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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Review: Battling Britons

Justin Marriott has built himself a publishing empire, with Paperback Parade, Men of Violence, Hot Lead and The Sleazy Reader as a backbone to a range of one-shots like last year's Pulp Apocalypse. I take my hat off to him.

His latest publication is Battling Britons, a 162-page collection of reviews by various hands of various war-themed strips published in British comics. The earliest date from the early Sixties (issues of War Picture Library, War at Sea Picture Library) and the latest from only a few years ago (an issue of Commando). His introduction reveals that Justin was an irregular reader of comics, but rediscovered them while compiling reviews for another book, Paperbacks at War. Planning to include a handful of comics, he bought some back numbers of pocket libraries, only to re-discover their quality. Thus the seeds for Battling Britons were sown.

The volume looks at strips from the pages of War and Battle picture libraries, Commando, Battle Picture Weekly, Victor, Warlord, Valiant, Eagle, and elsewhere. It begins with a whistlestop history of war comics in the UK before it reaches the meat of the book: over 200 reviews across 140 pages. The strips are listed in alphabetical order, which helps randomize them, so a 1964 Air Ace Picture Library is followed by stories from Battle Picture Weekly, War Picture Library, Commando and Warlord.

The reviews are written by a handful of contributors: Marriott himself, Steve Myall, Jim O'Brien and James Reasoner, with introduction and afterword by Paul Trimble and Gary Martin Dobbs respectively. It's a book that's best dipped into, so let's dip in... Justin isn't keen on 'Beware the Cat', a 1978 issue of Commando involving an astrologer targetted by Hitler because he didn't predict an assassination attempt... 'Johnny Red' gets five grenades (that's the star system) for its gritty storylines and likeable hero... 'Nazi Nightmare' (another Commando) is described as "A souped-up version of the famous thriller The Boys From Brazil"... 'Cope's Crusaders' (from Wizard, 1975) are a group of Brits caught unarmed on a Greek island, holed up in a castle that they defend using ancient weapons... 'Winged Vengeance (Spike, 1983) features a good Luftwaffe pilot, but doesn't impress Jim O'Brien as he begins opposing his own side... 'Cadman' gets four well-deserved grenades, a backstabbing, self-serving weasel who tries to avoid danger at every turn...

You get the picture. There are one or two surprising omissions ('Darkie's Mob' and 'The Sarge' being two instances) but thanks to these descriptive and entertaining reviews, I now want to find and read almost every one of these unlikely yarns. You will, too.

Battling Britons, edited by Justin Marriott
Justin Marriot, 6 April 2021, 162pp, £8.00. Available from Amazon.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Comic Cuts — 16 April 2021

I've had a pleasingly lazy week, having taken a couple of days off around my birthday. I spent most of it sorting out books, trying to clear some shelf space and generally tidy up shelves that have just had books shoved on them to stop them piling up on the floor. The nice thing is that I stumbled across a small pile of old Combat Library stories that I'd thought lost.

I bought them years ago with little idea who was writing them — I picked them up simply because I was interested in the publisher, G.M. Smith / Micron, and I recognised one of the names (W. H. Fear) as someone who had written science fiction for John Spencer / Badger Books and westerns for Digit Books. Later, I spotted that two of the more prolific writers for Combat Library were from the same pen as one of the writers who was particularly prolific over at Digit Books.

Some while back I went through my Digit collection — far (far!) from complete — and pulled out a dozen books all by the same author. I've since figured out who the writer is (Macgregor Urquhart) and how to separate out the similar works of another prolific writer for the same company (T. C. P. Webb). I need a bigger pool of Digits to identify all of their work (did I mention my Digit collection is way incomplete), and more checks need to be made in Combat Library.

Eagle Times
enters its 34th year of production with their Spring issue, and it shows no sign of diminishing its interest in the original comic, which celebrated its 71st birthday on 14 April.

This issue leads off with an entertaining deconstruction of Charles Chilton's long-running 'Riders of the Range' story featuring Geronimo, which author David Britton shows is lacking in many areas, with little historical detail and a rather formulaic plot and outcome.

My favourite of all the articles is Ernest Reed's look back over 'The Phantom Fleet' storyline, comparing it to the original script treatment by Alan Stranks and some accompanying scientific research by Eric Eden. This is a delightful peek behind the curtains at how Frank Hampson's studio took a Dan Dare script and adapted and improved upon it. I can't wait for episode two next issue.

More curtain twitching can be found in two other features this issue. Jeremy Briggs' article on one of L. Ashwell Wood's cutaways also show the blueprints and floor plan for the National Radio Show studio, which broadcast from Earl's Court in September 1953, that Wood used to create a cutaway drawing for Eagle; and there are more sketches on show from the Hampson studio's Ideas Book, this time featuring the Autek, an "automated equinine" or "mechanical 'orse" (or, as the author notes, something that looks a little too much like a sit-on lawn mower).

There are three more big features this issue (the 48 pages feels packed!), with Steve Winders taking a look at 'The Golden Man', the last biography to feature on Eagle's back page, illustrated by Robert Ayton, in 1961, and David Britton seeing how the artwork of various Eagle artists was recently re-used for a series of humorous 'adult' Ladybird books. Britton is also responsible for the third and final part of 'The Story of a Train That Went nowhere', based on a 12-part outline for a proposed Eagle feature.

There is also the usual P.C.49 story, plus Adrian Perkins remembers Ready, Steady, Go!, and Jim Duckett serves up another Eagle tidbit in the 43rd episode of 'In and Out of Eagle'.

The quarterly magazine is the journal of the Eagle Society, with membership costing £29 in the UK, £40 (in sterling) overseas. You can send subscriptions to Bob Corn, Wellcroft Cottage, Wellcroft, Ivinghoe, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire LU7 9EF; subs can also be submitted via PayPal to Back issues are available for newcomers to the magazine and they have even issued binders to keep those issues nice and neat.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Commando 5427- 5430

Brand new Commando comics are out today. Battle across the ages with issues 5427 – 5430, from the rain splattered fields at Culloden, the perilous Mediterranean Sea, and the jagged Norwegian mountains to the snowy forests of the Hurtgen.

5427: Clash at Culloden

Murdo Conmore was quick to join the Jacobite Uprising— too quick for his father and brother Hector’s liking. Their only choice to save the family from future retribution was to even their allegiance, and so Hector was forced to take up arms against his brother. Then when the rain fell thick at Culloden everything was at stake for Murdo and Hector Conmore. Each knew that no matter which side won, both would lose.
    Marking 275 years since the Battle of Culloden, McLaughlin’s story deals with family ties and loyalty, with Ian Kennedy’s cover showing both brothers on their opposing sides in striking contrasting colours.

Story | Iain McLaughlin
Art | Khato
Cover | Ian Kennedy

5428: Mountain of Death

As the British convoys braved the Arctic seas to take supplies to the Russians, two British Commandos were given the job of knocking out a radio station that was tracking and reporting to the Luftwaffe every move the convoys made. If they failed to seek out and destroy this target, on a remote Norwegian island, thousands of lives would be lost. Major Bill Ramsay and Sergeant Pete McDermott had never tackled anything quite as tough and to make matters worse, there was a traitor amongst their group!

Orme’s story of deceit and betrayal will keep you guessing as each time you think you’ve outed the conspirator they wind up dead too!

Story | Orme
Art | Segrelles
Cover | Fernando
Originally Commando No. 372 (1968).

5429: Horror of Hurtgen

There was more than one horror in the Hurtgen Forest in 1944. American soldiers, ill‑prepared for grim German weather, shivered the whole night through. But the savage winter, cold, and feverish rain, weren’t the only things they had to contend with in those dark and mysterious woods. The men felt hunted by something worse than veteran German soldiers — stalked by something horrifying in the Hurtgen Forest.
    Andrew Knighton’s story of prejudice in the Second World War still resonates, with Vicente Alcazar’s shadowy interiors giving credence to the mirky woods and sinister threat prevailing.

Story | Andrew Knighton
Art | Vicente Alcazar
Cover | Neil Roberts

5430: Missing, Believed Sunk

The convoys bound for the besieged island of Malta just had to get through. For the sailors aboard the Royal Navy escort ships — men like Sub Lieutenant Sam Burton — that meant days and nights of bitter fighting against the German and Italian aircraft and ships determined to send them to the seafloor. But for Sam, men in enemy uniforms weren’t the only ones he had to watch out for…
    Another stunning nautical cover from Jeff Bevan, ‘Missing, Believed Sunk’ is a classic boys’ adventure comic with story and art by famed Commando contributors RA Montague and Gordon C Livingstone.

Story | RA Montague
Art | Gordon C Livingstone
Cover | Jeff Bevan
Originally Commando No. 1670 (1983).

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Rebellion Releases — 14 April 2021

After Superman there was The Spider – Siegel’s classic ’60s super-crook to get new collection

Featuring work by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, the definitive reprint collection of The Spider will be published on 15 April 2021. The collection will be released in North America as Jerry Siegel’s The Syndicate of Crime on 13 April 2021.

The Spider’s Syndicate of Crime will be the first archival-quality reprint of the adventures of this influential and popular British comic book character from the 1960s.

A special limited hardcover edition will be available exclusively from the Treasury of British Comics webshop with a cover by fan favourite artist Chris Weston (The Invisibles).

Fully remastered and collected for the first time, this 144-page paperback volume presents the super-crook’s earliest exciting adventures that appeared in the pages of Lion, and were later reprinted in Vulcan. This is the first in a planned four-volume series collecting the entire series.

Created by writer Ted Cowan and artist Reg Bunn, the bulk of The Spider’s stories were written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel.

Bunn’s astonishing art has been re-mastered by Rebellion’s dedicated reprographics team and the character’s first annual story is presented in its original colour.

Dubbed ‘The King of Crooks’, the arrogant and cunning criminal mastermind was one of the most popular British comic book villain of the ‘60s – equipped with a razor-sharp mind, superb athletic ability and a vast array of cutting-edge gadgets, The Spider set his sights on taking over the New York underworld and establishing a ‘Syndicate of Crime’! This first collection sees him recruiting other fiends into his fledging empire and seeing off competition from other villainous foes, including the master of illusion, Mirror Man!

The Spider eventually turned away from his criminal roots and became a crime-fighter, alongside reluctant allies, the criminal ‘Prof’ Pelham and safecracker Roy Ordini.

2000 AD Prog 2227
Cover: Richard Elson.

Judge Dredd: The Penitent Man by Kenneth Niemand (w) Tom Foster (a) Chris Blythe (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Thistlebone: Poisoned Roots by TC Eglington (w) Simon Davies (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Visions of Deadworld: Leigh by Kek-W (w) Dave Kendall (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Tharg's 3rillers: Chorus & The Ring by James Peaty (w) Mike Collins (a) Dylan Teague (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Feral & Foe II by Dan Abnett (w) Richard Elson (a) Jim Campbell (l)

Judge Dredd Megazine 431
Cover: Dave Taylor.

Judge Dredd: Don't Drokk With Bob by Kenneth Niemand (w) Ian Richardson (a) Jim Boswell (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Megatropolis by Kenneth Neimand (w) Dave Taylor (a) Jim Campbell (l)
Devlin Waugh: The Lord of Lies by AleŇ° Kot (w) Mike Dowling Simon Bowland (l)
Diamond Dogs II by James Peaty (w) Warren Pleece (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Deliverance by David Hine (w) Nick Percival (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Features: Anthrax graphic novel, The Spider
Bagged collection: 2000 AD Encyclopedia

The Spider's Syndicate of Crime by Ted Cowan, Jerry Siegel & Reg Bunn
Rebellion ISBN 978-178108905-7, 15 April 2021, 144pp, £14.99 / $19.99. Available via Amazon.

Titled 'Jerry Siegel's The Syndicate of Crime' in North America, this is comics’ lost Golden Age supervillain from the co-creator of Superman, Jerri Siegel! Equipped with a razor-sharp mind, superb athletic ability and a vast array of cutting edge gadgets, The Spider has his sights set on taking over the New York underworld and establishing a ‘Syndicate of Crime’. Join the menacing Spider on his earliest adventures, recruiting other fiends into his fledging empire and seeing off competition from other villainous foes, including the master of illusion, Mirror Man! Fully remastered and collected for the first time, this volume presents many of the super-crook’s exciting 1960’s adventures which featured the most popular British comic book villain and sprang from the imagination of Superman co-creator, Jerry Siegel.

The Vigilant by Simon Furman, Rob Williams, Bruce Leslie, Keith Richardson, Karl Stock, Simon Coleby, Henry Flint, Jake Lynch, Dani, Luca Pizzari, Henrik Sahlstrom, Staz Johnson, Warwick Fraser-Coombe, Will Sliney
Rebellion ISBN 978-178108859-3, 15 April 2021, 144pp, £14.99 / $19.99. Available via Amazon.

Lost in the mists of time, home-grown British superheroes once entertained and enthralled millions of kids… Now, the likes of Adam Eterno, Blake Edmonds, Thunderbolt the Avenger, and The Leopard from Lime Street are back for a new generation of readers! This volume collects the trilogy of Vigilant stories written by Simon Furman (Transformers) and drawn by an all-star roster of artists including Simon Coleby (Dark Souls), DaNi (Coffin Bound), Henrik Sahlstrom (Thirteenth Floor), Warwick Fraser-Combe, Staz Johnson (Spider-Man), Will Sliney (Spider-Man 2099) and Jake Lynch (Judge Dredd).

Friday, April 09, 2021

Comic Cuts — 9 April 2021

It's turned cold again and I'm layered up once more. Thankfully, there's only Mel around to see me squatting here with my hat and scarf on, a thick blue jumper over a sweatshirt, over a shirt, squinting at my computer screen like some novelty gnome. Shivering in a converted garage with no insulation really isn't the best way to work and I'm looking forward more than most to some warmer weather.

That it's cold in April shouldn't be a surprise. My birthday is mid-April and we've had snow on that day before. Mind you, I seem to remember that last year we were in the middle of (a) the first lockdown; and (b) a heatwave, which made going out for walks a pleasure. I mentioned last week that we had resumed walking along the tow path in the morning... well, that was quickly cancelled as a bitter north wind whistled down the river and froze the blood in our veins. On Monday we even had snow.

I'm used to the cold, but the squinting is something that has been getting worse. I started to suffer from eye strain a few months ago and I've left it far longer than I should to arrange an eye test. I know it will mean new glasses and I didn't want to risk the trips into town that this will involve until I'd had my vaccination. I was tempted to wait until I'd had my second jab and more people had had their first/second jabs, but my recent two weeks of cleaning up artwork has persuaded me otherwise. This is partly the reason why I've put that project on hold and have been sorting out some books for sale, scanning and photographing covers, etc., as it gets me away from the computer and gives my old eyes a rest.

The appointment is still a couple of weeks away, but I did have a trip out of Wivenhoe on Tuesday — my first since November — to deliver a package of CDs and DVDs to a shop at the Hythe, just around the corner from where I used to work. The area is usually bustling with activity as there are plenty of businesses in the area, lots of houses and living quarters for the University of Essex, and two large superstores (Tesco, B&Q). On Tuesday it felt like a ghost town. I was one of only three people on the bus, and I had a quarter mile walk to the shop, during which I passed only three or four people, all of us dodging around each other at today's socially acceptable distances.

The pleasure of having something to do outside was slightly tempered by the cold, but that was a small price to pay for escaping more than half a mile from our house for the first time in five months. Roll on my eye appointment — that's even further away!

Hopefully you've spotted that I've posted more books on eBay. There are more to be uploaded on Sunday.

I've finally managed to hear one of Penguin's new audio dramas adapting some classic 2000 AD stories. I recently re-read Judge Dredd: America (reviewed here) and this was the obvious one to pick as a first outing. It is an absolute classic, with powerful political plotting that goes right to the heart of the justice system that Judge Dredd exemplifies and endorses. That it's not a story filled with the roar of lawmasters and lawgivers makes it perfect for the audio drama treatment. In the original comic outings, the stories that make up the Democracy Now saga had over a decade of context, but the strong central storyline means that even listeners without a deep knowledge of Judge Dredd and his universe will find themselves gripped as voting day approaches.

Judge Dredd is usually played with a growl like he has been gargling gravel, so it was surprising to find Joseph Fiennes giving Dredd a softly-spoken voice. While unexpected, it doesn't take long to get used to and very quickly the low key of his delivery takes on the menace of a Clint Eastwood movie. Becca Stewart and Matthew Jacobs-Morgan are fine as America Jara and Bennett Beeny, central players for much of—and arguably the best part of—the story, while Paterson Joseph papers over the occasional gap with narration, although newscasts, Greek choruses and supporting characters do a lot of the heavy lifting in describing what's going on.

I thought it worked superbly and soon found myself wrapped up in the events playing out in a well-conceived audio rendition of Mega-City One. America is a fine place to start if you're not a follower of Dredd or 2000 AD as it lays out some of the principals of the justice system and how Dredd and others see democracy as a threat. Dredd is not the hero here. I'm hoping that The Pit, the second Dredd story — and something a bit more epic — can maintain the quality.

Judge Dredd: America
Penguin Audio, 4 March 2021. Available via Amazon/Audible.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Rebellion Releases — 7 April 2021

"A Penitent Man is six parts and it’s mostly focussed on an ex-Judge who has returned from serving his time on Titan and is trying to reintegrate himself into Mega-City One, piquing the curiosity of Judge Dredd and incurring the, shall we say, ‘scrutiny’ of the SJS in the process."

Tom Foster, artist of the latest 6-part Dredd story in 2000 AD, was the winner of the 2013 2000 AD and Thought Bubble art competition, which led to an opportunity to work for Tharg on a Terror Tale. He has since worked for both 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine. Here's an interview with Tom about his work on the series.

2000AD Prog 2026
Cover by: Mike Collins / Dylan Teague (col.).

Judge Dredd: A Penitent Man by Kenneth Niemand (w) Tom Foster (a) Chris Blythe (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Thistlebone: Poisoned Roots by TC Eglington (w) Simon Davies (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Visions of Deadworld: The Man Who Killed Mortis by Kek-W (w) Dave Kendall (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Tharg's 3rillers: Chorus & The Ring by James Peaty (w) Mike Collins (a) Dylan Teague (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Feral & Foe II by Dan Abnett (w) Richard Elson (a) Jim Campbell (l)

Evil Genius 2: The Official Magazine

Calling all evil geniuses! The hotly anticipated lair-building strategy management game Evil Genius 2 – World Domination is coming to your computer screen AND the comic book page! Evil Genius 2 – World Domination is out on 30 March – and the Evil Genius magazine special will take you behind-the-scenes on the new chapter in this acclaimed title! This 48-page special magazine features interviews with the creative team behind the game, character profiles of all the new playable characters and a rundown of the new special features It will also includes brand new comic book stories featuring the Evil Genius characters, their put-upon henchmen, and their downtrodden minions! Written by Kate Heartfield (The Magician’s Workshop) and Karl Stock (Future Shocks), and drawn by Elkys Nova (Tammy & Jinty) and Leigh Wortley (And Then Everybody Died), the brand new comic book stories explore the world of this critically-acclaimed game!

Flesh: Midnight Cowboys by Pat Mills & James McKay
Rebellion 978-178108964-4, 7 April 2021, 80pp, £7.99. [DIGITAL RELEASE ONLY]

Flesh: Midnight Cowboys is the latest title in the brand new series of digital-only 2000 AD collections!
    Created by Pat Mills with Spanish artist Joan Boix, Flesh was one of the original stories featured all the way back in Prog 1, and quickly became a fan-favourite for bloodthirsty readers. Set in the 23rd century, Flesh is the futuristic Western where, with mankind surviving on synthetic food, the Trans-Time corporation sends its employees back to the age of the dinosaurs to butcher the great beasts, beaming their flesh to a hungry future. But these are no brainless lizards – and the dinos are fighting back...
    This modern continuation, with black and white artwork by James McKay, sees the survivors of a destroyed Trans-Time base stranded millions of years in the past and ordered to drive their herds across the prehistoric American landscape to Texas – where another base promises safety … and profit!
    The ranchers have already managed to survive one onslaught, but what is the latest obstacle in their path?
    And don’t forget – if you purchase a digital product from the 2000 AD webshop you can read it in the 2000 AD app (and vice versa) when you use the same registration/log-in details for both!

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Scrapbook: Hugh Cudlipp, Tom Clarke

I'm still sorting through some old reference books, which will be heading onto eBay next week hopefully. Sometimes I find little scraps tucked into the pages, bookmarks, or even newspaper clippings. Here are a couple I found over the weekend.

First up, an obituary from the Daily Mirror, 18 May 1998. Hugh Cudlipp was editor of that paper for decades. My dad read the Mirror and I did, too, although a lot of that was down to habit and a desire to keep reading Garth, The Perishers, and Jane.

Then there's a smaller obit for Tom Clarke, who edited various papers in the 1920s and 1930s. This I found in his book on Lord Northcliffe, which I'll be selling. Lastly, a rate card from the Sunday Dispatch, dated July 1959. Now you know how much a page of advertising would have cost you.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Comic Cuts — 2 April 2021

I decided to take a little break for Easter week and at the same time try to raise a little money. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was planning to sell off a few books to make some space on my groaning shelves... well, I've started work on that.

I'm working my way through some reference books to see what I can get rid of and I should have some sorted shortly. I'm thinking that some will go through eBay, some through Bear Alley and some I'll put out for charity. I did this with some books during last summer and not only did the books go, the box they were in was also taken! I guess people were short of reading material during the first lockdown. (I put out runs of books by Ian Rankin and Colin Dexter that I'd built up over the years, so quite common and not the sort of book that I could ever hope to sell ... just in case you were wondering.)

I may change my tactics slightly: there's a nice couple who live about a quarter mile away who put out tables of goods — books, children's toys, knickknacks — and sell them for charity. They have a box firmly attached to their fencepost so it can't be taken and they empty it regularly. Given the number of books I have, it might be worth putting a table up and seeing what I can get rid of once we get a nice run of warm weather. I don't own a car, so I'm at the mercy of others if I want to do a boot fair, but I've done reasonably well in the past, so that, too, is an option.

I've spent a couple of days sorting out and disposing of quite a few DVDs and CDs and have sold over 100 for about £55, which isn't bad given how bad the market is for these nowadays. People like streaming music and film, and if you're a cineaste, you probably have a blue ray player or you're watching films at 4K Ultra on your 100 inch TV. I think I did pretty well.

I managed to write one short introduction to one of the upcoming books, and we've picked up the pace on our walks now that the tow path is dry. There's a route that takes us along the River Colne and then folds back along what's called the Wivenhoe Trail, a cycle route and footpath that we have been avoiding over winter, as it is often a bit of a mud bath. One side of the path is the railway (for train fans, it's called the Sunshine Coast Line), while the other is Ferry Marsh, a wild marshland area that is home to a range of wildlife, especially nesting birds (and otters, apparently, although we've yet to see one).

This year, everyone we met was commenting on how high the water was, almost encroaching on the pathway. Asking around we discovered that it is down to a sluice not being open. The reason it is not open is because it has become an point of contention between Anglia Water, the local council and some other organisation, who are each arguing that the sluice is not their responsibility. Thankfully we've had a couple of nice days weather, which has dried out the pathway, but there's a chance that the path will disappear at some point, cutting off the cycle path and making it impassable to walkers. Hopefully they'll sort out who needs to do what soon.

Hopefully I'll have some books listed either here or on eBay over the weekend. I'm not sure when as we have a couple of things planned, but I'll try to let people know here, and also on Twitter and Facebook for the social media savvy.

In the meantime, have a wonderful Easter.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Commando 5423- 5426

Brand new Commando comics are out today. From the Battle of Greece to a mountain in Italy, from Nazi Germany to the 15th Century Wars of the Roses, Issues 5423–5426 take you on adventures through time and across the globe!

5423: Tassie Devil

By April 1941, the Nazis had invaded Greece and were pushing the Allies out! Evacuation was inevitable, however for one Tasmanian, no man was getting left behind! Issue 5423 Tassie Devil — written by resident Aussie writer, Brent Towns, with solid as always interiors from Morhain and Defeo is one whirling dervish of a story. And with a cover by the indomitable Ian Kennedy, Tassie Devil is sure to take no prisoners!

Story | Brent Towns
Art | Morhain & Defeo |
Cover | Ian Kennedy

5424: The Gun

What's it like to be the son of a legend who fought a man-eating tiger? Well it's not all sunshine and rainbows for British officer Peter Trelawney, who has to prove himself twice as he tries live up to his father's memory AND face off against 'The Gun'! A classic Commando cracker from CG Walker with art from legends Victor de la Fuente AND Ken Barr? Issue 5424’s not one to miss!

Story | CG Walker
Art | V Fuente
Cover | Ken Barr
Originally Commando No. 419 (1969).

5425: Brothers in Arms

Something a little different as this Commando is set during the Wars of the Roses, marking the 550 year anniversary of the Battle of Barnet! In this rare 15th Century Commando setting, two brothers are caught on opposite sides of the battle for the English throne; one Lancastrian and the other Yorkist. But will either survive? Another corker from prolific writer Andrew Knighton with the magnificent Manuel Benet on interiors and cover duty! Issue 5425 out soon!

Story | Andrew Knighton
Art | Manuel Benet
Cover | Manuel Benet

5426: The Condor Flies Again

The agent codenamed “Condor” had returned home to a hero’s welcome in Berlin. But this Condor was not what he seemed! He had been replaced with a British operative whose real work as a spy was just about to begin! This silver era reprint by RA Montague has more twists and turns than a maze and is equally as a-mazing! Catch the Condor before he takes flight!

Story | RA Montague
Art | Philpott
Cover | Ron Brown
Originally Commando No. 1669 (1983).

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Rebellion Releases — 31 March 2021

A quiet week for Rebellion...

2000 AD Prog 2225
Cover: Tom Foster.

Judge Dredd: The Penitent Man by Kenneth Niemand (w) Tom Foster (a) Chris Blythe (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Thistlebone: Poisoned Roots by TC Eglington (w) Simon Davies (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Visions of Deadworld: You Give Me Fever by Kek-W (w) Dave Kendall (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Terror Tales: Half Life by John Tomlinson (w) Anna Readman (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Feral & Foe II by Dan Abnett (w) Richard Elson (a) Jim Campbell (l)

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Contraband (review)

When you set a book five minutes into the future, you might expect the passing of even a few years will make your story outdated and irrelevant. That's certainly not the case with Contraband, which was first published by Slave Labor Graphics in 2008 and is now getting its first British edition from Markosia in May.

The book could not be more relevant. With social media platforms battling for billions in advertising revenue, there is a tendency to pay lip service to protecting younger users while doing nothing concrete to end various forms of abuse. Algorithms can send you down rabbit holes that have radicalized significant numbers of the middle-aged and middle classes around the world. When Facebook became the world's most popular source of news, it also meant that readers became less likely to check sources and less able to distinguish real news from calculated falsehoods. Lies propagate and any hope of quashing them would require a huge paradigm shift from Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and all the other platforms that rely on user numbers to attract advertising.

Contraband tackles this explicitly when Toby, discussing porn available on Whisper, says "Seems Whisper's a bit sloppy enforcing a censorship policy." "Not sloppy, crafty," replies Plugger. "Feigning ignorance means avoiding legislation — and that enables Whisper to make more money." Nothing has changed in the past dozen years and hiding responsibility behind the guise of "Free speech" has taken on chilling new meaning since January 6.

The premise of filming violence on mobile phones was not author Thomas Behe's invention. The inaptly named "happy slapping" was a phenomenon in 2005-10, with the filming of random attacks quickly giving way to filming sexual assaults and horrific violence that resulted in death from injuries. In Contraband these films have a dedicated platform—Contraband—where clips that reach the top of the viewing chart can earn tens of thousands.

Toby, a "citizen journalist", has become seduced by the notion of filming popularly acclaimed content, joining the voyeur underground, prowling the city hoping to film something sensational. He becomes embroiled in the vicious battle between Tucker Scott, a mercenary with a fetish for filming violent attacks while working under contract in Afghanistan, and Charlotte, who is working with him when she is knocked unconscious in the opening pages.

The storyline isn't always easy to follow as it jumps between action in London and Belgium, one month apart. Keep your eye on the timestamps at the beginning of each chapter, because it can be confusing when characters you believe dead suddenly reappear. Complexity doesn't make Contraband a bad read but it does mean you need to concentrate across all 144 pages.

In London, we discover cyber cafe worker Toby being blackmailed by Tucker into searching for Charlotte. Contraband is being taken down by various means by Jarvis Stevens, a former intelligence officer with whom Charlotte has been working to recruit supporters.

A month later, Tucker's sidekick Plugger has been killed, Toby is in Belgium looking for Jarvis and Tucker has Charlotte — and if Jarvis doesn't send Tucker a memory chip before Charlotte's live-stream drops into second place on Contraband, she'll be killed.

The plot weaves between these various settings with Toby the thread linking the action as he encounters all the other characters.

The artwork by Phil Elliott is clean and elegant where he dialogue is heavy and perhaps tending towards being over-philosophical. Every character has a back story which they recount in detail, which slows the story down and burdens the reader with too much information. Contraband is a book that is more enjoyable the second time you read it: on second reading you can enjoy the languid pace and diversions and take time to learn more about the various characters without worrying about missing a crucial plot point. (One minor complaint about the original SLG edition: the small paperback format means panels packed with dense dialogue in tiny lettering, which my old eyes struggled with. Hopefully the Markosia edition will be slightly larger.)

Twelve years ago, Contraband could be marketed as science fiction, extrapolating on how mobile phones with cameras and the ability to share high resolution videos might develop into something nasty. Now we're living in that nasty world, it's a present day thriller that still has much to say about the ethics of living with unregulated social media platforms.

Contraband by T. J. Behe & Phil Elliott
Markosia Enterprises ISBN 978-191380260-8, 10 May 2021, 148pp, £14.99. Available via Amazon.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Comic Cuts — 26 March 2021

Finally, I feel like I'm making some progress with some of the projects I'm working on. I sidelined myself from work on BAM! after Christmas because I needed to sort out a few technical problems; also, some comics landed in my lap late last year that I needed to work on for some planned features. I actually ended up with a vast collection of material that arrived in three huge boxes (thanks, Peter!) and I have been doing a deep dive into them since February.

Indexing all of this material has been time consuming and trying to make sense of some of the baffling publication details has also had me scratching my head for days at a time. I managed to complete one of a series of articles I'm trying to write, and also I've started doing the layouts for a set of books that I'm putting together that will compliment the feature I'm working on.

Writing is a little like putting up a building because you don't see much happening while the groundwork is being prepared, digging around underground to lay the foundations for the structure that you're going to build. Research and scanning have taken most of the last few weeks. With that prepared, I opened up In Design on Tuesday and, with furniture designed and artwork already cleaned up and resized, dropped 70 pages of comics strips into place... and then I did the same on Wednesday and I'll be doing roughly the same on Friday.

Once the walls are up, there's a lot of decorating still to do while I write introductions, design the 'about the artist' feature (based on the piece just completed) and add some bonus material, but at the end of it all, I'll have three (maybe more) books ready for publication. Fingers crossed.

To celebrate the anniversary of lockdown, we watched our first Zoom comedy gig with sitting down stand-up Rob Beckett and free-styling musician Abandoman. We had tried Zooming a couple of ticketed events a year ago with not very good results as I was trying to use my rather tiny tablet, the only device we could use in the living room without upending everything. Long story short, it didn't work very well and the screen was so small we weren't able to see much. We've upgraded our internet since and using Mel's computer, with its far larger screen, meant we could both enjoy the gig.

The gig was a thank you for staff put on by those nice folks at D C Thomson and was "attended" by over 400. Beckett was a friendly, funny presence, but I'm always amazed by Abandoman, who improvises songs around the briefest of discussions with members of the audience. It's the musical equivalent of close-up magic, because you know there must be a trick to it but you can't see how he can instantly turn a list of random things into an accessible, funny set of lyrics in his head while he's singing the lines.  It's an astonishing talent (shared by Wayne Brady on Whose Line Is It Anyway?) and we're in awe of it.

(* Abandoman image by Idil Sukan Draw HQ)