Friday, October 30, 2020

Comic Cuts - 30 October 2020

I'm still moving forward with the mag. At the last count I've added another 15 pages of layouts, bringing the total to about 55 pages. There's still a long way to go and I'm not helping myself by allowing distractions take over a morning or afternoon. A random question on Facebook meant I spent a morning trying to track down an author called Philip Douglas, only to find that he had died in the early 1990s. Useful information, in its own way, but not when I'm supposed to be working on something else.

I also spent most of an afternoon trying to compile a stripography of a particular character, only to find that a lot of information was missing from my files. For the past thirty years I've kept and updated hundreds of lists relating to a lot of British comics and their creators on my computer (I got my first PC in 1989), but even they let me down sometimes. There was a series called Giant War Picture Library back in the 1960s, of which I have two issues. David Roach and I managed to compile information on quite a few more of the 76 issues when we did our The War Libraries book, but there were gaps. And those gaps still exist. I know there are gaps, but it's still hugely frustrating when I come across them.

Some vary good news is that I've been offered a few nice features in the past couple of days. Also had a very positive response to a request for some scans, which is very welcome. I feel an article for issue two developing... but for the moment I've really got to knuckle down and concentrate on issue one, dammit!

The usual spoiler alert if you don't want any revelations about the SF series Devs.

Just as we go into Tier 2, I've managed to catch up with a show that was broadcast just as we went into the original lockdown in March. Devs was very well reviewed at the time and I've been looking forward to seeing it. Having just watched a humorous science fiction serial (Upload, see last week's Comic Cuts column), I thought I'd give something a little more serious a try.

I'm left in a bit of a quandry. Without a doubt it had a fascinating plot and was beautifully shot, but it was equally underwhelming in other areas. I think if it had lasted more than eight episodes, viewers may well have drifted away.

Big themes are what we expect of Alex Garland, who wrote and directed the series. I've enjoyed just about everything he's had a hand in, from 28 Days Later and Sunshine (both written for Danny Boyle) to Judge Dredd (the Karl Urban version). Devs most resembles another Garland writer/director credit, the movie Ex-Machina.

In the latter, an employee showing great promise is invited into the inner sanctum of his tech genius boss, who reveals he has created an artificial intelligence. The employee, Caleb, is asked to apply the Turing Test to the A.I., programmed into a robot known as Ava.

Devs has a somewhat similar set-up on paper. The CEO—Forest (Nick Offerman)—of a software company, Amaya, invites programmer Sergei (Karl Glusman) to join their 'Devs' division, located in an isolated, vacuum-sealed laboratory accessible only via a floating airlock. Sergei, amazed at the code he sees, begins to film his screen using a hidden camera. Confronted by Forest, Sergei is killed. His girlfriend, Lily (Sonoya Mizuno), is later shown footage of Sergei leaving the company grounds.

Lily is suspicious when she finds a Sodoku app on Sergei's phone—a puzzle he despises—and visits her ex-boyfriend, Jamie (Jin Ha), asking him to break into the password-protected programme she finds in the app. She is shown footage of Sergei committing suicide by self immolation.

So far, so straightforward. It's a murder mystery, right? Well... turns out Sergei is a spy with a Russian handler, so it's a murder mystery with some industrial espionage thrown in. Nope. It starts to become clear that Forest has just one obsession, his daughter, who was killed in a car accident and after whom his company is named. The 'Devs' project uses quantum computing to view the past, based on deterministic mathematics and quantum mechanics, which allows the Devs system to 'predict' where every particle in the universe has been, and, indeed, will be, although Forest bans his staff from viewing the future. He reveals to one of them, Katie (Alison Pill), that Lily is going to die in the near future. But the future collapses into static on viewing.

All of this is slowly revealed over six or seven episodes as Lily attempts to solve Sergei's murder, and Jamie attempts to save Lily, who is for a while held in a mental hospital, admitted there illegally by Kenton (Zach Grenier), the violent head of security at Amaya.

A second viewing of the series would no doubt reveal more clues planted along the way to what finally plays out in the Devs laboratory. There are some big reveals towards the end, and those I don't want to spoil for you, should you decide to give the series a try.

So to return to my opening line. The real plot is drip-fed to viewers, as is the science behind it. There are some beautifully shot scenes as cameras drift over and through woodlands to the Devs building, dwarfed by a creepy giant statue of the owner's daughter. Inside, golden light throbs rhythmically along walls of hammered metal, like the beating heart of the laboratory. One startling scene shows Forest talking to his wife on her phone as another car smashes into the side of her vehicle, killing her and their daughter. Multiple versions of the crash play out, each a little different as Forest runs forward towards the upturned vehicle, including one where it pulls up safely and Forest plucks his daughter out of her seat.

But it's not perfect. Forest is a one-note performance that might be threatening or mystical or heavy-hearted. Lily, too, sinks into a similar emotionless performance. There are times when the soundtrack is reminiscent of the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which may be a deliberate hint at what is to come as the characters "slouch towards Bethlehem". Although they're very different, that movie might be a good yardstick: if you found the movie slow and incomprehensible, Devs might not be for you. If you liked it, you might want to give Devs a try.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Commando 5379-5382

Something wicked this way comes as Commando’s Halloween specials crawl out from inside the crypt! Commando issues 5379-5382— out today!

5379: Commandos vs Zombies 2

They say you can’t keep a good man down — and these blokes just won’t die! We’re straight out of the grave with the first of Commando’s creepy Halloween specials, as the dead rise again in Georgia Standen Battle’s issue 5379 ‘Commandos vs Zombies 2’, the dreaded reanimated sequel!

Since the death of his best friend on his last raid in Norway, Commando Sergeant Leo Manktelow has been a haunted man, eaten up by guilt. But the past soon comes back to bite him as he ends up face to face with someone who should have really stayed dead!

With an eerie cover from Neil Roberts and frighteningly-good interior art from horror expert Vicente Alcazar, this Commando will have you hungry for more!

Story | Georgia Standen Battle
Art | Vicente Alcazar
Cover | Neil Roberts

5380: Black Squadron

A classic gold-era Commando comic from 1967, ‘Black Squadron’ features some of the best Commando talent with amazing interiors from Gordon C Livingstone and an outstanding Ken Barr cover. But let’s not leave out McOwan’s storytelling which takes us on a trip like no other! A case of mistaken identity is ten-fold when young Pilot Officer Jack Turner borrows his Squadron Leader’s aircraft and uses it to shoot down the dreaded leader of the Black Squadron — Major Von Dorn! When the Black Squadron swear vengeance on the pilot in the spitfire with the emblem of the red mailed fist – you can bet there will be hell to pay!

Story | McOwan
Art | Gordon C Livingstone
Cover | Ken Barr
Originally Commando No. 281 (1967).

5381: Operation Silver Bullets

What beasts are hiding in the dark of Chateau Epouvantail? Nazis — yes — but also strange soldiers with fur, big ears and even bigger teeth! These monstrous men can see in the dark, smell your blood from a mile away — and would give even the toughest Commando nightmares!

Operation Silver Bullets is the debut of secretive writer KEK-W, whose gruesome tale will have you shivering while Tom Foster’s terrific cover will have you shrieking for more!

Story | KEK-W
Art | Jaume Forns
Cover | Tom Foster

5382: Castle of Darkness

There’s nothing like a haunted castle in the middle of occupied Czechoslovakia to spice up a mission, but the British special service agents weren’t going to let a little ghost problem get in the way of saving a scientist from the monstrous Nazis! But things get really weird when the castle turns out to be full of spectres — who are on their side!

With a story from Mary Feldwick — queen of kooky Commando stories — and excellent artwork from Fleming and Ian Kennedy, this is a comic that’ll haunt you if you miss it!

Story | Feldwick
Art | Fleming
Cover | Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No. 1642 (1982).

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Rebellion Releases - 28 October 2020

Whether you want to step into a sci-fi Western and hunt down criminals on distant worlds, or stalk the poisoned battlefields of Nu-Earth, two new rulebooks for an acclaimed tabletop roleplaying series allow you to dive even further into the galaxy of 2000 AD’s greatest series!

Following on from the success of the Judge Dredd & Worlds of 2000 AD tabletop roleplaying game, game publisher EN Publishing has announced new expansions that introduce the worlds of Strontium Dog and Rogue Trooper.

The new expansion hardcover books, available from EN Publishing, introduce you to the worlds of Strontium Dog and Rogue Trooper, providing you with in-depth information on new settings, characters, and rules for these popular science fiction worlds so that you can create your own adventures!

Both expansion hardcover books require the Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD core rulebook, which is also available from EN Publishing.

In Strontium Dog, Johnny Alpha and the bounty hunters of the Search/Destroy agency hunt their targets relentlessly across the galactic frontier. Human society despises but relies upon these mutant ‘Strontium Dog’ mercenaries to root out the galaxy’s deadliest criminals. So step into the Doghouse, polish your S/D badge, and take your place alongside famous agents such as Johnny Alpha, Wulf Sternhammer, and Durham Red to await your next contract.

Set in the same universe as Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog jumps ahead to the year 2180 and offers the entire galaxy as a playground. With new careers for S/D agents, unique equipment like the variable-cartridge blaster, time bomb and time drogue, a gazetteer of the galaxy and guide to creating new and exciting locations, sample contracts and adventure seeds, plus a whole host of adversaries and allies, this supplement provides an entirely new way to explore the Judge Dredd & the Worlds of 2000 AD roleplaying game.

In the Rogue Trooper universe, the Norts and the Southers wage an endless war for control of the poisoned planet Nu-Earth. The Southers develop superhuman soldiers known as Genetic Infantrymen, or GIs, in the hopes of stalling the Norts’ advance. Whether as an enlisted human or GI clone, it’s time to join the Souther defence against the relentless assault of the Norts. Welcome to Nu-Earth - do not leave home without your chemsuit!

Rogue Trooper offers several new species such as the Genetic Infantryman and Srigoi, a raft of new careers that define a character’s military service on either side of the conflict, new equipment and vehicles designed to keep the characters safes during their mission, a full gazetteer of Nu-Earth, plus tips and trick to running games of Rogue Trooper in other settings with different themes. Set against the backdrop of the unending war for control of Nu-Earth, this supplement provides a completely new experience for the Judge Dredd & the World of 2000 AD roleplaying game.

2000 AD Prog 2205
Cover: Patrick Goddardd / Dylan Teague (col).

Judge Dredd: They Shoot Talking Horses, Don't They? by Rob Williams (w) Dan Cornwell (a) Jim Boswell (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Stickleback: New Jerusalem by Ian Edginton (w) D’Israeli (a) Jim Campbell (l)
Skip Tracer: Hyperballad by James Peaty (w) Paul Marshall (a) Dylan Teague (c) Simon Bowland (l)
Fiends of the Eastern Front: Constanta by Ian Edginton (w) Tiernen Trevallion (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Hook-Jaw by Alec Worley (a) Leigh Gallagher (a) Simon Bowland (l)

Roy of the Rovers: Pressure by Rob Williams & Lisa Henke
Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08764-0, 29 October 2020, 56pp, £9.99. Available via Amazon.

Having had their thirty point deduction rescinded, Melchester Rovers find themselves back in the top half of the table with a chance of promotion to the Championship. For joint-captain Roy Race, things are still far from good. Having just lost a League Cup final and with every point vital in their quest to attract new ownership, Roy has hit a patch of rough form and can’t find the back of the net! Prepare for a nail-biting finale as the final whistle blows on another action-packed season!

Friday, October 23, 2020

Comic Cuts - 23 October 2020

Finally, a bit of news regarding BAM! magazine. After a few disruptions, I managed to put in a couple of days of fairly solid work. The first issue is starting to come together, with about 40 pages laid out and many more pages written; some are still in need of artwork, while some simply need some of the artwork tidied up, which can be a slow and laborious task. One of the features I was working on this week required some lettering replaced, for instance, and a strip that's hand-lettered isn't easy to mimic.

The first issue is going to be a bit of a grab-bag of features, interviews and a couple of strips. I've tried to keep the contents broad, so we have features about a famous DC Thomson character, a little-known adventure strip from Dave Gibbons, an appreciation of an old Amalgamated Press editor, the story of how Frank Bellamy found himself unexpectedly in debt, and the history of Britain's first 'hard' SF newspaper comic strip and the creators behind it. I've already mentioned some of the other features, which include a celebration of 70 years of pocket libraries and an interview with John Burns; also I have a piece on one of my favourite comic characters, a second interview (with a current Commando scriptwriter), a look at the Marvel UK artwork of an American artist... and whatever else I can squeeze in. Someone has offered a review, and I'll be happy to run more if anyone cares to take a look at, say, recent Rebellion collections or other UK books.

Already lined up for issue two is a superb feature on Sixties style icon Tiffany Jones, a look back at the career of P.C.49 writer Alan Stranks, and the usual "and much more". So you'd better buy issue one if you want to see issue two!

There was the usual parade of interruptions. We're still trying to keep up our exercise regime, taking an hour-long walk in the morning and a second almost hour-long walk in the evening. Were dawdling and meeting people along the way, so I figure we're walking about five miles a day during week-days and our Sunday walk is about three miles. That's over a Marathon a week, which isn't bad. It has certainly been good for my weight as I've managed to shed 19 pounds the best part of 1 1/2 stone since lockdown was introduced in March.

This means that I'm no longer obese according to the NHS health weight calculator. I'm just very, very overweight! Something worth celebrating... but how?

Our early morning walks have been increasingly in the dark. Sunrise is now about 7.30 am and we've had a couple of spectacular dawns, as you can see from the photos. We are fortunate to live on a river (the Colne) where it heads out into the North Sea, so we also get some beautiful morning mists. At the moment we have huge flocks of birds migrating, including flocks of up to 50 geese. They use the river for rest (we get large numbers gathering on the banks) and for navigation, swooping low over the water in amazing formations. (Of course, every time I try to film this wonderful sight, by the time I get my camera switched on and aimed, all you see is a handful of rapidly disappearing goose butts.)

You don't need to know all the ins and outs of my rather dull life, but reality does get in the way of making these blogs packed with interesting news. The boring truth is that writing and putting together BAM! has to take a back seat to mundane things like the downstairs loo not working properly.

We've also had to deal with the wisteria that grew up the front of the house; at one point the damn thing was tangling up the gutters and growing over the windows, so we have to cut it back regularly during the summer months. I noticed earlier in the year that part of the trunk was quite rotten and had broken away from the main trunk of the plant. A couple of weeks ago, we could see branches of the wisteria starting to block the French windows at the back of the living room. Something to cut back next time the garden waste bags are empty, we thought.

Before we could do that, the whole plant broke away from the wall during a spell of gale-speed winds. The trunk was rotten through, and split apart at almost ground level. I spent most of Tuesday morning chopping it up and breaking rotten branches apart. Haven't quite finished as there is still quite a hunk of trunk still in the ground that will need to be dug out, but the council only collect four bags at a time, and Wednesday was a write-off thanks to an almost full day of rain.

Sadly, the dull bits of life have a horrible habit of getting in the way of what's fun.

Talking of which... jump to the end if you don't like spoilers.

I managed to finally catch up with with Upload, about people having themselves uploaded to a virtual retirement complex at the point of death. Our hero, Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell) is a computer whiz who is severely injured in a car crash involving his hands-free automated car. This alerts Fran (Elizabeth Bowen), his cousin, who begins to investigate what should be an impossible accident.

At the hospital, Nathan's possessive girlfriend, Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) has him uploaded to an expensive afterlife programme, Lake View, which will allow them to meet and, through programmable suits and gloves, to even interact and touch each other. As with any system, this all costs, and Ingrid is able to restrict Nathan's access to some things by drawing the purse strings tight.

Each upload is assigned an 'angel' who watches over them from their computer terminal. Nathan's is Nora (Andy Allo) and the two begin to form a relationship. Nora is also aware that certain of Nathan's memories have been corrupted he cannot remember what happened to the computer programme he was developing with his friend, Jamie... and some of the missing memory files have subsequently been deleted.

Comedy meets murder mystery meets romantic triangle meets high concept SF. With a pedigree like that, you might expect Upload to be a dog's dinner of a show, but it's far from that. No one element of the show overwhelms the others nor are there any lurching jumps between plot points; the glue is the wit and warmth of all involved. Even the controlling Ingrid has a soul, albeit conflicted between love and expectation; another example of how the show successfully walks a tightrope, as even the lead characters have highly visible flaws. Nathan is a narcissist and Ingrid is spoiled and overindulged; they are a perfect match, both obsessed with how things look rather than how things should be.

With the charming Nora aiding him, Nathan tries to restore his memories but that leads to greater complications. To see how they are resolved... well, that's down to season two. The show was renewed almost immediately, which hopefully means it got some good viewing figures. With only ten half-hour episodes (the first slightly longer), it's an easy one to scoot right through, and entertaining enough for you to want to keep going. It did cause me a couple of late nights / early mornings.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Rebellion Releases - 21 October 2020

Rebellion are to release a long-awaited collection of the three Stainless Steel Rat stories that appeared in 2000 AD way back in 1979-85. Before you get too excited, the book isn't released until August next year, but here's the announcement teasing the upcoming deluxe edition:

When the law finally catches up with “Slippery” Jim DiGriz, the charming con-man is given a choice - join up or get sent down!

Rebellion is pleased to announce a new collection of The Stainless Steel Rat, 2000 AD’s comic book adaptation of Harry Harrison’s acclaimed classic pulp sci-fi novels.

Out of print for almost a decade, the new collection will include the three adaptations written by Kelvin Gosnell and illustrated by Carlos Ezquerra between 1979 and 1985, and - for the first time - will feature the colour centre spreads as they originally appeared in 2000 AD.

The gorgeous 208-page paperback collection will retail at £24.99 and hit shelves and digital on 19 August 2021.

A limited hardcover ‘Deluxe Edition’ will also be available to pre-order exclusively from the 2000 AD webshop in the new year.

Catch Me if You Can meets Star Wars, this landmark comic space opera series was a major hit in the early days of 2000 AD, its success helped in no small part by the extraordinary energy and humour of Ezquerra’s artwork, with the Spanish artist basing DiGriz’s likeness on the legendary actor James Coburn.

Originally created by Harrison in 1961, DiGriz is a guileful rogue who claims he turned to crime as a deliberate act of rebellion against the regimented and dull authoritarian society around him. Despite being an accomplished thief and master of disguise, DiGriz is caught by the ruthless elite law-enforcement agency known as the Special Corps. Discovering that all the Corps’ top agents are reformed criminals, DiGriz is given a simple choice - join up or spend your life in jail!

Never quite able to suppress his urge for lawbreaking, DiGriz escapes from the Corps before meeting and falling in love with the psychotic Angelina - another master criminal, although she is a lot more murderous than the laid-back DiGriz!

The stories included in this collection:

    'The Stainless Steel Rat' (2000 AD Progs 140–151, 1979-1980)
    'The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World' (2000 AD Progs 166–177, 1980)
    'The Stainless Steel Rat for President' (2000 AD Progs 393–404, 1984-1985)

2000 AD Prog 2204
Cover: D'Israeli.

Judge Dredd: They Shoot Talking Horses, Don't They? by Rob Williams (w) Dan Cornwell (a) Jim Boswell (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Stickleback: New Jerusalem by Ian Edginton (w) D’Israeli (a) Jim Campbell (l)
Skip Tracer: Hyperballad by James Peaty (w) Paul Marshall (a) Dylan Teague (c) Simon Bowland (l)
Fiends of the Eastern Front: Constanta by Ian Edginton (w) Tiernen Trevallion (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Hook-Jaw by Alec Worley (a) Leigh Gallagher (a) Simon Bowland (l)

Judge Dredd Megazine 425
Cover: Nick Percival.

Judge Dredd: The Victims of Bennett Beeny by John Wagner (w) Colin MacNeil, Dan Cornwell (a) Chris Blythe (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Megatropolis by Kenneth Neimand (w) Dave Taylor (a) Jim Campbell (l)
Dreadnaughts: Breaking Ground by Mike Carroll (w) John Higgins (a) Sally Hurst (c) Simon Bowland (l) 
Anderson, Psi Divison: No Country For Old Psis by Maura McHugh (w) Steven Austin (a) Barbara Nosenzo (c) Simon Bowland (l)
The Returners: Heartswood by Si Spencer (w) Nicolo Assirelli (a) Eva De La Cruz (c) Simon Bowland (l)
Dark Judges: Deliverance by David Hine (w) Nick Percival (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)

Features: We Only Find Them When They're Dead, Michael Carroll & John Higgins interview
Bagged collection: Bob Byrne's Twisted Tales

Friday, October 16, 2020

Comic Cuts - 16 October 2020

I managed to upload some more comics to eBay over the weekend, which  went live on Sunday evening. Sales have been going pretty well, and I'm hopeful that there will be a couple of fans of the old Dracula Lives who want to bid on my broken run of, I think, fifty-four issues out of eighty-seven issues. I managed to misplace a couple of issues, including the first issue, which I've now tracked down, so that will probably go up this weekend.

I haven't included much news on the magazine of late for the simple reason that there hasn't been much. I'm still working on articles, but I think I made a reasonably big breakthrough this week, and I may have the final main article in place (actually replacing something that I thought I might have to run this time, but which I'll now hold over to issue two so that I have more time to work on it).

Next step will be rewrites of my own material, a bit more subbing on other folks' contributions, and start doing some layouts so that I have some idea of how many pages have been filled and what I still need to do. There are a couple of short filler pieces that I may have to write, but most of the longer pieces are done. I still need to get some of the artwork sorted out, but even that's starting to come together.

Although I haven't set myself a strict timescale to get things done, I'd have to say that the magazine is reasonably on schedule. I knew there would be bumps in the road — I had to stop dead in my tracks last Friday to sort out my accounts, for instance — but I'm happy with the way it's coming together.

As always, our review this week has spoilers, so if that kind of thing annoys you, jump to the end.

After a couple of disappointing shows watched over the past few weeks, I'm pleased to say that I've hit a seam of good TV. First up was Hanna, the second season of the spin-off from the 2011 movie. I went into the first season as a fan of the film and nervous that it wouldn't be able to live up to my expectations. Thankfully, the series didn't simply mirror the film, but expanded upon it by developing the background and taking it off into a new direction;  having David Farr, one of the film's screenwriters so heavily involved in the TV series has meant it has stayed true to the tone of the movie without being trapped within its confines.

Season one explored the basics: Hanna has been raised by Erik Heller (Joel Kinnaman), who took her as a baby from a facility where young girls were trained as assassins. Trained in isolation in a forest, Hanna (Esme Creed-Miles) tries to learn more about the world beyond her immediate environment; unfortunately, this attracts the attention of CIA operative Marissa Wiegler (Mireille Enos). Separated from her (adoptive) father, Hanna learns that Erik isn't her father; reunited after he has been captured and tortured, Erik reveals that she was part of a programme run by UTRAX. Making their way to the Rumanian facility, they try to rescue the trainees but Erik is killed.

That's where season two picks up. Hanna manages to rescue one of the trainees, Clara, and they are hiding out in the forest. Meanwhile, the other trainees are removed to a new facility in Scotland where they are assigned new identities and backgrounds. Clara, meanwhile, is fooled into thinking she has contacted her mother it is actually Marissa and is recaptured in Bucharest. Hanna, following Clara, is reunited with Marissa and they escape to Paris.

Hanna is determined to track down and save Clara, which she eventually does. Clara, now believing her mother dead, has succumbed somewhat to her new surroundings and freedoms of the Meadows, and Hanna is captured. She, too, appears to accept her role as an assassin for UTRAX.

It's a season where both Marissa (now on the side of the angels) and Hanna are attempting to rescue someone (Hanna and Clara respectively) who doesn't feel the need to be saved. It means that their trust is betrayed more than once but the plot requires they try, try, try again. Without taking away from the actors cast as Hanna, Clara or the UTRAX students, the season belongs to Mireille Enos as beaten and bloodied Marissa, coolly and dangerously trying to rescue Hanna and right wrongs that she, in her shady past, has been partly responsible for.

Thankfully, the battle will continue into a third season. A bit like the Jason Bourne movies, there is bound to be another layer of deceit that needs to be uncovered surrounding the UTRAX programme. It's a series that could run and run, and I'll be happy to see it do so.

The second show I've only just started, so you'll have to wait until next week to find out if it kept up the promise of the opening episodes.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Commando 5375-5378

Commando serves up some alternative angles on the Second World War in this audacious and action-packed set — out today!

5375: Four Horsemen

World War Two is in its final chapters, and American M8 Tankie Gene Danvers finds himself on an unexpected journey — on horseback no less! Accompanied by a British POW, a defecting Cossack and a German infantryman, these four horsemen put their histories and differences aside to save the rare and coveted Lipizzaner horses in this fast-paced adventure.

With a dramatic cover from Neil Roberts and interiors by Khato, Ferg Handley’s newest story presents the closing days and camaraderie of war in a new light.

Story | Ferg Handley
Art | Khato
Cover | Neil Roberts

5376: Top Bomber

Pete Harker is a name that evokes dread in each and every crew at his RAF base. Fly with him and you’ll be lucky to get back in one piece, or so the story goes. But there’s no doubt the man always gets the job done — that is until his determination lands him in hospital. Scarred in more ways than one, the lone wolf eventually retrains as a bomber and makes a fine job of it. But he’ll need to overcome his demons and reconnect with his crew if he wants to survive the war!

This perilous classic from Fitzsimmons offers a look at the dark side of flying, with highly detailed artwork from Medrano and a painterly cover from Buccherri.

Story | Fitzsimmons
Art | Medrano
Cover | Buccherri
Originally Commando No. 879 (1974).

5377: Third Time Lucky

In a mountainous region of Italy, Captain Jack Harks and his fellows have hit a strategic supply tunnel twice with their Thunderbolts… to no avail. The German anti-aircraft guns have the area well-defended and even Harks’ skills can’t get him close enough to drop a decent payload — though they’ll get him into plenty of trouble! Blundering into an SOE operation, Harks finds himself embedded in an Italian Resistance group, desperate to identify a traitor before the Nazis close in!

A story from new writer JP Bridson with Paolo Ongaro’s trademark lively interiors and a superb cover from well-loved artist Keith Burns, this Commando is worth adding to any collection.

Story | JP Bridson
Art | Paolo Ongaro
Cover | Keith Burns

5378: Cowards Always Run

The village of Rethcourt almost seems to have a curse upon it… haunting three men who abandoned the battlefield in The Great War. Now, the Nazis trample Europe and the three men are presented with an opportunity to right their wrongs. This tale of desperation for survival, half-truths and the fog of war brings together the stories of several unlikely comrades as they look to reconcile their actions and bring peace to their consciences.

A classic combination from CG Walker, Carrion and Kennedy, this is a thoughtful, action-packed adventure.

Story | CG Walker
Art | Carrion
Cover | Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No. 1586 (1982).

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Rebellion Releases - 14 October 2020

The new collection of the brilliant horror series The Thirteenth Floor - featuring never-before-reprinted stories - is out this week and if you’ve not encountered the homicidal computer Max before, then I really recommend you check these books out!

Perhaps the most fondly remembered of all the strips to originate in the short-lived British horror weekly Scream!, The Thirteenth Floor was created by John Wagner and Alan Grant, with spookily atmospheric art from José Ortiz. Max is an artificial intelligence created to be superintendent of council tower block Maxwell Tower, who sends humans he doesn’t like to his nightmarish thirteenth floor.

But after being exposed as a killer, Maxis is shut down and sold off to fancy Oxford Street department store, Pringles - giving him a new hunting ground of shop-lifters, obnoxious customers and even secret agents!

2000AD Prog 2203

Cover: Jake Lynch.

Judge Dredd: Carry the Nine by Rob Williams & Arthur Wyatt (w) Boo Cook (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Stickleback: New Jerusalem by Ian Edginton (w) D’Israeli (a) Jim Campbell (l)
Skip Tracer: Hyperballad by James Peaty (w) Paul Marshall (a) Dylan Teague (c) Simon Bowland (l)
Fiends of the Eastern Front: Constanta by Ian Edginton (w) Tiernen Trevallion (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Hook-Jaw by Alec Worley (a) Leigh Gallagher (a) Simon Bowland (l)

The Thirteenth Floor Vol.2 by John Wagner, Alan Grant & Jose Ortiz
Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08772-5, 15 October 2020, 176pp, £14.99. Available via Amazon.

Privatisation has never been so deadly - the homicidal computer Max returns in the second collection of The Thirteenth Floor, featuring never-before-reprinted classic horror comics! Max is being packed off to the private sector in the second volume of The Thirteenth Floor - one of the most iconic comics of the 1980s! Perhaps the most fondly remembered of all the strips to originate in the short-lived British horror weekly Scream!, The Thirteenth Floor was created by John Wagner and Alan Grant, with spookily atmospheric art from José Ortiz. Max is an artificial intelligence created to be superintendent of council tower block Maxwell Tower. Max was determined to make sure that all of his tenants were safe and happy - even if it meant sending humans he didn’t like to his thirteenth floor - a nightmarish virtual world where their worst dreams became a fitting punishment, whether it was zombies, giant cockroaches, medieval executioners, or sharks! But, after being exposed as a homicidal killer, Max the computer has been shut down and removed from Maxwell Tower - but the unscrupulous council has sold the computer to fancy Oxford Street department store, Pringles. Now, Max has a new hunting ground and a whole host of potential ‘victims’, including shop-lifters, obnoxious customers and even secret agents!

Friday, October 09, 2020

Comic Cuts - 9 October 2020

Just over there to your left on the screen there's a big rectangle that says eBay... click on it or the link just underneath and that will take you through to some odds and ends that I'm selling. I did quite a few sales back in the summer 2019 (and long-term readers will recall the problems I was having with my internet connection during July and August of last year), but it slowed to a standstill while I concentrated on publishing the Rocket book and the recent two volumes of Longbow.

Well, I've now managed to sort out a few more boxes of stuff that I want to let back into the wild. During the hot weather (which seemed to disappear the moment summer turned to autumn) Mel was putting out a box of books on the street to see if they were of interest to anyone locally (and we don't have access to charity shops at the moment). I joined in and on day two all the books – and the box – disappeared within a few hours. I put out a box full of Ian Rankin novels, which emptied the same day; the next day all my old Inspector Morse novels went and I've also emptied the house of Ken Follett. A box of Frederick Forsyth is waiting on a day where it isn't threatening to rain.

I haven't gone off these authors, but I've reached a point in my life where I'm unlikely to have time to ever re-read them. I was tempted to hold back The Day of the Jackal, but talked myself out of it. I'd deliberately chosen runs of books which would make an appreciable difference and that, should I ever feel the need to own them again, they would be relatively easy to pick up in charity shops. Ian Rankin was a good three feet of shelf space and the 17 Forsyth novels is another two feet.

I'm trying to empty a few shelves so I can move some reference books around and make them more accessible, but I'm having to make some hard decisions. There may be books that I could sell on eBay, but the price of postage these days makes it impossible. A 99p hardback book could cost over £4.00 by the time you add postage and packing, simply because of its size or weight. And if you charge more to offset the charges at eBay and PayPal, you could be looking at something like £4.80... and nobody is going to pay that for a 99p book.

I might list some books here in the future because someone might want to make me an offer for a box of, say, Robert E. Howard paperbacks. At the moment I'm sorting through a box of Heavy Metal comics (and a few Metal Hurlant) that I'm planning to put up on eBay. Various Penthouse Comix spinoffs went up at the weekend just gone, plus a couple of Eagle picture libraries. I still have a couple of Starblazers listed, although most have already gone. Next up on the scanner is Savage Sword of Conan, so watch out for those in the next week or two.

Splitting my time between this and writing is not the smartest move as it means I'm still working on things that I should have finished last week. The good news is that I'm still edging forward. Someone is doing some reviews for me, so that will save me a little bit of time. I could always use a few more volunteers for reviews and the like. I'm still hoping to have something out this side of Christmas.

One job I did get around to was to scan a stack of pocket libraries as illustrations to an article on their history (70th anniversary this year). The column header is one of only two issues of Giant War Picture Library I own, both rather battered, but glorious to behold because the weird format means the covers are big enough to frame. This is an extract as the original comic is over a foot tall and I need something that will fit comfortably on the blog here and on Facebook.

There are spoilers ahead in our look at Young Wallander, so jump to the end if you don't like them.

Following closely on the heels of the slightly disappointing Strike: Lethal White, we managed to watch Young Wallander without throwing a slipper at the TV screen, although there were a couple of moments that had us reaching. This was meant to be a prequel to the famous Wallander novels / TV shows by Henning Menkel, whose third (?) TV outing was a British co-production starring Kenneth Branagh. Wallander was a morose character but perceptive, making him difficult to work with and even harder to befriend.

Young Wallander is all about setting up the later character. So we discover how he meets Mona, whom he will subsequently marry and divorce before the novels begin; he says he dislikes opera when it is played to him by his boss but begins listening to it as he drives (he is an opera-lover); and he's already a morose, tetchy young man. As we meet him, he has been passed over for promotion to the major crimes unit, a position well-earned and taken by his partner, Reza. A shocking death of a young white teenager, a grenade taped into his mouth, opens up the debate on racism in modern Sweden.

As Wallander is a witness, he is seconded to the unit, replacing his partner. At a rally of right wing extremists, Wallander sees the killer of the teenage boy and gives chase, leaving Reza without back-up when he is attacked, beaten and almost killed.

This is not Wallander's only mistake – he is stabbed, beaten and puts the investigation in jeopardy more than once. Convinced he knows who the killer is, but unable to find the evidence that will convict him, he confronts him. It seems inevitable that he has the wrong guy, and that's precisely what happens.

Rather than creating a character, Young Wallander is more like a series of tick boxes, which makes it problematic. Wallander dislikes bureaucracy, can be hot-headed and impulsive. Well, that's fine if you have a proven track record and a solid group of people supporting you and protecting you, like the older Wallander, but not when you're a newcomer on your first case. Young Wallander would be instantly demoted or drummed out of the force for putting his own and others lives at risk. I'd sooner see the smart, naive newcomer who has yet to be ground down by the things he sees as a policeman rather than this odd mix of new boy and grizzled veteran, already well on his way to problems with depression and alcohol that we have here.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Rebellion releases - 7 October 2020

His name is legend, a myth that has passed into popular culture via stories, word of mouth, comics, merchandise, and more — that of the formidable Great White shark known as HOOK-JAW. A spear protruding from his lower jaw, few who encounter him live to tell the tale, so terrible is his hunger. Bodies rent asunder in his wake, the sea stained red with the blood of his victims, he’s a true terror of the deep...

2000 AD Prog 2202
Cover: Simon Coleby / Dylan Teague (cols)

Judge Dredd: Carry the Nine
by Rob Williams & Arthur Wyatt (w) Boo Cook (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Stickleback: New Jerusalem by Ian Edginton (w) D’Israeli (a) Jim Campbell (l)
Skip Tracer: Hyperballad by James Peaty (w) Paul Marshall (a) Dylan Teague (c) Simon Bowland (l)
Fiends of the Eastern Front: Constanta by Ian Edginton (w) Tiernen Trevallion (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Hook-Jaw by Alec Worley (a) Leigh Gallagher (a) Simon Bowland (l)

Friday, October 02, 2020

Comic Cuts - 2 October 2020

I'm still working on my John Burns article, which I'm hoping to have finished by the end of the week. One reason it's taking a little while is because I decided to write it in a slightly non-linear way so, while it covers the whole of John's career, it doesn't read like an obituary. Yes, the magazine will include an obits. section, so I'm trying to vary the tone of the features; it's one of the reasons I'd like to have more contributors so that there are a number of different voices in the magazine.

I'm using a list of John's favourite strips as a through-line and then weave in details of how his career progressed over the years. In fact, one of the reasons I'm spending so long on this is that I keep getting distracted digging out and reading old strips. I pulled a couple of annuals out of a cupboard and was reading 'Guardians of the Reef' and an episode of 'Wrath of the Gods' on Monday. On Tuesday I finally found my copy of 'Danielle', some 'Modesty Blaise' and some girls' annuals, so that kept me busy for a bit, and on Wednesday I dug out copies of ESPers, James Bond: A Silent Armageddon and Sable & Fortune. Today (Thursday, as I write) I'm on the look-out for a box of Heavy Metal to see if I can find some of the MI9 strips he did for that paper. I've already dug out the one issue of Penthouse Comix I have with John's work but whether I can find anything useable is another question.

I managed to post a few items up on EBay and I'm pleased to say that about half of them sold first time around. I have much more to go, and I was meant to do some scanning and listing at the weekend, but it didn't work out. Instead, I had a hair cut on Saturday and spent time chatting and catching up with friends over an online board game, and Sunday just seemed to disappear. I remember trying to sort through a load of podcasts in the morning and chatting with my Mum, dozing off after lunch and waking up a couple of hours later. By the time I'd caught up on some e-mail, it was dark, Mel was back from her parents and we were finishing off the last episode of Cormoran Strike that has been sitting on the Blu-ray box for some weeks. The day was over before I had a chance to scan anything.

I'm reviewing it below the pic, and there will be spoilers, so hop to the end if you want to avoid them.

This is the fourth of the adaptations of Robert Galbraith's (J. K. Rowling's) novels, released to coincide with the release of Galbraith's fifth novel and therefore against a background of a backlash against that novel's reputed transphobia. I'm no expert, but those complaining about having a crook dress up as a woman are surely reducing transvestism to an act of dressing up and they really ought to be looking at their own perceptions and prejudices. They need to learn that it's about more than wearing the clothes of the opposite sex. I think a lot of the coverage was wilfully ignorant as it allowed the writers to take a poke at the BBC for adapting her novels. It is no surprise that the most negative reviews appeared in the Mail on Sunday and The Times.

The action picks up immediately following the end of the third novel adaptation -- broadcast 30 months ago in early 2018 -- with Holiday Grainger's Robin Ellacott about to marry the awful Matthew (Kerr Logan). Cormoran Strike (Tom Burke) has raced to the church, disheveled and beaten, wondering why she has not responded to his calls and texts. Matthew had deleted them and having Strike hovering around the outskirts of the wedding doesn't bode well for a happy ceremony or honeymoon.

A year later, Robin is now an equal partner in the private investigation firm of C. B. Strike. Arriving at the firm's Denmark Street office (above 12 Bar Club at 26 Denmark Street... Forbidden Planet was at 23 Denmark Street for many years), the two discover it has been broken into by a disturbed young man, Billy, who babbles about a murder while waving around a bloody knife he has used to carve a cave-painting style drawing of a horse on the wall. The incident leads them to investigate a group of left-wing radicals.

A second case involves the blackmail of an M.P., Jasper Chiswell (Robert Glennister), the head of a family who despise him and are despised by him – except for his dead son, whom he worships, but who was (of course) awful. Chiswell is being blackmailed and, as the two investigations merge, it seems to involve the death of a young girl (an incident seen by Billy when he was a boy), on a chalk horse at Uffington. Cormoran and Robin discover a grave, but no further action appears to be taken by the police. Could it be a cover-up?

When Robin goes undercover at the Houses of Parliament to trap one of the blackmailers, the show descends into Spitting Image territory of ghastly MPs, horny aides and competent secretaries. The other blackmailer turns out to be Billy's brother, Jimmy, who is also a cartoon radical.

Thankfully the two leads are engaging enough to carry the four episodes. Robin is suffering from PTSD following an attack she suffered in the third series, but Cormoran's missing leg is now barely an inconvenience, except when he's chasing someone. Robin ditches Matthew (who is conveniently having an affair) and Cormoran is dumped by his girlfriend, making the "will they? won't they?" soap opera standard a big part of the story. Meaningful looks and long hugs are as far as it goes, but don't be surprised if they get together at some point down the line.

I've enjoyed previous adaptations. This one, like the book, was longer. Unfortunately, twice the length didn't add up to twice the fun, but it was OK. I was just hoping for better than OK.

(* The column header this week is from El Capitan Trueno: La reina bruja de anubis, which, sadly, has never been translated into English – I did these few panels for your reading pleasure.)

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Commando 5371-5374

There’s something for everyone in this brand-new set of Commando comics: from murder mysteries, tiny aircraft carriers, and a motley band of rogues, to a Science Fiction adventure! Commando issues 5371 - 5374 — out soon!

5371: Five Little Soldier Boys

Three words: gothic, murder mystery. That enough of a hook? Issue 5371: ‘Five Little Soldier Boys’ is a Commando debut by war comic writer Colin Maxwell! When a bunch of soldiers get lost in a storm in the French Alps, their only refuge is an eerie chateau isolated in the hills… only this isn’t a refuge — it’s a house of death! With gothic-esque art from Manuel Benet — the question is, will they survive the night?

Story | Colin Maxwell
Art | Manuel Benet
Cover | Manuel Benet

5372: McGinty’s Mob

Classic Commando action in Issue 5372: ‘McGinty’s Mob’! McGinty and his ragtag band from the Pioneer Corps are on a demolition mission! When a gung-ho Major General who won’t take no for an answer marches up to McGinty and demands his help, McGinty puts together an outfit the likes of which you’ve never seen before. It’s all guns blazing in this Eric Hebden Commando from 1967 with art by Victor de la Fuente!

Story | Eric Hebden
Art | Victor de la Fuente
Cover | Segrelles
Originally Commando No. 279 (1967).

5373: Face of 1000 Heroes

Commando goes to the future in a rare Science Fiction comic in Issue 5373: ‘Face of 1000 Heroes’! The year is 2104 and clone armies wage war in a bid for corporate supremacy, but when a battle against Atlantic pirates goes wrong the clone designated N4 is left damaged and changed forever. Free from control, N4 is thirsty for liberation in the form of a corporate takedown! With amazing cover from artist Neil Roberts!

Story | Andrew Knighton
Art | Muller and Klacik
Cover | Neil Roberts

5374: Convoy Patrol

You think your job is stressful? Try this on for size: taking off in a Fairey Swordfish from a miniscule aircraft carrier converted from a merchant ship — in the middle of the Atlantic! And if that wasn’t bad enough for Fleet Air Arm pilot, Paul Drayton, along with the constant raids from Folk-Wolf Kondors and the blasted weather , he’s also got fellow airmen trying to kill each other! Think I’ll stick to my day job!

Story | RA Montague
Art | Carmona
Cover | Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No. 1582 (1982).


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