts to undermine things. There are a lot more characters here than in ALIEN but they are a lot more unlikeable and a lot more stupid, particularly as most of them are scientists and particularly as the ALIEN crew were verging on the suicidally daft in the first place. These Prometheans just sort of wander around blithe at the sight of all these “phenomena” (bit of science jargon there, cheers) which at best should necessitate a reconsideration of some of the more fundamental assumptions humanity has made about the nature of existence, and at worst strongly hint that the whole place is more dangerous than a jumper made of those bloody lethal Japanese kitchen knives.
These great minds of science find weird goop displaying the qualities of everything ever in chaotic flux and then casually slip a bit in their pocket for later; requests like “Can I take these alien ants which have displayed unprecedented ferocity back on the ship?” are met with “Oh, go on then.” These geniuses would play Twister in a room full of bear traps. The comic ends when they discover just such a room and decide to open the door without, I don’t know, “scanning” it or whatever science can do by 2219. I’m pretty sure by 2219 science will be able to tell us what’s on the other side of a door. Something to look forward to there. Anyway, some dude who is dying of an unspecified illness, maybe space-gout, is going to do something really stupid, a lot of people are going to die screaming and, er, Juan Ferrya sure draws pretty. He’s got this colouring thing going on where it looks like he’s done it all with really hard coloured pencils (yes, I know but with a computer; thanks) and I found that interesting. His attractive and sedate visuals are quite appropriate to what is basically a set up cum travelogue issue. It may have taken a whole lot of stupid to get things moving but PROMETHEUS: FIRE AND STONE is professional enough stuff: OKAY!
ALIENS: FIRE AND STONE #1 Art by Patric Reynolds Written by Chris Roberson Coloured by Dave Stewart Lettered by Nate Piekos of Blambot® Cover art by David Paulmbo Dark Horse Comics, 25 pages, $3.99 print/digital or $1.99 digital after a period of time (2014) This series takes place before the events of PROMETHEUS: FIRE AND STONE #1
If you’re anything like me (and for your sake I hope not) you’ll often wake up in the night wondering what happened to that bunch of colonists we didn’t see in ALIENS. Well, rest easy, pilgrims, because this comic is all about what happened to those colonists we didn’t see in ALIENS. Basically they got attacked by Aliens flew to the moon where that PROMETHEUS: FIRE AND STONE comic took place and got attacked again. If this bunch had any luck it would be shitty. This series starts off with a bang and rarely lets up; consequently it’s all largely running and screaming like a someone’s thrown a load of Aliens into a January Sale. So it’s to Chris Roberson’s credit that he still manages to introduce his cast and demonstrate the characteristics which will define them for the duration of the mini-series. However, it’s to his demerit that this is all largely just running and screaming because that relies on the art being strong enough to stop it all feeling a bit breezy; a bit lightweight. Before I get stuck in I would like to say that the artist, as with all modern artists working from other people’s scripts, has my sympathies. I imagine the script probably read a lot like this: (Obviously I have no idea what the script looked like. Maybe Chris Roberson described everything to the last detail and even provided breakdowns and sketches. I’m just assuming here which is always a really excellent idea; I’m having second thoughts about this bit now. Hope no one notices.)
ALIENS: FIRE AND STONE
PAGE 1 (3 Panels)
We are on that planet from ALIENS or something.
PANEL 1: The colonists are running and screaming.
PANEL 2: An Alien gets a colonist. (Have fun with it!)
PANEL 3: There are now less colonists but they are still running and screaming.
That type of thing is good for an artist because they can do what they want but it’s bad because the multiplicity of options is just as likely to paralyse. It takes quite a bit of work and talent to make something like the above visually impress on the printed page. Here the art is by Patric Reynolds, the guy who did CITY OF ROSES in DARK HORSE PRESENTS. I didn’t like his art there but it works a bit better here. A bit. His line is still unsettlingly flakey suggesting everything in the world he’s depicting is inordinately friable (I’ve probably said that before; it’s still true). I don’t have some beef with the guy, he can clearly draw but he’s not really the best choice to illustrate a lot of running and screaming. Mostly because conveying motion would be handy but his panels resemble movie stills. And while everyone looks human and has a definite look it’s another case of the Amazing Photo Faced People. There’s a very real difference between someone pulling a “oh noes!” face and someone actually scared shitless; ask your dentist. He’s gamely attempted to adapt his photo referenced style to Aliens but it looks a lot like he’s got some photos of apes lunging about and scratched out an Alien shape over the top. However, since the script calls for the Aliens to be out in the open a lot Reynolds does have a tough remit. A lot of the threat, the unsettling otherness, of the Aliens just dissipates when you can see them (which is why you don’t see it properly until the end of ALIEN; basics, people!) In a further bid at appeasement I will say his space scenes are pretty nice, but they are few and far between; mostly it’s just running and screaming which he’s not really suited to. Again though, his art isn’t terrible; most of the issues I’ve sadistically outlined as problematic are ones shared by a lot of comics artist. Doesn’t mean I have to let ‘em past! As harsh as all that sounds none of the book was woeful so ALIENS: FIRE AND STONE #1 gets OKAY!
ALIEN VS PREDATOR: FIRE AND STONE #1 Art by Ariel Olivetti Written by Christopher Sebela Lettered by Nate Piekos of Blambot® Cover art by E.M Gist Dark Horse Comics, 25 pages, $3.99 print/digital or $1.99 digital after a period of time (2014) This story takes place between the events of PROMETHEUS: FIRE AND STONE #4 and PREDATOR: FIRE AND STONE #1
This one picks up after most all the cretins in PROMETHEUS: FIRE AND STONE are dead. Most of them probably forgot to breathe, or maybe set fire to themselves because they were cold or tried to eat some live tigers. To avoid spoilers as to exactly how stupidly they died the book keep things vague, but it looks like the sickly dude did in fact do something fantastically ill-advised. Understandably then the unlikeable security guy has locked him up while they and all the other survivors fly off in the unattractively designed ship. It quickly becomes apparent that whatever the stupid thing the sickly dude did was it involved a Synthetic, Kevin Eldon. The effect on Kevin Eldon is a bit of a mixed bag; he now appears to be caked in a thick coating of icing but, balancing this, he can control it to make deadly fondant limbs. And while he’s now mentally inclined towards the more batshit end of the scale he can also control Aliens like they were hunt dogs. God giveth and God taketh away, is my take away there.
Most of the issue is Icing Covered Kevin Eldon casually strolling through the ship while talking and setting his Aliens loose on all the survivors. As if that weren’t a big enough pile of trouble some Predators take a break from killing wildlife on a garishly hued nearby world and decide to join in. Ariel Olivetti illustrates it in his usual style; the one which lurches unpredictably from genius to godawful. Sometimes even doing so between elements within the same panel. I think I was a bit tired at this point because both the art and story seemed a bit confusing really, but I did like how they solved the problem of getting Predators into the mix; they just show up! I know that might seem a bit simplistic but I don’t know how much sophistication you should realistically expect at this point. It’s ALIEN VERSUS PREDATOR after all not ALIEN VERSUS MACBETH. (Give it time though.) OKAY!
PREDATOR: FIRE AND STONE #1 Art by Christopher Mooneyham Written by Joshua Williamson Coloured by Dan Brown Lettered by Nate Piekos of Blambot® Cover art by Lucas Graciano Dark Horse Comics, 25 pages, $3.99 print/digital or $1.99 digital after a period of time (2014) This series takes place after the events of PROMETHEUS: FIRE AND STONE #1-4 and ALIEN VS PREDATOR: FIRE AND STONE #1
This gets off to a strong start with a cover showing a Predator sneaking up on young Frank Miller who is apparently clutching what appears to be a severed Alien penis. Nothing inside lives up to that promise but I’d still argue this is the best of these comics. And I’d argue that despite the fact that this one has the slenderest wisp of a premise of any of the books I bought. Here, the unpleasant security dude has escaped from the confused mess of AVP:F&S#1 into this comic where he and his two chums are hunted by a Predator. That’s it. Three dudes on a spaceship get hunted for 25 pages. Then there’s a bit of a twist because there’s another three issues to go. As basic as the setup is (it’s Predator and people being hunted is what Predator fans pay for) I’d still argue that it’s the best comic here. And not just because I’m an argumentative **** but because it’s the best at being a comic. And I’m betting that’s all down to Christopher Mooneyham. I imagine the script he received wasn’t much in excess of:
PREDATOR: FIRE AND STONE #1
PAGE 13 (3 Panels)
We are on-board THE SPACESHIP PERSES. It’s dark because of course it is, but we can still make out space ship stuff like corridors, ladders and stuff and things. It’s dark but not that dark.
PANEL 1: Unpleasant Security Man, Cocky Cannon Fodder Boy and Bald Lee Van Cleef Walk along the corridor.
UNPLEASANT SECURITY MAN: It’s hunting us.
COCKY CANNON FODDER BOY: Dude, your Mom is hunting us. BURRRN!
Unpleasant Security Man, Cocky Cannon Fodder Boy and Bald Lee Van Cleef Walk along the corridor.
BALD LEE VAN CLEEF: How jolly.
COCKY CANNON FODDER BOY: We’re on an express elevator to Kitchenware! Going Down!
They stop walking suddenly because Cocky Cannon Fodder Boy explodes in a shower of guts. (Have fun with it!)
COCKY CANNON FODDER BOY: Ack!
BALD LEE VAN CLEEF: Tsk!
UNPLEASANT SECURITY MAN: Ooh! We’re in a tight spot now!
But, unlike the unfairly maligned (by me) Patric Reynolds, Mooneyham makes every page pulse with pulp energy and an almost loutish swagger entirely appropriate to the subject at hand. Dude sure likes his Klaus Janson but there’s plenty that’s purely himself here. I enjoyed looking at Mooneyham’s Predator so much that that alone was worth the admission price. His Predator is just perfect, like a scarred spider carved from the pith of an orange. There's real impact on the page turn reveal when that dude shows up. BOO! This is genre comic book art from a time when comics didn’t bow and scrape before television. A time when comics didn’t tug their forelock in the presence of movies but instead revelled in their very nature. It’s genre comic art from a time when comics were proud to be comics. There is a feast of storytelling devices within this comic that put the polite “cinematic” devices of the rest of this bunch to shame. The comics above all largely work in long shot, medium shot and close up; they work largely in landscape panels with a daring inset to pop the monotony. And if its coincidence that all those terms are interchangeable with movie making then, well, it isn’t is it? And I get why it’s legitimate, to an extent, that the comics above treat the pages as screens (because after al I read them on a screen) I should stress that Mooneyham’s pages treated as pages worked just as well. If not better. By embracing the native skills of his medium Mooneyham provides a comic far more akin to movies than any of the placid and pretty offerings preceding it. Basically compared to any of the other Dark Horse comics above PREDATOR: FIRE AND STONE #1 is like a box of fireworks going off in your face. It is very much not that the comics above are bad as such ,and they certainly aren’t wrong with how they go about things, it’s just genre comics are such weird things now, they come from such a weird place that I am just so grateful to find a comic that’s happy being a comic. Hell, one which exults in being a comic. It’s hardly Human Diastrophism but it’s bloody well done so: GOOD!
Phew. Believe you me no one is more glad that's done than me. Cheers and all that.
You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? COMICS!!!!
Sometimes people stop me in the street and ask me
to stop following them what the best monthly periodical genre comic currently on the stands is. And I tell them, all these people who I’m pretending constantly stop me in the street and ask that question, that the best monthly periodical genre comic currently on the stands is STRAY BULLETS. I haven’t said that before on here because, honestly, I didn’t think it needed saying. It seems I thought wrong. So no blame, no shame and let’s don our knuckle dusters, knuckle down and rectify this shabby state of affairs right damn now. Also, I tell you how to get CHEAP COMICS!!! Yeah, thought you’d like that.
What is STRAY BULLETS? I’m glad you asked. STRAY BULLETS is in all likelihood all the things you say you want in a comic and a few more things chucked in for good luck. It’s a long form story told in done-in-one chunks; the dialogue’s to die for, being smoothly natural and never, not ever, no, not once, nope, degenerating into tic driven idiocy; the pacing is aces and while it’s got sex, violence, profanity and perversion by the pound it’s also got characters, intelligence, humour and heart to spare. STRAY BULLETS might hide behind Crime but it’s neither desiccated homage nor a canter through the clichés reliant on violence for impact. Superficially STRAY BULLETS is a crime book but like all the best crime fiction it’s really all about life. I never said I was above stating the obvious. STRAY BULLETS is set in a world where everyone pretends they live in a civilised society but they are all just a moment’s inattention or single surrender to temptation away from finding out just how many teeth the world still has. Sometimes teh chracters find out they have the sharpest teeth of all. STRAY BULLETS is about many things but mostly it's about surviving. Or not surviving.
Now you may say that away from STRAY BULLETS Lapham’s a mixed bag. Me, I thought YOUNG LIARS was a modern classic, his strange take on Batman (City of Crime) was pretty frosty large plant seeds and SPARTA U.S.A. was messed up in the right way but sunk by the art (who can ever forget High Blood Pressure Colin Farrell?). There’s others but it’s variable stuff. Which is fine; which is how that stuff goes. But when Lapham’s on STRAY BULLETS he’s up there with los Bros Hernandez, with Clowes, with Speed McNeil. When David Lapham's on STRAY BULLETS he is on. Bang a gong.
STRAY BULLETS is in all likelihood all the things you say you want in a comic and a few more things chucked in for good luck. But you aren’t buying it. What’s all that about?
Right, my sleeves are rolled up so let’s get stuck straight in. Firstly, roll your jellied orbs of sight over this ridiculous nonsense:
March 2014: STRAY BULLETS #41 – 8,297 March 2014: STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #1 – 14,208 April 2014: STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #2 – 9,147 May 2014: STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #3 – 7,935 June 2014: STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #4– 7,092
Those figures are taken from Chris Rice’s Indie Month-to-Month Sales June 2014 column which lurks on Heidi McDonald’s The Beat. With admirable brevity and mordant understatement Chris “Numbers Are My Wonders” Rice comments only, “Should be selling better.”
He’s not wrong.
Okay, sure, STRAY BULLETS #41 was the final issue of a storyline left dangling since the cessation in 2005 of the regular publication of STRAY BULLETS; mass turnouts weren’t ever really on the cards. Staggeringly, in 2005 the world of comics was so preposterous that David Lapham couldn’t actually afford to publish his Eisner winning (not that that matters, but still) and thoroughly EXCELLENT! comic. Beyond staggeringly this nonsensical state of affairs persisted for nine years until Image Comics rescued David Lapham’s EXCELLENT! series. An understandable state of affairs then that such a long delayed comic should shift so few ‘units’ (ack!). Turning that frown upside down though; that’s a remarkable number of units for a nine years delayed comic to move. Always a silver lining, that’s me. Anyway this is collected in STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES EDITION which we’ll get to shortly but STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS is the new stuff and y'all ain't picking it up.
I like to try before I buy and purchases cost money and money is not something I am fat with, you might say. Hush, for this is a strange new world where procurement does not always require payment in full. All the sexy souls riding The Future bareback like the Pope intended can just get right on the STRAY BULLETS bandwagon right here and right now at the slightest possible cost. See, the first issue of the original 1995 series is available for just $.99 and just $1.99 for each issue thereafter at just the touching of a screen or two. Being all old and not really into the whole riding my jetpack to the mall thing I won’t risk embarrassment by going into any further detail but, yes, Digital users curious about STRAY BULLETS can have a virtual bunch of them in two shakes of a Vic20. Okay, there’s the hidden cost of actually being able to afford one of those tablets or pads or gadgets; which might explain why you haven’t any money left to purchase comics on the shinily enticing thing. But I just showed you a way round it that doesn’t involve piracy (not a fan, sorry). No worries, my pleasure. While I do want you to read STRAY BULLETS I do draw the line at discretely placing it on your devices without your consent like some shower of tax dodging rock star ****s in servitude to some dark Corporate Beast. Politeness is the first casualty of synergy it seems.
STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES EDITION Written & Drawn by David Lapham El Capitan/Image Comics $59.99 STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham
If I can just prise the offended fingers of noted paper based merchant and mini brew swigger Brian “Two Shops Are Better Than One!” Hibbs from around my throat I’ll swiftly make amends by shilling the physical things. Because what of those resistant to the tug of the Future? What of those medieval souls who through habit or penury remain chained to the physical world? Oh, shred not thy garments and untear thy hair for those wayward dregs also have the ability to start at the beginning; thanks to STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES EDITION. This is not a low cost entry point; it is in fact $59.99. But for that money you do get 41 issues of consistently EXCELLENT! comics. Yes, that is a lot of greenbacks, a lot of hours at the coal face, a lot of time staring at a screen while your arteries quietly harden, but it is worth every ass busting cent in terms of comics. Also, you’ll get STRAY BULLETS #21. You don’t know this yet but STRAY BULLETS #21 is one of the finest single issues ever made. If I was stranded on a desert island I’d die within three days of exposure. But if before that happened I was allowed to take two comics one would be OMAC #1 by Jack Kirby and the other would be STRAY BULLETS #21. That’s because they are my idea of perfect single issue genre comics and together the two of them would provide enough entertainment for the three days I had left to live.
STRAY BULLETS #21 is just great comics as Lapham smoothly fillets the heterosexual male psyche with the scalpel of satire without once faltering in his deadpan delivery. All those lazy boner scenarios which flit across the inside of the bored suburban male’s skull are drily depicted in all their banal hilarity. In the character of Benny David Lapham wrought a comic creation the equal of Jack Kirby’s OMAC. For just as OMAC was the ultimate man for the world which was coming!!! Benny is the ultimate man for the world that’s already here. (Fucking Benny. You fucking shambles, Benny.) And then there’s a whole bunch of comics around that little sweetie during the course of which David Lapham shows us many things, all of which come under the umbrella heading of Comics: How They Should Be Done. Reading STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES EDITION it becomes apparent that it is possible to create a series with a strong sense of time and place without wallowing in received clichés; it is possible to create characters at once grotesquely monstrous but also unsettlingly human and relatable; it is possible for the ridiculous to sit beside the realistic without duelling elbows; it is possible to take for granted art displaying the influences of Mazzucchelli, Munoz and Meskin; it is possible to get things right right from the start and to keep right on getting them right. STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES EDITION might look pricey but it’s a steal for what it is, because it is EXCELLENT! multiplied by 41!
Of course it’s cheaper just to hop on board the new series so let’s see how that’s shaping up! (SPOILER: It’s EXCELLENT! You didn’t know I could be this positive for so long did you? Ack! I think something just popped inside my head.)
STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #1 Written & Drawn by David Lapham El Capitan/Image Comics, $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham
But c’mon! Where were you all with this one? STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #1 was a real Double Deckers (“Get on board! Get on board!”) moment but it seems most of you forgot to set your alarm and missed the bus. Because, according to those figures at The Beat in June 2014 STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS was the 234th best-selling comic book to North American retailers. 234th. Two hundred and thirty fourth. True, nestled just beneath it in 235th place was Parker & Shaner’s bubbly respray of FLASH GORDON, so it’s in good company down there. But it remains a fact that STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS is being outsold by 233 other comics, many of which, horrifically, have Mark Millar involved. While you don’t need any prior knowledge of STRAY BULLETS if you do have prior knowledge of the series then it’s a richer experience but then that’s what knowledge does; it makes experiences richer. All you need to enjoy this comic is to read it. But to do that you have to buy it. If you do you'll find that this one’s about Dads and how men who become Dads don’t stop being men. When people say it’s a full time job being a Dad they mean it’s a full time job not backsliding into being an asshole. Thematically this issue is akin to that episode of East Bound And Down where Kenny took everyone to the water park. It’s EXCELLENT!
STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #2 Written & Drawn by David Lapham El Capitan/Image Comics, $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham
Well, that was upsetting. But not in a cheap way. It's EXCELLENT!
STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #3 Written & Drawn by David Lapham El Capitan/Image Comics, $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham
This one’s like David Lynch trying to do one of those John Hughes movie things people who aren't me like. One of those full of loveable scamps and risky japes. If you worked in Television and needed everything reducing to a formula you could kind of boil this one down to: Hi-jinks ensue when Laura Palmer babysits for Bobby Peru! It’s all kind of light and frothy except for all the darkness and psychological pain which keep bursting into the dollhouse setting like a mental elephant at full pelt. It’s EXCELLENT!
STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #4 by David Lapham El Capitan/Image $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham
Wherein David Lapham focuses in on the burgeoning romance of his young leads without once making me do a bit of sick in my mouth. Maybe that’s because Lapham’s such a good storyteller that he can communicate that early adult feeling of being so trapped between the life you have, the life you want and the life everyone else wants for you that you can feel your brain physically flex. And then you go and do a load of dumb shit and get to live with it. Forever. Jellybeans for everyone! Or maybe it’s just that David Lapham knows just when to throw in a panel of monkey cuddlies dangling from a beach hut roof. Either way in this issue I watched a couple of kids behave as foolishly and as purely as any real hormonal basket cases and I liked them even more by the end. It's EXCELLENT!
STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #5 by David Lapham El Capitan/Image $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham
This is one of the regular breather issues which have peppered the series since it started. One of the ones some folk don’t cotton to overmuch. One of the issues where Lapham interrupts the regular narrative to catch up with the ridiculously violent, bombastically nonsensical and wholly imaginary adventures of Amy Racecar. It’ s possible these issues act as the very dreamlife of the series itself with all the key themes and motifs allowed to frolic across the pages without the constraints of logic the preceding issues worked within. I’m probably the wrong man to ask about that kind of stuff as I’m busy laughing my ruby red ass off at it all. Can a mass murdering and quite fetchingly befreckled fugitive from justice who has sworn off killing find love with a suicidal and blind quadruple amputee; yea, though all the guns of the world be turned against them? Buckle up and find out. Makes Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers look like Downton Abbey, and I like Natural Born Killers. STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #5; the louder you scream the faster it goes! It’s EXCELLENT!
STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #6 by David Lapham El Capitan/Image $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham
It’s a bit late in the day but I should probably say that STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS is for mature readers. Sure, it’s for mature readers in the commonly accepted sense that it’s frequently rudey-roo and would make your vicar’s cheeks shine like a freshly slapped arse. However, it’s also for mature readers in that it can tease and hint at the contents of a locked room and let your mind fill in all the unspeakable details only to wrongfoot you at the end with an ending which admits that sometimes reality is horrible enough. Basically (and it’s unusual for genre comics this) STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS is for mature readers in the sense that it treats you like a fucking grown-up. It’s EXCELLENT!
So, there you go, I’ve told you all about STRAY BULLETS (and STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS) while leaving you no wiser. Some might argue that that’s pretty thoroughly bloody useless but, what; you want me to spoil everything for you? That isn’t going to happen. All you need to take away from this is that I think STRAY BULLETS (and STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS) is EXCELLENT!
Or to put it to you a little more pithily:
David Lapham’s STRAY BULLETS is – COMICS!!!
O, America! There you go again sneaking another holiday in! Did it involve turkeys? You and your turkeys, America! Well, there’s no holiday from me going on about something I read. Much as both of us might wish otherwise. Was it a turkey though? Eh? Eh? Some clever word play there. Force your own face under the break to find out!
Anyway, this… EARTH X Story, character designs, epilogue & covers by Alex Ross Pencils by John Paul Leon Inks by Bill Rheinhold Story & Script by Jim Kreuger Coloured by Matt Hollingsworth, Melissa Edwards & James Sinclair Lettered by Todd Klein Marvel, $29.99 (2010) Collects Earth X issues 0, 1-12 & X
Featuring characters created by a veritable multitude of minds in tandem with a host of hands the naming of all of whom it shames me to say I am not up to. However, the bulk of the stuff herein must surely have come from some of these: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Carl Burgos, Don Heck, Gene Colan, Joe Simon, Neal Adams, Dave Cockrum, Herb Trimpe, Bill Everett, Wallace Wood, Dick Ayers, Marie Severin, John Romita Snr, John Romita Jnr, Jim Starlin, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Gerry Conway, Arnold Drake, Steve Gerber and one more time…Jack Kirby
I picked this up from the remaindered book store despite it looking like someone had beaten four generations of spiders to death with it. It was a bit shop worn is what I’m getting at there. (1) I’d not read Earth X before this and I didn’t really know anything about it. From the Alex Ross covers I’d lumped it in with Marvels and Kingdom Come; books that hit readers younger than me harder than they hit me. Because to be honest both those admittedly well-crafted series just sort of glanced off my burly shanks; that’s nice, I thought and thought no further. But at £8.99 I was willing to have a pop at this unknown quantity. My pecuniary impetuosity was spurred mostly because of the presence of John Paul Leon’s art because, c’mon, John Paul Leon is a pretty great comic book artist. (2) The words and such in Earth X are by Jim Kreuger and his name didn’t tempt me much. (3) So when I opened the book I thought I’d just end up flipping through it and making cheeky monkey faces at Leon’s sweet art (4) but when I shut the book I had actually read it all and had a surprisingly good time.
I know! Considering the whole thing is mired in Marvel continuity up to its nuts and has its origin in some sketches (artistic not comedic) Alex Ross came up with for Wizard or something Earth X turned out to be a decent enough read indeed. Basically then Earth X seems to be set on an Earth (Earth X, I guess?) where all the Marvel characters exist but in the time since their inception they have aged and things have happened to them that have actually not been undone five minutes later. (5) This means a lot of characters are dead when the book opens and a lot of characters aren’t who their name would lead you to believe. (6) This is fun stuff and arrests the attention early on but the real advantage of the set-up is that this is a story where there are actual consequences. If there’s a threat of such magnitude that the world might end then, in this book at least, there is actually a possibility that the worst might happen. (7) The book also attempts to tie all of Marvel’s continuity up in a neat bow (8) and it does a credible job too. Of course I’m not all that invested in the minutiae of the Marvel Universe so it’s possible some of the fudging and bodging necessary to make the book work might curl some readers’ hair. Those readers are duly warned although let’s be honest I probably lost those particular readers at the first footnote where I gently intimated Marvel’s treatment of Jack Kirby’s legacy was somewhat less than ideal. I’ll find the strength to soldier on though.
Given the scope (wide) and the scale (big) of the story it would be quite understandable if characterisation received short shrift, particularly as two of the major story strands initially seem to revolve around how You Can’t Trust The Smart Folk and how Captain America Can’t Make The Hard Decisions. (9) However, Kreuger & Co. slowly layer their portrayals and while not everyone (there’s a lot of them so fair enough) is nuanced those who are nuanced are revealed as being surprisingly so. By the close of play things have become quite emotional indeed.(10) The writing and the art play the whole thing on the dour side but, crucially, Earth X is never as dour as I feared and it is always more entertaining than I hoped. This is largely because the creative team remember that you can have the biggest stakes in the world but it matters not one jot unless the reader cares. (11) They also remember that there is always humour in life even when things are looking pretty grim (especially then? Yes, especially then) so there is also some humour; I liked the Vision joke and that whole domesticated Ben Grimm dressing like an elderly Jack Kirby shtick but there’s a sparse smattering of other comedic offerings; offerings which seem to rise naturally out of the situations presented and temper the dourness somewhat.
Be in no doubt though that given the reverential treatment of all things Marvel for some folk Earth X will be the interminable continuity wank I feared. Luckily for all our souls John Paul Leon’s presence swung it for me. Assisted here by Bill Rheinhold's sturdy inks he’s got this high contrast thing going on. A lot of detail is bleached out but all the detail you need is there. This approach is super rough on the colourists but Hollingsworth, Sinclair & Edwards do a mighty fine job. John Paul Leon’s got the magic happening in pretty much every aspect of his art on the pages of Earth X. His staging’s great and a lot of the impact comes from this and his thin vertical panels which suddenly burst on a page turn into double spread splendour. Because be in no doubt that there are images in here that need to have some impact; if some of this stuff doesn’t work the book won’t work and I think John Paul Leon makes it work. But he also makes the small stuff sing. This is a book which starts with a man in a room and ends with another man in another room but in-between there are swarms of humanity and creatures so gargantuan humanity is less than a swarm and John Paul Leon sells all that tricky shit like Ricky Roma on a roll. Only a truly talented artist could make comics with so many vertical panels work so well, and only a few of that select bunch could successfully lend humanity to a robot exoskeleton. John Paul Leon’s chunky lines and slabs of black give everything the necessary gravitas but he builds in sufficient space for the crucial emotions to sit. (12)
While John Paul Leon’s mostly to blame for my enjoyment of this book there’s no way everyone else’s contributions can be discounted. I wasn’t expecting much when I cracked the covers so maybe that made me value what I found all the more. But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Almost as surprised at how influential Earth X has proven to be. (13) I can’t deny Earth X was VERY GOOD! What a revoltin’ development!
(1) Initially I was going to pick up a Rick Remender X-Force book and make a joke about Rick Remaindered but I think he’s suffered enough recently, so I’m glad I didn’t make that joke. There was also a whole bunch of Brian Bendis books but, I’m sorry, even at remaindered prices…not with your money even. Truthfully I was tempted by his tiny wee digest Oral History of the Avengers but I read a bit and I don’t know what happened but when I came to I was crying in a library surrounded by burning televisions. Yes, the selection of trade paperbacks on offer was just Marvel books by the way. Which is probably due to some distribution deals or other rather than any intrinsic lack within Marvel’s trade program per se. Heaven forefend anyone should think I’m being petty just because Marvel refuse to acknowledge the contribution of Jack Kirby to their multi-billion dollar revenue streams. I don’t need a reason to be petty.
(2) John Paul Leon’s work on Winter Men is pretty much reason enough for someone to put that beauty back into print (and Brett Lewis’ writing on it is none too shabby neither).
(3) The only place I recall his name from is his and Alex Ross & Doug Braithwaite’s Justice (DC Comics, 2005-2007) and if I can tell you one thing about that comic seven years on then I’d be guessing. The JLA all turned into robot toys or something? I should dig that out for a re-read. Right after I sort my life out.
(4) Ook! Ook!
(5) The quicker studies will have gathered I’m not one for recounting plots; I’d rather let you know if I liked something and why that was or wasn’t. I will also throw in some heroically terrible jokes and probably lose my mind for several sentences over something or other like a goddamn crazy man. That’s why this shit’s free.
(6) Thankfully they even keep the High Evolutionary and the fact that he created an exact duplicate of earth, but without bologna or something. Every time that High Evolutionary guy shows up I want to know where he got his funding. He must pitch like nobody’s business.
(7) This is slightly undermined by the fact that I now know that Earth X was followed up by Universe X (2000 - 2001) and Paradise X (2002 – 2003). N.B. There is no truth to the rumour of plans to pave over Paradise X and call it Parking Lot X. A little early Christmas present for Brian Hibbs there; more of a Joni Mitchell man than a Cher man, I’m guessing.
(8) People are always pulling this “Everything’s Connected!” shtick and it always irritates me how we are supposed to be impressed. Of course everything’s connected if you write something where everything’s connected. Nuh!
(9) It is possible these were still original approaches back then but after a decade of writers continually going at them like a dog with a bag of chips it’s hard to tell. I think Jonathan Hickman is the one currently sucking the marrow out of these conceptual bones but we won’t know for another fifty years when he finally finishes his story.
(10) Although since I am the kind of man who blubs at the “That’s no salesman…that’s your Daddy!” scene in Armageddon YMMV. (Yes, Michael Bay’s made some shit but it is in the nature of shit that sometimes it sticks).
(11) Or if “caring” is a bit Dad then feel free to use “gives a shit”.
(12) Or: I like John Paul Leon’s work and I think the book succeeds as well as it does largely because of him. Why can’t I just say that? Write about the art, my arse. Do I come out there and tell you how to read? Well, do I?
(13) Truly, it’s like everybody at one of these Marvel Writer’s Retreats (Let’s whiteboard this one! We’re ordering burgers IN, how valued thou art! I’ve arrived, I’m a cog!) has a post-it note studded copy of Earth-X under the table or something. To say Earth-X has been influential is to put it mildly. Anyway, here are all the similarities I could remember. There may be more!
ITEM! Uatu the Watcher is blind. In 2014 he would lose his eyes and be killed which is about as blind as blind can be. In Earth-X he’s still alive mind, just blind. In both Earth X and the normal Marvel U something a bit more unpleasant than Pink Eye happens to his eyes anyway.
ITEM! The Terrigen Mists are changing everybody into special magic people. This is basically the same as that Inhuman series no one cares about. Even Matt Fraction, a man who cares so hard about everything veins pop out of his head like pulsing blue worms, doesn’t care about this series. If he cared he wouldn’t have left! Like my Dad! (N.B. this is a joke, my Dad didn’t go anywhere.)
ITEM! Black Panther has made Storm the queen of Wakanda. I think this happened a couple of years back. I’m not sure, I was busy and couldn’t make it but I sent a telegram and told them to let me know Wakanda present they’d like but they never got back to me. Brian Azzarello gets paid for puns like that and people still take him seriously.
ITEM! Johnny Storm is dead. I know he came back but he was dead for a bit back there in the Marvel U, or maybe he wasn’t; I haven’t read Fantastic Four since Wieringo & Waid’s (Very Good!) run, looking at the FF sales figures I’m not the only one.
ITEM! Norman Osborne has a position of political influence. In Earth X he’s President and in those post Secret Invasive comics he was whatever he was (Secretary of the Tommy Lee Jones Fan Club). I don’t really know about Sensual Invadement because there is actually a level of drivel I won’t sink below; yes, I’m as surprised as you are. In Earth X it’s believable that he’d be President because no one actually cares about being President on Earth X, they are all busy with their new powers and stuff. In the normal Marvel U it is not believable in the slightest but, hey, whatever, as The Kids are wont to emote.
ITEM! Beast’s appearance has changed. But then when has Beast’s appearance not changed. There are even comics where Beast’s appearance changes from panel to panel. But those comics are drawn by Greg Land, so there you go.
ITEM! Cyclops’ dad is alive. He’s that space guy who dresses like a pirate who is very comfortable in his sexuality, right? Nice sash, buddy! I’m sure he was dead in normal continuity but now he’s alive in some X-Men comics? I expect the explanation given for this sudden turn of events will be profoundly satisfactory.
ITEM! Professor X is dead. He died during Avengers vs. X-Men when things got out of hand at a rest stop in Phoenix. I don’t know; I have neither the money nor the patience for such Events. That’s what Wikipedia’s for. Do I look like Wikipedia? No, sir or madam, I do not.
ITEM! Thor is a lady. In the current comics this is shortly to occur due to the natural progression of a story Jason Aaron was compelled to write with a forcefulness non writers will never know, and they will always secretly hate themselves for the not knowing. Really. Ah-huh. In Earth X this is the result of Loki tricking Thor which is quite funny. Unfortunately in Earth X Lady Thor has a costume with these raised studs running down each side of the torso giving her the appearance of having being bestowed with many brass teats with which she can suckle her strange barnyard animal kids or something. It’s not a good look, honey.
ITEM! Cyclops leads a team of X-Men on Earth X. I understand that he now does this in normal continuity while also pursuing Revolution as effectively as anyone can while being written by someone who thinks it is a ride at Alton towers.
ITEM! In Earth X Captain America isn’t black but he is bald which is different but they do both begin with “b”. There’s a lot of prejudice against the bald even today. In many ways the bald are the invisible victims of our culture. Which is heart-breaking but they’ll just have to wait until we cut all that hateful racist, sexist, homophobic shit out first. (I see you, Internet. I see you!) Anyway, they should make Wyatt Wingfoot Captain America. Yeah, that’s right. Don’t you walk away from me, America. You heard; Wyatt Wingfoot. There’s nothing wrong with your ears, America!
Oh, I'm just mucking you about but I'm deadly serious about my love of - COMICS!!!