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

 

Monday, 25 July 2016

THE KILLING JOKE - Animated Film Review




It has long been held that Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's 1988 graphic novel “The Killing Joke” is one of the best Batman standalone tales ever told. A gritty script, coupled with sumptuous art, means it stays in the mind long after it's 64 pages have been devoured. Moore, in typical grumpy style, as said that he 'never really liked it', and found it 'far too violent and sexualized'. Odd quotes from a man who had the final say in the script, but let's be honest he's always been an odd bugger. You won't find Moore's name anywhere in the credits to this brand new animated version, simply because that's what he wanted, happy to see all monies go to artist Brian Bolland.



After thoroughly enjoying the 'comic to screen' animated version of Frank Miller's “Dark Knight Returns”, I was still sceptical about this one, mainly because it was never going to look like the comic. Bolland is and was one of the best, most detailed comic artists about, and no way was anyone going to be able to do him justice. As expected, this is in DC's house style, farmed out to the far east presumably to cut costs. It looks as okay as the company's other output, with slightly jerky animation due to a lack of frames and some nice touches throughout. 



Comics stalwart Brian Azarello handles the script, and because the source material is only good for about 40 minutes he gives us a pointless extended prologue involving Batgirl, Batman and a villain who has no involvement or relevance to the main story. Batgirl fans should probably skip this, as it really doesn't do her any favours. Once it gets to the actual source material, Azarello lifts dialogue wholesale, even down to the Joker's “I Go Loony” song. This is not, however, a bad thing, as Moore's dialogue is always a pleasure to read or hear, and for the most part doesn't suffer from the shift to animation.



So this is really a mixed bag, with the first half coming across like a separate episode from the TV series that's been bolted on, and the second half doing a good job of living up to the title. After watching it I felt like I wanted to read the comic again, as it's so much better, something I didn't feel so much after “The dark Knight Returns”. Whatever Moore thinks, it's a superbly good read, and will always get recommended over this version. “The Killing Joke” animated is simply an adaptation that wasn't needed, and succeeds mostly in watering down a great piece of literature. There have been a few moans about it's 'adult' themes, but there really is nothing too graphic, although the script does add in a needless extra scene to let you know that the Joker gets horny when he escapes. File under 'watch once then forget'.

Trailer:

Monday, 11 July 2016

GHOSTBUSTERS (2016) FILM REVIEW




Are you afraid of ghosts? I suppose most people would be, but lately it seems that people are much more afraid of reboots, less like reboots and more like big hobnailed boots stomping over beloved memories. 'Ghostbusters' main mistake was a rather unfunny first trailer that suggested that Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy's team up magic had finally spluttered out. The second trailer was much better, but once the naysayers had grabbed on to the first they were NOT letting go, no siree!



So the good news for Feig fans is that 'Ghostbusters' in 2016 is almost as enjoyable as the original. A definite reboot and not a sequel, it nonetheless acknowledges the original with some nice touches and a few well placed cameos that serve to pass the baton. Everyone was well aware that they had some pretty huge shows to fill, and obviously put a lot of work in, with the end result a well acted, well written and technically impressive whole.



Our four Ghostbusters are equipped with the scariest things known to misogynist muppets – female genitalia! They also come equipped with four actual personalities that are very well realized by the actresses concerned. Standout is Kate McKinnon, who seems to be channelling Tank Girl (wait for THAT to be offered very soon) as a very quirky genius, her marvellous face lighting up the screen as the characters weirdness is allowed to play around on it. Melissa McCarthy is quite restrained compared to her other roles with Feig but does her usual stand up job, with Kristen Wiig the sensible one who seems to have been possessed by Jennifer Aniston. Leslie Jones plays the only non scientist in the crew, but comes armed with a prodigious knowledge of New York and a bagful of sass. The icing on top is Chris Hemsworth, who plays their thick as a donut receptionist, showing a nice talent for comedy whilst he does it. 



The special effects are what you'd expect from a big budget film today, and the ghosts all look terrific. There's a return for a couple of non human characters that will delight some, and may even bring smiles from the grumpy gits. Children will certainly have a few scares (as in the original), and the script allows for jumps and laughs equally well. Much like the original it has an action finale that by necessity ramps down the humour but even so gives you plenty to cheer for and chuckle at.

So 'Ghostbusters' is a really good film. There: I said it. I'm happy to slate a film if I don't like it (I walked out of the godawful new Ice Age film last week) but for most of this I had a goofy smile on my face and gave a few decent belly laughs. The female switch doesn't matter one jot, it only allows you to see four awesome actresses rather than actors. It's wonderful that once again bustin' makes me feel goooood.


Friday, 6 May 2016

Hello, My Name Is Doris - Film Review



This isn't the normal type of film I tend to review here, as there's no spaceships or superheroes in sight, and the only horror is Sally Field without her make up. No. Scratch that, as Sally Field is what makes this move worth reviewing and indeed watching, and the gal looks great for a woman of nearly seventy.


Field plays the eponymous Doris, a woman who has lived all her life with her mother, and when her mother dies she feels understandably lost. She fixates on a handsome young guy at work, John (Max Greenfield), increasingly convinced that there could be something between them, despite that fact she is about 35 years older than him. So she basically stalks him, including using a fake Facebook profile to find out what he likes. Unexpectedly, this gives Doris a new lase of life as she gets out and about and comes out of her shell for the first time in her life. She's weird, but as John says it's "a good weird".


If looked at cynically, 'Hello, My Name Is Doris' is a film about a creepy old lady stalking a young guy, and it could easily have been just that. The thing is, the writing and acting make it a sweet, funny film about a woman coming to terms with a new chapter opening in her life. Sally Field is wonderful, imbuing Doris with genuine character, whilst many of the supporting cast (including Tyne Daley) themselves do a bang up job in fleshing out a relatively simple story.



'Hello, My Name Is Doris' (taken from her name badge at a self help seminar) is a film that will likely bypass most people, but I hope that some of you read this review and maybe check it out when it pops up on Netflix or whatever. Genuinely funny at times, quite charming and deeper than you'd think, this is a film that can be enjoyed on many levels.