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Monday, October 14, 2019

The Thirteenth Floor - Home Sweet Home

The latest Rebellion one-shot is a "Scream! Presents" special continuing the storylines begun on the Scream & Misty Specials for 2017 and 2018. This new story is written by Guy Adams, with a wraparound story drawn by John Stokes, and various other pages drawn by Hanrik Sahlstron, Tom Paterson, Abigail Harding, Frazer Irving, Vince Locke, Jimmy Broxton, V.V. Glass and Kelley Jones.

Max, the computer that runs Maxwell Tower, has been trying to restore himself after so long being dormant, and has teamed up with a young lad named Sam Bowers, who lives unhappily in a flat in the building. His parents argue constantly, but this might not be his biggest problem: Max is using his ability to control people to perform repairs to his system and Sam doesn't know what will happen to them afterwards.

There is also the problem of police officer Hester Benedict who believes too many people have gone missing in the vicinity of the towerblock and has been suffering bad dreams after she, too, experienced Max's Thirteenth Floor, where he punishes wrongdoers.

In the latest installment, Max must turn to Hester when the entire population of the tower find themselves on the Thirteenth Floor. The trigger for the storyline isn't what you might expect and all the more interesting for it (I'm desperately trying to make this spoiler free!).

Because this is a fairly linear story, the changes in style between artists isn't as jarring as you might imagine, leaping as it does from the realism of the opening few pages by Sahlstron to John Stokes' classic British comics' style and abruptly switching to the cartoon insanity of Tom Paterson. The previous two episodes of this story established the convention of artists working on different elements of the tale, bringing their talents to the sometimes gruesome settings for Max's Thirteenth Floor vengeance.

The artists range from the Swedish Sahlstron to Americans Locke and Jones, from illustrator Glass to veteran comic strip artists (Broxton, Irving) and a newcomer (Harding). Andreas Butzbach provides the artwork for a rather more humorous take on the Thirteenth Floor and a reprint of the very first episode (drawn by Spaniard, the late Jose Ortiz) wraps up this 52-page special.

The slowly building reintroduction of Max and the Thirteenth Floor strip takes another solid step forward. We can't be far off a new weekly comic surely?

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Eagle Times v.32 no.3 (Autumn 2019)

This issue kicks off with the sixth and final episode of David Britton's study of Charles Chilton and the Jeff Arnold story based on the Indian Wars. Here he looks at the aftermath of the of the defeat of General Custer. In the wake of the battle, General Sherman was put in charge of all Indian reservations and treated the indigenous nations as prisoners of war. Chilton tackled the peace talks between the U.S. Army and Sitting Bull, involving Jeff in the talks and in escorting Sitting Bull and the Sioux to Canada.

Britton concludes that Chilton researched his subject thoroughly, although gave the story a rather happier ending than what actually happened. Britton has also researched his subject thoroughly and it has made for a fascinating series.

Two thoroughly researched articles follow: a look at the Radio Luxembourg Dan Dare show, identifying dates, episode titles, plots and other nuggets of information about the cast; and Jeremy Briggs looks at the very scarce The Shell, a giveaway comic from the petrol company which included comic strips, features and cutaways (the one illustrated in the article is by cutaway supremo L. Ashwell Wood). The article covers only a limited number of pages available and with contributions by Wood and Peter Jackson, it's a title that I think Eagle fans will want to look out for.

This issue's cover star is Tintin, who featured in Eagle in 1951-52. Jim Duckett's article concentrates on Herge's Destination Moon storyline, which had a more fraught creation than I had previously known, with its creator suffering a number of nervous breakdowns due to overwork (a familiar story to anyone who knows the background of Frank Hampson and Dan Dare). In the case of Tintin, it meant a nineteen month break in production of Tintin's Luna adventure.

Steve Winders' article on photo strips in the 1980s Eagle is a whistle-stop guide to the early days of Doomlord, Sergeant Streetwise and Manix (who later continued in strip form), plus the schoolboy adventures of Thunderbolt and Smokey, the anthology series The Collector, and The Adventures of Fred—starring a heavily disguised Barrie Tomlinson, the balloon-free series drawing on his love of The Goons.

The photo strips could be quite inventive and the choices somewhat surprising: who would have thought a photo strip about The Invisible Boy would have lasted more than one series; and Jake's Platoon, set in France, was clearly photographed in England. It was also an expensive process and, after the initial period of popularity, sales of the new Eagle began to drift downwards, making photo stories harder to justify.

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 membership@eagle-society.org.uk. Back issues are available for newcomers to the magazine and they have even issued binders to keep those issues nice and neat.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Comic Cuts - 11 October 2019

We've had a very nice week of walks, thanks to Mel having a few days off from work. I've tried to keep up a steady stream of uploads to Ebay, including the first couple of batches of The Comics Journal, which I have been trying to sort through for a couple of weeks. There are so many brilliant interviews and features that I have been loath to let them go. But needs must and any attempt to downsize (and earn a bit of money along the way) must include some treasures.

It's always nicer to have someone to walk and chat with, so we've been wandering around town a couple of times a day, once down the hill towards the quay and alternating it with wanderings around the various roads and crescents and avenues that form the inland half of town. Wivenhoe was primarily known for boat building and fishing in the first half of the 20th century and the town was built around those two industries, with working class families living in smaller, terraced houses closer to the factories, while the managers and owners lived a little further out. There is one main road through the whole town, but you can easily spot where the workforce ended and the management began: it's where the High Street ends and The Avenue begins—bearing in mind that this is the same road.

I'm hoping that the extra walks will kick-start a bit of weight loss. I've had quite a good year, having lost just over half a stone, but I could do with losing quite a bit more as I'm still a long way from being classified as just "overweight". Or I somehow need to grow taller so I'm the right height for my weight.

The photo above was taken on Monday looking through the flood barrier; just a moody, early morning view of the River Colne. You can tell autumn is here.

I have just received a copy of Picturing Tom Brown by Robert J. Kirkpatrick, whose name should need no introduction to regular readers of Bear Alley. An 83-page softcover book, it pretty much does what the title implies, reproducing dozens of covers, dust jackets and interior illustrations from an astonishing range of different published versions of Thomas Hughes's classic schoolboy novel, Tom Brown's Schooldays.

The number of different publishers and printings is astonishing. The book has never been out of print since its first appearance from Macmillan & Co. in April 1857. It had sold 11,000 copies by January 1858, by which time it had been pirated by an American publisher, Tickner & Fields (there were no copyright laws at that time), who also published the first illustrated edition in 1860; Macmillan produced their first illustrated edition in 1868 [dated 1869].

Over the next century almost every major publisher has produced an edition of the book, some lavishly illustrated, others not so but still with attractive dust jacket and frontispiece illustrations. The best of these have been gathered in Kirkpatrick's book which contains 400 illustrations in colour and black & white, plus 126 pictorial and decorative covers and dustjackets. It is quite amazing to see how many different ways one single scene can be brought to life by the many talented artists on display, including (but not limited to) H. M. Brock, Gordon Browne, Paul Hardy, Harold Copping, T. Heath Robinson and S. van Abbe.

You can get a copy via Amazon.

After the break, we find out if My Life Is Murder is worth staying up for. There may be spoilers, so if that's something you detest, jump to the end of the column.


My Life Is Murder is a gentle-paced Australian mystery drama series starring Lucy Lawless as Alexa Crowe, a retired police officer, although the show generally follows a pattern that has her one-time boss, DI Kieran Hussey (Bernard Curry) bring a cold case or seemingly insoluble recent murder to her attention.

Once involved, Alexa is a dogged investigator, following clues with the aid of her computer and tech gal, Madison (Ebony Vaulans), who wants to learn the business of detecting but, for the most part, has only the grudging respect of Alexa who treats her as a reluctant, unpaid research assistant whenever she needs information or something hacked.

Alexa Crowe can be charming, but that is not her default setting. Rather, she goes through life in a state of mild annoyance at life's frustrations—her sourdough maker won't work properly; she has been adopted by a cat she doesn't at first want; she has problems sleeping but ignores the recommendations of her doctor—which causes her to rub up the wrong way those she meets in the course of her work. Friends let it slide, even if they are allergic to cats, but suspects can react badly or violently.

For all her faults, Alexa is an appealing character, her lack of social filter giving the show a humorous edge to it. Although it deals with murder—a woman fallen from the 19th floor of a building; a man is shot dead in a motel room locked on the inside; a businessman dies while out cycling; a hit and run accident has more behind it than just drink; a teacher at Alexa's school dies in odd circumstances—these are not the gory, gritty serial killings of modern television, but a more suburban fare.

The closest comparison I can think of is Ben Miller-era Death in Paradise, which has the same mystery-of-the-week format. Move the whole thing to Melbourne, Australia, and you'll have some idea of whether it's the kind of thing you'd like. If the answer is Yes, you can find it on Alibi.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Rebellion Releases (2000AD)

Rebellion releases for 9 October 2019.

2000AD Prog 2152
Cover: Cliff Robinson / Dylan Teague (col)
 
JUDGE DREDD: GUATEMALA by John Wagner (w) Colin MacNeil (a) Chris Blythe (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
DEFOE: THE DIVISOR by Pat Mills (w) SK Moore (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
BRINK: HATE BOX by Dan Abnett (w) INJ Culbard (a) Simon Bowland (l)
HOPE: UNDER FIRE by Guy Adams (w) Jimmy Broxton (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
THE FALL OF DEADWORLD: DOOMED by Kek-W (w) Dave Kendall (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Comic Scene #7 and #8 (October and November 2019)

I've rather fallen behind with Comic Scene (blame it on desperately trying to keep up with a regular Ebay posting schedule), which is a shame because it has been a consistently entertaining read—and lord knows we need some entertainment these days.

I'm catching up with the latest two issues here, which is quite handy as there are quite a few features that continue from one issue to the next in Comic Scene and I now have the opportunity of reading the conclusion of the Milford Green comic strip, a Victorian era thriller in which an alien, pursued by enemies, crashlands on Earth and hands over a mysterious object to inventor Alfie Fairfield, who consults his neighbour, author H. G. Wells over what to do.

Also concluding is 18th century highwayman adventure Flintlock, although its writer, Steve Tanner, has promised that the story will continue in the pages of Comic Scene in the future.

Grouping these two issues together has an unexpected consequence of pitching Batman against The Joker. Issue 7 (October 2019) has articles by Richard Bruton on a lighthearted run of Detective Comics created by Mike W. Barr & Alan Davies in the 1980s and by Peter Gouldson on the malevolent Batman of Frank Miller's Dark Knight books.

British comics are covered in three features: Philip Vaughan concludes his review of the "new" Eagle, Lew Stringer looks back at Pow!, and Irmantas Pavlaika celebrates Ken Reid's monstrously fun 'Martha's Monster Make-up'.

Ken Reid also features in issue 8 (November 2019) with a glance back at the football strips he did for Scorcher—the little known 'Sub', 'Football Forum' and 'Manager Matt'. The latter was still running when Scorcher absorbed Score, but Reid's work continued unabated with Matt succeeded by 'Hugh Fowler'. You'll have to wait for part two to learn what happened after that.

On the Batman/Joker front, we have Joel Meadow's preview of The Joker movie, Richard Bruton on Batman Adventures, the spin-off from the Batman Animated series, and Martin Dallard taking on Tim Burton's 1989 Batman movie.

Of this month's other features, Lew Stringer flies through 33 years of the history of TV Comic in two pages while Stephen Jewell has five pages to study Marvel #1000, admittedly a landmark 96-page issue involving 80 creative teams. It's a packed issue, but in this (suit)case it's like discovering your kid has packed five bath towels and only one pair of pants for his holiday.


The issue concludes with an extract from Steve MacManus's The SheerGlam Conspiracy (reviewed here) and both issues have the usual excellent reviews section, covering a wide range of mostly independent titles. Two pages are now dedicated to European comics.

Details about subscriptions can be obtained from www.comicscene.org. Rates for print issues for the UK are £5.99 for one issue; £35 for 6 issues; £68 for 12 issues.You can get a pdf version for £3.99 (1), £22 (6) or £40 (12).

Payment can be made via PayPal to comicsceneuk@gmail.com. For other options, and for international rates for the print edition, visit the website.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

FanScene #4 (September 2019)

The fourth issue of FanScene , the free-to-download British comics' fanzine, is for the most part a tribute issue following the deaths of Stan Lee and Mike Noble in late 2018. Various articles on these famous creators fill the first 40% of the new issue in a variety of ways, ranging from an interview with graffiti artist Ejek (Danny McDermott), who painted (sprayed?) a mural in tribute to Lee on a wall in the Gorbals area of Glasgow to celebrity reaction to his death.

Of the tributes paid to Mike Noble, my favourite** is Norman Boyd's 'Mike Noble in Focus: "Wide World" (1962)', which features Mike's contributions to the long-running adventure pulp Wide World. I doubt if even the most ardent Mike Noble fan—bar one, of course—has seen this artwork, which appeared 57 years ago. As someone who has been knocking about for the same number of years, it's nice to see something new (to me) from one of my favourite artists.

Perhaps the best piece in the whole 88-page magazine is Robert Menzies' interview with Alan Murray, who worked for Marvel UK in its early days. After a period working in advertising agencies, a fellow commuter told him of a possible job on magazines that were being published out of an office in High Holborn. Thus Murray came to work for Marvel, then just starting to make inroads into the UK market with titles like Spider-Man Comics Weekly.

At that time I was still a Fleetway fanatic, so Murray's revelations about his time at Marvel are new and fascinating and this is the kind of article that we need to see more of in British fanzines.

The issue concludes with a grab-bag of articles and art. Richard Sheaf takes a look at Spaceship Away as it reaches 50 issues and Peter Duncan dips into the Power Comics merger into Eagle, and there are articles about an Anime convention, collecting old comics, and a lengthy biographical comic strip from Neal Burton & Mark Wayne Barrett.

This isn't really a review—I'm only here to pique your interest. Fanscene costs nothing to pick up, so everyone can afford to try it for yourself. For copies, visit David Hathaway-Price's website, where you can also download earlier issues.

(** well... second favourite, as one of the features is an article I co-wrote with Bill Storie back in 1993 which I'm still proud of.)

Friday, October 04, 2019

Comic Cuts - 4 October 2019

Unbelievably it's October already. Where did the summer go? I suspect I spent most of it stressing over the loss of internet and the subsequent drop in earnings I suffered. Thank goodness for the work I had to put into publishing And the Wheels Went Round, which is now officially out and available. The first few copies ran into some problems with the printer—not with the books themselves, but the age it seemed to take for delivery. I'm hoping that the problem is now solved, but if you are after a copy, it might take 8-12 days to arrive. Weirdly, copies sent to France seem to arrive a darn sight quicker than copies sent to the UK.

I've spent the week scanning stuff to sell on Ebay, finish off a commissioned piece (a stock obituary for The Guardian, delivered Monday) and do a few reviews that will be posted over the weekend. I posted some issues of Comic Marketplace on Ebay, which was a great mag. I didn't buy it often, but I did enjoy the articles on old Golden and Silver Age American comics. I posted them while taking a break from The Comics Journal (which will be heading Ebay-ward shortly), where I stumbled across a handful of contributions I made in the early 1990s.

My first contribution was a page of news: 'The Danes Buy Judge Dredd', the story of how Gutenberghus bought out the remainder of the company owned by Robert Maxwell, creating Fleetway Editions. If I remember correctly, I wrote this in late January following the purchase on the 16th and after meeting Gary Groth at Angouleme where I attempted to interview him about upcoming comics from Fantagraphics. It was an impromptu interview and he only had ten or fifteen minutes before a scheduled appointment. The idea was to pick up at a later hour, but it unfortunately never happened due to him being busy whenever I swung by or me being too sloshed to risk it.

(Simply put, I wasn't used to bars being open all day and was drinking at a pace that required bars to close after lunch; also, the hotel was too far away to sleep it off during the afternoon. The few hours between breakfast and brunch aside, I was drunk for most of the day, every day. The Arthur Ranson interview that appeared in Comic World was conducted while I was in my cups... Arthur was very surprised that I was able to turn it into a coherent feature.)

I didn't contribute a huge amount to The Comics Journal... a few obituaries and one or two other news items in 1992-95, but I was listed as one of their International Correspondents for years. I have a feeling that I gave up when I sent in a few pieces that they couldn't use (space was inevitably a premium). I know I sent them obituaries for Pat Nicolle (1995) and later Don Lawrence and Bob Monkhouse (2003) that were never used. I'll have to dig out some of the unpublished ones and see if they're worth publishing here.

I don't want to get into a row with anyone, so the following picture is a spoiler break. There are spoilers after the picture; if you don't like them, jump to the end of the column.

Let's get this out of the way first. I cannot understand why Carnival Row has such a row score on Rotten Tomatoes. 57% at the time of writing, meaning that critics have been divided roughly down the middle. The audience rating is 87% (for comparison, the audience rating for Killing Eve is 88% and 87% for the third season of Stranger Things), meaning that they found it far more satisfying.

As did I. I think the audience reaction is about right.

This is a meticulously created fantasy world in which creatures of folklore (the fairy-like fae, the horned-and-hooved puck) live alongside humans in Burgue, a city somewhat akin to Victorian era London.

Rycraft "Philo" Philostrate (Orlando Bloom, doing his best to channel Ray Winston) is a police officer tasked with solving the murder of the headmaster of an orphanage where Philo grew up. Philo links the murder to the death of a fae singer that the police have failed to investigate. Philo's sympathy for the fae does not go unnoticed by his fellow, bigoted officers, although they have no knowledge of how deeply involved Philo has been with fae-folk. Philo discovers that a magical creature, a darkasher, formed from the parts of other creatures, is responsible for the deaths.

The second strand of the story begins with a narrow escape for Vignette (Cara Delevingne), a fae who has been helping fae-folk escape from the Pact, an invading force that has taken over the fairy's former homeland. A boat hired to sail them to the Burgue is destroyed, leaving Vignette in debt to the owner, Ezra Spurnrose. Forced into his employ, she leaves after he tries to molest her; with no choice but to seek work in the city, she joins a fae gang, the Black Raven.

When Vignette meets Philo it is revealed that they were lovers, but he, a soldier at that time, had left her believing he was dead. She knows him to be a half-blood who had his wings removed when he was a baby, but continues to keep his secret.

A third strand involves the kidnapping of Jonah Breakspear, wastrel son of Absalom Breakspear, Chancellor of the Republic of the Burgue. Unbeknownst to him, the plotter is his wife, Piety, who uses the crime to frame Absalom's rival, Ritter Longerbane, in an effort to make a prediction that both her husband and his son will be great men. However, her actions lead to the rise of Langerbane's sly daughter, Sophie, and a conspiracy to oust her husband.

The plot darts back and forth to these and other characters (Philo's landlady and lover, Portia; a street performer named Millworthy; fae brothel owner Moira and her courtesans) and into other storylines (e.g. how Ezra Spurose's financial problems lead his sister, Imogen, to entertain a wealthy puck who wants to enter society) but, with a little care and attention, nobody should lose track of what is happening to whom. It is a busy and packed eight-parter and, if you came looking for a detective story, the central murder plot is fairly thin as a result. However, the world-building is fascinating—there are plenty of parallels with today's rising xenophobia—and with the set-up out of the way, future visits to the world of the Burgue will benefit.

And the good news is that there will be a second season, as Amazon has renewed the show.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Commando 5267-5270

Brand new issues of Commando are out today, including fighting dustcarts, a fortified house in Stalingrad, a Siberian SAS mission, and the second Braddock issue of Commando!

5267: Braddock: Demons

A new team doesn’t mean a new Braddock, as the maverick bomber pilot is at it again in Ferg Handley’s second Commando issue for The Victor hotshot. But with losses mounting after the Battle of France, the tension between Squadron Leader Roy Suddaby and Braddock will come to fever pitch, forcing Braddock to come face to face with some of his personal demons. But will Braddock defeat them?

Story | Ferg Handley
Art | Morhain & Defeo
Cover | Keith Burns


5268: The Heroes of San Marco

A bin lorry goes to war in this off-the-wall yarn from Spence. When Commando Captain Steve Carson and his mates are tasked with liberating an Italian tank designer – they find their only escape is in the back of a stinking dustcart. Much to Carson’s dismay, the dustcart is soon dubbed Nelly and becomes his company’s mascot. But Nelly’s talents are quickly put to good use again during the Allied push into Italy – then Nelly will really kick up a stink!

Story | Spence
Art | CT Rigby
Cover | Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No. 761 (1973).


5269: House of Death

Stalingrad, 1942. Things are looking dire as the Nazi army pushes further into the city, determined to capture the namesake of Hitler’s hated rival, Josef Stalin. Throughout the war-torn city are fortified buildings manned by small numbers of the Red Army and Stalingrad militia sworn to obey Stalin’s No.227 order – ‘Not a step back!’. In one building, three Red Army soldiers, a young female partisan and a member of a penal battalion man a fortification called The Red House – but how long can they defend it before it becomes their graves?

Story | Richard Davis
Art | Carlos Pino
Cover | Carlos Pino


5270: Hostage Hunt

A bunch of hardcore USSR hardliners who refuse to believe the Cold War is over have taken to Siberia, seized a gulag, and are taking pot-shots at anyone who comes near. When the Russians are forced to ask the Royal Marines for help, Rob Smith finds himself fighting Soviet soldiers alongside other Russian soldiers! A confusing situation indeed, made more complicated by the fact that Rob’s imprisoned mate, Ted Taylor, has gone rogue inside the gulag!

Story | Mike Knowles
Art | Denis McLoughlin
Cover | Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No. 2895 (1995).

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Rebellion releases (2000AD)

Here are the latest releases from Rebellion, out today.

2000AD Prog 2151
Cover: Stewart Kenneth Moore

JUDGE DREDD: GUATEMALA by John Wagner (w) Colin MacNeil (a) Chris Blythe (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
DEFOE: THE DIVISOR by Pat Mills (w) Stewart Kenneth Moore (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
BRINK: HATE BOX by Dan Abnett (w) INJ Culbard (a) Simon Bowland (l)
HOPE: UNDER FIRE by Guy Adams (w) Jimmy Broxton (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
THE FALL OF DEADWORLD: DOOMED by Kek-W (w) Dave Kendall (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)

Dr Mesmer's Revenge by  Donne Avenell & Carlos Cruz
Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08687-2, 3 October 2019, 128pp, £14.99. Available via Amazon.

Hammer Horror meets Doomlord in this 1970s supernatural comics gem! After several artefacts are stolen from his home, the mysterious Egyptologist Dr. Mesmer resurrects a five-thousand-year-old mummy called Angor a Pharaoh possessed with great mystical power. Together they set out to retrieve the missing items, bringing terror and destruction in their wake!
    Can anybody stop them? Both the army and constabulary will need to work together in order to stop Dr. Mesmer and his unearthly ally!