Friday, July 29, 2022

Comic Cuts — 29 July 2022

Even in the middle of working on the latest task at hand, namely putting together the artwork and an introduction to the fourth book collecting The Steel Claw for a Spanish publisher, I can still be distracted by a mystery. One that came to light this week still has me scratching my head, and I'm hoping that somebody out there — maybe not a regular reader but someone Google searching for someone in their family tree perhaps — will be able to shed some light.

Bert Barton is briefly mentioned in Rob Hansen's Then, the history of British science fiction fandom, where Rob says "Apart from London and Belfast one of the few cities known to have an active fan group at this point was Birmingham. The Birmingham Science Fiction Club was apparently formed in 1949 by Bert Barton and held weekly meetings in a pub somewhere in the Digbeth area of the city, at which between six and twenty members would be present. The group never produced any fanzines, so far as is known, and so there's little we can tell about them but it is known that the group was written up in the Evening Despatch, a local newspaper, and that the really keen members would occasionally organise a trip to London in order to attend the White Horse and get the chance to speak to famous authors.This appears to have been the limit of their contact with fandom nationally." (p.91)

Well, the reference to an appearance in a local Birmingham newspaper turns out to be a report in the Wednesday, October 8, 1952 issue headlined "He starts space society" under a photograph of the mysterious Bert Barton. reading a copy of the February 1950 Amazing Stories.

From the couple of clues in the brief report, it seems likely that Bert was born Herbert Charles Barton, born on November 6, 1919, the son of Charles H. and his wife Flora Alvina Barton (nee Dougherty, 1893-), who were married in Birmingham in 1915. He seems to have been an only child, as his father died young, aged only 37 in 1924.

Barton was still living with his widowed mother in Birmingham just before the war when he was working as an aircraft subcontractor's material control and buying clerk.

Barton married Marjorie Phyllis Allcock in 1942 and had two children, Patricia M. (1942) and Robert K. (1947). In the 1940s, Barton was living at 75 Regent Road, Handsworth. He died in December 1991, aged 72.

What makes Bert Barton of particular interest is the report that he "writes modern space-fiction under various pen-names."

Which begs the question... what did he write and where was it published? The majority of published SF from that period in the pages of New Worlds and Authentic SF and the like are known. Nothing appeared under Barton's own name, and the source of most pseudonyms at that time was the cheap end of the paperback market. Could Barton have been behind still unidentified pen-names in the John Spencer SF magazines, or the author behind Vector Magroon or some such other still to be identified pseudonym.

I'll have to classify this as "a mystery that has me mystified". (There's a phrase that long-time readers will recognise!)

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Rebellion Releases — 27 July 2022

News arrived last Thursday (21st July) of the death of Alan Grant, one of the main architects of 2000AD. He followed the route of many, working for DC Thomson before leaving for London, eventually being invited by Kelvin Gosnell to join the staff of 2000AD. As AALN-1, he notably encouraged the introduction of new talents, including Alan Moore. He was on staff for less than two years, leaving in 1980.

Having already penned the epic 'Black Hawk' (1979-80), he began collaborating with John Wagner, their first co-written stories including 'The Judge Child', 'Block War', and the introductions of Otto Sump and The Fink. They went on to co-write 'The Apocalypse War', 'A Question of Judgement', 'The Midnight Surfer', 'Oz' and dozens of other classics, before continuing to write solo from 1988.

Wagner/Grant creations included Strontium Dog, Ace Trucking Co., Doomlord, Sam Slade – Robo-Hunter, Invasion 1984!, Anderson Psi Division, The Thirteenth Floor, and often filling half the pages of 2000AD and Eagle with their stories under a multitude of pseudonyms.

They broke into American comics with Outcasts (1987-88) and took over the writing of Batman for a notable run with artist Norm Breyfogle. This led to work on characters as wide ranging as L.E.G.I.O.N., The Demon, RoboCop (based on the movie) and Lobo.

When I moved to Colchester in 1992, it was a hub of comic creativity, with Alan and his wife, Sue, living at The Church House, in nearby Frating (a couple of miles from where I'm now sitting), John Wagner in Bury St Edmonds and Pat Mills living in the same road as I did. Knowing Alan was nearby made him an obvious choice for an interview subject in the very first issue of Comic Collector.

Alan's career encompassed comics, novels, animation, publishing (Wasted, Berserker Comics, Rok of the Reds), convention organization (Moniave Comic Festival) and charity work (including Moniave Fights Back, published to raise money for those hit hard by Covid). You'll find tributes to his work at the 2000AD Website and at Down the Tubes. Here I'll just say that there's an awful lot of his work that I loved, not just in 2000AD, but in Eagle ('The House of Daemon') and independently (my favourite being The Bogie Man).

I'll leave you with two things. Firstly, the thoughts of his long-time collaborator, John Wagner, who said on Facebook, "Alan was a dear friend, a valued collaborator and a man I respected immensely. He was a far better supporter of comics and comic creators than I and always seemed to have time to help people that needed encouragement. In our own work together when my creative juices were flagging he added a new dimension to stories like Dredd and Strontium Dog and by his contributions made them so much better. His time on Batman with Norm Breyfogle will remain forever one of the highlights of the title and character. He was my co-conspirator on many stories that I hold dearest, especially The Bogie Man and more recently Rok of the Reds. He will be sorely missed by all who love comics and indeed, all who love the good guys of this world."

And, lastly, fans gave Grant a one minute standing ovation at this weekend's San Diego Comic Con International.

Here's an interview I did with Alan for Comic World back in 1993. There was a slight glitch on the first column of the second page, but it's readable. (The reference to humping desks was because we moved office the day before I did these interviews and we were literally carrying our desks up the road from East Hill to Castle House.)


2000AD Prog 2292
Cover: Cliff Robinson / Dylan Teague (cols).

Judge Dredd: Special Relationship by Rob Williams (w) Patrick Goddard (a) Quinton Winter (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Skip Tracer: Valhalla by James Peaty (w) Paul Marshall (a) Dylan Teague (c) Simon  Bowland (l)
Dexter - Bulletopia: Malice In Plunderland by Dan Abnett (w) Tazio Bettin (a) Matt Soffe (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Brink: Mercury Retrograde by Dan Abnett (w) INJ Culbard (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Jaegir: Ferox by Gordon Rennie (w) Simon Coleby (a) Len O'Grady (c) Jim Campbell (l)

Friday, July 22, 2022

Comic Cuts — 22 July 2022

Most of the readers of this blog are British, so, of course, we have to talk about the weather.

To understand the weather around here, you need to know a couple of things. Colchester is built on a hill. When the Romans came to Britain and built a capital city, Camulodunum, they built it on the hill, which was already the power centre of local ruler Cunobelin over 2,000 years ago. (A quick check on Wikipedia reveals that the gravel hill on which the town is built dates back to the Middle Pleistocene period, and ancient handtools and weapons have been found that have lain there since the Palaeolithic era.) The town is built around the River Colne, which flows out into the North Sea just down the road from where we live. The river in photos I've posted here over the years is the Colne.

This is a rather roundabout way of introducing our weather. The city (yes, Colchester is a city now) is one of the driest places in the UK, with around 25 inches of rainfall a year. I've always believed that some weather fronts skirt Colchester, maybe because it's on a hill, based on  the definitive scientific evidence of my Mum mentioning it is raining in Chelmsford and it not raining here in Colchester 20 minutes later. I now think this must be wrong, as Chelmsford's annual rainfall averages 1 34 inches less than Colchester; my new theory is that Colchester is getting more rainfall because its climate is affected by Continental weather patterns and its proximity to the North Sea.

What all this means is that we didn't suffer the worst of the recent heatwave, although I do believe we hit a new record temperature. Colchester's previous high was 36.1°C (97°F) back in the summer of 2003.

With weather reports warning us that things were going to get hot, hot, HOT! after the weekend, Mel chose to work from home for a couple of days, so we reverted back to our old pandemic habit of taking a walk down to the river in the early morning. I had a relatively easy job to tackle — the second pass over the scans I had been cleaning up, which doesn't cause anywhere near the tension that was causing problems during the first pass. Thank Dog it didn't,  because the last thing I would have needed was a heat pad when the temperature hit 35°C.

With the doors and windows open throughout the house, curtains closed and plenty of water to drink, the office didn't feel too uncomfortable. The dry heat of the days gave way to a more humid night temperature that had only dropped to 33°C at 7 o'clock and was still in the high twenties when I tried to get to sleep.

Tuesday began at around 22°C and was ten degrees hotter at 10 o'clock that morning. The temperature peaked here at 37°C and hit 38°C in Colchester, smashing the record set almost two decades earlier. The peak in Coningsby, in Lincolnshire, was 40.3°C (104°F), which made it news in the USA, where presenters seemed shocked to learn that most houses don't have air-conditioning. We've never really needed it before, but we're going to in the future — the ten hottest years since measurements began (1884), have all happened since 2002. We do have a large fan that we sat on the floor in front of us so that it blew cooling air onto our bare legs as it swung back and forth. That and the ice creams we treated ourselves to did the trick.

The heat of Tuesday night/Wednesday morning was still excessive... we had been promised thunderstorms, but all we got was a few low rumbles and no rain whatsoever. We still haven't had any. Come on rain! We have tomatoes that need you.

The next set of scans is now in the works. I completed the last book on Wednesday when I finished the introduction, and then spent the rest of the day copying files around on my computer and external hard drives in order to make some space for the next book, plus a Windows update that inconveniently arrived just at the wrong time. So I've switched from Spider to Steel Claw. It's cooler, nights  are far more comfortable, the weekend isn't far away... life's good!

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Commando 5559-5562

Two debut writers take to the skies, as our classics keep us grounded in the next four action-packed editions of Commando! Issues 5559-5562 are in shops and online from today.

5559: Wild Weasel!

The skies above the Vietnamese Jungle are a terrifying place for American warplanes, as Captain Shannon ‘Vulcan’ Sovndal and Lieutenant Erik ‘Luger’ Colnick can testify. But as the Vietnamese surface-to-air missile sites take their toll and American casualties mount, Luger and Vulcan are out for revenge. Only a new team with their focus on taking down SAM sites can free the skies and the pair from the torment of lost friends and colleagues… and they’re Wild Weasels!

Alberto Saichann’s intense interiors feature in this debut story from Richard Estep, with a characteristically dramatic cover from Keith Burns.

Story | Richard Estep
Art| Alberto Saichann
Cover | Keith Burns

5560: Hitler’s Double

April 30th 1945 and the leader of the Third Reich — Adolf Hitler — has died in his concrete bunker… or has he? Commando Sergeant Joe Dawson certainly doesn’t think so, as he and his men kidnap the Nazi Fuhrer and begin to smuggle him across Poland! But when there seems to be a double in the mix, the chaos of the last days of WW2 mean anything could happen.

A fierce and action-packed story from Allan featuring some of Gordon C Livingstone’s best interiors, as well as a tense and painterly cover.

Story | Allan
Art | Gordon C. Livingstone
Cover | Gordon C. Livingstone
Originally Commando No. 457 (1970).

5561: Hurricane Henry

Henry Chance never wanted for anything growing up. Life was his plaything — and that attitude stayed with him as the Second World War broke out. As his antics in the air become renowned, the Hurricane pilot enjoyed every minute. That is, until he finds himself holed up with a widowed farmer and her children after being shot down. Perhaps war isn’t the game he thought it was, after all?

Frank Buhagiar debuts in this high-speed story, featuring crisp interiors from Jaume Forns and a classic-looking cover from Neil Roberts.

Story | Frank Buhagiar
Art | Jaume Forns
Cover | Neil Roberts

5562: Big Bob and Little Pete

When an ex-boxer and a failed comedian find themselves mixed up with a monastery, sinister activity leads the enigmatic Rocci to hunt them down in the name of revenge! But not all is as it seems, and the odd couple make a strangely dynamic duo, as they uncover the truth and rescue a precious treasure for Rocci and his monastic pals!

A lively tale of twists and turns from C G Walker, with energetic interiors from C T Rigby and a classic cover from Jeff Bevan.

Story | C. G. Walker
Art | C. T. Rigby
Cover | Jeff Bevan
Originally Commando No. 1824 (1984)

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Rebellion Releases — 20 July 2022

The new 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special is out now! Marking 2000 AD‘s 45th birthday, this special has a musical theme as the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic continues to celebrate 45 Revolutions Per Minute with Comic Rock!

Available from comic book stores, newsagents, branches of WHSmiths Travel (and from WHSmiths high street branches from today) and digitally from 2000 AD webshop and app, this 48-page special features stories inspired by each writers’ favourite song – from Kate Bush to Neil Young, from The Beatles to Stealers Wheel!

Judge Dredd is targeted by a disillusioned fellow Judge in a new story by Mike Carroll & Stewart K. Moore, Paul Cornell and Emma Vieceli take Psi-Judge Anderson into the mind of a mysterious psychic perp, Dan Abnett’s hitmen Sinister Dexter encounter a gun with special properties.

Meanwhile, Kek-W & Steven Austin drop Judge Death in the middle of a block war, Karl Stock & Warren Pleece sink their teeth into the Fiends of the West Berlin, and David Baillie & VV Glass take on everyone’s lumpen mutant bounty hunter Middenface McNulty – plus more!

Also out this week...

2000AD Prog 2291
Cover: Cliff Robertson / Dylan Teague (cols).

Judge Dredd: Special Relationship by Rob Williams (w) Patrick Goddard (a) Quinton Winter (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Brink: Mercury Retrograde by Dan Abnett (w) INJ Culbard (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Skip Tracer: Valhalla by James Peaty (w) Paul Marshall (a) Dylan Teague (c) Simon  Bowland (l)
Dexter - Bulletopia: Malice In Plunderland by Dan Abnett (w) Tazio Bettin (a) Matt Soffe (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Jaegir: Ferox by Gordon Rennie (w) Simon Coleby (a) Len O'Grady (c) Jim Campbell (l)

Judge Dredd Megazine #446
Cover: Jake Lynch.

Judge Dredd: Regicide by Arthur Wyatt (w) Jake Lynch (a) Jim Boswell (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Death Cap by TC Eglington (w)
Boo Cook (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Tales from the Black Museum by Liam Johnson (w) Antonio Fuso (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Lawless: Ballots Over Badrock by Dan Abnett (w), Phil Windslade (a) Jim Campbell (l)
Bagged graphic novel: Hook Jaw by Alec Worley (w) Leigh Gallagher, Staz Johnson, Neil Roberts (a) Simon Bowland Annie Parkhouse (l)

Judge Dredd: The Citadel by John Wagner, Don Cornwell, Colin MacNeil and John Higgins
Rebellion ISBN 978-178618568-6, 20 July 2022, 128pp, £16.99 / $24.00. Available via Amazon.

The Apocalypse War rages and Judge Dredd leads a squad of Cadet Judges into battle, launching an assault upon The Citadel, where Sov forces have set up base. But now, 40 years later, former Cadet Judge Winterton, on the day of his execution, will tell the truth about what happened during the Apocalypse War, why the mission was subsequently covered up, and the secret that Judge Dredd himself has been hiding for the past 40 years.

Roy of the Rovers: The £100 Million Game by Rob Williams & David Sque
Rebellion ISBN 978-178618397-9, 21 July 2022, 72pp, £12.99. Available via Amazon.

The eighth book in the football-tastic Roy of the Rovers graphic novel series. Part of the third season, this exciting series is written by award-winning comics writer Rob Williams. It has been a tumultuous three seasons since Roy Race first joined Melchester Rovers. Through financial difficulties, injuries, the near-loss of their manager, new ownership and the destruction of their old ground, the Rovers have defied all expectations and now find themselves on the brink of promotion into the Premiership, having also secured a place in the cup final. As club captain and top striker, Roy has been instrumental in the Rover’s success. But although he’s found glory on the pitch, behind the scenes he has battled tragedy and heartbreak.
    Now, as the season draws to a close, will Roy be able to lead his team to victory?

Friday, July 15, 2022

Comic Cuts — 15 July 2022

I should have the artwork for the first book of my next batch of titles completed today, if all goes to plan. I have scans for the next two already in hand, although the longer job of cleaning up the artwork is still to be done, and all the books need introductions, so I still have quite a lot to do. I'm hoping to pull ahead to give me time to put together another sideline project — a second motorcycling volume from Bear Alley Books. This is another autobiography, similar to And the Wheels Went Round, the biography of TT racer John Chisnall (or Uncle John, as I call him), that I published back in 2019.

I've yet to confirm the job is actually on; I'm simply designing the book, although I'll also publish it through Bear Alley Books, and make it available via Amazon and the like. But I've nothing to do with the writing of it, and I've no idea how far along the author has got. It might be another year before anything happens... I just want to be ready when the text is finished, because the author is a friend of John's and I promised to do the work a couple of years ago.

To be honest, a small break from comics might be nice. Maybe it's the heat, but I struggled a little with this latest batch of artwork as it required hours of solid concentration. The tension was causing pains in my shoulders and neck. I was working with a heat pack draped around my shoulders to try and ease the pain — and this on the hottest days of the year so far. Having back ache didn't help from doing some gardening on Sunday, weeding and mowing and using muscles that don't often get a work out, as I'm not the keenest gardener in the world.

I don't mean to catalogue every ache and pain here. To be honest, I just have an incredibly dull life!

I'm going to dedicate the rest of this column to plugging a book. I'm not reviewing it because I am hugely biased towards anything drawn by David as we have been pals since meeting back in the 1980s and discovering a shared interest in knowing who did what in British comics. We've worked together on listing contents of comics and identifying creators for many years. But more than that, I have been a fan of his artwork for as long, maybe even longer. The first time I spotted his name was probably 1985, inking Mike Collins on Martin Lock's H.M.S. Conqueror, although he came to prominence in the pages of 2000AD with 'Purity's Story' in Progs 558-566 in early 1988. When I had a chance to edit a comic-centric magazine, David was one of the first people I involved, my interview with him appearing in the very first issue of Comic Collector.

I have always appreciated his talent for realism — learned from the best of British, American and Spanish artists — and his ability to draw women is second to none. This is the focus of Artwork: David A. Roach, published by Richmond Press, which David has been promoting at various convention appearances in the past few weeks. Available in both softback and hardback, its 96 pages are filled with illustrations, some published, some privately commissioned, all beautifully drawn. Judge Cassie Anderson of Psi Division and Vampirella feature heavily, but if you want to see what David could make of Venus Bluegenes or Halo Jones or Death or Zatanna, this is your chance to find out.

It's not all scantily-clad girls. It's only mostly scantily-clad girls. There's some Doctor Who and a superhero or two for a breather, and then it's back to some life class drawings.

You need this book. If you buy only one book this summer... well, make it one of mine, but if you buy two, buy Artwork: David A. Roach. You won't regret it. You can then play the "date the artwork by the signature" game, because David's signature — usually just a stylised 'R' — has evolved over the years. And if you can find David at a convention, you can get it signed in person.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Rebellion Releases — 13 July 2022

Every week, 2000 AD brings you the galaxy’s greatest artwork and 2000 AD Covers Uncovered takes you behind-the-scenes with the headline artists responsible for our top cover art – join bloggers Richard Bruton and Pete Wells as they uncover the greatest covers from 2000 AD!

This week, it’s the return of Andy Clarke with his third cover in the past few months for Tharg, this time with the cover of 2000 AD Prog 2290, out wherever you get your Thrill Power on 13 July.

ANDY CLARKE: Sinister Dexter was my first comics work, so getting the opportunity to come up with a cover for the series again was fantastic. I always had a lot of time for these two – Dex in particular – and even though we’re missing one-half of the partnership as things currently stand, it was nice to have Carrie there on this one.

Dan Abnett was always really great, really generous with support and encouragement. Not being burdened by an abundance of confidence, when he seemed to like what I was doing on the SinDex stories I worked on, it was a real boost.

For this one, Tharg had a very clear brief, so it was fairly straightforward to come up with a sketch that got the point across.

The tricky part was reffing the car and getting the guns to look right – I don’t find them all that easy to draw, and they don’t seem to get any easier the more I do them. I could’ve gone with one of Dex’s guns doing that recoil thing too – where it pulls back and you briefly see the inner barrel (or whatever it’s called) as it’s fired – but it wouldn’t have really added anything . . . and I didn’t have the patience to sit like a lemon trying to get it to look right.

You can read the complete interview and see more of Andy's roughs on the 2000AD website.

And now, this week's releases...

2000AD Prog 2290
Cover: Andy Clarke

Judge Dredd: Special Relationship by Rob Williams (w) Patrick Goddard (a) Quinton Winter (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Skip Tracer: Valhalla by James Peaty (w) Paul Marshall (a) Dylan Teague (c) Simon  Bowland (l)
Dexter - Bulletopia: Malice In Plunderland by Dan Abnett (w) Tazio Bettin (a) Matt Soffe (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Brink: Mercury Retrograde by Dan Abnett (w) INJ Culbard (a) Simon Bowland (l)

Hawk the Slayer #4 (of 5) by Garth Ennis & Henry Flint
Cover: Greg Staples

The all-new comic-book sequel to the cult sword n' sorcery movie continues as Hawk and his companions battle the nightmarish horrors of the Forest of Weir.

Friday, July 08, 2022

Comic Cuts — 8 July 2022

So here we are: it's Thursday, around noon as I write, and the news is breaking that Boris is to resign. Politics doesn't have a place here and I have tried to keep Bear Alley free of it, but, by the Lord Harry, it's about time. The man is a disgrace and has treated the country like he does his mistresses. The only thing I consider to be worse is that, if he wasn't such a narcissist who will cling on to power as long as he can while the next PM is chosen, Dominic Raab would have been in charge.

After a couple of busy days of scanning, I now have the next three books of reprints scanned, although all the scans still need to be gone over with a fine toothcomb. I finished the third book on Wednesday around 4 o'clock, while BoJo was testifying before a committee, and I had that on in the background. But I ended up watching because, like most people, I can't stop watching car crash TV. It really looked like the greased piglet would be pinned down this time.

My other recent fascination has been the 6th January Commission that has been broadcasts on US TVs, but which I have been watching on YouTube. It has been utterly compulsive viewing with compelling testimony from people who were behind the scenes as the Capital was stormed in 2021. Like many, I watched it happening in real time, but it is only through the testimony of witnesses under oath and with the gathered video evidence that the full story is beginning to emerge.

No more politics. As I mentioned above, I have been able to get a good way into the next phase of the Spanish reprints that I have been working on. For various reasons I ended up scanning quite a lot of material during the last phase that will end up in the latest lot of books. That was why I was running behind schedule back in May. Hopefully that won't be the case this time, although it is still very easy to lose a day to general maintenance — copying files to storage, shifting scans around so I can keep track of what has been done and what hasn't, creating enough space on my hard drive to work, run batch programmes in Photoshop, etc. — even without political distractions.

Trying to pull ahead also means that I have some forewarning of any problems. For instance, I was working on The Spider yesterday and discovered that two issues I have borrowed (thanks, David!) have damaged covers. If you have Lion's from that era (1967/68), you'll know that The Spider begins on the reverse of the cover. I was also four issues missing, of which I was able to buy three on eBay. Also a replacement for one of the damaged copies. That leaves me with two holes to fill: so does anyone have the issues for 21 October 1967 (that's the issue in the column header on the left) and 2 December 1967 (below). I need high res. scans of the first page of The Spider in the former issue, and the whole strip (5 pages) from the latter. If you have those issues and a scanner, drop me a line (my e-mail address can be found below the photo, top left) and I'll talk you through what I need.

And while I'm here... does anyone out there collect Girl? The 1980s photo story version rather than the Hulton Press title from the 1950s. I'm trying to track down some issues especially, at the moment, issue 310 and any holiday specials that might contain Patty's World. (I'll put up a note about these missing issues on Facebook and Twitter, so I apologise if you get swamped with the same begging letters.)

Thursday, July 07, 2022

Commando 5555-5558

Commando issues 5555-5558 are in shops and online from Thursday 7th July, 2022! Featuring stories set in Vietnam war, War in the East, and two deadly D-Day comics!

5555: Dead Men’s Boots

When Lieutenant Chuck Kinley arrives in Vietnam, things get off to a poor start. With rumours of his predecessors being fragged by their own men and NCOs playing by their own rules, it’s a tough battle for survival when you’re standing in Dead Man's Boots!

A gritty Vietnam yarn from JP Bridson is brought to life with equally gritty-looking interiors by Klacik, all topped off with Neil Roberts covers with the unusual focal point on the Vietcong, making for a belter of a  Commando comic!  

Story | JP Bridson
Art| Klacik
Cover | Neil Roberts

5556: Black Zero

Out of the sun it came, a jet black Zero with a large golden dragon on its side. And at the controls sat Captain Jirai Saito, a top ace who’d become king of the Pacific skies. He and his squadron had made their name by shooting down clumsy P-40 fighters, but the time for a showdown was at hand. On their way from Europe was a squadron of sleek Spitfires that had left the Luftwaffe in tatters. The stage was set for the greatest air battles the Eastern skies had ever known!

One of the most requested Commandos to be reprinted – is finally being reprinted! This hotly anticipated classic features not only a rip-roaring story by Newark but also artwork from two legendary Commando artists, Jose Maria Jorge and Ian Kennedy!

Story | Newark
Art | Jose Maria Jorge
Cover | Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No. 456 (1970)

5557: Renegade Raiders

As D-Day approaches, Sergeant Joe Shatner and Second Lieutenant Rick Levitt head the demolition section of a US Airborne company —a rough, tough bunch of renegades with a flair for fighting and no respect for the rules. But Normandy is a long way from training and the comfort of an English pub! Faced with a chaotic landing, lost leaders and waves of German soldiers, can the team pull together and survive?

Ferg Handley strikes again with a group of rough-and-ready raiders who regularly flaunt the rules but get the job done! With art by Muller and Commando cover newcomer Mark Eastbrook, this isn’t an issue to be missed!

Story | Ferg Handley
Art | Muller
Cover | Mark Eastbrook

5558: The Strongpoint

The target: three big guns in huge concrete bunkers surrounded by machine guns, barbed wire, and mines. They could cut the Allied invasion forces to shreds on the beaches unless they were spiked. The attackers: a bunch of raw soldiers barely out of school. Could the youngsters do it? You can bet they were going to try!
Seeing the light again after escaping the archives is this classic Commando from the 1980s! With amazing work from Motton, Blasco, and cover by Philpott.

Story | Motton
Art | Blasco
Cover | Philpott
Originally Commando No. 1807 (1984).

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Rebellion Releases — 6 July 2022

With both versions of the Judge Dredd by Brian Bolland Apex Edition now sold out (including the very limited numbers made available on on 29 June), the team printers Imago have provided an in-depth (albeit only two minutes) look into the production and printing of this stunning oversized deluxe hardcover.

From paper choices to ink choices and the hand-binding required for such a large tome, this is a fascinating look into the process of this landmark book.

And now, this week's releases...

2000AD Prog 2289
Cover: Greg Staples

Judge Dredd: Special Relationship by Rob Williams (w) Patrick Goddard (a) Quinton Winter (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Hope: In The Shadows by Guy Adams (w) Jimmy Broxton (a) Jim Campbell (l)
Skip Tracer: Valhalla by James Peaty (w) Paul Marshall (a) Dylan Teague (c) Simon  Bowland (l)
Dexter - Bulletopia: Malice In Plunderland by Dan Abnett (w) Tazio Bettin (a) Matt Soffe (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Brink: Mercury Retrograde by Dan Abnett (w) INJ Culbard (a) Simon Bowland (l)

Survival Geeks: Crisis on Infinite Nerds by Gordon Rennie, Emma Beeby & Neil Googe
Rebellion ISBN 978-178618670-6, 6 July 2022, 136pp, £7.99. [DIGITAL RELEASE]

Sam, Simon, Clive and Rufus having been traversing the multiverse in a misfiring trans-dimensional terrace house! Armed only with their wits and nerd trivia, they have to survive the deadly universes in which they find themselves! But with a deadly interdimensional comic con and an army of themselves standing their way, will the hapless geeks ever find their way home?
     The second volume of Gordon Rennie, Emma Beeby and Neil Googe's hilarious sci-fi satire continues in this digital exclusive graphic novel!

Monday, July 04, 2022

Battle Action

Since it was announced, I have been clinging to the edge of my seat waiting for Battle Action, a celebration of all that was brilliant about the weekly that helped shake up comics back in the mid-Seventies. It's here and, I'm punch-drunk happy to say, it doesn't disappoint.

Having Garth Ennis lord over this body-strewn battlefield might be the key to why the book works so well. Comics based on old Fleetway characters have had a mixed reception, not least from me. You have to be in your fifties to have any nostalgic memories of the majority of these old stories, older still to remember the delights of mid-Sixties Valiant and its weird and wonderful weekly line-up.

Bringing together dozens of characters into one storyline in the hope of creating a cohesive universe just doesn't work. You need the long term approach of the MCU, introducing individuals and establishing them before teaming them up. Otherwise you don't establish anyone, you spend half your running time trying (and usually failing) to tell the audience why they should give a shit about this or that person, and then wonder why people shrug and never bother to go back.

That's not the case here, but having a single author — the guy who did what was arguably the most successful revival of any Fleetway character in years in the shape of the Johnny Red mini-series — gives the volume a cohesion it might not otherwise have had. Garth Ennis is the perfect choice to bring all these characters back to life as he is both a brilliant writer and has a fondness for the old comic characters he is writing about. He's also  a master of writing tales that are just far enough over the top that they're fun without being ridiculous. (They were masters of this back in the Fifties and Sixties when the likes of Battler Britton would pull flying stunts that were just this side of believable.)

Re-teamed with Keith Burns, the volumes starts with a bang as Johnny Red has to outsmart Captain Von Jurgen of the German Eagle Squadron, who thinks he is one step ahead when he teams up with Otto Skreamer ('Skreamer of the Stukas'). Next up, The Sarge, drawn by PJ Holden, and here's what I mean when I say having the one author write all the stories has helped. The story dials down the wild heroics and action-packed aerial combat of its predecessor to reintroduce a whole squad of characters, weaving each member into a story that examines the gruelling combat engaged in by the tommies on the road to Berlin that relied on closely-knit bonds to get the men through extraordinarily horrific battlefields.

The action picks up in the next two stories featuring 'Crazy Keller' (art by Chris Burnham) and 'Dredger' (art by John Higgins), both dialing up the violence but in an entertaining way and both featuring a twist in the tail. By comparison, Hellman of Hammer Force being pitched against Jeb 'Glory' Rider takes an unexpected philosophical turn as Hellman and Rider's frustrated Sergeant, Steve Hilts, find themselves sheltering from tank fire together. It's one of my favourite stories in the volume, drawn by a returning (and very welcome) Mike Dorey, who drew Hellman back in the days  of Action.

Ennis breaks the fourth wall with 'Kids Rule O.K.!', with Kev O'Neill depicting what happened in the strip behind the infamous Carlos Ezquerra cover (a chain-wielding lout about to slam a fallen policeman)... what was the reaction to the immediate violence on the streets?... what justice was ever served for the fallen officer?... was he even a policeman?

The books wraps up with 'Nina Petrova and the Angels of Death', brought back from the pages of Johnny Red's adventures and tying up the earlier story in a neat little bow, illustrated by Patrick Goddard, who, if Nina doesn't get her own strip, has just become my number one choice should Rebellion ever revive Black Max.

For fans of the original papers, this has the balance of nostalgia and good storytelling just right, and each story is pitched to just the right level. There isn't a single duff note in the whole volume.

Battle Action by Garth Ennis and various artists.
Rebellion ISBN 9780178618673-7, June 2022, 96pp, £19.99 / $24.99. Available via Amazon.

Sunday, July 03, 2022

Battling Britons v2 no3 (June 2022)

Battling Britons
reaches its third issue and is still finding new ways to study the history and content of British war comics. This issue looks at the war in the air as it played out in the pages of the likes of Battle Picture Weekly, Warlord, and the Air Ace and other picture libraries, although it is not solely Spits and Fokkers for the magazine's 100+ pages.

To pick a few favourites out of the twenty or so vari-length features we have Paul Trimble's 'Battle in the Sky' which literally translates his look at air war strips in Battle Picture Weekly into a title; Paul is also the subject of an interview looking at his comic collecting and favourite strips.

James Bacon looks back over the aerial combat comics of Garth Ennis, which makes this an interesting companion piece to the Battle Action special that has just appeared, where Ennis revives Johnny Red and his companion, Nina Petrova. Justin Marriott (editor of BB) also takes a look back, but this time at the artwork contributed by Solano Lopez to the Air Ace Picture Library. Jim O'Brien interviews Commando artist Janek Matysiak, who has switched from traditional art to digital; and Steve Myall looks at aircraft carriers and how they have been depicted.

There is plenty more. I learned, for instance, of a Patreon project to support The Will Production, who produce Ukrainian comics for all tastes, from fantasy to anthropomorphic hamsters. I was also amazed at how many comics Justin had discovered that involved characters ingesting large amounts of drugs.

Battling Britons v2 no3
Justin Marriott ISBN 978-842096775-1, June 2022, £5.50. Available via Amazon.

Saturday, July 02, 2022

Eagle Times v35 no2 Summer 2022 [June 2022]

There will be  a real surprise for readers as they pull the latest issue of Eagle Times from its envelope; for the first time — at least I think it's the first time — the magazine features a newly painted cover, a remarkable sci-fi action scene by Alan Langford, a veteran of comics and illustrated books, including strips the  Eagle Holiday Special 1987 and an issue of Eagle Monthly back in 1991.

In a way it's a shame that, while I like the illustration itself, my inner Mr. Pernickety wonders why this honour falls to a non-Eagle character. Captain Condor was the cover star of Lion, the weekly launched as a rival to Eagle, the choice of a science fiction strip deliberately made because of the popularity of Dan Dare. And while I'm wearing my Mr. Pernichety bow-tie, it's worth noting that the article the cover illustrates is a reprint, albeit an interesting one, that has been on John Freeman's Down the Tubes website for over three years, the only difference being the choice of artwork (which, sensibly given the venue, added an example of Keith Watson's run on the strip).

To mangle a quote, I come not to bury Eagle Times but to praise it, but... again, if I was to wear my editorial hat, I would not have begun the issue with an article about the Canadian railway system that has little to do with Eagle bar a passing mention of an Ashwell Wood cutaway. Leaping over part two of a PC 49 text story, we are already on page 19 before getting to an article that is genuinely about the old Eagle, namely the latest part of David Britton's meticulous study of the Charles Chilton 'Riders of the Range' strip and its historical accuracy (or inaccuracy) in its retelling of The Indian Wars. In part he looks at how Jeff Arnold and Luke join the Cheyenne, who, under the leadership of Dull Knife, are making their way to Fort Robinson.

Steve Winders also compares strip to reality with the final part of his look at the back page biography of Doctor Livingstone, 'The Great Explorer'. Winders concludes that Livingstone was a far more complex character than the one known to most of us — especially as that knowledge is almost certainly confined to him being lost somewhere in darkest Africa where he was found by a guy called Stanley who presumed he was Dr Livingstone when they met.

Steve Winders again begins a new series looking at the six 'Luck of the Legion' novels written by Geoffrey Bond, charting how some were original, some adapted from previous strips and some later adapted into strips. I look forward to learning what Steve "decid-" (the article ends rather suddenly!).

Dan Dare miniatures, a Charles Chilton anecdote, a look at pen-names used by Eagle related authors, a brief and wistful celebration of the 40th anniversary of the new Eagle, and the usual Postbag bring the latest issue to a close. It's another excellent issue (as I said above, I'm here to praise the magazine), but this issue suffers a little from fewer articles about Eagle and more about Eagle-adjacent subjects.

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

Friday, July 01, 2022

Comic Cuts — 1 July 2022

After last week's mad dash, this week turned out to be rather sedate by comparison. I worked over the weekend and managed to do quite a large chunk of the work I had lined up; it meant that I finished the first run through of all the artwork on Tuesday and began the second run through, just to make sure I hadn't missed anything, on Wednesday. A bit of resizing and checking through PDF copies of the stories today (Thursday) and I will be finished, ready to send the stories over to the publisher using a file transfer website.

I even had a chance to spend some time — well, about an hour — attacking some of the overgrown bits of the garden in time for the green waste collection on Wednesday morning. I'm not overly keen on gardening, but it was a joy just to get away from the computer and into the sunshine; I think the joy came from the fact that it wasn't planned (like our usual walks), it wasn't along the roads, and there was no pressure to have it finished and I could stop at any time.

It also worked out the kink in my shoulder blade that comes of scanning lots of pages. These are pocket libraries I'm working on so you press down hard enough to make sure the artwork is flat on the glass of the scanner, but not so much that you crease the cover or have the page split away from the staple that holds the book together. Achieving that sweet spot of pressure and holding it for each scan can cause the muscles around my shoulder and neck to twinge.  At least the gardening gave me something else to think about — lower back ache. (Although nowhere near what I used to suffer, thanks to the regular walks and losing some weight. I can highly recommend it!)

I mentioned last week that I had managed to pick up a few books recently. I haven't been travelling into Colchester, so my regular trawls through charity shops that I had done every Saturday for over twenty-five years have come to a shuddering halt. I'm relying on people around town leaving books out in boxes to keep my collecting bug sated.

The illustrations this week are of books I've picked up over the past few weeks. I mentioned last week that there seems to be a fan of alternate world yarns where Germany defeated the Allies living locally. I'm expanding that to him/her/they being a fan of dystopian fiction as I stumbled across a copy of Yevgeny Zamyatin's We the other day. I was amazed to see that the edition of Dick's novel was its 36th Penguin Modern Classics printing and Penguin Modern Classics had also printed 50 editions of We, so my mystery dystopian fan isn't the only one out there. (I did a little, incomplete cover gallery of The Man in the High Castle as part of my Hugo Awards coverage a decade ago; scroll down to 1963 for a small selection.)

Putting work and books to one side, the other bit of good news this week is that I've heard of three new album releases that I'll be picking up in due course. Big Big Train are releasing a new  album in October, Summer Shall Not Fade, which is their live set from Loreley at 2018's Night of the Prog Festival. Because BBT were a studio band for many years, this was apparently only the band's eighth live gig together. I have their other live/DVD releases (From Stone to Steel, A Stone's Throw from the Line, Merchants of Light and Empire) and thought that we would never see any more of the band with David Longdon (he died last November). To have this live performance released will be a fitting tribute to the line-up as it was.

The posthumous release of Longdon's Door One has also been announced. It was 90% completed before his tragic death, and it, too, will arrive in October. I have his collaboration with Julie Dyble, which is at the folkier end of the spectrum, but has some fine tracks, and I'm guessing his solo work is likely to sit somewhere in between that and the songs he wrote for BBT. I'll definitely be getting it.

Ditto the new Lonely Robot album. I'm a huge fan of John Mitchell, and it sounds like A Model Life (due August) will be his version of Adele's 25, drawing from what he has called "a particularly challenging couple of years." The one single released to date ("Recalibrating") is about a broken relationship and other songs reflect on the impermanence of life... so nice and cheery then. I'm only just getting over Marillion's reflections on the pandemic (An Hour Before It's Dark) and now this...


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