Tuesday, 31 October 2017

SCREAM & MISTY: SHOCKINGLY GOOD?

I don't usually celebrate Halloween, but this year
I've put a little bit more effort in

Scream and Misty are two classic comics from before my comics reading time.  Only introduced to the medium in 1986 thanks to Oink!, these two celebrated titles completely passed me by.  But I know of them both and the impact they had on kids at the time.  Scream was a boys' horror comic in 1984 which sparked controversy at the time.  Well, I say "controversy" but it was the usual lazy tabloid-esque nonsense Oink! would also be subjected to and which still continues to this day.  The fact it only ran to 14 issues (thanks to an industrial dispute, not the comic itself) but is still so fondly remembered speaks volumes.  Misty was a "supernatural and horror comic for girls" between 1978 and 1980, which surprises me because thanks to its reputation today I assumed it had lasted much longer.

While today there are some aimed at a particular gender amongst the very young, comics aren't really segregated between "boys" and "girls" titles anymore.  The reprint collections from both of these comics have been enjoyed across the board and have proved popular enough for new owners Rebellion to produce a brand new special based on both.  Containing 52 pages it's made up of four strips inspired by Scream and two by Misty.  I was very hyped for this as it'd be my first experience of both titles but what we have here is something of a mixed bag.  Don't get me wrong, there's some absolute gems in here, but there's also some average fare and one decidedly bad strip.  Here, I'll take a brief trip through each and share my own personal views.  Hopefully at the end you'll be able to decide if it's for you and if you buy it (or already have) and have different opinions on the strips please leave a comment at the bottom.  We're all different after all.

THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR


In the original Scream the Maxwell Tower was overseen by an intelligent computer system which went to extreme methods to protect itself and its tenants, zapping troublemakers to the thirteenth floor where they'd be transported to another dimension.  There they'd be punished in a manner befitting whatever they'd done.  It's all very Twilight Zone and the setting, atmosphere and pacing are spot on here.  In Guy Adams' update a group of thugs are beating up local kids for YouTube videos and unwittingly pick on a tenant of the towers, the events sparking the gradual return of Max.


Having two artists with completely different styles, John Stokes and Frazer Irving, illustrate the two worlds is a neat idea and it's great fun reading Max's dialogue in particular as he awakens to a new world vastly different to the one he left behind.  These nice touches in the dialogue combine with a genuinely creepy outcome for the gang and a nice, confined story.  I can see fans of Max being very happy with his temporary return and for me it's a great introduction to the character and setting (the strip is followed by an advert for a collection of reprints coming soon) and the perfect way of bringing him back for a special, where a complete story needs told in a restricted amount of pages.  It's all off to a good start then, surely that's the format the other stories would follow too?

THE DRACULA FILE

It would appear not.  The Dracula File has already been collected together by Rebellion and this is referenced within the first panel of the second strip, which is written by Grain McEntee and drawn by Tristan Jones.  This is clearly a sequel strip and over the course of the first few pages it fills in the gaps of how Dracula has evaded capture in the intervening years.  But what starts out as a rather interesting conversation between characters ends up not amounting to very much at all.  Basically nothing really happens and the conversation even turns rather dull, which is a huge disappointment after the promising start.  There's a few references to his tales from Scream and when you turn the page there's.... that's right, an advert for the Dracula File reprint collection.  Hmm.  I hope this isn't a pattern, because this story feels like little more than an advert for those previous stories.

DEATH MAN: THE GATHERING

The next strip is a strange case indeed.  Written by someone called Feek and drawn by Henry Flint who has done some superb Judge Dredd work, there's a whopping two pages of introductions for no less than eleven characters from various titles now owned by Rebellion, before the strip itself!  On the surface this might sound like a fan's dream, especially when favourites such as The Leopard of Lime Street, Steel Commando and Blake Edwards of Death Wish are included.  But the strip is only six pages long, meaning some characters are reduced to one-panel cameos and overall it feels like an exercise in shovelling in as many various comics titles from Rebellion's newly-aquired back-catalogue as possible, rather than telling an actual story.


Four characters don't even appear until the last panel and it... just ends.  It's clearly a set up for further stories, but with no plans to bring back Scream (or Misty) it's either been left deliberately open-ended or maybe it'll reappear as an ongoing tale in 2000AD.  Either way, this is a poor showing and feels like a stunt strip more than anything, which is something I wouldn't expect from a company who has so lovingly taken care of, and respected, 2000AD and all of its characters over the years.  I could see fans of the characters in Death Man being rather peeved with this.

RETURN OF BLACK MAX: BLOOD MOON


Oh this looks rather good, doesn't it?  Black Max was a feared World War II German pilot who attacked his enemies with two giant bats and he's now returned, undead!  Kek-W is no stranger to 2000AD readers and with this set up I was looking forward to this strip, particularly with the chilling artwork above from Simon Coleby and Len O'Grady.  Unfortunately it falls into the same trap as The Dracula File, in that it feels like an advert more than anything.

What's particularly frustrating is that what's here would be very good if it were the first part of a new story in an ongoing comic.  It introduces a young girl called Maxine Newland in the modern world, establishes Black Max's return and some of the imagery is just what you'd expect from a modern update to the horror comic genre.  Unfortunately, just as it gets going it's another strip which just stops, this time on a bit of a cliffhanger with Maxine actually asking a question, which just isn't going to get answered.  It's incredibly frustrating, especially when this sudden ending is accompanied by another plug for a reprint collection at the end of the story.

THE RETURN OF THE SENTINELS

For the final two strips it's now Misty's turn and the first story is a huge improvement over the last few.  In fact this is my favourite strip of the whole special.  The Sentinels are twin high-rise blocks in a down-trodden area, one of which has remained empty for decades and is secretly a portal to an alternate reality.  On the surface this is a bit similar to The Thirteenth Floor with someone entering a block of flats and getting temporarily transported elsewhere, but in reality this is vastly different.


Two youths with nothing better to do break into one of the buildings and soon one finds herself being arrested.  So far that's nothing new for the area or for Jennifer, but bit-by-bit it soon becomes clear that while things on the surface look normal, under that surface things are very different.  It may be her country, her town, but the world around her has shifted for the worse.  I don't want to spoil this as it's genuinely a good script and somewhat powerful to read in a comic, but let's just say in this post-Brexit, Trump-world we find ourselves living in it's a vision of a possible future that's genuinely scary.  It's all properly self-contained and feels like it's been properly planned to fit the one-off nature of the comic.  Great stuff indeed written by Hannah Berry and drawn by Ben Willsher.

FATE OF THE FAIRY HUNTER

A good start for Misty then, but can she keep it going for the final story?  Not quite.  Fate of the Fairy Hunter from writer Alec Worley and artist Dani starts off well with a sinister fairy making an offer to disgruntled coffee shop customer Wanda Hannigan which seems just too good to be true. The first two pages of this four-page strip contains great dialogue and a genuinely intriguing set up.  The black-and-white artwork is lovely too, the line work as bold as the characters' facial expressions.  Their eyes in particular, a little larger than normal, perfectly suit the style and give an extra depth to the meaning of their words and their reactions.

Unfortunately, as intriguing as the set up is the pay off is rather lacklustre.  Again, if this was the first part of an ongoing serial I'd be very excited about what was to come, but these fours pages are all we'll get.  Misty the comic didn't have that many ongoing stories and didn't really have any recurring characters apart from Misty herself as editor, the stories were self-contained and so Fate of the Fairy Hunter suits the format in that regard.  It's just a shame the potential wasn't carried through.  Which is what I'd say about this special as a whole really.

EXTRAS

There are some fun extras included here like pin-ups, a faux letters section and even a chucklesome Horrorscope hosted by the two editors, Misty and Ghastly McNasty.  However there's also a spot-the-difference page which reeks of a desperate bid to fill a page.  Also, of course, there's plenty of adverts for the various collections which form part of the Treasury of British Comics range too, as I've said throughout.

SHOCKINGLY GOOD THEN?

While these adverts are to be expected and normally I'd be excited about what was on offer, the way the majority of the stories here have been handled I finished reading this comic with the distinct impression this is more a piece of marketing, rather than a proper return for these two comics giants.  Ironically, if they'd focussed on simply producing great one-off stories like The Thirteenth Floor and The Return of the Sentinels, the comic would've been a much better advert for their graphic novel collections!

In conclusion, out of the six stories I feel there's two superb entries, three average ones and one which should never have been attempted in the first place.  If you're already a fan of The Dracula File and Black Max you may get more out of their stories than me, but definitely as a newcomer to both Scream and Misty I'm rather disappointed.  I may look into collections of the two I enjoyed, but unfortunately the others have put me off a little, although I'm told not to let them do that and to hunt down the collections as the originals were magnificent.

Have you read the new Scream & Misty yourself?  What did you think?  Have you any recommendations for particular Treasury of British Comics collections I should set my eager sights on?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

To finish off with on this night of terrors, a truly horrifying sight, spotted last Saturday near the small village of Straid:


Scream & Misty is available from your local shop (a cover variant with a Misty & Scream title is being sold from specialist comics shops) or from the 2000AD online shop.

Happy Halloween pig pals!

ANSWER THE CALL TO READ NEW GHOSTBUSTERS

I took a dander into Belfast city centre today to a new local comic store called Coffee & Heroes to pick up a certain something:



This is a perfect example of how this blog is expanding naturally as it follows whatever comics and writing journey it takes me on.  As a kid I was obsessed with The Real Ghostbusters.  The cartoon was a wonderful thing and is currently on Netflix, holds up very well and its stories are still compelling and very funny today, thanks to its creative team which also consisted of J. Michael Straczynksi of Babylon 5 and Sense 8.  That's the calibre of talent that cartoon had behind it.  Then came the excellent comic from Marvel UK, only the second non-Oink! title from my childhood.  I wrote about it a couple of years ago as part of my initial Beyond Oink! series and it was great fun reminiscing about those characters.  

The movie continues to be a comedy classic and a favourite of mine (though for me time has not been kind to the sequel).  Then last year the all-new Ghostbusters: Answer the Call arrived in cinemas.  Forget the misogynistic trolls on social media, it's hilarious and I loved it!  Director Paul Feig had a clear vision as a fan of the original.  The 1984 movie featured some of the top stand-up and television comedians of the time, regulars of Saturday Night Live, and when looking to see who matched that criteria in the modern world it was clear they were all female.  I loved the idea when I heard who the cast was going to be and I ended up seeing it twice in the cinema.  It leapt straight into my top ten movies of all time and, dare I say it, is even funnier than the ace original.

So imagine my excitement when I discovered on Instagram a few months ago a brand new comic was going to appear featuring the further adventures of Abby Yates, Jillian Holtzman, Erin Gilbert and Patty Tolan!  They've already appeared in a crossover with the original team, but having never really enjoyed the modern comics featuring the original crew (I read some years ago when they started) I skipped it.  However, the new team look to be better suited to the medium.  Ghostbusters Answer the Call was launched last week and instantly sold out.  Coffee & Heroes kindly ordered me a copy and just a few days later it's here.  I've had a quick glance through it and I can't wait to get stuck in; this looks superb.

I've a lot coming up on the blog in November and now I've just added one more thing.  It's going to be a busy time, but it's going to be fun.  Come back soon for the full write-up of this new comic and more.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

RING RAIDERS #4: SKY TIGERS AND LAKE SHARKS

Is this not your idea of a good night too?

<< GO TO ISSUE THREE

As we take off into the skies of the second half of the Ring Raiders run (already) the cover has a larger logo, glorious full-page Ian Kennedy artwork and altogether a confidence about itself that belies what would end up happening only four weeks from now.  But back at this point in 1989 I'd no idea about what was to come and this felt like a comic settling in for a long run:

From now on every cover would be
a Kennedy masterpiece

That really is a work of art.  Although from reading these comics for this series it initially seemed a bit strange to me how the covers don't actually correspond with any of the strips inside.  Instead the two-colour pin-up would act as the cover's counterpart inside for this and the next issue, with a paragraph briefly explaining the story behind the image on the front page.  Focussing on one character and their craft (for example above it's Wing Commander Cub Jones in his F5 'Sky Tiger' airplane) they were all absolutely beautiful and even as a child I really appreciated the hand-painted artwork from Ian, especially compared to the block colours of all the other comics I collected at the time.  It made Ring Raiders really stand out on the shelves and now, knowing how much of an aviation fan the artist is, it's clear an awful lot of love, care and attention went into each one, the details of the craft bringing these tiny little toys screaming into the real world every fortnight.

Inside, all of our stories continued apace beginning with editor Barrie Tomlinson's Battle Zone '99 which has been a fun slice of plot-lite action.  There's nothing wrong with that by the way; the comic has a great mix of scripts with some focussing more on the action, some on the plot and some on growing individual characters, with the best incorporating all three elements.  Here to kick off the latest issue for us young fans was a fun slice of action-packed goodness with the top Commander planes in the toy range, all facing off against each other without their accompanying Wings.

Skull Leader Chiller has been able to get inside the gravity-powered sub after subduing a few of her crew and made his way to the weapons controls (I'm guessing by foul means as the story doesn't show how he made it there without getting caught).  He fires off a handful of anti-aircraft missiles into the skies above where Ring Commander Vector and Wing Commander Miles are giving chase to his leader, the vile Scorch:

Carlos Pino's bright and breezy artwork was always
a welcome introduction to the issues

There's a degree of tit-for-tat between Chiller and Scorch after last issue's error on Scorch's part nearly wiped out the sub Chiller was standing on.  The above was also not deliberate but at the end of last issue's episode it was clear Chiller didn't care if his boss got in the way.  On the third and final page of this part, with the missile closing in Scorch makes a hair-raising stand-on-tail climb into the heavens and then nosedives towards the sub, aiming to manoeuvre out of the way at the last minute and have it blow up the target.  He's almost successful, it explodes right next to the sub, missing Chiller's face by a few feet.

This dynamic is an interesting one but unfortunately with the comic's short lifespan they never got the chance to fully explore this avenue, though Chiller does take the lead in another story to come as the leader of another diabolical scheme.  So perhaps in the long-term we'd have seen him take command more frequently, maybe ultimately making a move on Skull Squadron leadership.  There's a definite Megatron/Starscream feel to this.  Who knows?  There were no lengthy plans worked out yet for the comic's overall storyline, but even across these six issues and the special it's clear the comic would've continued to build upon the stories already told.  But as it stands, Scorch and Chiller's acrimony ended up simply making for a bit of one-off fun for us fans and collectors.

THE RING RAIDERS DIFFERENCE

Eagerly, I move on to part four of Trackdown from writer Angus Allan and artist John Cooper, a perfect matching of epic storytelling and realistic art.  This real-world feel of the human characters and their craft was key, because we were playing with tiny toy planes on our fingers and imagining them as giant, deadly machines.  To see them brought to life in this way was truly fantastic and today, without the youthfulness or the toy-playing anymore, it's this that keeps the comic from ageing to this adult fan.  Some comics could be painfully obvious that they were there to sell toys, the stories both reading and looking like they were taking place with the toys, but not Ring Raiders.  It's testimony to the creative team assembled here; the cream of talent from the British comics scene working on a subject which had actual potential for proper storytelling.

Back to the strip at hand and with Runtz and Riley facing off in a helicopter tensions are high with Runtz is control, holding the professor and the Doomsday Device in his possession and instructing Riley on where to land.  Riley's Wing Commander, Joe Thundercloud is on the way back from the Air Carrier Justice and intercepts Blackjack's Wing just as they're setting up an ambush to meet Runtz.  With communications between them and the chopper down, Thundercloud tells his wingmen their only chance is an air-to-air transfer of a new handset, which "won't be easy".  One of his team asks about using the rings to talk to Riley telepathically but this is rejected as too risky given the situation.

However, as the story rattles along we find out there may have been other intentions behind the risky plan.  In a section of the story which perfectly shows off how humour was an important part of the comic and its characters, this funny little section brought some light relief to the action:


Great stuff!  I really enjoyed Riley as a character and the interactions between Thundercloud and all his wingmen, hopefully he would've returned at some future point.  What's particularly interesting to me in this part of Trackdown is the mention of some ring technology.

The rings' main attribute was their ability to use the inner energy of the pilots to (very) temporarily power their individual planes in times of emergency or when a boost was needed.  But, already established as also being pre-Bluetooth comms devices this is the first we've heard of how they communicate messages.  Apparently they actually send signals directly into the body rather than through what I assumed would be tiny speakers.  But, looking back at previous issues when Ring Commander Vector received some strange "signal" from his ring that a pilot was in trouble, that now makes sense.  A shame this wasn't established first, but now it is, it could've opened up more possibilities for future storytelling.

RING RAIDERS 3D

We've a change of artist this issue for the complete character-based tale in the middle of the comic.  While the previous stories were all drawn by John Gillatt, this time around "Salty" Salton: Super Stunt Pilot from 50 Years Ago gets brought to life by another member of Barrie's regular team, Geoff Campion (Lion, Battle Picture Weekly, Knock-Out) and, whether deliberate or simply his style, it brings a lovely classic feel (beyond the fact the comic is already 28 years old obviously) to proceedings.  This perfectly suits the character, a prop plane stunt pilot picked up by the Ring Raiders in the late '30s and who is just full of retro comic-style gung-ho adventure!

In this particular flashback, after freaking out when Miles produces false teeth at the canteen table Salty relates a story of the death of one of his stunt partners and his discovery of a secret Skull Squadron base under an idyllic, quiet lake.  Quiet for now, but with a history of freak waves and mysterious deaths.  He just about escapes from the jaws of a giant shark that jumps out of the water to taken his small bi-plane.  After he crashes he finds a small cave entrance and soon finds himself in a  test and repair centre, full of planes from his future.  You can see this in the first panel below and I love the grand James Bond-esque nature of the discovery!

Below that is the final page of the story.  Now, here I should add my favourite film of all time is Jaws and I also love its second sequel, Jaws 3D.  Finally released for the home in 3D last year (not seen in its intended format since lucky people got to see it in the cinema in 1982/3) I have to say it's the best 3D I've seen in film format.  It's what you'd want from a 3D film, with stuff floating in your living room, jumping right out in front of your face, feeling like you could touch it... anyway, I digress.  I do that.  But yes, in the second panel below we've a huge mechanical shark swimming towards a large glass window in the background of the action, then it smashing through towards the reader.  It's all very familiar... I do wonder what the inspiration was:

Was Scott Goodall channelling his inner
Carl Gottlieb when writing this tale?

Great stuff!  I didn't click as a child but now I don't think any of it is a coincidence, rather a fun homage.  A fun, silly (in a good way) and outlandish story with the above as its equally outlandish ending, I think fans of the film would appreciate this.  Definitely the highlight of the issue for me!

Moving on and part four of James NicholasBomber Blues story once again takes place almost completely in the skies of World War II.  After turning on his jamming system at the last second, Skull Leader Hubbub has avoided certain death at the hands of Wing Commander Cub Jones and is back on the offensive.  This story has really turned into a battle of wits between these two characters.  As we pick up the action for this page below, Hubbub has not only jammed Cub's missile but has also taken control of it and sent it straight back to its sender:

Missiles ahoy!

That missile pod is something new!  It couldn't have been something the comic just made up, it seems a bit too 'out there' for that, although obviously the toy planes were far too small to have such a hidden contraption.  But was it still a feature of the plane mentioned in the toy line?  I've an exciting development in my coverage of this comic which I'll be sharing with you extremely soon, which should shed some light on this.  In the story after this, Hubbub lands feet first onto some poor chaps on the airfield, and lands hard!  He's not beaten yet.

While artist Don Wazejewski's pilots always looked rather big in their cockpits I always thought the way he drew people gave a lovely Thunderbirds-esque quality to the story.  I mean this in the highest regard, obviously.  When you see his human characters running about on the ground their bodies are slightly shorter and their heads slightly bigger.  It's a beautifully characterful style he has, full of dynamic movement and facial expressions and perfect for the action-packed scripts of James'.  Even in moments of pure action they can come across as more three-dimensional than some other comics thanks to Don's artwork and his ability to convey so much from the characters.

If that feels like I'm exaggerating simply because I'm a fan of this comic, go back and read the complete first part of this story in #1's write-up or bag yourself a complete issue online (though be prepared to pay a bit for them) and you should see what I mean.  Or at least what I'm trying to say in my usual waffly manner!

Commercial break time:

Much better advertising now the comic
is more established

As you can see when comparing with previous issues, the adverts produced by the comic's team are becoming more elaborate and a far cry from the rather dull one in the first issue (which was unfortunate in the issue people who may not have been collecting the toys would've tried out).  Sandy James returns again to add the comic's more elaborate version of the Ring Commander Victor Vector figure to a promotion of the Wing sets, all three of these I actually owned I recall.  I can't remember exact numbers, but looking at this and an advert from an upcoming issue full of extras and merchandise I must've had a hell of a lot!  You'll see what I mean next time, believe me.

Next to the ad is this issue's pin-up, again drawn by Sandy and with that aforementioned cover story explanation:

An intriguing character, I'd have been very
interested to know more of Cub's WWII background

Looking back on the series as a whole, from this issue onwards the covers show off one particular character and their plane, working their way through the huge array of pilots one at a time.  While it may not have been representative of a particular battle or scenario inside, that character was always in a story so it all made sense to us.  It also gave Ian Kennedy the freedom to produce elaborate pieces of art without constriction of what he could show, after obviously consulting with Barrie on what they wanted from the cover.

Finally this fortnight the fourth chapter of Freedom Flight continues the Sandy James theme, meaning the last five pages all featured his artwork.  Written by Tom Tully, last time we'd finally witnessed the rings being used for their main feature; to use the energy of the pilot on the airplane itself, in this instance to land the crippled craft.  Yuri Kirkov has unknowingly landed in rebel territory though and quickly finds himself surrounded.  In a weakened state from the use of the ring he's easily captured, but his fellow Freedom Wing (the story name has a clear double-meaning) are soon flying in to assist and it's lovely to see more anonymous toy pilots being name-checked:

The bright and bold livery of Freedom Wing
is replicated throughout the rest of the art

With Bomber Blues only calling wingmen by an identification number, I wasn't sure if the comic would expand on what Trackdown had started with naming Riley and Runtz, but I'm glad to see they were planning on doing so.  It would've been great to see, if the toys had proved more popular in their home country of America (they were a bigger hit here but ultimately pulled), if the copyright holders Those Characters From Cleveland and Matchbox would've added these names to the toy packaging, or started using the comic's artwork or maybe even brought in Barrie's team to do the mini-comics.  I doubt it would've happened, but from speaking with Barrie it seems they were pretty free to expand on what the toys had set out character-wise and story-wise and were very happy with what was being produced.  Maybe in some alternate universe, eh?

After seeing off the terrified rebels, Malloy and Baker land to rescue Kirkov but his Comet needs repaired, so they have to look on when they hear a roar from the sky and see Skull Leader Mako in his shark-motif Sea Hunter leading the rebel planes into battle with the government forces.  Planning to see off all of the fort's aircraft defences with his far more advanced craft, while the rebels attack the fort and change history forever, all seems lost.  The next issue box simply states, "In a fortnight's time: No Match For Mako!", so there should be plenty of action and a cunning 'Raiders plan next time around.  The situation looks to be so much in favour of Skull Squadron and Mako that he's got the cover all to himself next time:

I remember being particularly excited to see the next cover

The next issue was the only one from my original collection I'd lost over the years and had to track down online but I'll chat more about that next time.  Until then, keep the command in your hands and keep an eye on the blog, some brand new comics based on other classics and favourites coming up soon!

The elusive Ring Raiders #5 lands on Saturday 11th November.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

SCREAM & MISTY: BRAND NEW COMIC OUT TODAY!


No, your eyes do not deceive you, that's an honest-to-gosh brand new comic with the classic Scream and Misty logos on the cover!  Publishers Rebellion bought up the back catalogue of classic IPC and Fleetway comics from Egmont a little while back and have been hard at work collecting together some high quality graphic novels of classic strips, as you'd expect.  But what no one was expecting until it was suddenly announced earlier this year was brand new material for these comics!  Not so soon anyway.

It's clear all those titles are in the hands of true fans who love them and who will give them the attention they deserve.  Oink! is amongst these and has been mentioned by Rebellion (in a joke comment about their next double-bill being an 'Oink! and Battle' comic), so who knows what could happen.  One thing is for sure though, this Scream and Misty special isn't just a great looking one-off, it's also a testing ground to see what appetite there is out there for such projects.  It's exciting to think about where this could lead.

I never read either of the comics this Halloween special is based on, but Scream definitely sounds like it'd have been right up my street if I'd been buying comics at the time.  As a kid there was a definite distinction between boys' and girls' comics and we just didn't read each others titles, which is a real shame as Misty is the perfect example of one I'd also have loved as a kid.  These days it's great to see that distinction being blurred with these two being brought together in one volume.

The copy I have was bought in the Easons newsagents in Belfast city centre, however there's also a variant with the title swapped over to Misty and Scream on a different cover available in specialist comic stores:


I'll have a full write-up towards the end of the month around Halloween itself, but in the meantime you can find out more by watching the trailer on Rebellions' website, or just go on ahead and order it up for yourself by visiting their online shop if you can't get it on the high street.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

OINK!: A DREDD-FULL COMIC

It's Scream and Misty Eve.  What am I on about?  Rebellion, owners and publishers of 2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazine are resurrecting a gruesome twosome for Halloween this year.  The classic horror comics Scream and Misty are joining forces in one very special comic and it creeps its way onto shop shelves tomorrow!

After the acquisition of Egmont's back catalogue, who in turn had bought Fleetway's comics many moons ago, Rebellion are also the new owners of Oink!, so I thought this was the perfect reason (read: decent excuse) to gather together the few times the fearsome Mega-City One Judge was the subject of our comic's good natured ribbing:


All but one of these have been featured on the blog before but as a special treat for this occasion I thought I'd collect them together in one post, alongside the one strip I hadn't shown you yet, namely this first one below.  Written by co-creator and co-editor Mark Rodgers and drawn with the exact right atmosphere this spoof needs by Steve Gibson, Judge Pigg first appeared in #14.  He was right there in the very first issue of Oink!, and thus first ever comic, my younger self ever bought for himself!  As someone who is now collecting the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files series of books and the 2000AD Ultimate Collection partwork, this now seems like perfect synchronicity!:


I wouldn't have known at the time I first read that strip and neither did I know when I read the issue as part of my blog read-through back in November 2013, but now I can see there's some lovely Easter Eggs in there for Dreddheads.  If you're familiar with Joe in the pages of 2000AD did you spot any of them?  Like the spoofing of the way the blocks are named, the replacement for the eagle usually found on the shoulder of a Judge, or the graffiti reference to a certain perp from Dredd's very first year back in 1977/78?  Great stuff.

So below are the other three times Uncle Pigg's minions set about taking the hand out of future justice, all of which have featured on the blog when those issues were written about.  I'll not bother you with any further waffle from me about them, because I've already done that!  So here then for new readers, or as "another chance to read" for regulars are the return of Judge Pigg in #58 from April 1988 on probably his most important mission to date, Judge Dredd's run-in with Psycho Gran after she finds herself warped into the future courtesy of the mind (and pen) of David Leach and then finally there's David's cut-out Gran doll with various forms of attire included:


From Holiday Special #2 (1988)

From #42, the fashion special from November 1987

It may not be Christmas Eve yet, but it is the eve of something I'm really looking forward to.  Having never read either comic, but knowing they'd have been right up my street, I'm looking forward to my introduction to both Scream and Misty tomorrow.  Expect a full write-up at the end of the month around Halloween itself and click on the banner below to be taken to Rebellion's website with all the information (and one brilliant video advert!) you'll need:


Remember to set your alarms that little bit earlier in the morning, I'm certain you won't want to miss out on this!

Sunday, 15 October 2017

COMIC BOOK HERO: KICKING IT WITH THE KIDS

Released on 1st September this year, the book has a
brand new piece of cover artwork from David Sque

Firstly, I should say I do not like football.  I sometime go see our local ice hockey team here in Belfast, I run and cycle, then every two years I become obsessed with the Winter and Summer Olympics to the degree that I simply don't sleep so I can see as much as possible live.  But aside from these I'm not what anyone would call a fan of sport.  Unless it was on the Wii.  It's important to state this before writing about this book, because if you look into it you might see there's a lot of sporting references within and that might put you off if you don't like sport, but that would be the wrong thing to do.  This is a wonderful read.

Barrie Tomlinson is a giant in the world of British comics.  Recently I've started to (slowly) expand the blog as you'll know and two of the comics Barrie edited are top of the pile, namely Ring Raiders and Wildcat, the former of which is currently part of a fortnightly series of posts.  He also edited Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles Adventures, Mask and Super Naturals, all of which form memories of some sort from my youth.  But these licenced and/or short-lived titles were only the tip of the iceberg of comics Barrie created and this hardback volume sees him take us on a trip down memory lane in the most personal of ways.

The Wildcat spacecraft taking pride of place on the back cover

Lion, Tiger, Roy of the Rovers, Top Soccer, 2000AD, Battle, Speed, The New Eagle, Scream, Mask, Super Naturals, Wildcat, Hot-Shot, Ring Raiders, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles Adventures, Toxic Crusaders, The Big Daddy Annuals, The Geoff Boycott Annual, The Suzie Dando Annual, Johnny Cougar's Wrestling Monthly, Scorer, one-off specials, magazines, World Cup poster magazines, sports quiz books, greetings cards, Ladybird books... this is a career which could take up several volumes of books full of intricate details, facts and figures, making-of features etc.  But instead what we have here is something much better than that.

 
Lion was a roaring success (sorry)

It's hard to describe Barrie's writing style in Comic Book Hero and do it justice.  To say it's "natural" is to use a well worn cliché and to sell it short.  But it really does feel like he's sitting next to you having a casual chat, reminiscing about his creations, his colleagues and friends, the personalities he met and all the fun he had along the way.  It's an extremely readable book and when you see there's no chapters as such, just the occasional comic title sub-heading in one, big diary of sorts it really stands out as something unique.  Before settling in to read it you may think this is a very brave move on the part of the writer, but just a few pages in you'll come to realise this is the perfect choice for Barrie's particular story and his style of storytelling.

Part of the typed instructions given to Barrie when he was
covering for the holidaying Lion editor

Barrie's work with Fleetway Publications began in 1961 and this book covers everything he worked on right up to 2011(!) and his subsequent retirement from the field.  The majority of the book is taken up with Tiger, the action comic which focussed on sporting stories, but not before we've had some fantastic insights into how the comics of the day were edited thanks to Barrie learning from the likes of Bernard Smith.  Even in times of high work volumes and obvious stress, Barrie is completely respectful and understanding of those he worked for and it's refreshing to read a book which doesn't relish in "exposing" or "bitching" in order to sell.

Now here's a real megastar for this non-sporting reader, the
one and only Eric Morecambe giving Barrie his patented face slap!

As I said I'm not exactly a sports fan, but I found it fascinating to read how loved and respected Tiger was in the world of sport, particularly football and cricket.  Obviously money and exposure would be part of it, but it genuinely reads like a lot of these stars would've taken part for free, such was the fun they had working on the comic as regular writers, as photo stars, at competition days with readers or special Tiger award events.  The photos of these latter gatherings in particular are fantastic and it's amazing to think of all these celebrities, including even the likes of Morecambe and Wise, came together in such a way for a children's comic title.

In many ways it's unfortunate some of his contemporaries accused Barrie of only wanting to further himself by holding such events or inviting stars onto the titles he edited, but as he explains it was all for the comics.  It worked a treat too!  Comics like Tiger and Roy of the Rovers enjoyed long lives and huge circulation figures and the exposure these guest stars brought certainly wasn't to be sniffed at in my view.

When the British Action Force toys and comics became
part of G.I.Joe Barrie's comics created their own original version

It's not all glitz and glamour, although there is a further section at the back of the book where we hear more about the celebrities Barrie met during his career (along with a naked radio interview story which has to be read to be believed).  There's plenty of insider information on the creation of the comics themselves, all delivered through the casual memories of a incredibly talented individual.  For particular interest to me were Barrie's personal thoughts about Ring Raiders' short lifespan, taking the helm of the Turtles juggernaut in the U.K. and some wonderful insider knowledge on the creation of Wildcat.  This takes the form of some Ian Kennedy sketches and the original synopsis for the script of the preview comic given away with the last issue of Oink!

Original Wildcat notes and sketches were a highlight for me

It was also fun to find out about comics I'd never read originally and I found it particularly fascinating to learn about Storm Force.  I'd seen adverts for its Battle comic debut in the pages of other Fleetway publications such as the very one this blog was created to cover.  I knew it was a big deal to the publishers at the time but didn't know why until finding out in the book that their contract to create Action Force comics had come to an end, with Hasbro taking over the toy line to relaunch it as the British version of G.I. Joe.  Here we see some sketches and get plenty of insights into how it came about and I agree with Barrie when he states the characters would've made good toys themselves!

A good example of not only the top celebrities within, but
also of Barrie's self-deprecating humour

Yes, this book covers a lot of comics from the 70s and early 80s, before the likes of Oink! came along, but I can promise you'll find a hugely entertaining and interesting read here.  I didn't discover the joy of reading comics for myself until #14 of Oink! towards the end of 1986, so I wanted to categorically state for any pig pals who were only introduced to the medium at around the same time, that if you collected any comics from IPC or Fleetway in your youth you'll love this.  I can almost guarantee you Barrie had a hand in it.

But it doesn't stop there, Comic Book Hero covers the formation of Creative Editorial Services, when Barrie and his team worked freelance at home creating comics for the publishers.  You'll know I'm covering Ring Raiders at the moment on the blog and to think this was created in the comfort of his own home, I'm insanely jealous of Barrie's job at that time!  Also in here are the later publications Barrie created when he moved on from weekly/fortnightly comics, right up to the final episode of Scorer in the Daily Mirror in 2011 after it ran for an incredible 22 years!

That in itself is a huge achievement.  Indeed, the last section of the book is simply entitled, 'What A Life!' and I couldn't agree more.  From chatting with Barrie about the comics he worked on, both for the blog and over on Twitter, I can say he's an absolute gent, is hugely open about all his work and puts the fans first even to this day.  This all comes across throughout every page of this wonderful, personal book.

If you're a fan of British comics you owe it to yourself to grab a copy of Comic Book Hero.

To purchase it for yourself you can click here to do so on Amazon.

There's also a two-part interview with Barrie here on the blog where he discusses both Wildcat and Ring Raiders, which you can jump to part one of by clicking here.

Ring Raiders still remains a cherished childhood favourite and it's currently being covered, starting with an introduction you can read here.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

RING RAIDERS #3: A CHILLINGLY GOOD READ


Poster segment by Sandy James (we think), Chiller
is by regular cover artist Ian Kennedy

So last time Skull Leader Chiller appeared both in the first story of the issue and on the introductory letters page and I told you how he was a fan favourite, with his Wing being a difficult one to come across in the toy shops.  It was one I missed out on as a kid because of this, but that didn't mean he was any less of a favourite character in the comic.  Think "Megatron" and how difficult he was to get as a toy back then due to demand, but we still loved to hate him in the comic and on the telly!  Chiller was the equivalent for 'Raiders collectors.  Those memories came flooding back with this issue because he's all over this one.  As well as co-starring on the free poster and on the comic-produced advert (both below), he's also on the cover, has his own pin-up inside and is the star of no less than two of the five strips, including as the title character of the complete story, the first Skull pilot to do so.

With a sleek plane equipped with a freeze ray and am equally slick haircut equipped with a white stripe he was the epitome of villainy, probably more so than their leader Scorch at this early stage.  Although to be fair there's only so many pages to develop characters and the comic is slowing moving its way through the large ensemble cast.  Speaking of ensembles, I picked up this issue to read for this post and was pleasantly surprised to feel it was heavier than usual, because the poster was still inside, still attached by its staples!  I had both posters (Ring Raiders were on #2's) on my bedroom wall at the time but we're a bit lost as to who drew them.  I did previously state it was Sandy James but a close look at it and, when comparing it to Freedom Flight I'm not so sure.  Even editor Barrie Tomlinson isn't sure when I asked him, so hopefully I can track the answer down:

The two posters worked well side-by-side on the wall as one
long poster of all the top Wing Commanders and planes

The poster may have looked well on the wall, but to be honest when compared to #1 and then #4 onwards which had some dynamic air action, the covers of this and the previous are rather tame.  Not that I was complaining at the time of course, it was still a novelty to see these toys drawn as full-sized machines.  For the first story inside, part two of Battle Zone '99 we're given the reason for the attack last issue; to de-stabalise the balance of world power.  This was the raison d'être for Skull Squadron from the toys, to take advantage of time travel and attack key targets that would form a future where they could assume control of the whole world.  It was an original idea for the time, even if it's become somewhat clichéd these days.  But this was 1989, looking towards the future of 1999 remember...

Apart from Chiller's toy fact-file stating he often flew missions alone instead of in his Wing, there's no explanation in Barrie's story as to why the usual formations aren't used here, but as an extended introduction to the early days of the comic and some of the Wing Commanders it works really well.  Especially for Chiller, who has already destroyed a sub and killed dozens of people and then gets rescued by Skull Leader Scorch from an ambush:

Carlos Pino's colouring has a lovely energy to it,
perfect for such a high-action comic

His plane damaged, Chiller ejects and ends up parachuting onto the deck of the sub he was about to destroy, where the crew attempt to capture him.  Scorch then flies by and takes a pot shot at the sub, not realising Chiller is on it until it's too late.  He and his captors leap into the water for safety, all of them thinking Scorch was targeting them, but Chiller clambers back on board, kicks the rest into the water and heads towards the inside of the sub looking for its weapons system.  Cursing all the planes in the air, we were left wondering how far he'd go to enact his revenge and would that include Scorch?  These characters' blank slates were slowly getting filled and we were learning what they were all about, so it was anyone's guess as to what was coming up next, and I can't remember.  So I'll have to wait another fortnight.

Next, writer Angus Allan and artist John Cooper continue their epic Trackdown! with part three of this epic tale.  The comic feels so confident here, it not only continues to have two original pilots (unnamed in the toy line) as the main characters at this part of the story, but we also only see the fighter aircraft in one of the final frames of page four.  For the majority of this episode Raider Riley and Skull Runtz stick to a Mountain Forestry helicopter, stolen by Riley when he realises he doesn't have the time to tell the Rangers the fantastical tale and convince them it's the truth.  But it's no less exciting and below you can see how the guest chopper is the main mechanical star this time around:

A cross section of Trackdown Part 3

The story and its characters are the most important thing here, they come first and foremost above everything.  Of course in an action comic you always have to factor in some adventure and we always got that in each issue overall, but if it's pointless and you don't like those taking part it falls flat.  A perfect blockbuster movie for me will contain a good overall story, it can be complicated or it can be simple as long as it's told well, with good characters that are three-dimensional enough to care about what's happening to them.  Without those key ingredients all the special effects and action in the world ends up a boring mess.

It never felt like Ring Raiders' team of writers were trying to shoehorn in the toy planes and the action that the title was based on; this was a proper, quality comic!  Even though we'd no idea at this point how long Trackdown would last, it still felt like the main story.  There was something epic about it only twelve pages in and it stood apart from the other strips. Perhaps it was the fact it was inventing new characters, maybe it was the scope of Skull Squadron's plot, or maybe it was the human element.  Whatever it was, this felt like the comic's star strip and I would be proved right in the end.  More on that in a future post though.

The middle strip was always a page longer than the "main story", although it was a series of complete tales as regular readers of the blog will know by now.  Chiller returns again and now it's his turn to reminisce about an event from his past to paint a picture of his character.  I honestly don't intend for this to be a pun, but this is a rather chilling tale!  This is definitely my favourite out of the profile stories:



It's interesting (to me anyway) to note how it's the same team of writer Scott Goodall and artist John Gillatt that come back every issue to tell us a complete, original story.  Having read back over the whole of the comic's run previously, it's clear each of the serials would be followed with another from the same creative team.  If the comic had lasted longer it would've made for nice consistency and I'd like to think these complete stories would've carried on for months and months and months under the guidance of these two wonderfully creative individuals.  They've settled into a format, starting with a battle in the various aircraft before getting lost in the memories of the protagonist.

CHILLED TO THE BONE

What I really like about this one is how this character, who was just "another evil doer" in the toys, was actually painted as a regular guy with a job (which of course was tied to flying), trying to scrape a living and generally pissed off with life.  Even though he obviously had some kind of inner evil streak given what he shows he's capable of in the end, he most likely wouldn't have ended up in Skull Squadron if he hadn't run into this "American".  I quote that because it's use makes me think Chiller is meant to be British, though I may be jumping to conclusions.

The image of the frozen climber was somewhat shocking to me as a kid and was totally unexpected.  Chiller epitomised Skull Squadron to me.  He's certainly leaving the highest death toll in the comic so far.  Along with Battle Zone '99's sub massacre, actually killing a Ring Raider at the start of this strip, then leaving a man to freeze to death... he was a genuinely evil, menacing presence and after this story we couldn't wait to see him return.  More than ever.

Moving on, pages 16-19 were forever destined to feature stories written by aviation fanatic (and editor Barrie's son) James Nicholas and illustrated with the intricate detail of Don Wazejewski.  Last time I mentioned how the cliffhanger involved Raider "Cub" Jones unconscious in his cockpit, his canopy blown out and Hubbub's Artificial Lightning Guns were baring down on him.  I said how I hoped Cub didn't get out of the situation too conveniently.  Well, he didn't.  He got shot down!:

Don's artwork and Nicholas' love of aircraft combined to bring a
great World War II atmosphere to Bomber Blues

A Raider shot down, the airfield of World War II bombers almost completely destroyed, Skull Squadron returning to finish the job.  Hope seemed lost.  A quick blast into the future shows Ring Commander Vector instruct there to be no rescue attempt, that Cub had a score to settle and would want to do so on his own.  Indeed Cub's craft was repaired just enough to fly again, but the undercarriage had been completely destroyed and the aircraft was up on maintenance stilts.  He had no way of getting it into the air.  That is, until the young, ingenious pilot who'd originally fought in the War came up with the plan in the final photo above.  I loved this as a kid, but now I'm just wondering how on earth the Bomber itself was able to take off when it's clear its own undercarriage wouldn't have touched the ground with the F-5 underneath it!

But anyway, previously I'd mentioned how the letters pages were alternatively hosted by the Raiders and the Skulls each issue, with readers picking sides, leading to some strips having cliffhangers where it'd actually be the Skull Squadron pilot in a life or death moment.  This was the first such case and was a nice reversal of fortune from the immediately preceding issue.

IT'S ALL BEGINNING TO AD UP

Speaking of the Skull Squadron, they were also the stars of the toy advertisement for this issue.  Created by the comic team instead of Matchbox they'd started off rather sparse and dull, but now we were starting to see original comic artwork from Sandy James come into the full-page ads.  I don't know of any other instance of a comic creating the adverts for the property it was based on, but they tied in these tiny planes to the stories in the comic in brilliant fashion.  I do wonder, if the comic and toys had carried on for longer (as they both deserved to) would we have seen this relationship tighten further and where would it have led?  Would we have seen Sandy's artwork eventually on the toy packaging?  Would Barrie and his team have taken responsibility for the tiny fold-out comics we got with our planes?  Just wondering aloud as a fan who really saw their potential and continues to do so to this day:

More unique advertising to come

This issue contains our first letters page with reader content, the aforementioned Chiller pin-up and a coupon to join The Ring Raiders Club, and one of the copies of this issue I have is actually my original and this coupon has been cut out and was sent off back in 1989.  Not that I ever received anything back.  I'll be taking a look at these features in future posts.  For now though, we've got to the final three pages and the strip which has surprised me the most in this read-through; Freedom Flight.

RINGING IN THE ACTION

I enjoyed all these stories when I was younger and again a few years back when I wrote my original Beyond Oink! post, but the ones that really stood out were other strips.  However, this time I'm just being sucked in here more than before and I think it's thanks to a new found appreciation of Sandy James' superb artwork.  Solid, colourful and extremely dynamic in its storytelling, it brings Tom Tully's script blasting out of the page.  Last time former-Russian-pilot-now-Ring-Raider, Commander Kirkov was plummeting towards the fort, his death seemed imminent and so did the successful change of a key moment in history:

Bold artwork and a bold introduction to the
namesake feature of the toys

Now, as I've said before when we played with the toys it wasn't the "power of the ring" in the way you might think from reading that above.  The ring itself didn't have any kind of power source inside it, instead it used the energy of its pilot to boost the plane in times of emergency and/or when extra power was needed.  It quickly drained the pilot's energy though, so could only be used as a last resort, and if used for too long could send him into a coma or even kill him.  The caption above may just be worded poorly though because after Kirkov dramatically pulls up, just missing the fort and taking out a Skull plane in the process, he frantically looks for a place to land his damaged bird before it's too late.

Mako (my second favourite Skull Squadron pilot after Chiller, thanks to his shark-themed motifs and a jet that could temporarily submerge itself in water) doesn't make it easy for him though and uses the above information about the ring to his advantage.  As he keeps Kirkov in the air by continually firing upon him, he screams, "Time's running out, Kirkov!  You can't fly on ring power forever or you'll burn out your own nervous system!".  There we go!  While previously I thought the comic didn't establish the ring properly it's now just proved me completely wrong and I'm very happy about that!  Great stuff.

The time travelling, the pilots and planes from various eras, the aim of the Skulls to de-stablise the world as we know it, and now the rings and the dramatic way they can be used (as well as for other little gadgets and as a pre-Bluetooth comms unit); all of these things were adding up to what could only be a thrilling comic!  For now though it's time to break for another fortnight:


With Kirkov losing Mako in the smoke of battle and landing in an area which seems to be overrun by rebels, the last page closes off another exciting issue.  It's sad to think we're already halfway through the run of the regular comic, but there's many more thrills, tightly scripted plots, great characterisation and amazing artwork to come over the next three issues and the big, fat special next year too!  Strap in and stay tuned!

Issue four will be winging its way to you on Saturday 28th October.