Wednesday, 20 September 2017

MARNEY THE FOX - Graphic Novel Review


Blimey, this is an old 'un allright. Way back in 1974, Buster ran a dramatic nature serial for a couple of years, hidden amongst the silliness of the likes of Faceache and the title charater. 'Marney The Fox', however, was anything but filler, making a lasting impression on thousand of readers, many of whom will be delighted at this chance to revisit it.


 A collaboration between writer M Scott Goodall and artist John Stokes (who never met once whilst working on it), the strip takes the reader down to ground level as it follows the life of an orphaned fox cub named Marney. The first thing that anyone notices about it is always Stokes' art, which is pretty breathtaking for a weekly serial in those days. He admits that he took longer to do it than other projects even though the money was no better, and boy does it show. Marney's woodland world is brought to us in beautiful detail, helping bring the story literally to life.


Goodalls scripting is also of a high quality, but those expecting a fluffy nature romp will be sorely disappointed, as young Marney is shat on from a great height with alarming regularity. Orphaned in the very first episode, the poor little bleeder staggers from one near death experience to the next, only to escape and get another good kicking from life immediately after. It can genuinely be quite daunting to read, and as an animal lover I had to take breaks from Marney's almost unrepenting misery. Think more "Watership Down" than "Wind In The Willows".

 

That's not to say, however, that it's not a good read. Obviously Marney gets out of his many scrapes, as there wouldn't be a strip without him, and Goodall's inventiveness in not repeating himself is admirable indeed. Mankind naturally comes accross as mainly evil bastards, but it's good to see that Marney also encounters his fair share of kindly humans (and animals) to try and balance out the gits. There's not a lot of laughs here, and it's not as much of a page turner as "The Leopard From Lime Street" (also a Buster strip), but it's very hard not to reccommend "Marney The Fox" as it is a fine example of quality British comics that deserves to reach a wide audience.

Released on 5th October 2017

Buy It Here


2000AD Thrill Cast About The Book HERE



Thursday, 3 August 2017

PAT MILLS - 'Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! - Book Reiew



Partrick Mills is a legend. I don't mean that he's a mythical beast talked about in hushed tones that no one is quite sure actually exists, more that he's, well, legendary. the simple truth is that his contributions to British comics, from girls & war comics to creating 2000AD, are immesurable. Not that Pat doesn't mind giving it a go, as in this autobiography he details as much as he can remember (and print without getting sued), focussing on the Galaxy's Greatest Comic in particular.
 


The book promises the 'Secret History' of 2000AD and Judge Dredd, but if you've read other, official, books there isn't a great deal here that will come as a surprise. the value here is in reading such a personal account of a man who has been a constant presence in the comic since it's inception. Anyone who knows Pat will know he can be an opinionated, tetchy sort, and to be honest that's the only way I'd have him. Throughout the book he rails against bad editorial decisions, bad company policies, bad artists, and bad everything else (although he does leave the strip Bad Company alone). This could just be the rantings of a bitter man, but it's patently obvious Pat's gripes are authentic and with very good reason. It's a miracle there was such a massive Britsih comic scene, and no surprise that it collapsed in on itself.


There are plenty of plugs for his 'Serial Thriller' book (see review elsewhere) thoughout, although in fairness it does deal with British comics in the 70s. There's also a lot of repetition and some awkward subject jumps, not to mention a few words that don't actually exist. I have to say that Mrs Lisa Mills could have been a bit stricter in her editing! Nothing gets too annoying (unless you are wound up by new paragraphs instead of paragraph breaks), and the whole thing kept me up late at night to see what would come next (hint: someone annoys Pat). As a bonus, readers are offered an unpublished account of a staff party if they subscribe to Mills website, a smart move if ever I saw one. The frustrating thing is the times when he tells you about something then says something like 'it's too long to go into here'. Pat - we love your stories, and are happy to read any length accounts, so please don't hold back on our account!! I think we can be safe in assuming a further volume will be forthcoming to fill in some of the gaps.



So the Godfather of 2000AD may not be the cheeriest soul in the world, but neither would you be if you'd battled 'through a minefield of imbeciles and chimps' for over forty years. Pat has delivered the expected frank account of his time in the British comics system, and it's a wonderful companion piece to the likes of ewditor Steve MacManus' book, or even the official '40 Years Of Thrill Power'.

Art by Andy Lambert

Buy the book HERE



Tuesday, 25 July 2017

NEW TRAILER TIME!


1 - READY, PLAYER ONE



Now this is the big one for me, as it sometimes seems the world is split into people who have read Ernest Cline's phenomenal pop culture novel and people who need to read it. Set in the not too distant future, Ready, Player One paints a pciture of a pretty shitty society where the only real escape is the Oasis, a free virtual reality immersive experience. Our young hero, Wade, even goes to school there. There's a full review of the book elsewhere on this blog if you are interested.

What we have to accept is that this is a teaser trailer, and as such it is designed to make us go "wow". Well, I certainly went "wow", and maybe "gosh" as well, although I drew the line at "golly". The ball that we see is a perfect recreation of a key book scene, as are the "stacks" where Wade lives in the real world.  The race sequence, although not in the book, seems like it may replace sections where old videogames are played, which would be very dull on the big screen. At the end we get a crystal key, one of the objects of the hunt. In my eyes, this looks awesome, and as Cline is co scripting I'm not worried about the plot going too far off track. this may be the film Spielberg was born to direct, and it can't come soon enough.


2 - THOR- RAGNAROK


Okay, this new trailer fills in a few plot points, and gives us more of The Hulk. Thor is still a bit too surfer dude for my liking, but Chris Hemsworth won't let us down. Loki is back, and fighting for good, but if he doesn't double cross Thor at some point I'll be disappointed. It seems Asgard has been invaded by the Goddess of Death, and Thor and his merry chums have to save it. Hulk was turned into a gladiator somehow, and many a Marvel fan has squeed when they first saw his armour, a direct copy from the awesome Planet Hulk series. It all looks very exciting with the tongue in cheek humour that made the last Thor movie such an improvement on the first. Perhaps the most interesting development is the fact that Hulk can now speak proper sentences, so it seems that Banner is more comfortable with his mean green alter ego, and the two are sharing more than a physical space.

It all looks wonderfully colourful and action filled, like a big budget Flash Gordon, a fact accentuated by the shiny logo Marvel have gone for. Adding the Hulk seems to be the genius move that could elevate this into the most fun Marvel movie since Guardians... verily, it looketh fab.

3-JUSTICE LEAGUE


Now this one's got many DC fans peeing in their pants, and that's because it's full of great stuff that actually hints that Wonder Woman may not have been a one off. It's no accident that the trailer leads with the recent blockbuster star, and she immediately takes control of the screen. We get introduced to new guys Aquaman (who is now a total badass), Cyborg (it's metal, dude) and the Flash. It's quite blatant that poor old Flash is the main comedy element of the film, though Alfred gets a cracking line in the trailer. Marvel have consistently balanced action and humour better in their movies, and I don't hold high hopes for this being the DC movie to change the status quo. That said, it certainly looks like it could be a bloody good movie, and here's hoping that DC's heroes finally get the film they deserve.


4 - THE ORVILLE (TV)


After super beings and VR worlds, it's nice to have something that looks like it's solid, unadulterated Sci Fi silliness. The Orville is Fox's rival to the new Star Trek (yawn), taking more of a Galaxy Quest approach to space exploration. Headlined by Sewth Mcfarlane, the trailers released have been smart, funny and on the nose, genre wise. Whether it can stretch to a full season and stillbe funny remains to be seen, but McFarlane's pedigree is undenliable so here's hoping.


SURVIVAL GEEKS - GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW (Gordon Rennie/Emma Beeby/Neil Googe)



I've got a bit of a Marmite relationship with long time 2000AD scribe Gordon Rennie. Whilst he impressed with the likes of Cursed Earth Koburn and Absalom, I was left cold my most of his other work, or initially interested and soon bored. In this instance, though, he pairs up with Emma Beeby, a relative newcomer to the comic, for a mad dash through fandom that will have you grinning from page one.

Starting off as a tentative three parter (part of the horrendously named "Thrill3r" series) the first story introduces us to Sam, a girl who unwisely shags a geek lad on a drunken night out (poor thing). Unfortunately, when she tries to leave his house in the morning she finds it is a dimension hopping dwelling and she's sort of stuck with Simon and his nerdy flatmates as they try to find a dimension full of zombies (because that would be AWESOME), or even one where Firefly wan't cancelled. It's not quite Quantum Leap, as these guys don't want to go home - they're having to much fun.



What follows is 100 pages of nerd heaven, as the geeky script is bolstered by some wonderful art by Neil Googe, who shoehorns in as much as he can so that rescanning many panels is a joy of discovery. His style is remeniscent of Jamie Hewlett and Phillip Bond, in that it's cartoony but vibrant and detailed with it, with a penchant for geeky in jokes that is only matched by that of the writers.



As we follow the geeks through a steampunk dimension (we are made painfully aware that steampunk sort of, well, sucks), they even pick up a new housemate - a baby Cthulhu called Howard (the name being yet another geeky reference). They even meet up alternate dimension versions of themselves, also dimension hopping in their house, the twist being that the sexes are reversed. The girly led universe even has - gasp! - a FEMALE DOCTOR WHO! Come on guys, sometimes you can push this shit too far, ya know.



In all seriousness, I had forgotten how absolutely chucklesome Survival Geeks was. Well rounded characters, excellent art and laughs aplenty, it nails the tricky task of making a successful sci fi humour strip. If you haven't read it this is the perfect time to allow your inner nerd out to play.

Available fro Sept 11th at the 2000AD Shop

Thursday, 20 July 2017

DREDD/ANDERSON "THE DEEP END" - GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW



There was a little film a few years back, simply titled 'Dredd'. An updating of a poorly received Stallone effort, it concerned a future cop who shot a lot of people, including that mad bird from Game Of Thrones. Well, something like that, anyway. Of course, I am taking the piss, as 'Dredd' was a very decent attempt to bring 2000AD legend Judge Dredd to the screen, and this volume of stories carries on the legend, set in the same era as the film, with the same two lead characters, albeit in separate stories.



First up we get 'Dust', a Dredd story by Arthur Wyatt with very nice art from the ever reliable Ben Willsher. It's nice to see the movie uniforms in comic form, and it has the benefit of not having to know anything more than what you learned in the film and so doesn't bog down newbies with 40 years (gulp) of continuity. Basically it seems some sort of sand monster is murdering specifically targeted scumbags, and Dredd and co have to stop it. Standard day in Mega City One then. It moves at a nice pace, keeping enough surprises back so as not to blow it's load too early. In the end, it;'s fifty pages well worth reading.



Anderson finishes off the collection with two stories. There's the 20 page 'The Deep End' plus ten pager 'Judgement Call'. Both are by Alec Worley, with art from Paul Davidson, and Davidson's art has a more gritty feel than Willsher's, bringing a grubbier realism to the Meg. To be fair, I adore both styles, and it's good to have two effective but different artists in the one volume. Storywise, 'The Deep End' is a pretty basic tale, with nods to the events in the film when Anderson was captured by the gang. It asks more questions than it answers, though, and ultimately is fun but feels unfinished. Hopefully the seeds of the story will bear fruit in another tale. 'Judgement Call' nails it, however. In ten pages it shows us the seedy hole Mega city has become, the desperation of the populace, and the thoughts and feelings of Anderson that haven't been hit this well since Alan Grant in his heyday with the character. After reading it I wanted to read more, to see what happened to the character next, to see where she would go. Yeah... I liked it.



There's a pretty solid 100 pages here for fans of the characters both old and new. When I went into it I expected the main story to be the highlight, but came out at the end linking the shortest story best. If you have friends who have enjoyed the film but not bothered with the comics this is a perfect present, or if not just buy it for yourself - it's the law!

Available Now At The 2000AD Shop



Wednesday, 19 July 2017

THE COMPLETE SKIZZ - COMIC REVIEW



Flippi-neck! I remember this Skizz fella, as he appeard way back in the mists of time (1983 in Earth years) in a comic called 2000AD. You might have noticed I like 2000AD, and strips like Skizz are one of the reasons I have read it for over 40 years now.

At the time, comics were never shy of lovingly homaging (ripping off) whatever Hollywood was doing that looked like it might be popular. The idea for Skizz came from E.T, which was set to be a massive film when it was released, and Alan Moore (last seen grumbling behind a beard) was tasked with doing a story about an alien stranded on Earth. Moore has stated he never even saw E.T, and as a result he produced a story with more depth, nuance, heart and politics than Spielberg would have ever had the balls to do.



Although an early work, it's clear from Skizz that Moore was a bit good at this comics lark. It helped that artist Jim Baikie was a perfect fit, complimenting Morre's kitchen sink script with clear yet very down to Earth visuals. The story tells of Interpreter Zshkzz... Zskitss... (bollocks to it) SKIZZ, who crashes on the blue planet and wants to go home. He is fopund and befriended by schoolgirl Roxy, who enlists her friends (older working class blokes) to get Skizz home before the evil scientists can dissect him. It's a basic premise that's brought to vivid life by injecting real characters and situations, making it as much a commentary on Thatcher's Britain (Down with Thatch - right kids?) as it is a science fiction romp. It certainly had an impact on my 14 year old brain, I can tell you, and still rouses the emotions all these years later.



Although Moore never returned to the character, Jim Baikie decided to carry on the story nine years later on his own, scripting as well as providing (now colour) art. To be honest he was on a hiding to nothing trying to follow what was already a bona fide classic, but to my surprise he does a pretty good job. He delivered two sequels, and they delve much deeper into the culture of the Tau Cetans, revealing them to be no less bonkers than us on Earth. In one, they want to snuff out Earth, so we are reunited (even if Skizz isn't, physically anyway) with Roxy and her friends as they try to find a way to use Skizz's technology to save the planet. All the while, Skizz himself tries to escape his enforced quarrantine, where he has been exiled due to his un Tau Cetan antics whilst on Earth. the second sequel is weaker, leaving behind the original Earth cast and concentrating on Tau Cetan political machinations, but it is still a good read and gets comic mileage from two Tau Cetan time travelling assassins despatched to Earth.



Overall, The Complete Skizz is a great read, from the near perfect original to the flawed but still very enjoyable follow ups. Unsurprisingly, Alan Moore doesn't rate it that highly, but Alan Moore is a miserable old sod, so it's not that much of a surprise. regardless of this, I hope that Jim Baikie feels proud of his own contribution, because he deserves to be. Yet another quality reprint worthy of splashing your galactic groats on.

Available HERE from 2000AD Online










Tuesday, 20 June 2017

AN EVENING OF MEDIUMSHIP - Review



I've long been a skeptic when it comes to those who purport to talk to the dead. I have read extensively on the subject and like many have also watched numerous videos on YouTube. My guiding light in my non belief is the legendary James Randi, whose one million dollar prize for anyone showing true paranormal abilities remains unclaimed. The thing is, I'd never actually been to a night of mediumship so when the opportunity arose to attend one a hundred metres from my house I couldn't say no.

It was held at a local LGBT bar called Cameo, a thoroughly nice place. All 120 tickets had been snapped up for a tenner each – as a result it was hot and rammed. Due to perform were three mediums, and thankfully all the money was to line the pockets of the Bristol Royal Infirmary rather than the performers. The crowd was at least 95% female, and of that at least 95% over 30. It seems the young aren't so interested in this sort of thing. The headlining act, who didn't give her name, instructed us not to 'feed the mediums', and to only give 'yes' and ;no' answers. She also informed us that we shouldn't be too serious, as 'no one in the other world is serious or unhappy'.

First up was Gary, a tall man in his 30s. His first attempt didn't go too well, as his suggestion that he was channelling a woman's grand parents was rebuffed, until she helped him by saying 'I wonder if it's my Mum'. This gave him a good hit on an initial comment about a red scarf, which he pounced on. Thing is he was determined to paint the spirit as eccentric still, which was a total miss, as was his suggestion that the lady worked with her mum. He tried to deflect in onto anyone sitting near her but they weren't biting either. He reinforced the red scarf to get back on track, and scored a hit with the medium's favourite – lower back pain! Still convinced the woman's mother was some sort of hilarity machine he again missed with the suggestion she was really funny, and threw bad after shite with a suggestion she was a 'practical joker''. This guy just didn't know when to let a bad guess go. He tried to rescue it by hitting on the fact the woman had lost her sense of humour, and finished by saying that dear old Mum just wanted her to 'cheer up'. A staggeringly bad performance by a staggeringly bad medium, it seemed. 



His second go was just as bad, suggesting that the dead person loved clothes and fashion, and rescuing it by saying she liked shoes (a woman who likes shoes! Whatever next!) - as did the mark. Confident, he used a trick that I was to see a few more times – the old 'you need to make a decision' gambit. Despite getting a hit he ruined it by suggesting it was about college (nope) or something 'up north' (nope). Oh well, never mind – it will all be sorted by September. I noticed this was another of his tricks used a few times – pick a future month and say things will be better then. This was asimilar to when a date was fixated on, the mark was told to go home and check with family if they didn't recognize it as significant. It's a case of out of sight out of mind, as the rest of the audience will not remember it as a miss.

More misses followed, and the lady admitted she didn't know of a joke involving glasses, didn't know any significance of the dates 21st June and 21st July, had no memories involving giraffes (!) or helping decorate a christmas tree (surely usually an easy hit). The third reading was, if anything, worse. Gary had to change targets when he was getting nothing but No, with the new target missing on everything of any significance. He rescued his evening with a young man who seemed very keen to agree to most things about his granddad (nothing out of the ordinary though), and finished up with a catastrophic final act where he batted almost zero and I had to stop myself pissing my pants with laughter.

Straight after Gary was Sharon, who did not introduce herself. She had more of the look associated with her profession, and was immediately more confident than he had been. She did okay with her first mark, missing with guesses about kids (she had none), back pain (ditto) a dog (no small dog) and the month of April. Her hits were nothing unusual, and another pattern emerged – that of woman coming through that were strong and too no nonsense. Thing is, the ages of the women would have made them war survivors – a generation that were almost all that way. She pounced on the young barman next, with a bizarre conversation about driving. It started with total misses about a car accident, and when she hit that he had an older brother insisted that the person in question must be a friend of his brothers. A common theme for the night was scoring zero on names, and she struck out with both Tom and Peter, the proceeded to completely miss on him having passed his driving test or even be taking lessons. She tried to rescue it with accusations that he drives illegally, and even though he obviously (from his replies) hadn't done so for a while, she overpowered him by basically calling him a liar. She was extremely bossy, this one. If a mark disagreed with her she would often insist they were wrong, making it seem she was accurate and not missing all the time. 



Sharon made a prime error with her next mark, a lively man who was obviously gay. When she found out he was single she said “'Single man over there ladies!', and to make things worse he admitted he was the owner of the bar and another one in Bristol, something the voices didn't think important to mention. Once she knew that she tried an easy hit with the names Michael and Charles, and lets be honest you own two bars you know a lot of people. Hilariously, even then he didn't have anyone close by those names. When she threw the name Liz at him as someone in the spirit world he said he didn't know anyone of that name and she said “Yes you do!”. Oh, that must be a hit, then...

Sharon continued to have more misses than a serial adulterer, then when she was told to do one more she suddenly turned into the world's best medium! An old lady was told about her dead son , with hit after hit rolling in. About half way through the woman let it slip that she had contacted him before through mediums and everything got a little clearer. The likely explanation is that Sharon knew her, or of her, and therefore did not have to fish – either that or she was suddenly able to talk to the dead, despite not having been able to do so up til then. You decide.

There was another medium on after, one who has worked all over the world, but by then I was fed up of the horribly obvious fishing and fakery. I was not the only one. I'm glad I got to see this first hand, and all it has done is reinforce my certainty that it's all a load of bollocks. The only successful reading was a woman with a history of visiting mediums (and obviously a lot of grief over outliving her son) , and it is a well known fact that mediums and the like swap information on regular customers.

Further reading: Psychic Blues: Confessions Of A Conflicted Medium by Mark Edward