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Saturday, 25 November 2017

RING RAIDERS #6: FINAL CALL FOR FLIGHT RR89

<< GO TO ISSUE FIVE

Well this is indeed a very bittersweet post.  My favourite of the fortnightly issues of what was (and continues to be) my favourite non-piggy comic from my youth, also happens to be the final such issue.  But what a stunning cover to say goodbye with!:

I longed for this to be turned into a poster.
Still do!

I have very clear memories of running to my local newsagent to buy this all those years ago, when I'd go and see it on the shelf first and flick through it before running to the counter and asking for my reserved copy.  One of the first pages I turned to in that shop was the "Special Announcement" and my heart sank.  I'd already noticed the blanked out 'Next Issue' box on the rear cover but figured it was a mistake.  Not so.  But let's not get down, there's one more stupendous special finale still to come in a few months, but we weren't 100% certain of that at the time of course.  In the present day let's just get stuck in and enjoy the finest slice of 80s action Ring Raiders produced.  Ian Kennedy yet again kicks things off with a beautiful cover, this time featuring my favourite villain, the ghostly Skull Leader Wraither in his 'Galloping Ghoul' P51 Mustang aircraft.

It certainly set the tone like no other issue before it.  Inside, Wraither took over the letters page, his plane was the subject of the first fact-file page and he was the star of a brand new story which would go on to become my second favourite of the whole run.  More on each of them below, but first up there's been a little bit of a remix to the pages inside.  Freedom Flight from writer Tom Tully and artist Sandy James moves up to become the first story and the bold artwork really makes an impact the moment you open this issue.

Mako and Wing Commander Kirkov are still battling it out in the skies above Calvador, where Skull Squadron are attempting to change history for their own nefarious needs.  In fact this part of the story finally sets out in no uncertain terms the exact reason why they're attempting to do so and why it's so important for the 'Raiders to stop them.  It comes from a little bit of exposition on the part of leader Scorch, who is gorgeously brought to life by Sandy in a strip at last (after doing so in a toy advert in a previous issue):

Sandy's Scorch gave the original toy depiction and
the cartoon version a run for their money

Sandy's depiction of Scorch is far and away my favourite and a lot more menacing than even the one on the actual Matchbox toy packaging.  It's interesting to see with hindsight how the reason comes now in part six of this story.  The comic treated us as having actual attention spans, as readers who'd stick with the stories and who didn't need everything laid out in the first episode.  I really appreciate that now as an adult for obvious reasons, but as a child I loved having revelations like this in later parts of the stories as it made it all the more exciting to see what was to come next!

PERFECTION IN STRIP FORM

In Freedom Flight we see Skull Squadron's plans for world domination actually had structure to them, albeit they could execute these plans out of order in their own time, in the grand scheme of things everything was to fall in place across time zones in a very ordered way.  In the first of the two new stories, Castle of Doom this was taken a step further with Wraither going further back in time than ever before to plant seeds which, we find out later, could see them get a major advantage!  From the same team behind the previous Bomber Blues (writer James Nicholas and artist Don Wasejewski) it's taken Trackdown's place as the second strip and it makes a grand entrance!  Just look at that gorgeous brickwork and the detail on the guest characters:

An epic setting for the start of another epic story

Wraither is the perfect fit for this tale right from his first appearance.  He returns fire on the castle, but carefully misses all those present.  He does take exception to the Mayor (the rotund fella in panel two) and fires upon him at close enough range that he falls over the edge and down the cliff face.  Returning to the skies above the castle he switches on a mind control ray of some sort and mysteriously plants an order in the minds of the unwilling recipients, one that is to be subconsciously passed down from generation to generation: "Two hundred years from tonight these future generations will rise up and assassinate every single person in the castle!".  He's gone to great pains to set this up before the story began, as you can read above, just so that he can plant this in their minds at a specific time.  Why this particular castle and why that particular date?  We're left not knowing at the end of part one.

But what we do see, which excited me no end at the time, was that the Ring Raider dispatched to investigate is none other than Wing Commander Yakamura in his 'Samurai Flyer', the futuristic X-29 which came with the Galloping Ghoul in my Ring Raiders two-plane Starter Pack!  I loved how this turned my two favourite toy planes into mortal enemies in the comic and it was a great choice by the team.  James sets up an interesting tale and part one's cliffhanger is Yakamura spotting the Mayor is actually hanging by a tree branch over the cliff, but if he attempts a rescue he'll be open to attack by all of Wraither's Vulture Wing!  This cliffhanger and the intriguing story setup was agonising when I first read this issue, not knowing how long it'd be until I got the next instalment.  If at all!

NEVER EVER SAY NEVER OR EVERS WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU.  EVER.

The complete character story this issue is for a pilot whose Wing I never owned and who never appeared in any other strip within the short run of the comic.  Which is a shame, as here we have one of the heroic 'Raiders whose past clearly shows he was a complete wash out.  Very original for a kid's comic at the time.  "Never" Evers starred in Scott Goodall's Never Say Evers Again! which begins with him enrolled in N.A.T.O.'s flying school as an officer cadet:

A few years later and Evers' character probably would've
appealed greatly to the teenage me...

He's a fun character who finds himself under open arrest on the base where he accidentally stumbles upon his commanding officer hacking into top secret information for Skull Squadron, using Evers' love of loud music to his advantage.  Deliberately placing Evers under arrest and shoving him into an isolated part of the base beside a records department, he knew he wouldn't be able to resist rocking out to his heart's content.  When Evers' blows a speaker on his hi-fi system he overhears someone next door and investigates.  This soon leads to an aerial dogfight above a nearby town which is excitedly drawn by John Gillatt:


My only complaint in this entire issue is that there isn't more of this particular aerial action in this story, as the brief bit we're given is great fun and if it'd gone on for longer it would've made for one awesome climax.  It then ends with Evers blasting his music suddenly over an illegally installed music system in his aircraft right into Otto's communicator, causing Otto to crash land next to a busy motorway, taking out an electricity pylon in the process.  As a kid I also remember being excited by seeing some of the interiors of Sky Base Freedom on the first page of this story, even if it was just a few walls and computer monitors.  Owning the toys, it was always fun to see any of them in more detail than we could get in the toys.

THE COMMAND WAS IN OUR (TINY) HANDS

Before finishing off my coverage of the comic I wanted to make sure I showed you a bit of everything and up to now I haven't scanned in any of the letters pages.  A couple of years previous to this I'd collected Wildcat.  You can read about it in my original Beyond Oink! post and it's a comic I'll definitely be covering in the same way as Ring Raiders once I complete the collection.  What I never knew until recently was they were both edited by Barrie Tomlinson.  It's clear to me now when I look over the pages of reader content and what the readership was asked to send in, as they've basically both got the same ideas.  Short stories, plane designs (when the Ring Raiders were in charge) or weapons designs (every other issue this is what Skull Squadron were looking for), recruitment drives and action scene drawings.  Each guest hero or villain would introduce the issue even though this was in the second half of the comic, but this was the done thing at the time and they'd offer up different prizes for different entries, either a Battle Blaster Sound Machine or an aircraft set.

I never got around to sending anything in even though I'd made a habit of it with comics by this stage, but then again this one just didn't last long enough.  I particularly liked the fact Skull Squadron would give readers an extra 5 words to write their story with!  I think that's what I was planning on doing:

Barrie always liked to involve his readers in more
original ways than simply letters

The penultimate tale this issue is part six of the eleven-part Trackdown from the keyboard of Angus Allan and the inks of John Cooper.  On the tail of Skull Leader Blackjack, Wing Commander Thundercloud can't shoot him down for fear of setting off the stolen Doomsday Device and for the same reason the device can't be beamed aboard the Ring Raiders' Air Carrier Justice.  It seems all the Skull pilot has to do is wait it out, but suddenly he dives and stands his Harrier jet on its nose:

Dramatic sky-high action was always the
order of the day

In the toy line and already established in the comic last time, Blackjack can remotely control his jet.  In this day and age of full-scale drones in wars and those silly driverless cars it's easy to forget this was something incredible in the late 80s, even more so than K.I.T.T. in Knight Rider.  A remote controlled jet!  The maniac tosses out the pilot of the biplane and takes his young son hostage, although he does tell him his dad had a parachute in order to get the kid to shut up.  The blackmail then comes from Scorch himself to the Ring Raiders; "Your tame redskin (ouch!) stops following Blackjack - or else he rolls the boy out!".

Thundercloud's predicament is a particularly horrible one I have to say.  He either follows the Harrier with the device onboard and abandons the boy, or saves the boy and the Skulls get the Doomsday device.  In the end he makes the hard choice, it's the future of the world against one boy's fate and he announces over the airwaves he's going after the Harrier.  The 'Raiders are horrified but can't think of there being any other choice.  In the final panels Ring Commander Vector asks the professor, creator of the device, what would happen if they beamed the device on board and at the same moment took the Air Carrier Justice into the far distant future to try to save the people of earth.  The cliffhanger gives us no answer other than possible suicide on the part of the Ring Raiders and, while saving present day earth, the destruction of whatever future population they transport to.

Can you imagine my reaction in not knowing what was going to happen next in a fortnight?  Now, in hindsight it does make for phenomenal reading having all of the remaining five parts in the Special to come, but at the time this was unbearable.  Believe me when I say the unpublished #7 would've had the single most exciting piece of strip action I'd ever have come across.  You'll see what I mean in February.

A SUDDEN ENDING

As I mentioned above (and as you'll see in the final scan below) the 'Next Issue' boxes were still present but blanked out, although in some cases you could still just about make out what they said, adding to the frustration because what they were promising wasn't to arrive yet.  Also, on the letters page Wraither talks about the next issue in a fortnight's time and the comic was still asking for contributions.  But when I scanned the pages in the newsagents this stuck out like a sore thumb:

Crushed. This last minute announcement was in place of
the Next Issue panel and only said "they hoped" to produce
a special, so this was far from confirmation for me!

At the time I refused to believe it was due to bad sales with the way the first sentence was worded and over the course of Christmas my parents kept clippings from newspapers etc. talking about the mini-planes on rings being a huge hit with toy shops across the country.  It just didn't make sense to me.  Now of course I know the toys were successful that Christmas here in the U.K., but they were an American brand and there (and elsewhere) they'd unfortunately not proven themselves against the competition.  The American cartoon series never got passed the five pilot episodes and a lot of the planned bigger pieces of merchandise (which I'll show you in the New Year) didn't come to fruition.  That doesn't mean some smaller things didn't make it to market though and you can see the wide selection that was available in my original post from two years ago.

Ring Raiders felt like a very British product in much the same way as my brother's collection of Matchbox toys based on British cars and trucks felt, which might account for how well they did here, but even then the comic faced issues.  As Barrie has said in his book Comic Book Hero comics of the day were failing no matter how good a quality they were.  Television and the new videogames were replacing comics in the eyes of many young people and indeed my own first computer would see me go the same way in 1991.  Comics publishers were also releasing titles based on nearly every new toy or cartoon product out there in order to make sales!  For a market already facing decline, it was spreading itself too thin and so no individual comic made a sizeable enough amount of sales to keep going.

By 1989 and the time of Ring Raiders publishers had become more ruthless and if a comic wasn't a runaway success straight away it was canned.  With this being a British comic and the toy proving popular with British kids that Christmas, would it have been a different story if it had been allowed to continue until the New Year with all those potential new readers joining in the aerial fun on Christmas Day?  Or if it had launched in January 1990 in the first place?  We'll never know.  As it turned out a second (and I found out recently, even a third) series of planes, bigger bases, new merchandise etc. made their way to the shelves over the course of the next year.  But by the time Christmas 1990 came around the whole range was discontinued.

After Christmas I still received some new toys right up until the beginning of the summer but I stopped just before the second series came out.  Still full price I remember, so they were still selling among collectors.  The comic, then Christmas and the big bases I received, then the Special in February all kept me very much in that world but I was soon moving on to the next big thing too.  If the comic had continued I know that wouldn't have been the case.  I'd loved it that much and the comics of other toys had kept me locked in for years!

WRAPPING UP THE RINGS

But ending it was and in the last issue I cut out the Ring Raiders Club coupon that had been in the pages since #3, thinking if the comic was ending at least this would be something else I could look forward to and hopefully have something to read.  I never heard back.  I asked Barrie recently if he knew anything about it, but as far as he's concerned this was run by Matchbox so unfortunately I've no information about it at this time:

I will find out one day what this was meant to entail

The issue was certainly never intended to be the last when being put together and that fact-file page I mentioned at the top was to be the first part of an ongoing series.  As I've mentioned several times before it was amazing to see these teeny, tiny toy planes brought to life (as it were) as big, life-sized machines in the comic strips, right from that very first issue and Riley's dramatic plane crash.  Now James Nicholas was going to be treating us to real-life photography and details of these aircraft every fortnight.  At least, that was the plan:

A great addition to an already great comic

James' series would return in the Special and not long after Ring Raiders finished a new partwork appeared called Airplane which I bought the first dozen or so issues of.  Whether deliberately or by coincidence, the first issues were all military craft which had featured in the Ring Raiders toy range and the comic, but it wasn't long until each weekly part was focussing solely on commercial airlines and I became bored and cancelled it.  Hey, I was 12 years old!

So that's the extra features wrapped up and the comic as a whole.  Just one more strip to finish both the issue and the run off with and, ironically it's a brand new story.  Fans' favourite bad guy Chiller would make his return in the segments of the story still to come.  He may not appear here but it was clear he was behind it from the moment I read the title and I looked forward to seeing what his plot was this time.  It all kicks off with a somewhat familiar sounding cruise ship and its parent company, even its original port and destination seem to have been based on certain real-life events and as a native of Northern Ireland I particularly liked this little nod:

Aha! Another anonymous toy plane pilot gets
name checked, right in the final panel of the
final page of the final regular issue

It would end up introducing the Skull Squadron base for the first time in the timeline of the Ring Raiders pilots (even though we'd seen it already in the comic) and the timing would've been perfect for the Christmas issue and all those collectors opening it from Santa Claus.  Written by editor Barrie Tomlinson himself and drawn by Carlos Pino, the team behind the previous Battle Zone '99 produced one of my favourite strips from the whole run and I've certainly fond memories of this particular tale in the Special.  It was an intriguing start and with the shifting of strips, the new stories, new features and the all round quality of this issue, if it hadn't been for the abrupt cancellation I'd be saying this was the issue where a new found confidence came to the fore and it really started to take off after establishing itself.  No pun intended.  Much in the same was as #6 of Oink! in fact!

Before I sign off I just wanted to mention one little thing I've found particularly great recently.

As I've been reading and writing about these comics I've been posting up photos on my Instagram and it's been heartening how many people remember these toys, liked the photos or commented.  (I even had one person on Twitter singing the theme of the cartoon and my most popular tweet I've ever written was to link to my video preview of the Ring Raiders Reference Guide!)  Anyway, I've noticed just how many commercial pilots have been liking my photos, which can't be a coincidence.  I like the idea of these little toys leading some to follow their heroes into the air.

For now, look out in 2018 for a special interview with a Ring Raiders toy collector and I'll also be chatting with none other than James Nicholas himself before covering said Reference File and there's always the Special too in February.  I'm certainly not done yet with this superb comic!

More Ring Raiders coverage coming in 2018!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

LEW STRINGER: THE GIFT WHO KEEPS ON GIVING

Only three days ago I wrote about two Oink!-based posts Lew Stringer had made on his own site.  There was a Tom Thug strip from the pages of Buster comic and a first draft of his fondly remembered cover to Oink! #53.  Well he's at it again!  He's only gone and shared more insight into the creation of a cover to our favourite comic, this time the first he ever created for a mainstream comic.  Remember this?:


I have particularly vivid memories of the cover to #33 and you can read all about them (if the mood takes you) on the post for that issue.  Over at Lew's blog he's taken the time to write about the first draft of the cover and the notes and suggestions made by Oink! co-creator and co-editor Mark Rodgers.  For any fan keen to learn more about how the comic was put together it makes for fascinating reading and, best of all, Lew shares that first draft as well.  Just click on this small sample of it to be taken to his post:


Don't forget to subscribe to Lew Stringer Comics while you're there for all the latest info on Lew's current comics work, his own self-published range, upcoming comics, convention visits and of course a look at more work from his illustrious career to date.  You can jump there right now by clicking on his banner below:


Remember to read over the previous post for more Lewny Oink!-related goodness and keep an eye on this blog too for more in the future!

Friday, 17 November 2017

EXCLUSIVE COMING SOON: RING RAIDERS REFERENCE FILE

A few weeks ago former IPC/Fleetway editor Barrie Tomlinson got in touch to tell me his son, writer James Nicholas had found something in his house which they thought I'd like.  This was an understatement!  As soon as I received it I videoed a preview, which is right here for you (please excuse the scruffy look, I was too eager to get this opened!):

Filmed for YouTube a couple of weeks ago to promote
the blog, see below for the plans for Ring Raiders
coverage as they now stand

Straight from Those Characters From Cleveland, the copyright holders to Ring Raiders who developed the toy line with Matchbox, it was given to Barrie and his team during one of many meetings they had when they were putting the comic together.

It contains exact design and colouring details, character profiles, information on how the aircraft should be displayed, a look at designs for Wing logos and cool-looking planned merchandise which never saw the light of day, even fonts and legal information on handling a licenced comic.  I could wax lyrical about it right now but I'm saving it for the right time.

I'm planning on covering this on the blog in full in January.  The last issue of the comic will be up by the end of this month, then in December I've already arranged a special interview with a Ring Raiders collector I've been chatting to on Instagram (this should be superb for any fans, or anyone who wants to reminisce about their childhood favourites!).  The Ring Raiders Special, which rounded off all the stories was originally released in February 1990, so that leaves a gap in January which I plan to fill with a series of posts centred around this file.

It should be equally fascinating for any fans of licenced comics from the 80s too, as it gives plenty of insight into the creation of such a title and the 'rules' which had to be followed.  Barrie has already said in the interview he kindly took part in for the blog that the people behind Ring Raiders were more understanding and open than others, so it's an interesting look into the development of a brand new licensed comic.

I hope you'll join me in the New Year for this!

The final issue of Ring Raiders touches down on Saturday 25th November.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

1000 PIG PALS CAN'T BE WRONG!

The Oink! Facebook group has just reached a huge milestone: 1000 members!

That's right, our favourite childhood humour comic seems very much alive and well in 2017 and if you haven't already joined in the fun you really should.  What's keeping you?  Get your head out of the trough and go check out the group, which is chock full of fellow pig pals both old and brand new, as well as Oink! editors, writers, cartoonists, photographers, production assistants, modern comics creators and even a pesky blog writer.

It's the place to be for all the latest Oink!-related goodness and there's going to be so much more as the festive season and 2018 approach!

I joined the group several years ago when it had less than 100 people on board and just a couple of the creators of the actual comic.  A chap called Matt had created it under the name of "Unc Pigg" but as can be the case he unfortunately had to leave the group to concentrate on some life events.   I contributed some bits and pieces but also disappeared for a while until I decided to start up The Oink! Blog and its original plan of writing about each issue.  Originally just to publicise this site I rejoined the group and was pleased to see it had continued to grow.  I soon found myself entwined with fellow fans, chatting with some true childhood heroes and since have found myself kind of taking over the running of it, which has been great fun with such a brilliant collection of people.

I'm so proud of this classic comic and this past year we've seen more growth than ever and it's not about to stop.

Look out for more content in the group, such as regular posts to keep you up to date on the latest happenings related to those who worked on Oink!, fan projects and much more besides along with some fun additions which I want to keep a bit hush-hush for now.  But don't miss out!  Click on the image below and be zapped straight there and join in; post, comment, like, whatever you want!


See you there.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

I'M JUST STRING(ER)ING YOU ALONG


If you're reading the desktop version of this site (the default if you're using a computer, or you can select it via the link at the very bottom of any page) you'll see that long column down the left-hand side, full of information about the blog, my social media accounts, Oink! on Facebook and Twitter, as well as visitor numbers and various ways to search the blog for what you want and you can even subscribe.  You'll also notice a list of other blogs I follow and links to the various websites of Oink! contributors.

One such link is for Lew Stringer Comics, the personal site for everything to do with the Lewniverse, all the work from top cartoonist Lew Stringer both past and present.  Lew keeps his fans up-to-date on the titles he's working on such as Beano, the Dandy AnnualDoctor Who Magazine and Toxic, as well as his own self-published comics like Derek the Troll, Brickman Returns and the current series of Combat Colin.  In amongst all this you'll also find news on convention appearances and, brilliantly for us pigs pals, regular insights into his creations from the huge array of comics that have made up his career to this point.

Recently Lew shared two particular pieces that are of particular interest to readers of Oink! and so just in case you weren't aware, I thought I'd... um, make you aware.

(SORT OF) NEW TOM THUG AND (DEFINITELY) UNSEEN PIMPLES

I've previously taken a look at the first three issues of Buster comic after Oink! merged into it and as I said at the time Tom Thug would appear in its pages for a whopping ten years; eight years of brand new material and two of reprint.  I've seen very little of this material because I didn't buy into Buster for reasons I've covered before, so it was a treat to see a new-to-me Halloween strip featuring the dunce of all dunces on Lew's site.

Also around the same time Lew shared the first draft of his famous cover to Oink! #53.  You remember the one starring Pete and his Pimple, which saw the overgrown swelling actually push the comic's logo off the page, breaking it up in the process?  It was a great, fun cover but there were some little changes made between Lew's initial idea and the finished result and he shared these with his readers too.

To see these posts just click on the images below!:



Remember to subscribe and also don't forget about Lew's other site called Blimey!  In it, Lew discusses classic comics from his own childhood and right up to the present day.  Keep up-to-date with the latest UK comics industry releases, reminisce about the ones you grew up with and enjoy newly discovered treats you'd never heard of before.  Again, just click on the logo to jump right there:


Both of Lew's sites are updated often, so plenty to look forward to and there's plenty to catch up on!

Saturday, 11 November 2017

RING RAIDERS #5: JUST TAKE MY (PARENTS') MONEY

<< GO TO ISSUE FOUR

This was the only issue of Ring Raiders which ended up going walkies somewhere between 1989 and the time I read them again a few years back.  I was finally able to track it down on eBay in a bundle with the first three issues and I'll admit it cost a pretty penny.  But it was worth it to complete the collection (except for the preview issue which I didn't know about at the time, but have now acquired).  Or at least I kept telling myself that as my cursor hovered over the 'Pay Now' button on PayPal.  Now the wallet has recovered I can say it definitely was:

Like becoming reacquainted with an old friend

My favourite Skull Squadron plane makes it to the cover, with Skull Leader Mako's Mig-29 toy having a superb looking shark motif and anyone who knows me will tell you how obsessed I am with sharks!  The 'Sea Hunter' however had already proven its water wings to us readers in #2's story featuring a pre-Ring Raiders Victor Vector, so the question on the cover was kind of moot by even this early stage.  A shame really as I like the possibility of a mystery angle to this, but as a kid it felt like we were in on the secret, so to a young me this cover was like a cheeky nod to the readers that the Ring Raiders themselves may not even know the answer yet.  Either way, whether Mako was indeed blasting out of the ocean or whether he'd just performed a manoeuvre close to the water, Ian Kennedy's cover is just gorgeous.

I love the details of the cockpit, something which the toys didn't have, as well as the rough cross-hatching in his background which adds a lovely illusion of texture to the smooth glossy cover.  Ring Commander Kirkov's F4 'Comet' can be seen too and inside they'd face off against each other in the final strip, although disappointingly not above water.  Again, it was down to the pin-up to give us the tale behind the cover but in all honesty Ian could've painted whatever he liked as far as I was concerned!  Showing off a different character's aircraft each issue not only produced a superb work of art, it would also have been a great way of advertising the toy line over the run of a successful comic.  Let's open up and see what's happening inside.


NEW TOURS OF DUTY

Battle Zone '99 is the first of two strips to conclude this issue, which was exciting news!  The next issue would be the first time we'd have new serials since all the current ones began and as a fan I looked forward to seeing many new scenarios, never knowing when each new story would appear.  It felt like it was the next stage of the comic, settling in to a mixture of new and ongoing tales at any one time just like the comics my friends collected, such as 2000AD.  Little was I to know!  But back to the current issue and Barrie Tumlinson's tale comes to a strange little conclusion here.

After the seriousness of the submarines and the death of so many sailors, the story ends on a comedy note instead.   Chiller has summoned his Wing through the time portal to rescue him before he's stranded.  But when one of his (unnamed) wingmen lands Chiller knocks him out cold and ties him to the rear of the plane!  It's mentioned that it's a single-sea cockpit, so why did this plane land in the first place and not one of the others?  Or would there have been room anyway, so in that case why did Chiller do this?  But I'm thinking about this too much, the whole story was very much a plot-lite action-fest anyway and had been enjoyable.  More importantly, as a kid I found this funny.  But as an adult I must begrudgingly admit this finale hasn't held up too well.  Especially artist Carlos Pino's wingman!:


Carlos' character work had been grand up until now.  While not as detailed as the likes of John Cooper's or Don Wazejewski's they suited his bright strips very well, but it appears as soon as he didn't have a toy line face to work from that he didn't really know how to portray another Skull.  The line work to establish facial features or even the flight suit just aren't there for this one character.  Strange indeed and I have no idea why it ended up like that.  The story itself ends much like 80s cartoons did so at the time it was fine, but now it feels a bit out of place compared to the kind of action and less in-your-face humour evident elsewhere.  But it's still nice to have the variety of styles.  The team of Barrie and Carlos would return next issue for the replacement strip and I remember it being really rather good!

Next, Skull Leader Blackjack and his Harrier 'Battle Bird' lie in wait for new characters Freddie Riley (the Ring Raider wingman to Commander Joe Thundercloud) and his own Wing's unconscious Runtz in his attempt to steal the Doomsday Device.  As Riley's stolen helicopter lands at the pre-determined locale, Thundercloud lies in wait to take the device safely to the 'Raiders HQ Air Carrier Justice in his F-86 'Arrowhead'.  However, able to remotely control his Harrier, Blackjack springs the trap, Riley and the Prof are beamed to safety, and we see the story effortlessly transition back to the named characters from the toys in part five of Trackdown:

My favourite strip changes its line-up

If I'd known in advance Trackdown was an 11-part story and the fun new character of Riley wasn't going to be in the rest of it I may have felt cheated at the time.  To build up a new creation like that, just to have him replaced with the already established Ring Commander?  I may have felt that way, but when reading the story and seeing it happen this never occurred to me; it just felt like the natural way for it to go.  The device needed secured and a Mountain Ranger helicopter was always going to be temporary, with the plan to meet up with Thundercloud of paramount importance in previous issues.  It's a story which genuinely feels like it's developing and building upon itself each issue and has been masterfully planned out and written by Angus Allan.

After the above (dramatically drawn as ever by John Cooper) Blackjack knocks out Thundercloud, steals the device and takes off (vertically as Harriers do, which I still think to this day is awesome in the real world), abandoning Runtz.  Thundercloud awakes, gives chase but can't shoot him down for fear of activating the device.  Asking for assistance from the Justice, Ring Commander Vector tells him they can't, it's too dangerous to use the beam on the device if shot down.  With Riley and the Professor in the background Vector tells him they have no idea what to do.  It's an exciting cliffhanger and the story just gets moreso next time!

A FLASH OF INSPIRATION

Scott Goodall's complete tale this issue focusses on the Skull Leader star of Bomber Blues which also finishes this issue.  Hubbub, Skull Leader of Rebel Wing has already shown off his electrically-powered guns in that story but here we learn of how he came to love shocking his enemies.  Originally the owner of a rigged slot machine parlour he thought he was a tough guy, emperor of his own little empire.  But when he's robbed at gunpoint in his office we (surprisingly) see how much of a coward he actually was in the days before Skull Squadron.  Having no luck with the police who don't care about taking care of a crook, Hubbub's contacts in Chicago's rough South Side (I just love the little details in the character backgrounds in these stories) is able to pass on rumours of what the next target will be.  Hubbub lies in wait in a dumpster every night for a week outside a diamond merchant's until finally they turn up.

Hitching a ride secretly on top of their van he's soon discovered just as they're about to make their escape in their private jet, threatening to throw Hubbub out at thirty-three thousand feet without a parachute.  Done for, a flash of inspiration hits.  Literally:

John Gillatt is back on drawing duties this issue
after Geoff Campion's guest appearance last time

What's especially nice here was that he'd served his country in Vietnam.  At the start of the story he mentions he'd done so and then made his way back to Chicago to open up his gambling den.  There's some nice hints in the story that Vietnam damaged him in some way, as a lot of heroes (and villains) in 80s television and film had been, but this was the first time that background had made its way into my comics and, by being an official licenced product, into my toys as a child.  All of these little details building up, reading these back now it's all the more heartbreaking how these characters didn't get to flourish in a long-running comic where all these characteristics could be revisited in dramatic story moments.  It wouldn't be the last time the ghost of Vietnam would be felt in Ring Raiders either.

But let's not dwell.  As mentioned above Bomber Blues, written by James Nicholas and illustrated by Don Wazejewski, also concludes this issue and is a rather sudden ending while not feeling rushed.  Hubbub's wingman has ejected from his plane and it's crashing right towards the Rebel Wing leader.  Wing Commander Cub Jones can't let this happen though, it's not what the good guys would do after all; they capture, not kill.  So instead he blasts the crashing aircraft into pieces before it can take out his sworn enemy:

A refreshing take on an actual 'code' for the good guys...

I really like this.  It shows more of the code of the 'Raiders and it's refreshing to read this today after years of our heroes blasting the villains into oblivion.  While Knight Rider, The A-Team etc. would also capture their bad guys, Airwolf would simply blast them out of the sky every week, but even then we saw Stringfellow Hawke have a form of mental breakdown in the third season about all those he'd killed in the line of duty.  Those sorts of code don't seem to apply anymore to many movies and TV shows, even those aimed at families.  I'm not wanting to sound like an old curmudgeon, I'm not!  I'm not saying we should go back to the way it was in the 80s and we shouldn't (I'm not in denial about the world changing) but I guess it just adds to the feeling of nostalgia these comics have brought with them.

But then that all comes crashing down (pun very much intended) with the very next page!:

...hmm, then again.

So after saving Hubbub, Cub then blasts his wingman's jet over the airfield?  Yes, the pilot escaped as Cub would disable the craft in such a way that he could still eject, but he almost kills all of those men on the ground.  If there'd been any form of apology or acknowledgment of this being a mistake I'd forgive it, but there's not.  So it's a strange set of events I must say.  The story ends with Hubbub's one remaining wingman telling his leader to grab onto a wing to get them out of there, only for Hubbub to drag him out of the cockpit to take over (sound familiar?).  He then abandons him in the timezone as he warps out after being tricked into a failing air manoeuvre by Jones.  Without even landing (probably because he almost killed them), Cub sets off himself and radios the men on the ground to say he'll be back when he's needed in the war.  With Cub having originally been beamed aboard the Air Carrier Justice during this time, this affinity with the pilots of World War II would've been something I'd like to have seen return at a future point.

CHRISTMAS 1989 AND BEYOND!

Okay so before the final strip here's our fortnightly look at the advertisement for the Ring Raiders toys the comic's team produced and it's my favourite one yet.  No, it doesn't have the beautifully drawn human characters from Sandy James this time around, it's my favourite purely for nostalgic reasons.  When I turned the page and saw this I looked at each photo and thought "Oh, I had that... and that too... oh and that!... flip me, and that too!...".  I'd forgotten just how many Ring Raiders toys I'd had!  In fact, I had every single thing on this page:

There are collectors out there to this day tracking
all of this down

My poor parents.

After I bought my first couple of planes in a starter pack during the summer, I was bought a couple of Wing packs and then visiting family from Scotland also generously brought with them a special, giant Commanders set which had four Wing Commanders from each side.  There were a few different ways to collect these planes, the idea being you could end up swapping doubles with friends to complete your collection.  For Christmas I can clearly remember opening the boxes of the three bases above (although my Sky Base Freedom had been made from the same mould as Sky Base Courage, just painted a different colour) and over the course of the next half a year or so I'd add the rest.  Very happy memories of that time, especially Christmas, only marred slightly with the knowledge the comic had already finished.

Below you can see the pin-up for Skull Leader Mako I mentioned up at the top of this post.  It would appear the run-in Ring Commander Victor Vector had with Mako in #2 wasn't concrete proof after all.  Which is strange as, while Vector had originally "believed" the airplane was capable of it, what happened certainly seemed like concrete proof; he saw it dive underwater and resurface moments later after all.  Maybe because the proof wasn't recorded his claim was discarded?  But in the cover story here it simply states no one had yet discovered the truth, so perhaps it's just a slip in the editorial continuity perhaps?  I did say it was too soon in #2 to have a 'Raider see it happening, it would've been much better as a "secret" for the readers.  I'm not sure why that decision was made in that issue or indeed here, but it now appears Mako's arch enemy Kirkov "came closest" to affirming the truth about the specially adapted Mig-29 craft:

The two-tone pin-ups were certainly eye-catching

Finally for this issue Mako and Kirkov are back at it again in part five of Tom Tully's Freedom Flight and the final fight for the future of the South American country is upon us.  With Mako leading the rebel planes and easily taking out the government's defensive forces all the Ring Raiders can do is watch all hope disappear from the ground.  The fort, the last line of defence and the central hub of this whole story is on its last legs and can't take much more.  Kirkov was shot down but, using the power of his own body channelled through his ring, managed to land safely.  Now, using that same ring he's patched into some local transmissions of the battle.  This isn't explicitly explained other than to say he's doing it with "the mysterious power of his flight-ring".  I'd guess the idea was that the equipment being used in the abandoned airfield was capable of doing so but had no actual power supply.

Sandy James once more brings solid action to the comic

Desperate to get back into the air he checks in with the government forces working on his F-4 'Comet' and they've been able to repair the fabric of the craft but are lost when it comes to the hydraulics and the flight controls.  Again, Kirkov uses the power of the ring to "tidy up the loose ends".  For the computerised controls I can understand this in the same way as the transmitters I mentioned above, but not for the hydraulics.  Surely damage to them wouldn't be about power supply but rather a physical problem, and sticking his hand inside the plane somehow fixes them just enough to get airborne?  It's a strange one and unfortunately we'll never know how this could perhaps have been explained in a future issue, with the next being the last of the regular run.

For now Kirkov discovers one of his men, Baker, has been shot down and his other wingmen didn't see him bail out.  We're left to presume one of the 'Raiders has been successfully killed by Mako as they fly to a three-on-three battle for next issue.  Speaking of that next issue Trackdown would pull out all the stops over the rest of its story, with #6's cliffhanger being a particularly frustrating one for a final issue!  The wait for the Special next year would be worth it though and I'm really looking forward to re-reading the second half of this superb, epic tale again (it would've carried on all the way through to #11 remember):


That's us for now.  The final issue of Ring Raiders would see the comic go out on a tremendous high and I'm eager to get stuck in, so check back in a fortnight for what promises to be a somewhat bittersweet post.

My very favourite regular issue lands on the blog on Saturday 25th November.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

GHOSTBUSTERS ATC #1: "LIVE FROM NEW YORK..."



Shortly after discovering comics at a young age Marvel UK released their The Real Ghostbusters title and I was hooked for a few years, week in, week out.  But about ten years ago I tried out IDW's comic based on the original movie rather than the cartoon series and was bitterly disappointed.  The movie had a more subtle humour than the cartoon's sarcasm and slapstick, so for me that classic comedy (which I still love to this day) didn't translate to comics form too well, though they've proved popular and are still going.

When the brand new Ghostbusters movie appeared last year, starring the top comedians and Saturday Night Live stars of the modern day, just as the original had, I fell in love with bustin' all over again.  Much more laugh-out-loud funny it rocketed into my top ten movies of all time and earlier this year when I saw there was a new comic coming out I just couldn't wait.  The humour would suit the format much better I thought, but I still stopped short of buying Ghostbusters 101, the comic cross-over between the two versions of the franchise and instead waited for Dr. Erin Gilbert, Patricia "Patty" Tolan, Dr. Jillian Holtzmann and Dr. Abigail "Abby" Yates to appear in their own title.

It was worth the wait.


Right from page one writer Kelly Thompson has nailed the characters and how they're portrayed by the hilarious team of Kristen WiigLeslie JonesKate McKinnon and Melissa McCarthy.  Kate McKinnon's stint as Holtzmann in particular I thought would be a struggle to get across on the page, with her performance just being so out there and unique.  With all the main actors being actual comedians, having done stand-up and the aforementioned SNL, there was much ad-libbing during production.  Chris Hemsworth, who starred as their secretary Kevin, also proved to be a natural comedic actor in the same way.  So how could all that free-wheeling humour be written down in a comic?  As a fan, any concerns were immediately washed away with the opening above.

The writing is spot on and I could hear their voices from the movie in my head as I read their lines. Straight away I felt right at home, with that same level of excitement I had all those years ago when I picked up the first issue of the Marvel comic.  Just as then, these characters deserve many more adventures and if this premiere issue is anything to go by then they can count me on board for the foreseeable future!


Part one of What Dreams May Come revolves around the Ghostbusters coming across the small spirit of a child in a haunted mansion.  While the rest don't see any danger and think that this will be a standard catching, Patty's reaction is hilarious.  Citing "research" from a variety of horror movies as evidence, she freaks out and convinces the others they really should be terrified.  It makes for one of the funniest sequences in the issue.  She's right.  Sort of.  It isn't long before we see there's much more at play here than one tiny ghost when Abby ends up possessed as you can see in the page above.

My first reaction to this was of slight disappointment because as anyone who saw the film will know, Abby got possessed there too.  It made for a brilliant movie scene amongst three of the team, but reading this I initially didn't like it occurring again as I thought it showed a lack of originality; surely there's no need to repeat things from the film for familiarity sake?  Again, there was nothing to worry about because Thompson's deliberate use of Abby as the vessel seems to be laying the groundwork for an ongoing joke in much the same way as Erin's (and previously, Peter's) constant sliming was in the film.  The possession isn't dragged out and there's a great sequence in which Erin and Patty have to focus the fascinated Holtzmann, who'd rather study Abby for susceptibility.

It plays out brilliantly and ends with these next few panels.  Kevin has already made an appearance by this stage in his usual, charmingly inept way and below he has one of the best pieces of comedic timing in comics without even being in the frame!:


There's a ghost on the loose in the firehouse.  One who feeds on fear.  When he was alive this professor conducted torture and fear-based experiments and I look forward to finding out more about his history as the story continues, as what we find out here from Patty (New York history expert that she is) sounds truly horrific.  But for now, cue terrified 'Busters, a suitably Holtzmann-like invention and some great one-liners and throwaway gags before the cliffhanger which, cliché not intended, really does leave you wanting more.

I thought waiting a week for the next The Real Ghostbusters was bad!

WHO YOU GONNA CALL?
(your local comics store)

It's a rollicking premiere issue, establishing not just the characters but also the comic itself as what I hope is going to be a long, successful run.  The plot has only just started but there's enough intrigue to build on and a credible big threat, but its real success comes in the portrayal of the five main characters themselves.  Corin Howell's art has produced the perfect caricatures here, with keen likenesses given a comic makeover and the feel of a highly animated cartoon.  Lots of movement, character and comedy comes through in the art alone, the best example being multi-armed (really her arms just moving really fast) Holtzman trying to fight her way past the outstretched palm of Patty to stick a new experiment to her forehead.  This all suits the humour of the movie perfectly and is in stark contrast to what I felt were dull, lifeless drawings of the male team when I read IDW's first GB titles.


As you can see there's a selection of covers as is the case with most comics these days.  But unlike most, these are all very good (there's no logo-only or colourless "variants" here) however I'm just happy to get the comic and enjoy its contents, but they're there for you if that's your thing.  The price on the cover is $3.99 and my local store (Coffee & Heroes in the Smithfield shopping market in Belfast) charged me £3.70, as should others.

So go on, give your local store a call and order this issue up before the second one drops.  You'll thank me for it!

Friday, 3 November 2017

SECTOR 13 #2: THE SOPHOMORE RELEASE

But surely it doesn't rain in Mega-City One where
Weather Control is in place, no?

Back in August I was able to chat to a select few of the talented individuals behind new 2000AD fanzine Sector 13 and it turned into a 3-part interview right here on the blog.  Passionate about everything 2000AD and Judge Dredd, they'd produced a fantastic premiere issue which I rightly praised in a write-up at the time.  Now, six months after #1's original release date the second issue has appeared, today being its official launch date.  But how does it compare to its older brother?  Judging (no pun intended) by the cover all is good so far, with a powerful CGI-enhanced photo of a Belfast cosplayer as Judge McBride, but what about the all-important strips?

First up, just like last time we've got a photo story revolving around the Judges of Sector 13 in 23:50, the synopsis of which is that it's a tale of a typical twenty-three hours and fifty minutes in their lives.  Written again by Laurence McKenna, with the photos and enhanced effects coming from both he and Simon McKnight it's certainly a good idea.  Having just finished volume seven of the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files which contained classic story The Graveyard Shift, a story chronicling a whole shift for the aforementioned character, I can see what they were going for.  However, The Graveyard Shift took up several issues of 2000AD and each issue dealt with one (more or less) particular crime for Joe Dredd, whereas here we've several squeezed into eight pages, sometimes more than one per page:

Caffe Nero, another survivor of the apocalypse

While I can't fault their ambition and it's clear they've had a blast doing this, it feels more like a collection of photos which have been taken before the script was written, the story fitting around them rather than the other way around.  After the intriguing, well-paced and polished photo story from #1, 23:50 is a little bit disappointing in comparison but it's quite funny and should certainly be entertaining for Belfast natives spotting the locales doubling for Mega-City One.

The second strip is Humane Options and comes from writer W. D. McQuiad who contributed to the previous issue too.  Bad language aside (I'll get to that later) it's an interesting take on Terminator-esque time travel and the ending is particularly harsh.  The art from Patrick Brown is quite rough, with loose pen scribbles evident for shadowing which can give it a rushed look at times, but overall it suits the quick, dramatic and rather dark story very well so maybe that was the intention.

TWO-PAGE MASTERPIECE

My favourite strip from the whole issue is actually only two pages in length!  Stone Man is both written and drawn by Simon (cover star of #1) McKnight and it's a beautifully crafted piece.  It's got a classic Future Shock style, the set up being completely flipped on its head on the second page. With such a short tale I can't really say anything other than that without giving anything away and spoiling it for you.  With gorgeous artwork which must have taken him an age and the ability to tell a compelling story in such a short space I look forward to more from Simon in future issues:

Simon's Stone Man is the highlight of the issue for me

Before interviewing some of the team a few months ago we were also joined by artist (and weightlifter) Jawine Westland who was working on her drawings for this next strip right there in the pub with us.  Fascinating to talk to, Jawine was absolutely lovely and her artwork looked fantastic.  Here, reproduced on full, glossy A4 paper it just looks great.  While we sat talking that evening she'd casually work away at a panel or two of the strip as if she was just doodling, but in fact she was producing some lovely stuff for Peter Duncan's story, Ragnarok:

No, nothing to do with Chris Hemsworth

At seven pages it builds its far-out scenario carefully and I guarantee you won't see the ending coming so kudos to Peter for this script.  Jawine's artwork is a lovely freehand style and her shading adds a touch of atmosphere to this space station-based tale.  In particular when the twist starts to unravel you'll feel the claustrophobia of floating alone in space.  Very nicely done indeed.

PERFECT POSTERS

In the middle pages are three pin-ups from Hal Laren (who has just had his cover for #75 of IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles published), Richard Harrison and Adam Brown (whose colouring work can be seen in Justice League).  After the success of the previous issue's mini-posters we've one more to savour this time and all three would make for excellent 2000AD covers.  The Nemesis the Warlock double-page poster from Adam in particular is spectacular and it amazes me this is in a small press fanzine comic and not Rebellion's newsstand title!  Below is just a small portion of it, as I don't want to ruin the awe when you see the full image, plus a scan (or in this case a photo) just wouldn't do the whole piece justice anyway:

A small section of this gorgeous piece of art

The final main strip is once again written by W. D. McQuaid, illustrated by Paul Malone, and it's a very enjoyable 4-page romp with a mix of character dialogue and inner monologue telling the story.  It feels very much like traditional Strontium Dog storytelling, the kind you could easily find yourself reading in the pages of the Prog, with it's mixture of action and contemporary commentary.  The population of an Earth colony are suffering from exposure to rads from their dying sun, while also being the destination for refugees from a nearby moon colony.

There's a real sense of tension and hatred amongst the ruling government which will ring true to anyone who is paying attention to what's happening either here in the U.K. or in the States at the minute.  But it doesn't preach.  Rather, this is all part of the background to the situation Johnny finds himself in and the mystery he must solve.  When the answer is revealed it's clear the hints were right there at the beginning of the story.  It's a well thought-out script and it's paced superbly over its four pages, accompanied by some bright and vibrant work from Paul:

A fine addition for Strontium Dog fans

There's one more strip I want to show you, a humour strip the likes of which we'd have been treated to on a regular basis within the pages of our action comics in the 80s and 90s, and it's one Oink! fans in particular will love.  But first there's a couple of other extras to cover.

There's the first part of an exclusive interview with 2000AD artist Glenn Fabry, the following parts of which will be published on the team's blog, as well as a one-page text story from Andy Luke.  Set in the present day it tells the tale of a visit by Dark Judge Death to 'John' and his rather unsuccessful attempt at dealing out justice.  At times it's amusing ("I shhhalll find them by Goooooggglingg") but I found it a rather difficult read by the way it's written.  For example, from the start of the story:

"Centuries before the Judges, Death swept our world unrestrained now as to be.  When it encountered John, the thing from Deadworld struck like Mercury.  Yet when the 'criminal' fell, Death felt a familiar queasiness, the stick of freshness as gunk seeping down into its finger-nails (sic)."

It reads like someone trying to overly impress with their word use but just feels convoluted and unnecessary, distracting from the story itself.  I found myself having to read it very quickly to get the gist of what was happening; it was the only way my brain wouldn't get too hung up on the words used and the strange sentence structure.  Andy is a professional writer though, so I can only conclude this was a creative choice for this particular tale.  A strange choice for me personally.

MIND YOUR LANGUAGE (PLEASE)

The only other real gripe I have (apart from maybe the need for a bit more proof-reading for errors) is the bad language in the comic.  The 'f'-word is used on a few occasions in this issue and I don't think it belongs.  I understand they're fans of the 2012 Dredd movie, but even there I wasn't 100% convinced it belonged.  2000AD was originally created for young pre-teen kids, while nowadays it's still suitable for young teens and up into adulthood, the target audience being much wider than it was.  The movie took Dredd and turned it into an adults-only story.  I still thought the film was great as an adult adaptation, but I'm hoping the new Mega-City One TV series will be more true to the source.  It's being produced by Rebellion themselves and the city is more like the comic's setting (and the Stallone movie's setting, the one thing that film got spot on) so hopefully it'll also keep the swearing more in line with the comic, where bad language is outlawed and replaced with new words like "Drokk!".  Hey it worked for Battlestar Galactica which was still a hard-hitting and mature show.

When I interviewed the team members about the fanzine and their group in general they mentioned how they hoped they could reach out to young fans who may not have the confidence to do anything with their drawing skills.  So it's a strange inclusion to have that word used a few times in one strip and then in the Fabry interview too.  It just feels out of place.  Maybe if this was a Dredd movie fanzine, but not a 2000AD one.  Instead of making it more mature it can come across as rather juvenile in the strips.

Shame, as it's not there much and could easily have been left out.

OINK! OINK! OINK!

I thought that'd grab your attention!  As you can see below the humour strip included here is simply titled 'Davy Francis', as this is the special guest contributor to this issue.  Greedy Gorb and Cowpat County (amongst many others) creator Davy has written and drawn a 1-page strip centering around the world of cosplay in the city of the future.  Rather fitting given the hugely talented cosplayers that bring so much to this comic and this strip is genuinely very funny.  Well what else would you expect from an Oink! cartoonist?:

Guaranteed mirth when Davy is about

Sector 13 #2 is a 36-page A4-sized comic printed on high quality, thick and glossy stock, so the page count has increased by 12 since last time.  With the larger amount of content you're bound to find plenty in here to entertain.  Those few niggles I had aside, this is still a great tribute to what makes 2000AD the cherished comic it remains to be over 40 years after its creation.  When it works Sector 13 not only works, it hits the nail on the head!

- - -

You can order #2 (£4.00 plus £2.50 postage) via PayPal at the following address: sector13@boxofrainmag.co.uk

If still available you can also order both issues for the combined price of £11 including postage.

For more information and to check if stock of #1 still remains you can check out the fanzine's Facebook page.