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When you set a book five minutes into the future, you might expect the passing of even a few years will make your story outdated and irrelevant.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)

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Rebellion Releases — 24 March 2021

The Judge Dredd art of Brian Bolland, one of the most influential British comic book artists of all time, is to be unleashed in a stunning new collection from 2000 AD.

Acclaimed as one of the greatest artists of his generation, Bolland's work on Judge Dredd is to be showcased in a deluxe, over-sized facsimile edition featuring new high-resolution scans of his original art from 2000 AD.

Brian Bolland: The Apex Edition will be released in 2022. Full details and pre-order will be announced at a later date.

Bolland is one of the definitive 2000 AD artists, his work on Judge Dredd helped catapult the series and his unique style to international attention, not least thanks to his co-creation of the arch alien superfiend Judge Death.

As well as his slick, highly-detailed linework on stories such as ‘Punks Rule’ and ‘The Cursed Earth’, the inventiveness and sardonic humour of his covers for 2000 AD and the Eagle Comics reprints for North America confirmed him as one of the industry’s greatest, who has influenced a huge number of today’s comic book superstars.

Brian Bolland: The Apex Edition follows Rebellion's successful Zenith Apex Edition, which collected Steve Yeowell's stunning artwork from his and Grant Morrison's superhero series.

It will feature high-resolution scans of original art, showing Bolland’s delicate inking brushwork in unprecedented detail, as well as the titles and word balloons placed over it at the time by IPC's art team. It promises to be an unmissable collection for fans of comics and of fine art.

Co-edited by Masters of British Comics author and artist David Roach and Rebellion graphic novels editor Oliver Pickles, many pages of Bolland's 2000 AD work has already been located and scanned, brought together from private collections in the US, UK, France, and beyond.

However, editors are still seeking a number of pages to scan and include in this special collection, many of which have not been scanned since their original publication. They are interested to hear from anyone who has the following original art:

2000 AD Prog 110 (‘Punks Rule’) pages 5, and 6
2000 AD Prog 120 (‘Forever Crimes’) pages 1, 2, and 5
2000 AD Prog 182 (‘Block War’) pages 3, and 5
2000 AD Prog 224 ('Judge Death Lives’) pages 1, 2, 4, 5, 6
2000 AD Prog 225 pages 1, 2, 3
2000 AD Prog 226 pages 1, 2, 3, 6
2000 AD Prog 227 pages 1, 2 and 4
2000 AD Prog 228 pages 1, 2
2000 AD Prog 244 (‘Block Mania’) pages 1, 2, 4, 5, 6

All artwork will be securely returned after being carefully scanned and appropriate credit given in the collection. If you have any of these pages, please contact Rebellion on

2000 AD Prog 2224
Cover: John McCrea / Enrica Angiolini (col.).

Cadet Dredd: Who Killed Captain Cookies by Kenneth Niemand (w) PJ Holden (a) Quinton Winter (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Thistlebone: Poisoned Roots by TC Eglington (w) Simon Davies (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Nakka of the S.T.A.R.S by Roger Langridge (w) Brendan McCarthy (a) Len O'Grady, Brendan McCarthy (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Feral & Foe II by Dan Abnett (w) Richard Elson (a) Jim Campbell (l)

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Sexton Blake Library (6th series)

For nearly a century, Sexton Blake was the most written about character in British fiction. He starred in approximately four thousand stories by nearly two hundred authors. A cross between Sherlock Holmes and Indiana Jones, he was a publishing phenomenon, read by young and old alike.

Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08782-4, 16 April 2020, 430pp, £8.99. Available via Amazon.

This collection is comprised of three stories from Union Jack magazine dating from World War 1 and the lead up to it:

THE CASE OF THE NAVAL MANOEUVRES by Norman Goddard (1908).
Sexton Blake catches the Kaiser spying on British naval manoeuvres, dangles from a Zeppelin, impersonates a German soldier, fights the Kaiser on top of a train, is thrown into the Thames by Anarchists, and forces the German Emperor into a confrontation with the British Prime Minister.

ON WAR SERVICE by Cecil Hayter (1916).
Sexton Blake ventures into occupied Holland to deliver a vital despatch to a secret agent, fights enemy spies, escapes from a burning house, is pursued by the German cavalry, disguises himself as a simple labourer, captures and impersonates enemy agents, faces a firing squad, and makes a daring escape through a secret tunnel.

PRIVATE TINKER — A.S.C. by William Murray Graydon (1915).
Tinker makes a mistake, joins up under an assumed name, is sent to the front line, evades enemy troops, and is blown up. Blake enters a battle zone and gets shot. Tinker flies a reconnaissance mission, crash-lands behind enemy lines, causes an enemy supply train to crash into a German troop carrier, liberates French prisoners, rescues a colonel, foils attempted sabotage, and is declared a hero.

Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08789-3, 1 October 2020 [originally due 25 June 2020], 430pp, £8.99. Available via Amazon.

This second collection is comprised of three stories from Union Jack featuring characters from the first wave of master crooks.

THE CASE OF THE MAN IN MOTLEY by Anthony Skene (George N. Philips) (1919).
Sexton Blake literally crosses swords with the most stylish of his enemies; engages in a car chase; discovers a murdered clown; fights on the brink of an incinerator; and recovers a stolen diamond.

PRINCE PRETENCE by Lewis Jackson (Jack Lewis) (1921)
A labour leader is abducted and impersonated by Leon Kestrel; the French lottery is won; Sexton Blake's efforts are sabotaged and he is arrested; an imposter is exposed; a master crook is caught; a grotesque dwarf is visited; Tinker is kidnapped for ransom and threatened with being walled up in the Paris catacombs; Blake comes to the rescue; and the villains, though defeated, escape.

THE WONDER MAN'S CHALLENGE by Edwy Searles Brooks (1921)
Waldo the Wonder-Man robs a bank, climbs a sheer wall, walks a tightrope, steals a biplane and a necklace, and challenges Sexton Blake to catch him. Blake puts Pedro on the trail, spots a deception, and has a confrontation in a pub. Tinker picks a pocket. Waldo climbs up a chimney, swings onto a train, and flees defeated.

Rebellion ISBN 978-0781-08795-4, 8 December 2020 [originally due 6 August 2020], 280pp, £8.99. Available via Amazon.

Comprised of three more "Golden Age" stories from Union Jack, in which Sexton Blake discusses the various reporters, adventurers, Scotland Yard men and private detectives with whom he worked.

A pocket is picked, Blake is deceived, a murder is committed, the Orient Express is boarded, Secret Service agent Granit Grant enters the fray, crown jewels are at risk, Blake is poisoned and left tied up on a railway track, horses are commandeered, and a chase ends in Prague.

An assassination fails, precious emerald's are stolen, Derek "Splash" Page gets a lead, a revolution brews, the Double Four starts plotting, a female impersonator takes Tinker to a haunted house, Blake falls through a trap door, and a king crook is revealed to be a real king.

TREE OF EVIL by Rex Hardinge (1932)
Sir Richard Losely is taunted by a disembodied voice and succumbs to poison, Lobangu has a prophetic dream, Blake acquires an additional assistant, a native uprising occurs, hungry crocodiles are evaded, battle is engaged, and a malicious spirit is exposed.

Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08802-0, 18 February 2021 [originally due 1 October 2020], 250pp, £8.99. Available via Amazon.

The fourth thrilling collection of classic stories welcoming back the adventuring detective as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes and as daring as James Bond.
    This collection is comprised of two Sexton Blake Library stories from the 1940s, focusing on the Second World War and the changing nature of his investigations in its aftermath.

THE MAN FROM OCCUPIED FRANCE by Anthony Parsons (1941)
A woman is wrongly condemned as a spy, her fiancé takes desperate measures, Sexton Blake detects a frame up, a nest of espionage agents is routed, a mission to occupied France is undertaken, Nazis are evaded, a dying man gives up his secrets, and a spymaster is exposed.

THE HOUSE ON THE HILL by John Drummond (John Newton Chance) (1945)
An unwelcome marriage proposal is made, a man doesn't know whether he's committed a murder, a mysterious house gives up its secrets, suspects are gathered and a theory expounded, Tinker is bound to an infernal mechanism, and shots are fired.

Rebellion ISBN 978-178108807-4, 29 April 2021, 432pp, £8.99. Available via Amazon.

The intrepid Sexton Blake enters the roaring
'60s and it's all happening. Psychics and aliens clash on a secret volcanic base as the fate of the world lies in peril; the hunters become the hunted as a series of horrific murders strike a peaceful village; a scientist uses new techniques to bring ancient creatures to life; and a brilliantly planned heist gets double-crossed and triple-crossed!
    The New Age brings in a new era for the famous detective and things are getting interesting.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

British Library SF Classics

The British Library's Classic SF series is a companion to their Classic Crime collection, curated for the most part by Mike Ashley.

Lost Mars. The Golden Age of the Red Planet, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-0712-35240-6, 5 April 2018, 224pp, £8.99. Cover by Chesley Bonestell
These ten short stories from the golden age of science fiction feature classic SF writers including H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury and J.G. Ballard, as well as lesser-known writers from the genre. An antique shop owner gets a glimpse of the red planet through an intriguing artefact. A Martian's wife contemplates the possibility of life on Earth. A resident of Venus describes his travels across the two alien planets. From an arid desert to an advanced society far superior to that of Earth, portrayals of Mars have differed radically in their attempt to uncover the truth about our neighbouring planet. Since the 1880s, writers of science fiction have delighted in speculating on what life on Mars might look like and what might happen should we make contact with the planet's inhabitants. In these stories, they reveal much about how we understand our place in the universe. Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet is the first volume in the British Library Science Fiction Classics series.

Moonrise. The Golden age of Lunar Adventures, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-0712-35275-8, 5 April 2018, 224pp, £8.99. Cover by Chesley Bonestell
Featuring twelve stories by a roster of classic SF authors including Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells and John Wyndham. Before the Apollo 11 mission succeeded in landing on the Moon in 1969, writers and visionaries were fascinated by how we might get there and what we might find. The Greeks and Romans speculated about the Moon almost two thousand years before H.G. Wells or Jules Verne wrote about it, but interest peaked from the late 1800s when the prospect of lunar travel became more viable. This anthology presents twelve short stories from the most popular magazines of the golden age of SF including The Strand Magazine, Astounding Science Fiction and Amazing Stories and features classic SF writers as well as lesser-known writers for dedicated fans of the genre to discover. Moonrise: The Golden Age of Lunar Exploration is the second volume in the British Library Science Fiction Classics series.

Four-Sided Triangle by William F. Temple
British Library 978-0712-35231-4, 12 July 2018, 256pp, £8.99. Cover by Chesley Bonestell
''The idea was too big for the mind to grasp in all its implications at the first attempt. But when you did get a grip on it, just to let the imagination rove with the possibilities!'' Science is on the verge of a revolution. A cutting-edge new replication process is invented, and any matter can be reproduced-Shakespeare's signature, works of art, even . . . a human being? When a brilliant scientist believes that this perfect replication process offers the solution to an excruciating love triangle, the limits of the new technology are tested and impossible questions of identity and originality threaten to tear apart the best-laid plans of paradise.

Shoot at the Moon by William F. Temple
British Library 978-0712-35256-7, 6 September 2018, 240pp, £8.99. Cover by Chesley Bonestell
The Endeavour has made rocket ship history. With its automatic pilot and artificial gravity, anyone is qualified to fly to the moon. But the scientists who designed it did not envision the hidden dangers of lunar exploration. Nor did they foresee the kind of violence that could erupt among the five mismatched crew members in a lonely space capsule. The Endeavours captain, Franz Brunel of the British Space Service, has to contend with the many perils that await him on the surface of the moon. Soon a murderer is among them. This unjustly neglected novel from 1966 has not been reprinted in over fifty years. With its appearance as a British Library Science Fiction Classic, contemporary readers have the chance to enjoy Temples unusual blend of traditional SF with a darkly ironic tone. Featuring cover art by the legendary Science Fiction artist Chesley Bonestell.

The Tide Went Out by Charles Eric Maine
British Library 978-0712-35237-6, 26 January 2019, 256pp, £8.99.
When London journalist Philip Wade learns that his article on nuclear weapons testing has been censored by the British government, he is prompted to investigate the truth that lies behind it.
    Philip's search leads to a mysterious job offer in a newly-formed government department, and he soon realises the lasting damage that the nuclear tests have caused. The country is rife with uncertainty and distrust - then the water levels start to drop.
    This gripping apocalyptic novel, originally published in 1958, asks pertinent questions about censorship and the potential for violence in the face of disappearing resources. The Tide Went Out outlines the horrors that arise when we are forced to ask the question: `what happens when the water runs out?'

The Darkest of Nights by Charles Eric Maine
British Library 978-0712-35218-5, 14 February 2019, 256pp, £8.99.
A vicious plague has broken out in China and spread to Japan. The world governments look on callously, until the shadow of the Hueste virus begins to sweep across the rest of the globe. The pandemic draws nearer to Britain; shelters are hastily constructed across the country, but for whom? As the death toll booms and the populace finds themselves sacrificed for the sake of the elite, the cry for revolution rings out amidst the sirens.
    Maine's savage portrayal of society on the brink of ruin is a cruel forerunner of a more pessimistic science fiction of the 1960s.
    This subversive novel shows that even the heroes may succumb to brutality as the world descends into a desperate scramble for the last shred of what it means to be human: survival.

Menace of the Machine, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library ISBN 978-0712-35242-0, 11 April 2019, 312pp, £8.99.
Technological advance is never straightforward. A man is murdered by an automaton built for chess. A computer system designed to arbitrate justice develops a taste for iron-fisted, fatal rulings. An AI governing what we now know as an internet wreaks havoc on society after removing all forms of censorship.
    Assembled with parts from the late 19th century to the 1960s, this new collection of classic stories warns of the possible threats, both comic and severe, of a world in which human and machine live side by side.
    A delightfully, and worryingly, prescient selection for today's world in which robotic coexistence is passing with each day from speculation to reality.

The End of the World and Other Catastrophes, ed/ Mike Ashley
British Library ISBN 978-0712-35273-4, 16 May 2019, 256pp, £8.99.
Sound the sirens! The end is here, and it comes in many forms in this new collection of apocalyptic short stories from the classic age of science fiction. Join humanity on the brink of destruction in 13 doom-laden visions from the 1890s to the 1960s, featuring rare tales from the Library's vaults.
    Tales of plague seizing an over-polluted capital, a world engulfed in absolute darkness by some cosmic disaster, and of poignant dreams of a silent planet after the last echoes of humanity have died away.
    Extreme climate change, nuclear annihilation, comet strike; calamities self-inflicted and from beyond the steer of humankind vie to deal the last blow in this countdown from the first whisper of possible extinction to the Earth's final sunrise.

The Question Mark by Muriel Jaeger
British Library 978-0712-35298-7, 18 July 2019, 288pp, £8.99
In 1926 Muriel Jaeger, dissatisfied with the Utopian visions of H G Wells and Edward Bellamy, set out to explore 'The Question Mark' of what a future society might look like if human nature were properly represented.
    So, disgruntled London office worker Guy Martin is pitched 200 years into the future, where he encounters a seemingly ideal society in which each citizen has the luxury of every kind of freedom. But as Guy adjusts to the new world, the fractures of this supposed Utopia begin to show through, and it seems as if the inhabitants of this society might be just as susceptible to the promises of false messiahs as those of the twentieth century.
    Preceding the publication of Huxley's Brave New World by 5 years, The Question Mark is a significant cornerstone in the foundation of the Dystopia genre, and an impressive and unjustly neglected work of literary science fiction. This edition brings the novel back into print for the first time since its first publication.

Wild Harbour by Ian Macpherson
British Library 978-0712-35224-6, 15 August 2019, 256pp, £8.99
15 May 1944 - This morning I said to Terry, 'I thought I heard the guns through the night.'
'Were you awake too?' she asked.

    Something has happened in Europe. Fearing the approach of war to Britain, Terry and Hugh retreat from their home to the remote highlands of Scotland, prepared to live a simple existence together whilst the fighting resolves itself far away.
    Encouraged by Terry, Hugh begins a journal to note down the highs and lows of this return to nature, and to process their concerns of the oncoming danger. But as the sounds of guns by night grow louder, the grim prospect of encroaching war threatens to invade their cherish isolation and demolish any hope of future peace.
    Macpherson's only science fiction novel is a bleak and truly prescient novel of future war first published in 1936, just 3 years before the outbreak of conflict in Europe. A carefully drawn tale of survival in the wilderness and the value of our connection with others, Wild Harbour is both beautiful and heart-rending.

Menace of the Monster, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-0712-35269-7, 12 September 2019, 304pp, £8.99.
The fact that humanity is not alone in the universe has long preoccupied our thoughts.
    In this compelling new collection of short stories from SF's classic age our visions of 'other' are shown in a myriad of forms - beings from other worlds, corrupted lifeforms from our own planet and entities from unimaginable dimensions.
    Amongst these tales, the humble ant becomes humanity's greatest foe, a sailor awakes in a hellish landscape terrified by a monstrous creature from the deep, an extra-terrestrial apocalypse devastates our world but also brings us together, and our race becomes the unwitting agent of another species' survival. Be prepared to face your greatest fears and relinquish your hold on reality as you confront the menace of the monster.

Beyond Time, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-0712-35320-5, 17 October 2019, 272pp, £8.99.
Time travel has long been a staple of science fiction. Removing the bonds of time on a story allows for many interesting possibilities, but it also presents complicated problems and paradoxes.
    In this collection, featuring stories from the 1880s to the 1960s, we are taken to the remote future and back to the distant past. We are trapped in an eternal loop and met with visitors and objects from the future. We come face to face with our past selves, and experience the chaos of living out of sync with everyone else in the universe.
    These are just some of the thrilling narratives to discover as we unwind the constraints of time.

The Man With Six Senses by Muriel Jaeger
British Library 978-0712-35366-3, 21 February 2020, 240pp, £8.99.
Hilda is besotted with Michael, because Michael has a gift. Through some mutation, his mind is able to perceive 'lines of energy' and 'the vast ocean of movement' - things beyond the limits of the five senses and perhaps even common understanding. But the gift, as so often in life, comes with a price. There are those who, in their resentment, come to covet the gift, threatening the blissful period of learning and freedom of thought that seemed so possible a future for Hilda and Michael. And then there are the expectations of society, whose demands for the idealised normal spell danger and disarray for the pair.
    Muriel Jaegers second foray into science fiction sees her experimenting again with an impressive talent for blending genres. The Man with Six Senses is a sensitive depiction of how the different, or supernaturally able, could be treated in 1920s Britain, but also a sharp skewering of societal norms and the expectations of how women should behave - and how they should think. Thought-provoking and challenging, The Man with Six Senses still resonates today in a society whose expectations and structures still continue to trap those who fall outside the limits of acceptance.

Born of the Sun: Adventures in Our Solar System, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-0712-35356-4, 6 August 2020, 320pp, £8.99.
Terror in the steamy jungles of Venus, encounters on the arid expanse of Jupiter; asteroids mysteriously bursting with vegetation whizz past and reveal worlds beyond imagination orbiting the giver of all known life - the Sun. Mike Ashley curates this literary tour through the space around this heavenly body, taking in the sights of Mercury, Venus, Mars, an alternate Earth, strange goings on on Saturn and tales from a bizarre civilization on Neptune. Pluto (still a planet in the Classic period of SF) becomes the site for a desperate tale of isolation, and a nameless point at the limits of the Suns orbital space gives rise to a final poetic vision of this spot in the universe we call home...
    Born of the Sun collects one story for each of the planets thought to be in our solar system during the Golden Age of SF, from some of the greatest, and from some of the most obscure, authors of the genre. Featuring the genius works of Larry Niven, Poul Andersen, Clifford D Simak, Clare Winger Harris and many more.

Nature's Warnings: Classic Stories of Eco-Science Fiction, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-0712-35357-1, 27 August 2020, 352pp, £9.99
Stories of ecological disaster have been a long-term science fiction trend, but are finding new relevance in the current climate. The growing interest in ecological fiction connects to a readership increasingly interested in nature and the preservation of it, as its fragility becomes more obvious outside of the fictional world. Nature's Warning features stories from big names in science fiction such as Aldiss and Simak as well as newly rediscovered gems from writers such as Margaret St Clair and Elizabeth Sanxay Holding.
    “I don’t understand,” Mason muttered. “How could they wreck a whole planet?”
    “We wrecked Earth in thirty years.”
    Science fiction has always confronted the concerns of society, and its greatest writers have long been inspired by the weighty issue of humanity’s ecological impact on the planet. This volume explores a range of prescient and thoughtful stories from SF’s classic period, from accounts of exhausted resources and ecocatastrophe to pertinent warnings of ecosystems thrown off balance and puzzles of adaptation and responsibility as humanity ventures into the new environments of the future.
    Featuring stories crucial to the evolution of eco-science fiction from Philip K. Dick, Margaret St Clair, J. D. Beresford and more, this timely collection is a trove of essential reading.

Yesterday's Tomorrows: The Story of Classic Science Fiction in 100 Books by Mike Ashley
British Library 978-0712-35371-7, 22 October 2020, 336pp, £20.00.
A companion piece to the British Library’s Science Fiction Classics series, put together by expert and regular contributor, Mike Ashley, this title is an accessible exploration into new or unknown science fiction authors, as well as offering new perspectives on famous names in Science Fiction and classic space tales. It features plate sections showcasing some of the beautiful and wild cover design in the evolution of science fiction.
    From the enrapturing tales of H G Wells to the punishing dystopian visions of 1984 and beyond, the evolution of science fiction from the 1890s to the 1960s is a fascinating journey to undertake. Setting out this span of years as what we can now recognise as the ‘classic’ period of the genre, Mike Ashley takes us on a tour of the stars, utopian and post-apocalyptic futures, worlds of AI run amok and techno-thriller masterpieces asking piercing questions of the present.
    This book does not claim to be definitive; what it does offer is an accessible view of the impressive spectrum of imaginative writing which the genre’s classic period has to offer. Towering science fiction greats such as Asimov and Aldiss run alongside the, perhaps unexpected, likes of C S Lewis and J B Priestley and celebrate a side of science fiction beyond the stereotypes of space opera and bug-eyed monsters; the side of science fiction which proves why it must continue to be written and read, so long as any of us remain in uncertain times.

The Society of Time, the original trilogy, and Other Stories by John Brunner, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-0712-35382-3, 12 November 2020, 288pp, £8.99.
A collection of classic novellas from 1960s-70s Science Fiction writer John Brunner, which have previously only been collected in abridged versions. Brunner's novellas focus on stories of alternate dimensions and different realities, an increasingly popular topic of television and film.
    A handful of John Brunner’s novels are still in print and remain popular, but these novellas – some of his finest work – have been confined to the pages of rare literary magazines: until now.
    ‘A picture was coming to him now. He could visualise the path of history in each of those innumerable potential worlds where man had gained the power of time-travel as a series of loops. Every loop was like a knife; it severed the chain of causation and created a new reality.’
    Drifting through a party celebrating 400 years since the Spanish Armada’s successful invasion of Britain, Don Miguel Navarro – Licentiate of the Society of Time – is shaken by the host’s possession of a flawless mask from an ancient Aztec festival. ‘Imported’ from the past, the discovery signals a breach in the Society’s policing of time-travel, and imminent danger to reality itself. Today, a relic out of time; tomorrow, the rewriting of the course of history? In three ground-breaking novellas, John Brunner weaves an ingenious tale of diverging timelines and a battle for dominance over the fourth dimension.
    The Society of Time stories were abridged when first collected. Here, the trilogy is reprinted in full with two mesmerising standalone novellas: ‘The Analysts’ and ‘Father of Lies’.

Spaceworlds: Stories of Life in the Void, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-071235309-0, 25 March 2021, 336pp, £9.99.
Astronauts constructing a new space station must avert destruction from a missile sent by an unknown enemy; a generation starship is rocked by revelations of who their secret passengers in the hold truly are; a life or death struggle tests an operating surgeon - in orbit, with an alien patient never seen before.
    Since space flight was achieved, and long before, science fiction writers have been imagining a myriad of stories set in the depths of the great darkness beyond our atmosphere. From generation ships - which are in space so long that there will be generations aboard who know no planetary life - to orbiting satellites in the unforgiving reaches of the vacuum, there is a great range of these insular environments in which thrilling, innovative and deeply emotional stories may unfold. With the British Library's matchless collection of periodicals and magazines at his fingertips, Mike Ashley presents a stellar selection of tales from the infinite void above us.

Future Crimes: Mysteries and Detection Through Time and Space, ed. Mike Ashley
British Library 978-07123533422-0, May 2021, 320pp, £9.99.
Assignment 1: Find party responsible for murders by space virus.
Assignment 2: Investigate 'accidental' deaths on orbital solar shield.
Assignment 3: Apprehend criminal possessing short term time machine.

    Science fiction meets crime in this new anthology exploring one of the genre's most popular themes: mystery and detection. Pitching detectives against time paradoxes, alien intruders, AI gone bad and psychic mutation are ten stories embodying the exciting range of the sub-genre, rarely given the recognition it deserves in the literary sphere.
    With fascinating settings such as robot societies, asteroid belt space stations and worlds similar to our own but uncannily altered, these stories are masterpieces of satisfying setups, memorable mysteries and timeless twists.

(* Originally published 21 May 2018; updated 19 April 2019; updated 19 December 2019; updated 25 February 2021; updated 21 March 2021.)

Friday, March 19, 2021

Comic Cuts - 19 March 2021

After last week's excitement (vaccine, internet dropout), this week has been calm and steady, with barely a hiccup. So, um... how was your week?

This has been a problem with the pandemic: none of us have been up to anything exciting, and conversations have a tendency to grind to a halt. Life that ebbs and flows as stately as a galleon isn't something you can talk about (or write about) at length.

I've spent the whole week writing one article and scanning a lot of illustrations to illustrate it. A lot. The plan is to put together some collections of these weird old stories that appeared back in the early 1940s, along with a covering essay about the artist and further examples of his work. This is why I've been distracted from work on BAM! for a while, although all the work being done now is part of my plans for the magazine and the next batch of releases from Bear Alley Books. It's just taking longer than I anticipated.

I'm also trying to re-start my attempt to clear some space on my shelves that has rather fallen by the wayside in recent months. One of the targets this time round is reference books that I haven't used for years, as they're bigger, bulkier and account for a lot of shelf use. If I can get rid of even a couple of yards of reference books, it will ease some of the pressure.

The only problem with choosing big books is going to be posting them, as the weight alone means adding a tenner to the price of the book, in some cases. Mind you, I'm talking about big, hefty reference books with over 1,000 pages of detailed information. If the house wasn't bursting at the seams, I probably wouldn't want to see them go.

More details soon.

A new comic with a forty-five-year legacy has recently appeared and has been giving me flashbacks to years gone by. If you've read these columns for any length of time, you'll know that I grew up reading Valiant, with its fantastic stories of super-athletic kids, invisible secret agents, invulnerable time-travellers and giant robot apes. Add my interest in the space race, and it wasn't a huge leap to reading the works of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov when I discovered them at the age of eleven/twelve.

I swapped Valiant for Speed & Power magazine in 1974, but I didn't leave comics behind entirely. Around that time I was picking up something called Top Secret Picture Library and, in February 1976, bought the debut issue of Action, which blew me away. Speed & Power had merged into Look and Learn in November 1975, and I was still picking up the latter, but really it was only for 'The Trigan Empire'. I was in the right frame of mind to begin buying a new comic, and Action was the right comic at the right time.

I bought it all the way to its inglorious end in October 1976 and dipped into the revival, but its disappearance coincided with my discovery that our local train station newsstand was carrying issues of American science fiction magazines. In a trice, my pocket money was being spent on The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Analog, and when I had spare change, on Amazing or whatever else was available. Comics, again, took a back seat.

This is my roundabout way of introducing Blazer!, the new comic from the folks who brought you The 77. It is unashamedly a throwback to Action and Bullet and those Seventies adventure comics for boys. It's genesis is in the pages of the novel The SheerGlam Conspiracy by Steve MacManus, which I reviewed back in September 2019. Part of the story, about two rival comic publishing empires, was that a new comic title was being secretly created by a couple of mysterious Scotsmen. As an Easter egg, MacManus included a set of scripts that were the opening episodes for the stories in the newly minted Blaze (as it was then called).

When Ben Cullis was preparing The '77, he approached MacManus with the idea of turning one of the scripts into a strip. This appeared as 'The Tinkling Triangles', drawn by Brendon Wright. The next logical step was to publish the whole comic as envisaged by MacManus, converting all the other scripts into genuine first episodes. One oversubscribed Kickstarter later (it hit its target in 40 minutes!), and we have No.1 of a scorching new comic in March 2021 that has all the hallmarks of appearing in April 1974.

The conceit that this is the genuine article continues throughout the paper, with MD of Goodenough Publications Gloria SheerGlam helping to introduce the new title (you'll need to read the novel). Like Action, Blazer has a sexy sub-editor... sorry, un-like Action, Blazer has a sexy sub-editor in the shapely shape of Dom Tom (Dominika Brodowska). The layout owes much to those old comics of the Seventies, with letters, jokes and the inevitable voting form so you can list your favourites.

As for the strips, they, too, wouldn't have been out of place. 'Godwin's Law' is a war strip set in the Burmese jungle, introducing Moses Godwin, flying through the air on a stolen Japanese motorcycle, with a gun-toting nurse, Sara, in the side-car. It's the sort of thing John Cooper would have been assigned to back in the day — although Dan Cornwell does an equally fine job.

'Derringer and So'n' features a fixer-for-hire by the name of Jack Derringer, tasked with protecting (and then tracking down) a two million dollar diamond; 'The Boot Room Boy' is Blazer's football strip with Kenny Fortrose dreaming of playing for Barchester United, but stuck on the touchline as new signing Pablo Zapata belts three past Barchester Albion's goalie; and 'The Sheriffs of Nottingham' begins in Nottingham, Texas, where the local Sheriff and visiting British police officer swap bodies, bringing American-style policing to the Midlands.

So far, so typical of a British comic. But this is a new take on Action, so you would expect a little more grit, and that's certainly the case here, where an arguement may end in murder-by-hanging and a distraction really can cost you an eye.

The main difference between the fictional Blaze and the all-too-real Blazer is 'Domenika's Ring' — pop-star Domenika (Totti) not to be mistaken for sub-ed and real-life animation artist Dominika (Brodowska). The singer makes an explosive TV appearance... the ring she is wearing seems to cause the presenter to spontaneously combust. The rest of the story is told in flashback: at seven Domenika is given the ring containing the Stone of Suth as a birthday present; five years later her father's sacrifice activates the ring; and today, on video, one frame of the TV programme shows a bolt of energy leap from the ring to incinerate presenter Doug Hartley.

'Domenika's Ring' was newly created for artist Pete Western, son of Mike, who (like Dom Tom) has worked in animation. This, his first ever comic strip, is a stylish amalgam of the kind of art you might find in Spellbinder or Misty.

The dummy comic of the novel features a horror story called 'The Collector', which we might see in the future. Of course, Blaze being a fictional comic, only one set of scripts was created for MacManus's novel. But the response to its appearance has been so good that its creators have already announced that there is to be a Blazer Annual. As I said at the end of the original review: I want to read that comic!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Commando 5419-5422

goes all out with its next set of pocketbook tales in issues 5419-5422 as the heroes battle it out in North Africa, Vietnam, and the not-too-distant future — out today!

5419: Five Seconds in ‘Nam

Age nineteen and a radio operator in ‘Nam, could there be anything worse? Well, yes, you could be that and separated from your team with nothing to go by but a garbled distress call nearby. That’s the position Charles “Hoss” Nelson found himself in in 1968 and it turned out to be even more dangerous than he could imagine!

Another stunning aviation cover from Neil Roberts, with claustrophobic interiors from Muller and Klacik which perfectly compliment Heath Ackley’s writing. A rare first-person narrative, Ackley puts you right in the action, masterfully building the tension.  

Story | Heath Ackley
Art | Muller and Klacik
Cover | Neil Roberts

5420: Crackshot


With an opening caption like that, who could resist not reading on?! From Golden Era Commando legends Eric Hebden and Gordon C Livingstone, this Commando ticks all the boxes for fans of the genre and British comics alike.

Story | E Hebden
Art | Gordon C Livingstone
Cover | Gordon C Livingstone
Originally Commando No. 340 (1968).

5421: Darksiders

Commando goes Cyberpunk as it dips its toe in the waters of its Sci-Fi companion title Starblazer. Set in The City, Commando CO Truman is tasked with retrieving stolen tech from the Rebels, but soon finds himself in the Dark Zone with a massive bounty on his head. Can he get his team out alive and will he unravel the mystery surrounding his mission before it’s too late?

Another fast-paced action heavy issue from R Tate, with interiors stunningly rendered by Vicente Alcazar who gives credence to the high-gloss machinery against the grime of The City. All this is topped off by a spectacular cover by Neil Roberts which pays expert tribute to the genre.

Story | R Tate
Art | Vicente Alcazar
Cover | Neil Roberts

5422: Desert Thief

Private Jim Collinwood had never stolen a thing in his life… he just wasn’t the type. But there were those who had pointed the finger at him and accused him of just that! And, at a time when he had enough to do just surviving in the desert war, proving his innocence was not going to be easy — yet prove it Jim would!

Another classic cover from Commando icon Ian Kennedy, capturing the heat of Sanderson and Fleming’s desert wastelands.  

Story | Roger Sanderson
Art | Fleming
Cover | Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No. 1666 (1982).

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Rebellion Releases - 17 March 2021

Judge Dredd: End of Days
is Rebellion's tentpole collection of the spring: a new mega-epic from creators Rob Williams (Suicide Squad), Henry Flint (Aliens), and Colin MacNeil (Judge Dredd: America) that is an unapologetic bit of old school Dredd!

End of Days is a one-and-done epic - perfect for readers new to Dredd's world who are looking for fast-paced, explosive, edge-of-your-seat action.

The revelatory tale sees Mega-City One’s toughest Judge takes on the harbingers of the Final Judgement!

When a lone rider arrives at the wall protecting the city from The Cursed Earth, he brings more than ill-tidings. The meta-normal cowboy killer Ichabod Azrael is on a mission – and it’s by now means certain that he, Judge Dredd, Judge Anderson, or even the world will survive!

Also in this collection, the 'defund the police' movement comes to Mega-City One as, in the aftermath of End of Days, Portland-based writer Arthur Wyatt (Samizdat Squad) joins Williams in bringing the world of Dredd bang up-to-date.

This latest collection crowns a superlative run on the future’s greatest lawman by Williams, whose stories Judge Dredd: Titan and Judge Dredd: The Small House joined his work with fellow writers Simon Spurrier (Hellblazer) and Al Ewing (Immortal Hulk) on Judge Dredd: Trifecta as modern classics.

2000 AD Prog 2223
Cover: Simon Davis.

Cadet Dredd: Who Killed Captain Cookies by Kenneth Niemand (w) PJ Holden (a) Quinton Winter (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Nakka of the S.T.A.R.S. by Brendan Mccarthy (art+story) Roger Langridge (script) Len O’Grady, Brendan McCarthy (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Thistlebone: Poisoned Roots by TC Eglington (w) Simon Davies (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Proteus Vex: The Shadow Chancellor by Mike Carroll (w) Jake Lynch (a) Jim Boswell (c) Simon Bowland (l)
Durham Red: Served Cold by Alec Worley (w) Ben Willsher (a) Jim Campbell (l)

Judge Dredd Megazine #430

Cover: Nick Percival.

Judge Dredd: Destiny's Child by Kenneth Niemand (w) Simon Coleby (a) Len O'Grady (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Megatropolis by Kenneth Neimand (w) Dave Taylor (a) Jim Campbell (l)
Devlin Waugh: A Question of Trust by AleŇ° Kot (w) Mike Dowling Simon Bowland (l) 
The Returners: Heartswood by Si Spencer (w) Nicolo Assirelli (a) Eva De La Cruz (c)
Deliverance by David Hine (w) Nick Percival (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Features: Si Spencer obituary, David Bishop & Robbie Morrison interview, 2000 AD audiobooks
Bagged collection: 2000 AD Encyclopedia

Judge Dredd: End of Days by Rob Williams, Arthur Wyatt, Colin MacNeil, Henry Flint, Boo Cook, Dan Cornwell
Rebellion ISBN 978-178108904-0, 16 March 2021, 144pp, £14.99. Available via Amazon.

Judge Dredd is the top lawman of Mega-City One, but now it seems as though the end has come – he must face off against the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse! Luckily he has an unexpected ally at his side in the form of meta-normal cowboy killer Ichabod Azrael. Modern master Rob Williams is joined by Henry Flint and Colin MacNeil to continue the multi-part masterpiece which began with Judge Dredd: The Small House and Judge Dredd: Control – the Dredd epic of the year has arrived!

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Review: Illustrators #31 (January 2021)

Jason Edmison, who features in the opening article of the latest issue, is the kind of discovery I enjoy making in the pages of Illustrators. Where else would you find a feature on a talented artist who paints monsters, often with a humorous twist? Or screen prints of new movie posters of old movies, ranging from The Creature of the Black Lagoon to Nightmare on Elm Street.

The Canadian artist began selling illustrations in Toronto and building up a portfolio which eventually earned him work with Hasbro on their Star Wars toys line. This brought him to the attention of other manufacturers, magazines, including Famous Monsters in Filmland, and pop art galleries where much of the work used here has been exhibited.

Mel Crawford was another Canadian artist whose work was chiefly humorous and involved bringing film and television characters to print. Crawford (1925-2015) worked in comics (Western Publishing, Dell) and the Little Golden Books series, drawing The Flintstones, Rocky & Bullwinkle and others. In the Sixties, for Gold Key, he also worked in a more realistic style on Doctor Solar and Star Trek.

Crawford drew some of the most famous animated characters, from Mr Magoo to Top Cat , but never worked in animation.

French artist Luc Cornillon has also worked in a cartoony, linge claire style. After co-creating a fanzine with Yves Chaland, Cornillon worked for Metal Hurlant in a variety of genres. He and Chaland put together Captiivant, a parody of Fifties French comic magazines, which allowed him to draw in a variety of styles. He has gone on to work widely in other comics, book illustrations and other commercial art.

My favourite feature in this issue is unrelated and, I suspect, concerns an artist few will have heard of—and here I repeat that Illustrators is a great place to be introduced to new talents. Hannes Bok is well known among collectors of SF and horror pulps, but little was known about him, Bok having died in 1964, aged only 49. Bok was not even his real name—he was born Wayne Francis Woodard.

After a troubled childhood, Bok began drawing for science fiction and weird fiction magazines, having befriended Ray Bradbury and discovered SF fandom in the late 1930s. He would contribute to Weird Tales, Unknown, Planet Stories, Future, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Imagination, Other Worlds, etc. He also wrote poems, short stories and a novel ('The Sorcerer's Ship' for Unknown Worlds).

Bok's painting technique was slow and meant he did not always hit deadlines and he argued over payments which did not endear him to editors or commissioners. In the late 1950s he left illustration behind, and lived in near poverty until his death—rumored to have starved to death.

Rowena Morrill is a rather more modern artist, whose richly painted fantasies began appearing on book covers in the late 1970s and she quickly developed a style that caused her to be dubbed "the female Boris Vallejo". She was, in fact, a late bloomer, already in her mid-thirties when success came in art after years travelling with the military, first with her parents, then her husband.

She found work as a cover artist through the Yellow Pages, contacting Ace Books who published romance, horror and SF illustrations. She was nominated five times for Hugo Awards and had two collections of her work published before retiring in the 2000s.

For more information on Illustrators and back issues, visit the Book Palace website, where you can also find details of their online editions, and news of upcoming issues. Issue 32 will have features on Oliver Frey, George & Jerome Rozen, Alberto Breccia and Marcela Bolivar.


Click on the above pic to visit our sister site Bear Alley Books