Archive for March, 2012


REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

Origin stories tend to be very hit and miss. When they’re done correctly they can be a fascinating insight into how our favourite heroes or villains came to be who they are. When done badly however, they can have a damaging effect on the character, or in some cases prove to be just very underwhelming stories. The character of Judge Death himself is something that has to be handled in the right way. He can be an extremely dark and menacing villain, arguably being one of the greatest comic book bad guys when portrayed in this manner. He has been known to be turned into a comedic figure at times though, which served only to diminish his character, and thus the threat he would bring to any story he appeared in. So as you can imagine I was somewhat cautious about reading a strip which gives us the origins of 2000AD’s most iconic villain. I needn’t have worried though, as John Wagner delivered a suitably dark and disturbing background story for Death.

In comic strips bad guys are often shown to have been good originally, with some event in their lives turning them down the wrong path. Thats certainly not the case with Death however, as he is portrayed as thoroughly evil from the very beginning. As a child Death seems to enjoy causing pain to anyone and anything he chooses, including his sister whom he handicaps at an early age. We learn that his father was much the same way as Death, except in his case he was a dentist who enjoyed torturing his patients. If you have a dentists appointment in the near futur then I advise you don’t read the scenes in which Death and his father perform surgery on a patient without anasthetic. The young Death soon decides to join his universes version of the Judges, and rapidly rises through the ranks sentancing people to Death for pretty much any minor offence. This includes his own family who he seems only too glad to judge. A chance encounter with the Dark sisters Phobia and Nausea sees Death cast off the final vestiges of his humanity as he turns into the now familiar Judge Death. We’re not just shown these events however, rather we are told them by Death himself. Still in hiding following the events of Necropolis, Death agrees to an interview with a journalist in order to change their opinions about him. Needless to say thats not quite how things turn out.

Its a very dark story, and fortunatly the art is a perfect match for it. Drawn by Peter Doherty, I was suprised to read that this was his very first work for 2000AD (or in this case the Judge Dredd Megazine). Not only does his art look far more professional than one would expect from someone who had never been published before, but its also a testimony to John Wagner who was willing to allow a young rookie artist too draw such an important strip. Even more so when you consider that this was one of the strips to feature in the very first issue of the Megazine.

It was crucial that everything was perfect in order for a Judge Death origin story to work. With Wagner’s art and Doherty’s art, I’m happy to say that this is very much the case. If you’ve recently read Necropolis then I recommend you pick up a copy of this trade immediatly, as it shows what Death did in the immediate aftermath. If your a fan of the character then I can also recommend that you take a look back at how this particular fiend came into being. You won’t be dissapointed.

8/10

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Prog 1775 – The Zaucer of Zilk

Cover:

One of the main criteria when I review a cover is how well it stands out on the shelf. Is it eye catching enough to be immediatly visible? In this case the answer is a resounding yes. Brendan McCarthy turns in a typically colourful cover which advertises the start of a brand new strip to the Prog. The cover is fun and quirky, and I actually quite like it.

Judge Dredd – Day of Chaos: Eve of Destruction – Part 11:

It seems the terrorist organisation Total War are taking credit for the destruction of the Statue of Judgement. This is an interesting twist in the story as previously we’ve been entirely focused on the threat from the Sov virus, but now it looks like the Day of Chaos could well be a combination of disasters hitting Mega City One. Things just seem to keep getting worse for the big Meg, and its making for fascinating reading. Day of Chaos genuinly has the potential to change the face of Dredd (the strip, not the character) forever. So long as its this good, then I can’t wait to see where this epic goes next. Absolutly essential reading.

The Zaucer of Zilk – Part 1:

When you have Al Ewing and Brendan McCarthy co-creating a comic strip then you know your in for something very off the wall, and it certainly looks like The Zaucer of Zil won’t dissapoint in that respect. Theres not really enough to go on in the first part, but its a reasonably promising start, and Brendan McCarthy’s art is as eye catching as ever. Could go either way yet however.

Flesh – Midnight Cowboys – Part 2:

We’re only up to part 2 in the current Flesh story and allready i’m fed up with it. It all seems too familiar to previous stories, and with the exception of the Preacher i’m actually still not sure who each character is. Pat Mills is the writer for some of my all time favourite strips, including Savage and Defoe, so when he turns in something as uninspired as Flesh currently is, then it comes as a massive dissapointment. Flesh is readable but dull, and I can only hope it doesn’t get too long a run in the Prog.

Age of the Wolf II – She is Legend – Part 4:

Im still not sure where the current story is going, but i’m enjoying reading Age of the Wolf each week. Alec Worley seems to be attempting to build a believable post apocalyptic world, with another Human faction being introduced this week. Theres some good ideas keeping the strip ticking along nicely, with Jon Davies-Hunt’s art being a perfect fit for the strip. Not exactly essential reading, but still well worth a look.

Nikolai Dante – The Dante Gambit – Part 2:

After the high octane thrills of recent weeks, Dante takes something of a breather in this installment, as we wave goodbye to Katarina Dante. While obviously not as exciting as it has been of late, this was a neccesary plot point which I imagine will begin to set up the final Dante story, which will follow the Dante Gambit. Still this remains a quality strip, and I’ll be sad to see it go.

Overall:

A very mixed prog this week, certainly compared to what we’ve been used to over the last few months. With Dante taking a breather, and Flesh being in particularly poor form, Dredd is left to tower over the other four strips.

Quote of the Week: “Bring it, you scrawny wee fecker” – Age of the Wolf

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd

When it comes to full length novels, I have something of a confession to make. As much as I love reading, nine novels out of ten I will fail to finish. Sometimes its because they’re dull, sometimes its because I simply can’t be bothered reading for a few days and then forget to go back to it. So it goes without saying that for me to finish a novel it has to be something pretty special, something that manages to keep my attention throughout, and actually makes me want to go on reading it. Operation Vampyr is certainly managed to do all three of those things and much more

The first in a trilogy of novels by David Bishop, Operation Vampyr begins the story of the Rumanian Vampyr soldiers as previously seen in the legendary 1980s strip Fiends of the Eastern Front (it isn’t neccesary to have read the original strip to be able to read the books however). Like the original strip, Operation Vampyr tells the tale from the perspective of the Germans, as they begin to uncover the truth about their Rumanian allies. Fortunatly these aren’t crazed deranged Nazis we’re talking about, these soldiers are just ordinary men fighting for their country. The main protaginists are the three Vollmer brothers, one an infantryman, one a tank commander, and one a pilot. The three characters are introduced individually with their stories gradually coming together roughly two thirds of the way through the novel. Each of the characters has their own encounter with the Rumanian Vampyr’s, which recall memories of the original comic strip.

The story itself rattles along at breakneck pace, never allowing the reader to grow bored. Bishop’s writing manages to effectively convey the horrors of war even when the Vampyrs aren’t present. Indeed, I could probably have quite happily read this even if the supernatural element hadn’t been present, and it had instead been a straight forward war story. The supernatural elements are however what make the novel go from being merely good to being genuinly great. The leader of the Vampyr’s (as in the comic strip) is Lord Constanta, who is every bit the classic Vampyr. Suave and sophisticated when trying to appear normal, Constanta becomes a genuinly nasty villain as soon as what he truly is is revealed, and like all good villains gets some very memorable speechs. As well as the horrors of war, we also get to see the horrors inflicted by the Vampyr’s. Some of the scenes in the novel are particularly nasty, perhaps most notably being the Russian POW camp, where the prisoners are slowly drained of blood untill they die. Its not just the bad guys who get the nasty scenes however, as the heroes of the novel viciously torture one of the Vampyrs in a particularly gruesome few pages.

As the first book in a trilogy, Operation Vampyr is an absolute belter. With a story which never lets up in its relentless pace, and characters whom the reader is made to genuinly care about, Operation Vampyr is far more than the mere pulp fiction you may imagine it to be at first glance. Exciting, dramatic, and with a final page which nicely sets up the rest of the trilogy, Operation Vampyr comes highly recommended. Considering how cheaply a second hand copy can now be found online, there’s really no reason not to give this a try. I can’t wait to read the next one.

9/10

Leviathan

For its short running length, Leviathan remains an extremly well remembered story, even though its been almost ten years since it first ran in the prog. As you might imagine the reason for this is that its a very well crafted and readable tale, which was one of the early stories to be set in Ian Edginton’s universe.

In the year 1928 the city sized ocean liner, the Leviathan, vanished on its maiden voyage along with the thousands of souls on board. After two decades adrift on an alien sea, hope for the return of the ship and its passengers is virtually nil. During their time adrift the people on board have formed their own society, with the upper class living in first class, and the poorer passengers being confined to the den of iniquity that is steerage. Its against this backdrop that the Captain of the ship calls in DS Lament to investigate a series of grizzly murders. Murders in which the victims are found to have had their skin stripped off them. Its an intriguing premise to say the least, and to say any more about what happens over the strips 55 pages would be to ruin it for anyone who has yet to read it. Suffice to say that Edginton turns in one of the finest strips he has ever written for 2000AD, populated with believable characters and glorious art by D’Israeli. D’Israeli’s art is always superb, but it seems to fit the 1920’s art deco stylings of the ship particularly well. I don’t know how he does it, but Ian Edginton somehow always manages to get the perfect artist to draw any of his strips.

As well as the main Leviathan strip, the trade paperback comes complete with three short prequel’s set aboard the Leviathan, as well as six pages of the Captain’s Diary from various points in their twenty year nightmare. These are a nice little addition as they help to flesh out the backstory of Leviathan, breathing more life into the characters and their predicament. If theres one problem with Leviathan it is its length. While the prequels do help, it still feels like its all over far too quickly, and that we don’t get quite the amount of time the strip perhaps needed in order for Edginton to build up the world he had created.

In spite of its length Leviathan remains an excellent strip, and one which would prove to be an integral part of the Edginton universe, as we have since seen references to Leviathan and the events of the story cropping up in Ian Edginton’s other 2000AD strips. If you live in the USA then you should be able to get hold of a copy of Leviathan very soon, as I believe its due for a US release at some point in April. Wherever you live though, I can recommend you give Leviathan a read, especially if you’ve enjoyed any of the other strips by Ian Edginton.

7/10

Prog 1774 – Roarhide!

WARNING – REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS

Cover:

We really are being spoiled with the covers lately, with this being the second excellent wraparound in the space of three weeks. This weeks cover is certainly a dramatic one, with plenty to look at on both the front and the back. Flesh may not be a favourite strip of mine, but this really is a great cover.

Judge Dredd – Day of Chaos: Eve of Destruction – Part 10:

Here come some spoilers…

Wow, things really kick up a gear this week. The most obvious talking point being the destruction of the Statue of Judgement. I doubt anyone saw that one coming, with this surely being the biggest disaster to hit Mega City One for a long time. “Eve of Destruction” had been moving somewhat slowly in recent weeks but this installment more than makes up for it, and has left me desperate to see what happens next week. This is exciting, dramatic, and a joy to read. Dredd at its very best.

Age of the Wolf II – She is Legend – Part 3:

A really enjoyable read this week. We get the standard horror plot point, of having all the characters trapped in a dark building surrounded by monsters (in this case werewolves), but the backstory this gives us, coupled with the excellent art means that these scenes really work. I have no idea where this story is going to go next, which is most deffinetly a good thing. I look forward to this story continuing.

Flesh – Midnight Cowboys – Part 1:

Flesh is a strange beast (pardon the pun). I’ve never had any interest in Dinosaurs, even when I was a kid, nor does the premise of Flesh particularly interest me, yet despite that its always strangely readable. This is a testament to Pat Mills writing, and while I’d rather he was back with another series of Defoe, this is perfectly acceptable stuff in the meantime. James Mckays retro style art, while not being to my taste, is a perfect fit for the story, with Mckay seemingly relishing getting to draw various dinosaurs on mass. A decent start to a strip which Im somewhat ambivalent about.

Grey Area – Xenophobia:

Is Bulliet really a member of the Xenophobic human organisation, or is he really a plant working for the ETC? This installment is very much setting up further stories for when Grey Area returns in Prog 1785. Whilst Grey Area had a somewhat poor start, this week continues the recent improvement in both story and art. Hopefully the two month break Grey Area is about to start, won’t mean that the strip loses the momentum which it has slowly been building.

Nikolai Dante – The Dante Gambit – Part 1:

More spoilers follow…

NOOOOO! If there was one character I really wanted to survive it was Flintlock, but sadly it was not to be as this week sees his Lordship killed in battle. I don’t think I have ever read a comic strip which can manage to arouse such emotions in the reader as Dante is currently managing every week. As well as being the penultimate Dante strip, “The Dante Gambit” will be the final Dante strip to be drawn by John Burns, so its not just characters we are saying goodbye too. Week in, week out, Dante is a must read strip and is on one of the best runs of any strip in recent memory.

Overall:

Dredd and Dante bookend this weeks prog with excellence, while everything in between is more than acceptable. Its not quite as good a line up as it was a few weeks ago when Absalom was in the prog, but the arrival of the brand new Zaucer of Zilk next week will certainly liven things up I’m sure.

Quote of the Week: “Cowards forever, your Lordship” – Nikolai Dante

Thrill of the Week: Judge Dredd

Prog 1773 – Father’s Day?

WARNING – REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS

Cover:

I wasn’t too keen on this at first glance, but after closer inspection I have to admit it’s grown on me. It’s a different style than we’re used to seeing on the cover, and is all the more eyecatching because of it. The colours make it stand out on the shelf, while Dante himself looks particularly good. All in all a very good effort.

Judge Dredd – Day of Chaos: Eve of Destruction – Part 9:

The virus finds another way to get into the city, whilst Judge Roake gets shot twice. Other than that not too much happening this week, although I understand the next part will be an important one. Its still a good read, but I think next week will see the story get the kick it needs to become a must read once again.

Age of the Wolf II – She is Legend – Part 2:

I enjoyed the first Age of the Wolf story so I’m pleased to see it return for a second outing. Two parts in and its still too early to tell how good this is going to be, but its an ok start. Its a big change in style from the first story so it could go either way yet. Still the art is excellent and I’m confident the story will prove to be a good one.

Grey Area – Personal Space – Part 3:

Lots of nudity in this one again this week, but the story does appear to be going some where. There’s a twist on the character of Bulliet at the end of this part, which should prove interesting in the future. Grey Area at least seems to be moving in the right direction now, after a pretty disapointing start.

What if…? – Anderson:

Wow…this was a real misfire. In this What If, Anderson doesn’t become a Judge so ends up having a husband and three kids. Seriously, thats it. Nothing happens in this story which is a crying shame considering how much potential the story could have had. What we should have got, would have been a civilian Anderson battling Judge Death, as without her as a Judge then Death would have been  unstoppable. The previous three What If strips were all pretty good, so its sad that the last one is so very poor.

Nikolai Dante – The Wedding of Jena Makarov – Part 11:

Remember those major spoilers you were warned about? Well here they come so this is your last chance to avoid them. Still here?…Ok, so we knew not everyone was going to make it out of this story alive, and in this installment both Katarina Dante and Dmitri Romanov die. This was one of the most genuinly emotional comic strips I have ever read, and because of this installment alone, I think I finally like Nikolai Dante. Typical really seeing as its about to come to an end. Oh well…this is as faultless a strip as your ever likely to come across.

Overall:

Not quite up to the high standards of recent progs, with the What If…? standing out as being particularly bad. Still everything else is pretty good, with Nikolai Dante being outstanding.

Quote of the Week: “There’s more than one Dante in the world”. – Nikolai Dante

Thrill of the Week: Nikolai Dante

Originally published in Progs 20 – 35

Cover date: 9th July, 1977 – 22nd October, 1977

If I told you that there was a 16 part strip co-written by Pat Mills and John Wagner, the Godfathers of 2000AD, then the chances are you’d be expecting something pretty special. It’s unlikely then, that you would expect it to be about the C.I.A. trying to hunt down a polar bear. But that’s exactly what Shako is about, and it’s a pretty unusual slice of 2000AD history.

The basic premise for the story is a pretty flimsy one. Shako is a polar bear who one day happens to eat a metal cylinder; unfortunately said cylinder contains a deadly virus created by the C.I.A, who are desperate to get it back. Over the next 16 parts both C.I.A and Soviet agents attempt to kill Shako and retrieve the cylinder. You’d perhaps be surprised that that premise ended up being 16 parts long, and having read it I’m still not sure how it managed to last so long. Very little happens throughout the story, with pretty much every part being the same. Agents attempt to capture or kill Shako, but instead Shako kills them, and then next week the exact same happens again. In the end every character dies, and the reader is left wondering what the hell the point of any of that was.

In spite of this Shako seems to have received something of a cult following, gaining a reprint and a cover piece in an extreme edition, with even a t-shirt being available to buy right now from the 2000AD shop. If I can pick one positive from the whole thing, then it is the eponymous Shako. Throughout the strip our sympathies lie firmly with the Polar Bear, as opposed to the men who are chasing him. Other than that there is very little to recommend giving Shako a read, with the whole thing being best summed up by the ridiculously memorable (or memorably ridiculous) tag line:

“The Polar Bear who brought the Cold War to flash point.”

 

“P.G. Wodehouse meets H.P. Lovecraft”

This is how the 2000ad shop describes Ampney Crucis Investigates, and it’s a pretty accurate, if a little oversimplified, description of Ian Edginton’s most recent contribution to the Galaxy’s Greatest.  The eponymous Ampney Crucis was one of the rising stars of upper class society, before an encounter with a monster from beyond the universe during the Battle of the Somme, sent him temporarily insane. After recovering from his nightmarish experience, Crucis finds that he is sensitive to the presence of other entities from beyond our own reality. It’s a nice concept for a strip, and one that has the potential to run for a long time. And if the strips continue to be as good as the two collected in this trade, then I hope it gets the long run it deserves.

The first story, Vile Bodies, is pretty much the perfect introductory story. Within the first six pages we find out who Ampney is, what happened to him in the past to make him what he is now, as well as a brief glimpse of what this story will be about. Thats pretty impressive to cram all that into just six pages. Vile Bodies then continues as Ampney and his loyal butler Cromwell do battle with human/bee monsters, and a gigantic god like plant creature. The latter part of this story wheres its Lovecraftian influence on its sleeve, recalling in particular Lovecraft’s novella “At the Mountains of Madness” when describing the origins of the plant god. Towards the end Edginton manages to tie Ampney Crucis into the same universe as his previous “Leviathan” strip (surely some day we have to get a proper cross over story for all of Edginton’s 2000AD strips). Vile Bodies is as good a first story as your likely to come across but it would mean nothing if the following story didn’t live up to it.

Fortunatly the second story, The End of the Pier Show, is just as good as Vile Bodies. Recieving a letter from a long dead comrade, Cromwell convinces Ampney to visit a sea side resort where the dead are returning, by taking over the bodies of the living. Lots of blood and gore in this one, as well as one of the most bizarre looking monsters you are ever likely to see. Its another fantastic story from start to finish, although the end does feel perhaps just a tiny bit rushed.

A real stand out feature of this trade though, is the art of Simon Davis. Davis is one of my favourite artists to have ever worked for 2000AD, and if its big, ugly, insanity inducing monsters you’re after, then he is the man to go to. His style of art is totally unlike any other artists that I have ever seen, and even his colouring and page layout is beautiful to look at. He also seems to enjoy drawing naked people as often as he can in any given strip, although fortunatly its mostly women this time around, as oppose to what we saw in Stone Island.

Ampney Crucis Investigates comes highly recommended. Not only is it one of the best strips Edginton has written, it is also my personal favourite new strip to have appeared in 2000AD for a long long time. If you haven’t read any Ampney strips before then I can promise that you won’t regret getting hold of a copy of this trade. If you like H.P. Lovecraft then you’ll like this. If you like Horror strips then you’ll like this. If you like the 1920s as a setting then you’ll like this. If you like comic strips then you’ll love this. So what are you waiting for, go and buy a copy at once. Its a must have for any Gentlemans (or womans) comic book collection.

9/10

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