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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!


  1. Thanks for the shout out, Steve. Did you notice one of the readers’ letters was from a lad living in your village��

  2. I did notice. No idea who this Tim guy is but he's clearly off his rocker.

  3. Timothy Spall is an excellent actor as seen in Auf weidersahn, Pet