Wednesday, 28 February 2018

RING RAIDERS SPECIAL (PART ONE): BACK IN YOUR HANDS



It's with great excitement that I welcome back the Ring Raiders and the Skull Squadron to the blog, almost with the same level of excitement as I had when this fell into my lap back in February 1990.  Quite literally.  I was quietly sitting watching some Saturday morning children's television when one of my parents arrived back from getting their newspaper and magazines and threw this down on top of me.  I was overjoyed.

While the last issue of the comic had stated the team hoped to put together a special to wrap up the stories begun in the fortnightly, I expected it to appear in April around the same time as the Oink! Holiday Specials did during (and after) its run.  So this was a very pleasant surprise and, after flicking through the big chunky comic and becoming quite overwhelmed with the sheer amount of Ring Raiders comic strip inside, I ran to my room, dug out my comics and read them all over again before settling down with this special 64-page final edition.  I was not to be disappointed, other than to once again lament the cancellation of a comic that deserved much better.  The comic I'm using here for scans and photos is the actual copy I received that day, so excuse the creases, this was read an uncountable about of times back in the day!

MORE IAN KENNEDY (NEED I SAY MORE?)

To begin with we've got two fantastic Ian Kennedy covers for your peepers.  I assume these were for the next two issues of the comic, #7 and #8, with the front cover sporting a bold new colouring for the title logo.  Was this a sign of what was to come?  Was each issue going to add a different colour scheme to Ring Raiders' title banner?  The back cover here has the same artwork but a different colouring again for the title, for example.  The cover is a dramatic image of Skull Leader Chiller's F-104 'Ice Machine' nose-diving on two unfortunate military men, then on page two there's this beautiful painting of Ring Commander Salty Salton taking off from his World War II aircraft carrier in his F-4U Corsair 'Sea Dragon', complete with heroic pose:


As with the regular comic these aren't entirely representative of any of the actual stories inside, rather they're showing off the kind of aircraft and action contained within, but usually with a character who is featured inside to some degree.  Certainly, both characters appear inside, Salty as a guest character who comes to the rescue at the end of Trackdown, while Chiller is once again the main protagonist in Operation Chill.

A CHILLING CONCLUSION

This story only began in #6 with the disappearance of a few hundred British schoolchildren from a cruise ship and Max Miles' Bravery Wing coming under attack from a mysterious source over an iceberg-laden ocean:


Written by the comic's editor Barrie Tomlinson (you can read my interview with Barrie here) and drawn and beautifully coloured by Carlos Pino, the 'Raiders have discovered one of the icebergs floating peacefully is actually packing quite a beat of heat.  It's another story which also named one of the anonymous pilots from the toy range and for what would've been a 5-issue tale we were introduced to Frank Turner, whose Mirage was shot down at the end of #6.  His wingmen are forced to take evasive action when a fierce wind blows him into their path, their jets then in turn forcing him down on top of the mysterious 'berg.  Under attack from Skull Squadron gunmen we get to see Frank use one of the Rings' other features at long last:


It was clear there was more to this block of ice than met the eye and after using his Ring to send a telepathic message to his commander (pre-Bluetooth days folks) explaining he'd found the kids there's a sudden movement on the ocean surface.  The ice was beginning to come to a halt in the current somehow.  Even stranger, it was shrinking!

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM MATCHBOX!

This story would've been published between issues 6 and 10, and #8 would've went on sale on 23rd December 1989 making it the Christmas edition.  This was the first festive season for the toy range and whether by chance or by design the comic ended up revealing one of the most sought after toys in a most brilliant, and rather sinister, way:


Yes the Skull Squadron base had been seen in an early part of Trackdown already and that story was set in 1990, but we're dealing with time travel throughout this comic.  Trackdown may have happened before Operation Chill in linear time, but for the characters in that former story they'd travelled back in time to 1990, to a time when no one knew of the 'Raiders and their mission.  Operation Chill, while set in an unspecified year, has mention of the NYPD beaming newspaper stories aboard the Air Carrier Justice so it must be set at least in the late-90s, which was when the toys stated the force was assembled.  It's also when the Skull Squadron revealed their new flying mobile base in the timeline of the characters, with Trackdown happening later in their own timelines but in the actual past.  (Doctor Who fans will be used to this kind of thinking!)

Of course I could be reading too much into this, but if the comic had continued it would've been really interesting to see more of the timelines of the characters being told out of sequence for its readers to piece together themselves.  There's a fantastic story taking up most of the second half of this special which travels much further back in time but focusses on events which led to the very formation of the Ring Raiders centuries later.  It certainly makes me think of just how much of a detailed history (and future) was being built up already and how it all could've developed much further over the years.  Not bad for a comic based on little toy planes, eh?

The rest of this story sees Frank captured and put on ice (literally) and Chiller takes on the remaining three jets of Bravery Wing on his own.  Little do they know of his new ice weapons and he soon takes out two of the planes, the pilots ejecting at the last moment.  I've only noticed reading through this issue now how the lettering changes somewhat for this last part, clearly being finished by a different person than the previous chapters.  There's also a couple of instances where the artwork for Chiller's F-104 looks almost unfinished.  Now it could simply be that he's far away, but given how the Skulls' base and icebergs are also meant to be that distance away it does look a bit off. Here's one example of the couple of times this happens in these final three pages:


With it all coming down to a dogfight between Chiller and Miles, the latter does the "very last thing he'd (Chiller) ever expect" and lands on the runway of the newly revealed HQ.  Chiller obviously calls his skeleton crew out to take on Miles as he exits his plane, not knowing the SR-71 'Knight Fighter' has a concealed single under-nose cannon which he uses to blast the gangways above the exit used by the gunmen:


Taking out the remaining guards in hand-to-hand combat he then jumps into one of the base's cannon housings and blasts at Chiller who ends up with a damaged plane and hightails it out of there.  With the school kids rescued and Turner thawing out in a hot bath (really), it's intriguing to see the Skull Squadron's base now in the hands of the Ring Raiders!  Since it's appeared in other stories with Scorch et all at the helm it's clear they must steal it back again somehow but, unfortunately due to the cancellation of the comic, it was left up to fans to imagine how that would've played out with their toys.  As we did.

TRACKING DOWN EXCITEMENT

Speaking of the base being back under the control of Skull Squadron and acting out scenes with our toys, it's time to move on to the second story from the special and my very favourite of the entire run of the comic; the epic 11-part Trackdown from writer Angus Allan and legendary British comics artist John Cooper.  After the 12 pages of Operation Chill it was time to settle down to 20 pages and 5 parts of this tale which, when read altogether as one 48-page adventure really summed up the potential of this fantastic comic.  My excitement as a kid couldn't have been at a higher level after reading these following pages and what would've made up #7's episode:


From Blackjack's characterisation and quips with the young boy he's kidnapped, to his second thoughts on following through with his threats and Scorch's blatant disregard for the kid's life, it built up superbly to that action scene which had 12-year-old me thrilled to bits!  I may not have had a toy plane to chop in half but you can bet I often reenacted the piggy-backing in those final panels with my small Matchbox toys.  I'm sure I wasn't alone.  Yes it's all rather far-fetched but within the world of a time-travelling airforce using rings to help combat the enemy it all works perfectly.

RINGING IN THE THUNDER

Blackjack's Harrier was in an auto mode and cruising in a straight line and it'd keep that going without new instructions, so for Wing Commander Joe Thundercloud to get that Doomsday device out of harm's way he'd have to use the power of the Ring.  Regular readers will know the Ring uses the central nervous system of its wearer to create extra power for their aircraft, such as when a plane is badly crippled and the pilot needs something extra in order to regain control and land safely, or to give a blown jet engine just enough juice to get it airborne again.  This was seen on the blog in the post for #4 for example in the story Freedom Flight.  But these main features always took their toll on the pilots and were only ever designed to be used for very short periods of time or else they'd black out and lose complete control, something seen in one of the episodes of the cartoon series.

Below is the sequence when Joe uses his ring to try to get the Harrier and its deadly cargo out of harm's way.  For a youngster reading about their new heroes it was all rather dramatic, imagining the "howl of the overstretched engines" and Joe's own scream as the Ring takes its toll from expending what the airplane needs:


He had indeed disappeared and ended up in the age of the dinosaurs.  The Rings used a mental connection with each individual wearer and plane, so Joe's thinking and his desire to get the device as far away from the population kind of backfired on him!  What's more, after the sudden and unexpected time travel, an exhausted Joe found he couldn't hold his plane aloft much longer and ended up plummeting into a nose dive, the Harrier still on his back:


A moment's reprieve only leads to bigger problems.  Reading through this now I can imagine the impact this ongoing story would've had on my younger self, reading each 4-page instalment every fortnight, witnessing the situation just get worse and worse for the 'Raiders, all hope lost over and over again.  (It was certainly exciting when I read it all together back then.)  I'd been reading Transformers from a year before Ring Raiders appeared on the shelves but still the stories here seemed to have a bigger impact on me.  Looking back I can theorise as to why.  Perhaps because Transformers was already established as a hugely successful franchise, containing many universe-spanning storylines with out-there characters my friends were already invested in.  Whereas here was something new, with actual human characters flying realistic-looking craft (albeit it with the sci-fi liberally added on top to give the title its unique angle), but more than that I'd discovered them myself.

I'd joined in from the very beginning.  I saw these characters come to life from the word "go", saw the simple drawings on the toy packaging come to life in the comic and witnessed the potential new franchise start to establish itself.  Eventually I came to love the Transformers characters just as much but it took a little longer to get to know them as they'd been established long before I'd joined in.  With Ring Raiders I'd been there when the figurative blank slate was first drawn on, I'd made a connection with this comic and I can't tell you how crestfallen I was when it was cancelled so early.  I understood why my friends were so heavily invested in their Transformers characters!

BIGGER THAN EXPECTED CLIMAX?

With the Doomsday device at the bottom of a massive lake, nowhere to land and the Skull Squadron closing in, Joe makes a last desperate attempt to use the remaining amount of energy he has to contact the Air Carrier Justice and call for reinforcements.  I loved the way John Cooper would draw something disappearing or reappearing, such as the bi-plane above and now the massive carrier:


Able to land and refuel both the airplane and himself, Thundercloud and Vector discuss blasting the cliff face side of the lake so it would drain, then they'd be able to get down and recover the device from the sunken Harrier.  All goes to plan and, with the crater created and Joe returning to base once more the day seems saved at last, until an explosion rocks him to his core and out of the glare of the sun comes Blackjack, superbly realised by Cooper here:


What an atmospheric and foreboding entrance.  Great stuff!

Joe's wing leaps into action to protect him but Blackjack is not alone and his own team are soon running interference.  But when I say he's not alone I mean it!  This penultimate chapter sees a full-on assault from the combined might of Skull Squadron on the forces of the 'Raiders, penning them in and unable to take off and aid Joe in the mission:


The action seen in this story's final two parts, which would've been in issues 10 and 11, was the kind of high-flying, high-octane stuff fans of the toys longed to see, with one-on-one dogfights, crash landings, full-on assaults, team fights and at the centre of it all were two characters driving the story forward.  The story was never forgotten for a single page, never sacrificed to show off the action and with the Ring Raiders kept busy Blackjack was able to hover his Harrier (something I was always fascinated about with that particular real-life jet) over his downed one and recapture the Doomsday device as you can see above.

From here it's stolen back ingeniously by Thundercloud who uses the laser in his Ring to snap the cable between Blackjack's plane and the device, then again used all his own internal strength to "grab" it from thin air and pull it into his cockpit, sort of reverse-engineering the power of the Ring we've seen in previous issues.  His strength gone, he almost crash lands, then Blackjack (after getting attacked by a dinosaur!) homes in and sets himself up to land and easily beat the weakened Joe into submission and claim the prize.  Thankfully Salty Salton flies off from the Air Carrier Justice against orders and, using the manoeuvrability of his F-4U Corsair (see the inside cover at the top of the post) is able to get himself away from the battle and save the day, firing upon Blackjack's cockpit and wounding the man himself who then takes off and escapes.

All that's left is for Salty to link Rings with Joe, using some of his own energy to replenish his comrade's.  In hindsight not only is it a fantastic climax to Trackdown, but a worthy climax to the comic as a whole, even though that was never the intention obviously.

It's a superb story which I did say had everything back in my very first post about the comic back in 2015.  In fact, now I've covered the complete tale here's what I said in that introduction to Ring Raiders:

"Trackdown features the Air Carrier Justice beaming half a bi-plane onboard to rescue a young boy after it's deliberately broken in half by a jet, a Skull Squadron plane flying by remote, that same plane being balanced precariously on a Ring Raider jet by the power of the Ring and nearly draining the pilot of his life in the process, a time travel jump to the age of the dinosaurs and the evil Blackjack's plane skipping across a lake and sinking in the climax.  When listing all of that in such a way it may sound like it's a matter of throwing everything at a story for the sake of some random action for the kiddies, but I have to say it all works!  There are reasons for all of this and it all develops out of the characters themselves and the situations they place themselves in, perfectly demonstrating the scale of the comic's potential.  Not bad for a licenced title, eh?"

No, Phil from 2015, not bad.  Not bad at all.

STILL TO COME

That's the first half of the comic (well, two pages over the halfway point) covered.  There's still another 30 pages of goodness still to come, with 20 pages of my second favourite story, the lore-heavy Castle of Doom and then the final part of the colourful Freedom Flight.  This is then topped off with the last character profile tale, this time centred around the latter's main 'Raider, the Russian defector Yuri Kirkov in an eerie Vietnam tale.  I'm going to miss these characters so much, all over again.

The second part of this final edition of Ring Raiders will be appearing on the blog soon.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

AVAILABLE NOW! - COMBAT COLIN #2


You're not mistaken at all Semi-Automatic Steve, it's the start of 40 more pages of exciting adventures for you and your pal, the unmistakable Combat Colin!  Fans of Marvel UK's Transformers comic like I was will be in their element here with the first selection of Lew Stringer's humour strips from that title from 1988 and '89.  Originally created for the weekly Action Force comic, Colin came along for the ride when it merge into the Robots in Disguise from issue #153 onwards and was an instant hit with his new readers.

I came on board from #192 so Colin was all I ever knew as far as the comic's humour strip went and it was only from friends giving me their old issues years later that I was introduced to Lew's original strip, Robo-Capers, episodes of which you can read here and here.  It all meant when Lew released #1 of his new Combat Colin collection the vast majority of the strips were brand new to me, having been printed originally in the pages of Action Force.  It was a great read, very funny and a top quality comic to boot:


Well now Lew has finally released the news we've all been waiting to hear, with the publication of the sophomore edition, collecting the first eighteen months worth of strips from the newly merged comics.  Now, about ten or so years ago I did read through the Transformers comics from beginning to end (which I'm currently showing off through photographs on Instagram, with catch-ups on the blog) so surely I can't be looking forward to this next issue as much as I did the first?  I've read all of these already after all.  Yes, but that was a long time ago and, when you've just hit 40, comics you read when you were 30 seem like an awful long time ago and I'm going to relish rereading all of these again.  I have every faith these strips will be just as much fun as last time.  Of course, having them all collected together into one volume is also a huge bonus and the main selling point here:


Speaking of selling, that's exactly what Lew is ready to do.  #2 is available right now from his site's online shop for the great value price of only £3.50 (plus £2 postage), where you'll also find #1 still available too either individually or as a bundle with the new issue to save on postage.  He's also written up some further details on his two blogs, links to which are below.  My own issue is on its way (thanks Lew!) so expect a write-up very soon.  I can hardly wait myself!

You can also purchase both issues of Combat Colin in a bundle with Brickman Returns (read my write-up here), in which Colin guest stars in several strips.
Also(!) Derek the Troll (there's a write-up for this one too) is getting a second printing and will be available again very soon!



Friday, 16 February 2018

TRANSFORMERS AND VISIONARIES (AGAIN, BUT MORE SO)

Remember this?:


One of Hasbro's less successful toy ranges was the Visionaries series of action figures, which included holograms on their chests and weapon staffs, as well as on various fantastical looking battle craft.  Holographic toys just didn't seem to sell well in the 80s.  Despite being really cool to look at, kids had to stop play to hold them up to a light source at a certain angle in order to see them in their albeit glorious 3D, along with any animation when you turned them slightly back and forth.  Even as a child I remember it meant during play you just couldn't see them, then with Visionaries in particular there appeared to be something missing.

I watched the cartoon every single Sunday morning on BBC Two and loved it dearly.  The characters could turn into magical totems, animals which matched up with their own personalities, and I always felt the toys should've included a small animal figure in there.  Instead we'd characters who on TV and in the comic could transform themselves but when we went to play with them, we had to stop, hold them up to a light, watch the hologram and then, well, pretend the characters had changed.  Ah, a child's imagination, eh?  The story and the set up was superb though, so even with this omission from the toys I was still in love with them and spent hours with mine.


Back to comics though.  I'd only started collecting Marvel UK's regular Transformers comic from #192 and so was unaware of the Visionaries' previous appearance in the title, or that they'd had their own comic for five months here in the UK too!  I did get the annual for Christmas 1988 though, the toy range's one and only real festive season (though I'd continue to collect the toys for one more year).  This included the lengthy original story and a couple of text pieces, so when they appeared in the pages of Transformers as the back-up strip I was initially disappointed it was the same story all over again, only split into seven weekly parts.  I still enjoyed it though, however my wish for further adventures was not to be as they disappeared after that, never to return again.

I've read some of their original adventures over the years, specifically in earlier Transformers and their UK comic will be making an appearance on the blog at some point.  But recently while in a local comic store awaiting my copy of the latest Ghostbusters Answer the Call I noticed part of a word, "aries" poking out from behind a comic on the shelf.  I immediately thought of the Visionaries and wondered what this similar sounding comic was, but I never expected it to actually be them!  Plus they were in a comic with the Transformers!  I'd heard Hasbro were considering bringing them back as toys for today's kids, with Paramount already saying they planned a crossover universe between the hugely successful Transformers movies, a relaunched G.I. Joe, Visionaries and more Hasbro properties.

(Brilliantly, Paramount did state - I paraphrase - "Don't worry, you won't have to watch them all!", which I thought was a funny dig at certain other franchises.)

Unfortunately the comic was the second issue but thankfully it was easy enough to order in the premiere issue so now I have both editions available so far:


My first reaction was a negative though.  That really is a terrible title logo isn't it?  It's barely legible, especially on that darker cover of #1.  Why on earth did they not use the actual ones they've banished instead to the bottom of the page?  That aside, I'm excited to get stuck in.  It does spin off from IDW's Transformers universe which I haven't been following but this won't be an issue, with a quick recap included.  The cover of the first issue in particular has got a lovely gloss to it, with pieces of the art raised up which I've tried my best to capture in this photo below.  Everything points towards this premiere issue being a big deal and a possible start to an ongoing Visionaries, so again I have to ask why the title banner looks like it was created at the last minute on a word processor!


Anyway, I've some catching up to do so will be reading these individually as soon as I can and writing them up immediately afterwards.  First impressions though?  Inside there's a page introducing the characters before the story itself and my first reaction was why have they changed the Visionaries so much?  But then I remembered how the Transformers movies very successfully updated their characters and online I found a great source for fans of the Knights of the Magical Light and if you click here you can see exactly how these brilliant, overlooked 80s characters have been updated.  I love them!  Not only are they more diverse, which is great, but also there's so many nice little nods to the originals in there.  More than that, it's clear the artist Fico Ossio has gone right back to the source material and developed and updated them with great respect, looking like a very natural progression to a modern day take.  It's got me very excited to get stuck in and I'll be back with more as soon as I do.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

EXCLUSIVE LEW STRINGER ARTWORK UP FOR SALE

Some great news pig pals!  Lew Stringer has just announced he's put up for sale some of his drawings from the Sketch-A-Day concept a couple of years back.  Available through eBay each one is an original piece by Lew, not a published version (in fact none of these were for print and instead were put up online) or a copy, these are the actual drawings.  Here's a quick sample of the 17 pieces you can get your trotters on:


Each page is an A5 which means you're getting a decent-sized image which would look great in a frame.

The bids are starting between £9 and £13 per sketch, so get yourselves on over to Lew's auction page now and take part for your chance to own an exclusive one-off sketch from one of Oink!'s most prolific cartoonists.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

GHOSTBUSTERS ATC #3: THE BEGINNING OF YEARS TO COME?



Well this made for a particularly nice Sunday morning.  The snow was falling outside while the winter sun continued to heat up my living room as I watched the Winter Olympics and read the latest issue of Ghostbusters Answer the Call from IDW.  I can comfortably say it's been a good few years since I was regularly reading a brand new comic and now, three issues into this series, I can say I've missed the thrill of that.  Of course that thrill is only there if the comic itself measures up and has you looking forward to that next issue and this definitely does.  With Patty Tolan taking centre stage for the cover, let's dive right in:


Writer Kelly Thompson has nailed these characters and their portrayals by the cast all along, right from the off in #1, but here we're starting to see her delve a little bit more into each of them, in particular Holtzmann in this issue which I'm sure will thrill most people.  With just the one film for now, for the time being it's going to be left up to the comic to develop these characters further over time.  (Although you could also always check out the wealth of ad-libbed alternate scenes by Kate McKinnon on the home release of the film for more Holtzmann!)  I can't tell you how excited I am about the possibility of this comic title lasting for many years to come, to find out much more about these four ladies and Kevin and see how they grow and evolve over time.  Fans of the movie are crying out for more from this team and this is an excellent way of getting just that!

So back to this particular issue and last time (hope you've read it by now) the Ghostbusters were all left as gibbering wrecks and terrified for their lives after Schreckgespenst, who is affectionately referred to as "aka Schrecky" in the editorial page's catch-up, infected their minds with their greatest fears.  This third part of What Dreams May Come starts off with a brief glimpse of the team still in their nightmare states and then forty minutes later in a diner.  I won't ruin the surprise of how they escaped but it's initially a bit of a let down after the cliffhanger last time.  However, this disappointment soon evaporates when you realise the Ghostbusters themselves are down in the dumps about what happened too, so that initial reaction was the intention of the writer all along.

It particularly affects Holtzmann and we see a surprisingly downbeat Jillian, albeit not for long and soon the team are splitting in two with Erin, Patty and Abby heading back to the mansion from #1 to find any of the research Schrecky conducted while he was alive:


I have to say Corin Howell must certainly love to draw a good, creepy scene if his end results are anything to go by.  Returning to the house the atmosphere oozes from every panel and certainly his ghosts are suitably chilling, all with the highly comical Ghostbusters running around amongst it all.  This is very much in keeping with the franchise as a whole.  While Marvel UK's The Real Ghostbusters comic went down the route of more comical-looking apparitions, all three movies and the cartoon series kept their spectres etc. looking fittingly horrific for the most part (Slimer aside, obviously) while the Ghostbusters themselves and those they'd interact with brought the comedy to the fore.  As if by magic, here's the perfect example.  After sneaking into the long-deserted and equally long-haunted mansion, the windowless corridor they find themselves in is blocked shut and the three of them reach a dead end where they'd worked out the laboratory should be.  From behind Erin and Patty comes a shriek of "Make a hole!" and they leap out of the way of this:


A bit of background story advancement later the team are busting again and here is one slight disappointment I had.  The ghost trap isn't the cool new, original gadget put together by Holztmann in the movie which I personally loved, but rather a plain little box akin to the original movie's.  A nitpick obviously, it doesn't seem to fit in with their other crazy equipment, but it doesn't really matter as Holztmann did previously state in #1 that she'd taken the original team's trap and made improvements so we'll let it go.

Speaking of the mad scientist/inventor, the comic throws up a particularly interesting concept when she explains how all fear is "dumb".  After they'd all become frozen with the stuff the others aren't exactly happy with this conclusion, but as Holtzmann goes on to explain it's the specificity of fear that's stopping them.  That is, what one person could be terrified of, someone else will find dumb.  An intriguing idea and one I'm looking forward to seeing how on Earth that could help them.  The idea is also enough to snap her out of her doldrums and she excitedly rushes back to HQ to experiment on poor Kevin:


Seriously, that could easily have been ad-libbed by Kate McKinnon!  Kudos again to Kelly Thompson.

The only disappointment I really had was the cliffhanger.  I'll mention it next time so as not to ruin it for anyone wanting to buy this first, but it kind of happens 'off camera' so it feels a little bit like the story just ends this time around.  But it doesn't detract from what is another really enjoyable issue and fans of Holtzmann in particular (and let's face it, who isn't?) will relish not only her delightfully long ramblings but also her surprisingly quieter moments.  In fact, the issue would've ended more satisfyingly if it had done so with the discussion about her own experiments on fear because the comic is so full of energy right up to this point, with only that troublesome final page letting it down.

Below are the variant covers you can hunt down if you wish and you can order these from any comic book store (I get mine from Coffee & Heroes in Belfast), online from national/international retailers, or even IDW themselves where it's also available digitally.


Again we've got 20 pages of top quality strip inside a 32-page comic, the remainder made up of the editorial page, a quick glimpse of the next issue and then a ream of advertisements for the publishers other lines.  Weirdly, the half-page checklist of the current month's releases is actually the one for December 2016!  Just 14 months out there, people.

So now I'm all caught up and the issues are being released on time I've got a full month to wait for the penultimate issue in this story.  Let's just hope there's news soon of further tales and issues to come, because based on these first three issues and fan reactions already, this deserves to run and run.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

DAVID LEACH CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE #1: A MONSTROUSLY GOOD READ


First up can I just say I don't have the foggiest of a clue why I haven't covered this until now.  As you can see from the cover above, #1 of David Leach Conquers the Universe from Oink! regular David Leach (obviously), was released way back in 2014, a whopping four years ago at the time of writing.  Back then this blog was a very different beast, solely covering each issue of Oink! and only paying lip service to anything else, such as mentioning the small press releases from the comic's cartoonists as news items.  I only started to cover them properly once the blog started to expand and include the other comics from my youth.  Now, with the blog properly relaunched and a plan for its future, it's about bloody time I got caught up!  So towards the end of last year I bought the second issue of DLCtU with the plan being to launch the new year with these and the graphic novel for Vampire Free Style and finally here we find ourselves.

So has it been worth the wait?  You bet your bottom dollar.  First up I should state these comics are still available from Dead Universe and I'll have the details further down the page.  But before that, let's have a look at what exactly that bizarre cover image represents:


You know how people say things like "You know what they say", or "They say it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all", or "I'll prove them all wrong" etc.?  I'm sure you've used the word "they" in a turn of phrase before too yourself, but have you ever stopped to think about who "they" actually are?  Well no, of course you haven't because it doesn't really mean anything, but here we meet David himself in a dead end bar giving a long monologue to anyone who'll listen and he wants to know exactly who "they" are.  It all seems very random when the military then jump into the strip to extract him to fight the monstrous beast on the cover, but really there's an underlying background that I won't ruin, which ties these seemingly unrelated threads together in the most unique way.  You'll never see it coming, that's for sure.

The 24-page comic is split into a couple of chapters with a 1-page intermission in the middle which acts as the reason behind all the mayhem.  It's brilliantly written, you're never a panel or two away from a gag and they all hit the mark.  There's even a few running jokes throughout, such as quite a few references to an ex-wife which pop up very frequently over the course of the middle pages of the comic:


It's like once he mentions her he can't seem to stop, there's just too many chances to have that next little dig.  While the first chapter is based in the bar, the second, larger one focusses on the battle at hand and it rattles along at a frantic pace both in action and wit.  Seriously, you'll hardly have time to catch your breath between jokes and the ending, especially after the ingenious interval is just superb.  The story also plays up to as many clichés as it can, taking the hand out of what seems like nearly every monster and/or action movie plot since the dawn of the cinema.  With David's alter ego always completely deadpan and with a permanent scowl on his face, the spoof is complete.

I can't fault the writing here at all.  Underneath it all you can feel that same sense of humour David brought to his manic Oink! strips back in the 80s, but here it's been applied to the nth degree with a liberal dose of more adult-orientated jokes sprinkled on top.  Artwork, as ever, is up to his own astronomically high standards.  The way he draws humans, with bodies that seem just that little bit too short for their proportions, is reminiscent of Psycho Gran but here it applies to everyone.  This style carries over to helicopters, tanks and even the Godzilla-wannabe himself; everything is a slightly stumpier, dare I say "cuter" version of their real-life counterparts, which just heightens the comedy.  This is especially so in those spoof military scenes where everyone is shouting and taking everything completely seriously, even when they look the way they do and the words coming out of their mouths are playing up to the clichés.

Great stuff and highly recommended.

To purchase your own copy for only £3.95 you can contact Dead Universe Publishing through their Facebook page which you can visit by clicking right about here.  Both issues of the run are available and I'll be back soon with my write-up of the sequel which is bigger and even better, but to get the most out of it you really should read this premiere first.

Right down to the American-style colouring of the title and issue banner, David has made sure every inch of this pastiche is spot on.  For fans of his work in Oink! and of just really funny, silly and unique comics this is a no-brainer!

Monday, 5 February 2018

GHOSTBUSTERS ATC #2: A DREAM OF A COMIC


<< GO TO ISSUE 1

Only two issues in and I'm loving these four ladies as comicbook characters already.  There's a definite Real Ghostbusters vibe about the title which suits the comedy of the new movie reboot perfectly, so I'm hoping I've jumped on to the start of a long-running series here.  As I stated last time, writer Kelly Thompson captures the speech patterns and quick wit of each of the Saturday Night Live comedians to the extent that as you read this their voices are in your head, acting out their lines just how they would if this was a sequel film.  Combined with the ability by Corin Howell to capture their likenesses while remaining true to the comic format, and adding a highly animated style to the proceedings, what you have here is surely the definition of "perfect licenced comic", a blueprint for others to follow and a true sequel to the hilarious movie from Paul Feig.  It feels like a lifetime ago since I read #1 when it should've been one month ago, but you can read more on that here if you like.

WHAT DREAMS MAY COME: PART TWO


After luring the Ghostbusters into what seemed like a standard catch last issue the ghost of Doctor Kruger, whose name was described by Holztmann as "too on the nose", tricked them so as he could escape his mansion prison and continue the horrific experiments he conducted when he was alive.  As a scientist he performed fear-based tests on people to learn how they process fear.  Some called his experiments nothing more than pure torture.  Now long dead, his spirit swirls around the Empire State Building, gaining strength until he can torture the entire city with paralysing fear:


The city is already terrified, naturally, but what this horror could do to the population is kept as a mystery for part of this edition, slowly revealed over the course of the comic.  One thing is for sure, the Ghostbusters are on the back foot and Patty is adamant they're ill-equipped to go up against Kruger, while also not knowing what exactly they should do.  They need more information, to analyse the situation and conduct research on the giant apparition so that, amongst other things but most excitedly for me, Holtzmann can build a new weapon that'll actually make a dent.  They resign themselves to the fact they need to go and have their butts kicked again.

This all takes part in the half-destroyed firehouse and these scenes of the team standing around talking are amongst my favourite I have to say, simply because they're so much fun and full of quick wit.  Such as the ever-reliable Erin getting easily distracted over the insurance.  But suddenly they come to the  realisation no one has been calling them.  Why?  What sinister reason could there be for not one citizen picking up their phone when faced with the above hovering over their city?:


So that's the basic gist of this second part of the story and it does kind of sum up what I loved about the original movie, the cartoon series and the latest film; they may have been hyped as heroes who were going to save the world, but really these characters were just normal people, often winging it and not always successfully doing so.  Their own personal imperfections and the setbacks and failures in their missions were often the funniest things for fans.  It set them apart from the typical heroic antics of other franchises we enjoyed as children and it was great to see that translate so well to the modern movie.  Now this comic takes up the reigns and so off they go, with no clear plan other than to find out more by going up against this beast, in a scene reminiscent somewhat of the climax of the film.  Initially at least.

I'm obviously not going to go into depth on the story when this is out there for purchase.  When covering retro 80s titles such as Ring Raiders which just aren't available anymore my highlights of the artwork can include a rundown of the story from beginning to end.  However, here I'm only giving you the setup and just to say the confrontation is brilliant!  Not to be missed for fans.

Now when you've got a malevolent spirit who experimented on how people reacted to their deepest, darkest fears, it's a given that he's going to try this out on our heroes too, right?  You'd be correct.  Some brilliantly atmospheric scenes follow, Abby's in particular will send a shiver down the spine of a lot of readers I'm sure, but I was very curious to see what Holztmann's could possibly be.  I wasn't to be disappointed:


It's funny initially and superbly realised, but not only do you truly believe this crazy scientist is genuinely afraid in a comedic way, it takes a decidedly dark twist as the nightmare develops.

In addition to Kelly Thompson and Corin Howell, this issue has been put together by the talented team of colourist Valentina Pinto, letterer Neil Uyetake, editor Tom Waltz and publisher Ted Adams and I can say with certainty this deserves a very long run.  Building perfectly on the first issue, the characters again feel very real and animated, the scenario has a real sense of danger and intrigue and a cliffhanger that has me chomping at the bit to see how on earth they'll get out of the fix they're in.  What more could you ask for from a sophomore release.  It wasn't a one-trick pony.  I'm officially hooked.

The comic is 32-pages and in full colour, with 20 pages of strip, an introductory page, a look at the cover of #3, an IDW checklist (albeit it for November 2017) and advertisements for IDW's full Ghostbusters range, including the comics based on the original team and even a crossover series with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!  There's also a selection of covers to choose from or collect for this issue:


I have to say there was one advert which grabbed my attention instead of having me skip over it and that was for G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero issue number 246!  Yes, it appears IDW are continuing on from Marvel's original series (and it looks like it's been subjected to the same delays over Christmas too) and it's proven really rather popular as they approach their own 100th issue!  I'll be looking into this a little further myself so look out for more.

Shouldn't be too long before the third issue of Ghostbusters: Answer The Call pops up, now that it's back to a monthly schedule and I was delayed myself in writing up this issue when it did arrive.  So check back soon!

Thursday, 1 February 2018

TRANSFORMERS INSTAGRAM: MONTH #5 of 77

<< GO TO MONTH 4


We're back again with a recap of the first month's worth of issues from 1986 in Marvel UK's The Transformers series.  After fans had devoured the Christmas issue and the annual was January going to be a bit of a comedown with only four issues of the regular comic to enjoy?  Not on your life.  The comic was building to its 50th issue and anyone reading this who can remember the cover to it should already be looking forward to it too.  I'd forgotten from my read-through about ten years ago that the fan-favourite story Dinobot Hunt actually had a prequel, so it was a pleasant surprise when photographing these to see how the short two-parter The Icarus Theory below developed so quickly.

If you're new to this series, I'm currently taking photos of every issue of my collection and displaying them on my personal Instagram account, which is open to the public so you don't need an account to view it.  Of course, if you had an account these would pop up in your timeline, but it's not essential if you want to check these out every Thursday, the day of their original releases.

ISSUE 43
4th January 1986


#43: 1986 wasn't about to get off to a very Happy New Year for Bumblebee fans in the UK with #43 of Transformers UK from Marvel.  Simon Furman's Crisis of Command continues and with Ravage having escaped and Optimus Prime indecisive, Bumblebee takes it upon himself to give chase, soon falling into Soundwave's trap.  Fortunately the news of B's bravery kicks Prime into gear (pun intended) and he figures out it was all a ploy; there was no way Ravage's stealth systems would have allowed him to be caught.  The cliffhanger was a shock for fans at the time, I'm sure!  On the art side of things Geoff Senior's early work is just as glorious, as are the colours from Gina Hart.

Elsewhere, the backup strip is given over to Iron Man and the first chance for UK fans to read one of his latest adventures, Night of the Octopus.  Transformers UK would continue to bring us American Marvel strips never before seen here, long before the days of comic shops on every street corner.

Cover by John Ridgway
Crisis of Command!: Part Two art by Geoff Senior and colours by Gina Hart
Iron Man: Night of the Octopus art and colours by Ken Steacy

ISSUE 44
11th January 1986


#44: In this issue Optimus Prime finally got his mojo back and went out alone to track down the captured and unarmed (literally) Bumblebee, falling into Soundwave's trap too.  But with a nice throwback to a story from the annual he starts to believe in himself again as leader, whupping some Decepticon ass in the process.  The story ends with Prime also standing up to Autobots in his own ranks, such as Prowl etc., who had demanded the Matrix of Leadership be used to create super warriors to destroy the Decepticons. A nice, surprisingly mature end to a fun story.

Also here is a make-it-yourself Transformer, though calling it a "Transformer" is a bit of a stretch.  Finally, Soundwave once again provides some brilliant responses to readers' letters.

Cover by Jeff Anderson
Crisis of Command!: Part Three art by John Stokes and colours by Gina Hart

ISSUE 45
18th January 1986


#45: Dr. Icarus, nut job that he was, had developed a machine capable of allowing him to control any robot via his mind.  Convinced G.B. Blackrock had created his own robotic army when he'd seen reports of the Transformers attacking Blackrock's power plants, this crazy competitor took  matters into his own hands.  Told by jumping back and forth across two different days the story plays out of sequence and builds up very nicely as a result.  There's little hints as to what his discovery actually was, but that final reveal!

Swoop had apparently perished back in #32 saving the Autobots, so for fans of the Dinobots not only was this a wonderful surprise, but it also meant the monster robots were going to return to the pages of the comic.

Lastly, the weekly UK version of Secret Wars was changing its name (slightly) as it carried on into the sequel story.  Told in America over various titles, here we got to see it sequentially week-by-week in the one comic.  This would make the story so much more enjoyable.

Cover by Kev Hopgood
The Icarus Theory: Part One art by Barry Kitson and colours by Gina Hart

ISSUE 46
25th January 1986


#46: The second part of The Icarus Theory really lived up to the mythical name belonging to the maniacal human at its centre, with its scene-setting opening.  Swoop finally comes to his senses and takes back control thanks to Optimus Prime and some intriguing backstory, including the comic's own explanation of how the toy of the Dinobot had a different name (Divebomb) elsewhere in the world; a scenario a future story would have fun with when Hasbro complicated matters further with a new Decepticon called Divebomb too!

But anyway, the professor is captured by human law enforcement and it all builds up to a fan-favourite story, one I was eagerly looking forward to when I re-read these as an adult several years ago because of a certain cover still to come: Dinobot Hunt.

Cover by Jeff Anderson
The Icarus Theory: Part Two art by Barry Kitson and colours by Stuart Place


As usual this round-up of my previous month's photos coincides with the new month's first issue showing me its good side and posing for my iPhone camera.  Pop on over to check out #46 now if you like or, if you'd prefer to wait and have a gander at a month's worth of classic comics at a time, the next blog post in this series will be here on Thursday 1st March.