Wednesday, 22 March 2017

"Serial Killer" by Pat Mills & Kevin O'Neil



For anyone who recognizes the names at the top of the page, it wouldn't be unusual to expect this to be a review of a graphic novel of some kind, known as they are in the comics community as a first class writer and artist respectively. I picked this up at 2000AD's 40th birthday celebration, and it's quite obviously a bit of a labour of love for the veteran creators.

The story is set in the seedy world of 1970s comic publishing. Not the merry Marvel bullpen or anything like that, but instead the British humour machines that would crank out the likes of Buster, Whizzer & Chips and The Beano. Mills himself was a big cog in the UK comics machines, from kids comics to girls comics to war comics and beyond, so is well placed to satirize the industry.

Our hero, if he can be called that, is Dave. He works on a kids comic and hates every minute, loathing the stupid little imbeciles who get pleasure out of what he sees as a rubbish, unfunny comic. The most popular strip is the 'Caning Commando', a bizarre wartime tale that sees a headmaster behind enemy lines beating the Hun on the bum, basically. It's quite mental, and great fun to read Mill's episode descriptions. the strip is scripted by a bumbling old fool known as 'The Major', and Dave doctors those scripts so that they contain plenty of ways for kids to kill themselves, such as swimming at night in a disused quarry, making a pipe bomb or trying to breathe through a plughole to stop from drowning in a bath.

So we have Dave trying to kill kids from a distance, which is all well and good (and funny), plus his smarmy colleague Greg, a handsome Yin to Dave's hopeless Yang, and their shared love interest Joy, a rather strict girls comic editor. Add to this Dave's sexual interest in fur and the fact his dead mum wants her to solve her murder and you have a very bizarre story indeed.

What you should know about 'Serial Killer' is that it's funny. Many I time I found myself sniggering at the ridiculous characters, occasionally at the real life anecdotes such as the writer who claimed to make 'More money than the Prime Minister', such was his prolific output (names are obviously changed to protect the talentless). Dave works for a Fleetway type company, all the time envying the superior output of Angus, Angus & Angus, themselves a parody of DC Thompson, the legendarily miserly company behind The Beano and The Dandy. Aficionados of British comics will find much to love here, but the knowledge of such things is not essential to enjoyment of the tale told.

'Serial Killer' is the first in a series (with a cliffhanger finale), and after finishing it I hope Mills and O'Neil get a wriggle on with the next one, as it's tremendous fun to read. The whole thing comes across as similar in feel to Robert Rankin's 'Brentford Trilogy', set in an all to real 70s London, populated by characters who are all quite mad in their own way. If you have an interest in comics, laughing or having sex with a fur coat, this is the book for you, you dirty, dirty sod.

Millsverse Homepage (buy the book here)





Tuesday, 7 March 2017

LOGAN - Film Review




Saying that this film has been highly anticipated is certainly an understatement, but if I'm honest all superhero films are highly anticipated. It doesn't change the fact that whilst Marvel continue to pump out quality films everyone else is still lagging behind, and fingers have been desperately crossed that this would be the film to finally do cinematic justice to the character of Wolverine.

When the bods behind 'Logan' started going on about being inspired by Mark Millar's superb 'Old man Logan' story, my own ears pricked up, but cynicism stopped any real excitement because that particular story would be a nightmare to bring to the screen, not least because of various character copyright issues. Sure enough, all that is left is the fact that Logan is an Old Man, and that's it. Still, at least it's a try at something different, so kudos for that.



The film is set about 13 years in the future, although there's nothing to show that in the technology, it's more a way of distancing it from other films. Logan himself seems to have given up, working as a limo driver and looking worn down by the years and the asshole customers he has to ferry round. the adamantium that covers his bones has been slowly poisoning him over time, and his healing factor isn't what it used to be. This is a Wolverine with scars both mental and physical, one of the last mutants left alive as none have been born for thirty years. With the help of the mutant Caliban (Steven Merchant) he looks after an ailing Charles Xavier (now in his 90s) and dreams of living on a boat away from everything.


The plot revolves around :Laura (Dafne Keen - excellent), a young girl who rivals Wolverine for surly attitude, pointy claws and murdering abilities. It's a simple 'take the girl on a long but important trip' type of plot, with chasing bad guys to avoid/kill and new people to interact with along the way. So far, so standard, but 'Logan' isn't the film that it could have easily been, instead it's so much better.


Writer/Director James Mangold has really gone for it here, defying certain film conventions and reveling in several scenes of extreme stabby violence that finally shows audiences just how dangerous a man with metal coated claws can really be, even going so far as to introduce the comics legendary Berzerker Rage at one point. He's not afraid to have bad things happen to good characters, or even to allow mortal coils to be shuffled off, reflecting the real violence that the film's world is smothered in.


Suffice to say, 'Logan' is the Wolverine film fans have waited for. It's brutal, but compassionate, violent, yet empathetic. This is not just about good guys winning the day, this is about living with the consequences of what you are and what you have done. The only mis-step, for me, is the casting of Steven Merchant as Caliban. Whilst he looks the part, his broad West Country accent does not fit the character in any way. Perhaps some actual acting may have helped. Aside from that, this is a belter of a film, a fitting send off for Hugh Jackman, who has said this is his last rodeo as the character. Go see it, Bub.







Sunday, 19 February 2017

JOHN WICK PART 2 - Film Review


So John Wick is back, with a new job and a very short retirement. Thankfully no one's killed his goldfish or anything, but he is dragged back into the assassination game when total wanker Santino D'Antonio uses a marker Wick gave him when he got out of the game, and a hit man cannot refuse to honour a marker. Oh well, here we go again...



What follows is Keanu Reeves shooting lots of people and then shooting some more people and then shooting a few more for good luck. There's a reasonable plot in there somewhere, and it's all nicely set up for the next chapter in a way that really makes you want to see it. It's great to see Reeves sharing screen time with his old 'Matrix' mucker Lawrence Fishburne, and we also get a super cool mute assassin in the shapely shape of Ruby Rose. Ian McShane makes a welcome return as the boss of the Continental Hotel, as does Lance Reddick as the impeccably unruffled concierge. Rapper Common impresses as fellow assassin Cassian, and I look forward to seeing him again in the next one. All in all, it's a ridiculously solid cast.



'John Wick 2' is one of those films that could have easily been a straight to DVD duffer, but manages to be great thanks to everything being done in style. From the balletic gunfights to a final shootout that could have been a massive cliche but just ends up being a bit awesome. Keanu Reeves isn't required to actually do much acting, which is always a bonus, and he's helped immeasurably by the rest of the cast. Suffice to say if you enjoyed the first one this is a no brainer, and if you haven't seen the first one you really should. A wonderful example of a modern action film with total old school charm in abundance. Just don't hurt his dog...

Trailer


Thursday, 22 September 2016

2000AD "PROG 2000" REVIEW







When I was 9, reading about Bill Savage killing Volgs, or M.A.C.H 1 chatting with the computer in his head, I never imagined that nearly 40 years later I''d still be reading the comic that contained their adventures. Let's be honest, though, I'm far from the only one, including everyone who worked on said comic. I mean, it was called “2000AD” for drokk's sake, it was inconceivable it would even last that long, because that just didn't happen in boys comics.



Well happen it did, and I'm very happy to still be a fan, and to have weathered the highs, the lows and the middlings along with thousands of other devotees. Prog 200 is a landmark indeed, and starts off with three possible excellent variant covers (oh go on, buy both). One is a traditional ensemble piece by the talented Glenn Fabry and Ryan Brown, whilst another sees long term cover droid Cliff Robinson depict Tharg The Mighty flying through the cosmos on a space spinner, the free gift that came with issue one. The third, showing a miserable looking Dredd sitting on the number 2000 is not as fun or interesting, although Chris Burnham's art is fine.



Inside, we are guided by Tharg himself, as he tells us all about the comic in one page interludes between strips. These are all drawn by legendary creators such as Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Colin McNeil, Boo Cook and Mick McMahon, and there's also a welcome return for Robin Smith, a name many will remember fro the glory days. These pieces are very well done and give the prog a nice flavour to it. 



In between, of course, is the meat of the comic, the main stories. To be honest, it's a superb selection. John Wagner and Carlos Exquerra deliver a Dredd strip that ticks all the boxes and looks glorious (and includes a very special guest), a perfect way to lead off the 2000th prog. Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill bring back Nemesis and Torquemada for a rollicking tale that had me laughing at it's sheer sacreligiousness. Gordon Rennie's Rogue Trooper tale is probably the weakest of the classics, but is well served by Richard “Kingdom” Elson's gorgeous art. There's also a very welcome return for David Roach, who provides some simply stunning artwork for Alan Grant's neat little Anderson story. Last of the returnees is Sinister Dexter, always a deservedly popular strip by Dan Abnett, and here we get to learn a bit more about their car, with Mark Sexton showing he would be welcome to illustrate a full return of the strip. The final strip is Peter Milligan and Rufus Dayglo's “Counterfeit Girl”, a completely new ongoing series concerning personality swapping. It looks great, but it's too early to really tell if it's going to be a classic or clunker.



So that's Prog 2000, a glorious read for only £3.99 Earth money (would have been neat if they'd put that on the cover for old time's sake). This is one to savor, to buy in a real shop and read through whilst sipping a cold one and ignoring the stares of those who see a 47 year old man reading a comic (although The Sun is acceptable, go figure). Ignore the Grexnixes, embrace your inner Squaxx Dexx Thargo and prepare for an inevitable thrill power overload, as Prog 2000 will blow your circuits. Here's to next years 40th birthday...

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

THE MIGHTY ONE: MY LIFE INSIDE THE NERVE CENTRE - BOOK REVIEW



I should tell you straight off that I have read every issue of British comic stalwart 2000AD for nearly forty years now, so was really looking forward to reading these memoirs, penned by former Editor (amongst other things) Steve MacManus. When it finally dropped onto the mat I settled down for what promised to be a good read, dark glasses on as I opened the cover and winced from the thrill power held within.



 


Okay, so the image conjured above is akin to the sort of bollocks often peddled by people like MacManus when hiding behind the green rubber mask of Tharg The Mighty, but for a long time fan and enthusiast for comics history this is a genuinely exciting publication. The excitement is tempered somewhat by the rather cheap nature of the paper used for the book, akin to the legendary ‘bog roll’ of early issues of 2000AD itself, or for non comics readers a book club edition of a novel. So, taking extra care not to put my finger through the pages, I ploughed on and lost myself in the world of 70s and 80s British comics.








 
Thankfully, MacManus doesn’t pad his tale with a few chapters about growing up, preferring to focus on his introduction to the comic industry and subsequent career. We learn of his beginnings on some of the many war comics published by Fleetway in the 70s, comics he still has a lot of affection for, and even though these are not 2000AD the recollections are never less than interesting. Naturally, the meat of the book covers his time in the green mask of Tharg, covering what many still consider the heyday of  2000AD, working with some of the most talented, innovative creators in the business. When he came out of the other end he was responsible for the likes of Crisis and Revolver, valiantly trying to sell mature comics to a population who didn’t care half as much as they used to. Through it all, MacManus seems to have preferred hiding under his desk rather than getting too involved in politics, but even so played his part in getting proper rights for creators when he could. Of course, there’s also “Bad Steve”, who would come out and piss people off left right and centre, leaving normal Steve to clear up his mess.



“TMO:MYITNC” is a cracking read from start to finish. It’s interesting, well written and genuinely amusing at times. For example, early on MacManus says Dennis he Menace was created by Leo Baxendale, which I found hilarious as he should know better! Regardless of that, I cannot recommend this highly enough for anyone with a keen interest in either 2000AD or 1970s British comics in general.



Wednesday, 24 August 2016

GANDALF'S FIST - "The Clockwork Fabel" Album Review



I have an odd relationship with prog music, as it seems to either bore me to death or excite me enormously. I love It Bites, Flying Colours, Frost and the like, and as a younger man enjoyed IQ and Pallas, as well as Fish era Marillion. I’m telling you all this so you can see I like prog that has a bit of rock in it, not just meandering 15 minute yawn-fests that are atmospheric rather than fun. Much has been said about this, the 6th Gandalf’s Fist album, and I just had to have a listen for myself. That was a month ago, and I’m finally able to give it a proper review.




The reason it’s taken so long is that “The Clockwork Fable” is a three disc concept album that really has to be listened to as a whole to appreciate what the band have done, and finding a spare three hours these days is a tricky thing! Mind you, it’s well worth rearranging your schedule for this little beauty. Telling the story of a future civilisation forced to live underground after the sun fizzles out, this is a tale of good, evil, daftness and badgers. It’s all tied to a realization that the sun has returned and the desperation of those in power to make sure no one is able to leave the city and clarify this.



The meat of the story is contained in full cast excerpts, generally between each musical track. All kudos must be thrown at the band here, as not only have they got decent actors in, but they’ve also written a compelling narrative with a script that never sounds clunky. Background noise and music add a tremendous atmosphere to these parts, and an intrinsic sense of humour staves off any potential boredom as you catch all sorts of gems hidden in the conversations. Elsewhere, of course, is the music, and this takes the challenge set by the story parts and runs with it. If you want to imagine ELP, Marillion, Jon Mitchell and Iron Maiden getting together to write an opera you wouldn’t be far out. Guest artists like Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) and Blaze Bayley make a definite impression, and relative unknown Melissa Hollick fills out the sung parts of Eve (the main female character) beautifully. Bayley himself is in fine voice here, shining through the twelve minute “The Sign Of The Aperture” like a metal beacon.



So why has the UK concept album got full marks? To be honest, it’s probably second only to Jeff Wayne’s “War Of The Worlds” in terms of carefully plotted, musically diverse storytelling. This makes Rush’s “Clockwork Angels” look like a child’s poem scrawled on a post-it note. Masterful in every way and a real joy to experience, this is simply the best prog album that has ever been released, raising the bar for every concept album that will follow. When it rocks, it rocks hard, and when it progs it progs with passion, Just remember - beware of the badgers…

Band Site


Friday, 5 August 2016

SUICIDE SQUAD - FILM REVIEW





The folks at Warner/DC must know that there's a lot riding on this one. After the critical mauling that greeted “Batman V Superman” they need a film that comic fans can get behind. The success of “Deadpool” showed that audiences can handle heroes that aren't exactly heroes, so what better than a whole screen full of murderers and fruit loops? “Suicide Squad” was always going to be a film that needed a firm hand to balance the outlandish characters and even make the audience like them, despite their crimes. That hand has been provided by David Ayer, the man behind such gems as “Training Day”, “Fury” and, um, “S.W.A.T”. 




There has been some criticism about the plot, which is your usual 'big bad nasty thing wants to kill everyone' kind of thing, although with what I felt was a quite neat set up. This doesn't really bother me as what I'm really interested in is the members of the titular squad. The main characters are all introduced at the beginning of the movie, as government cold hearted bitch Amanda Waller lays down her plans for an expendable task force. It's a simple way of getting people up to speed, and it works. When shit hits the fan very soon afterwards, it's time to go to work. 





So it's time to look at who we've got, and it's certainly a mixed bag. Bottom on the pile is Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang, who doesn't have much to do just comes across as a nob. This is the only character, however, who should have been written out before filming. Top of the pile, unsurprisingly, is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Another alumni of the “Neighbours” hot actress machine, she absolutely nails the character, helped by a spot on script. Harley is the heart and soul of the film, the tornado of insanity that draws everyone in. A close second is Will Smith as Deadshot, perhaps the most well rounded character and the one given the most opportunities for an actual personality. Smith does his usual job of playing Will Smith, but he suits the movie so what the heck.

 
Another side of the coin is Jay Hernandez as a heavily tattooed Diablo. The script makes the pyrotrechnic genuinely remoreseful for his crimes, and gives the character a real depth. Elsewhere, Adewale Akinnuove-Agbaje is buried under make up as Killer Croc, and doesn't really get to show much of what he can do, whilst Joel Kinnaman does his best with soldier hero Rick Flag, a decidedly two dimensional character. Much more interesting is Karen Fukuhara's Katana, given just enough back story to elevate her from “Slashy ninja” status. Jarde Leto's Joker has, naturally, got the lion's share of publicity, which is odd because he isn't in the film that much. When he is he seems to be trying too hard, and the Joker is more of a cheap 1930's gangster than a powerful insane crime boss.




So I'm not going to spoil anything here, suffice to say that “Suicide Squad” overcomes a basic plot structure to emerge victorious, thanks to some spot on characterisation, decent acting and a script that actually has plenty of laughs in it as well as violence and baseball bats. Margot Robbie will set a fair few teenage loins throbbing, and I really hope her and Leto are allowed to turn things up a notch for the next Batman movie. There are quite a few sly nods to the source material that fans will delight in (The John Ostrander building, anyone?), and by the end you'll be rooting for a bunch of murdering thugs. Well, except Captain Boomerang, anyway.




TRAILER