Thursday, 24 May 2018

GHOSTBUSTERS ATC #5: MORE PLEASE! ENCORE!

<< GO TO ISSUE 4

Cover art by Corin Howell, colours by Russell Badgett

A bittersweet moment this, as here we have a magnificent, not to mention hilarious conclusion to What Dreams May Come, the first story in the Ghostbusters Answer The Call comics series.  Unlike the comics of my own youth, or indeed IDW's own G.I. Joe A Real American Hero continuation, a lot of comics, particularly licenced fare these days tend to come out in short bursts.  They come out and tell one story over several months, then stop, only to reappear with a new story numbered again from #1 a little while later.  While Marvel and DC have continuing issue numbers, they seem to reset them every other month at the moment, so it appears to be rare for a comic to not do so.  It's a shame, as I'd love to get my teeth stuck into an ongoing monthly comic, with different stories lasting various amounts of months then straight on the next, based upon these four women (and Kevin) instead of a start-stop collection.  For now though we'll have to wait and see, hoping sales have been sufficient enough to warrant another series shortly.

With a passionate fan base clamouring for new stories featuring Dr. Erin Gilbert, Dr. Jillian Holtzmann, Patricia "Patty" Tolan and Dr. Abigail "Abby" Yates, somehow I think it's already a given they'll be back.  This part starts off the same way as the first and third ones, with a panel for each of the Ghostbusters already in the midst of this issue's story.  I've loved it when they've been presented to us like this before, so I was a very happy fan to see this one more time before the end of this series.


For now though what we have here is probably the funniest issue of the run, which is saying something!  That first page of strip above perfectly sums up the issue in more ways than one.  Exciting, animated artwork from Corin Howell (coloured by Valentina Pinto) alongside humorous captions for each of the 'busters, with Holtzmann's being that bit different.  As always.  After a few weeks away from them, this page will make any fan grin from ear to ear and get them all settled in, ready for the 20 pages of strip and the rip-roaring climax.

Last time the Ghostbusters were experimenting with equipment that would allow them to share the same nightmares.  When they'd gone up against the ghost of Doctor Kruger, aka Schreckgespenst, aka "Schrecky" in the real work they'd found themselves woefully underpowered, then when they tried fighting him in his Nightmarescape they were frozen with fear and discarded by the evil doctor and torturer as not worthy of his attention.  Last issue they discovered a shared memory, one that had frightened them as kids but which was so hidden in their minds they knew Schrecky wouldn't be able to use it against them.  Armed with special head bands that'll allow them entry to his 'scape without detection, they set off to bust him.


What an entrance by Holtzmann!  Kate McKinnon has to take a large amount of credit for the creation of who has become one of my favourite movie characters of all time.  Her skill as a comedian, her timing, ad libs and ingenuity in crafting Holtzmann have won both her and the character a legion of fans.  From that portrayal comes the comics version.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, writer Kelly Thompson does a perfect job of adapting the Saturday Night Live star's comedy to the page, the artwork being that bit crazier for her than the rest too.  I'm really going to miss her!  (It doesn't help SNL has just finished its current season too!)  But let's get back to the story and the plan they spent last month crafting.

Of course it doesn't go as planned, no where near as planned.  It just wouldn't be Ghostbusters if it all went without a hitch, sure it wouldn't?  Very quickly the team find themselves separated and alone in a living nightmare world, just like before.  I don't want to give anything away as it's all very clever in how they eventually regroup and attempt to bust Schrecky again, with a surprise which will thrill fans of this new take on the classic franchise.  Oh how I'd love to show you something, or quote some great lines towards the end of this final chapter but it'd not only spoil the story, it'd also rob you of the laughs I had when you get around to reading it for yourselves.


Speaking of which, if you've missed out so far don't fear, IDW have a graphic novel collecting What Dreams May Come slated for release in June.  For those who have been buying the comic you've got a selection of covers to choose from as always, although I personally just go for whatever my comics store gets in, which is always Cover A.  This means I've a matching set, which you can see below this month's choices.


I really couldn't have asked for more from this series.  In fact, it's far surpassed my expectations.  The anarchic, natural and often ad libbed comedy of the movie couldn't have been easy to transfer to this form and, while I was obviously excited by the launch, I was initially nervous about what that first issue would turn out like.  I shouldn't have worried.  While we got an interesting story with a formidable foe, some spectacular spectral artwork and great pacing throughout, the characters themselves and the comedy of the movie are front and centre.  We even got some unexpected character development, some which were very funny little moments and some which surprised with their depth, in particular for Holtzmann.

But most of all it was a right laugh!  You'll hear the voices in your head as you read their lines and at their pace of delivery, the writing somehow having perfect comic timing, and you'll be giggling away from start to finish.  Perfect.  Just perfect.  Looking forward to more, hopefully much more from these characters and this creative team.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

G.I. JOE #251: THAT'S WHAT I'M STALKING ABOUT



After the excitement of the previous story's concluding chapter, which was my first issue, how could the comic possibly follow that first impression?  With the perfect series of stories for a new reader like me, that's how.  Special Missions was also the name of a spin-off comicbook series by Marvel back when the original run was at its height.  Lasting 28 issues it highlighted the Joes' fight against more conventional terrorists (as well as Cobra) while featuring more intense violence and, according to Wiki "more ambiguous morality than the main title".  Is this going to be IDW's take on that comic, only this time as part of the main run?  Let's see.

I've only got one previous issue so far so I can't really make any comparison on some of those points, but I can say this time Cobra takes a back seat.  G.I. Joe has been called in by the US government to enter Sierra Gordo on a stealth mission to oversee a hostage situation involving American medical students held by the Neo-Trotskyite Terrorists.  I've no idea if these are recurring villains or just a one-off for this story, but either way it works perfectly as a nice character study for Stalker, who has appeared in the G.I. Joe comic since #1 in 1982.


A US Army Ranger and member of a Long Range Recon Patrol, Major R. Wilkinson is a sniper and part of a three-man team sent in to observe the hostage situation from afar.  He, Shipwreck and Zap aren't to intervene unless the lives of the Americans are taken.  The local government wants to negotiate with the terrorists and their special ops teams are on standby, ready to storm the building.  The Joes are across the street watching it all through their scopes, ready to take down the enemy as a last resort, without Sierra Gordo's knowledge of their presence.

Unhappy they've been ordered to only retaliate if a fatal shooting occurs, while wanting to take action before that happens, it all makes for a tense situation as it is.  But then we add on top of that some interference!  This rears its ugly head when terrorists come a-calling and while the others continue to observe it's up to Stalker to cover their backs, making for some great action scenes like the one above, which even include some nice little touches of camaraderie and humour like below.


But this is a character piece and the story actually begins with Stalker's nightmares of losing G.I. Joe teammates on previous missions and of the racial bullying he faced as a kid, all mixed up in his head as one prolonged, horrid vision.  While I've seen these kinds of nightmares on television before it's not something I've read in a comic and while it may include the skeletons of those friends he lost, it still portrays a very real battlefield with a very intense feel to it.  This is only heightened with the visions of the fallen soldiers and Alex Sanchez does a superb job of invoking the terror inside Stalker's psyche, Ronda Pattison's dark purple hues giving both a war zone and horror film vibe all rolled up in one.  Truly breathtaking stuff to start the issue off with.


Normally an action comic may then take us straight into the Sierra Gordo scenes with the hero still battling with his nightmares, but instead here we get a lovely few pages of him talking to a close friend in The Pit (still their headquarters).  It's a quiet moment which allows the reader to process what came before in the opening attack on our senses, while reintroducing another fondly remembered character, Spirit.  In fact, add in Rock'n'Roll and all of the individuals in this issue are ones I distinctly remember from decades ago, so it felt like getting reacquainted with some old friends.  That feeling of nostalgia mixed with the modern day story and art style is something very unique and IDW have nailed it.


If the remainder of the Special Missions issues are as good as this one then I really couldn't have picked a better time to jump on board.  Last issue was the action-packed climax to an epic tale but still Larry Hama's excellent writing put three-dimensional characterisation front and centre.  Now, in an issue designed as an actual character study we've also got plenty of action, some laughs and even a touch of horror.  Again, it's incredible to think this is a toy licence comic.  Larry has said previously he bases each character on people he actually knows or has met in real life and the importance of character shows on every page.

The fact the quieter moments, what some people might call the "talky pages", are just as compelling as the action ones is testament to Larry's grip on the people he's writing and the handle he has on the franchise.  But then again, he's been writing them long enough now so maybe it shouldn't be surprising.  Let's just hope he's not planning on moving on anytime soon.  Or at all actually!

G.I. GO BUY JOE!

It's a stellar issue that really sums up what I loved about the classic Action Force/G.I. Joe strips in Marvel's Transformers so much as a teen, then again about a decade ago when I reread those very comics.  Heck, it even has a wraparound cover like the 80s comics of old!  The next issue focusses on Baroness, my favourite Cobra character so I'm really looking forward to seeing her own story next week (finally that's me caught up) and after that IDW's website indicates it'll be the turn of Duke, so a nice varied selection to come.

If you'd rather jump into a comic when a new story starts then you really can't miss out on this issue, although the following ones could all make excellent jumping on points too.  I bought mine from Coffee & Heroes (for £3.70) in Belfast (find them here) and you can also check out IDW's official page for this issue too.

Monday, 21 May 2018

AUTOBOT LEW STRINGER TO ATTEND TF NATION


Regular readers of the blog will know one of my very favourite comics that I started to collect after Oink! introduced me to the medium was Marvel UK's Transformers, which I'm currently photographing my collection of for Instagram and rounding up monthly here.

One of the constants (also one of the highlights) for most of the whole 332-issue run was a humour strip from Lew Stringer, namely Robo Capers and then later Combat Colin.  His contribution to the comic has huge and this year he's been invited to be a guest at the Transformers convention, TFNation between 17th to 19th August in Birmingham's Hilton Metropole hotel.  Any fans of that classic comicbook, of which there are still many, won't want to miss this and the chance to meet the creator of the Lewniverse!


You can visit the official website for more information on the event, other guests and to buy tickets here:

tfnation.com/2018

In related news the third issue of Combat Colin has been slightly delayed and should now appear no later than mid-July, but I'm sure it'll be worth the wait as always.  Lew has also hinted on his own site there could be one or two special back-up features this time around, so make sure you follow his blog right here to be kept up to date with the latest news.  Also, if you've missed the previous two issues, you can get caught up starting right here.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

SPLANK! #1: A BRAND NEW 'SMASH!' HIT



Inspired by his childhood favourites of Smash!, Wham! and Pow!, the acclaimed Power Comics trio, Peter Duncan set about the task of creating a modern day equivalent.  He hoped to gather together not only the very best in local Northern Ireland talent but also from the wider net of professional UK comics creators.  This was going to be a physical comic too, all lovingly and professionally printed; a modern, smart and funny homage to those classic Oldhams titles.  Not a small task.  But my word has he pulled it off.  In fact, he's pull it off in spades.

Splank! may have started out as an April Fools Day prank blog post, but this has been a very real project and the end result is a product which feels very much like some of those comics which filled the newsagent shelves during my own younger days.  The front and back covers, with its Walter Wonder, His Life's A Blunder by pig pal Marc Jackson, has even been coloured to match the newsprint of the Oldham/Fleetway/DC Thompson comics of old.  A nice touch and straight away it's an indication of the love that's gone into this final product.  Having Marc's talent front and centre doesn't hurt either and is a great start, but he's not the only recognisable name involved here.  Oink! fans will instantly feel at home with the drawing style in this strip for example:


Well okay, "Davy Francis presents" is a bit of a giveaway.  Peter himself has become known as The Grumpy Penguin amongst friends and family (the actual reason can be seen in a short mockumentary by Peter's nephew on the BBC's The Arts Show site) and in Splank! he appears a few times in various strips, the one above being the comic's version of his origin, with the story by Peter and the script and art by Davy.  He makes for a very funny Uncle Pigg-esque character, popping up here and there and I hope we get to see a lot more of this in any future issues.

The legendary Mike Higgs will be a very well known name to readers of the aforementioned Smash!, Whizzer & Chips or Buster and their ilk and the grumpy birdman above appears alongside his creation The Cloak, all written and drawn by the man himself.  But that's not all, there's more adult onesie buffoonery with Ninja Monkey: Origin Story, another story idea by Peter but which Mike then runs with and develops over two full pages.  It's a hell of a scoop to have Marc, Davy, Mike and Nigel Parkinson too on board and hopefully their names can help Splank! reach out and into the hands of people who may not necessarily have purchased a small press comic before.


One thing that's very apparent in a few of the strips is the comic's place of origin, Northern Ireland (where The Oink! Blog and Beyond also resides), with a few local sayings or accents popping up and the occasional local place name.  It's a nice touch to acknowledge this amongst the UK-wide talent pool and adds an air of originality, but without alienating anyone from outside the province.  Peter is also one of the team behind the excellent Sector 13, Belfast's 2000AD fanzine, the third issue of which has just been released and I wrote about it a few days ago.  Some of the contributors have made the jump over to Splank! and I said in that previous post I'd love to see more from the imagination of Glenn Matchett, but little did I know my wish was about to come true so quickly.

Writer Glenn and artist Scott Twells are two such local individuals, who have produced one of the larger strips in the comic.  On the surface of it, this looks like an adventure strip, which was something the Power Comics and early Beano/Dandy and Buster comics would have had in amongst the funnies.  But when you settle down to Greenbeard and the Adventure of the Pirate Princess you soon realise it's more of a comedy story than you thought upon first glance.  That first glance is wonderful though.  The first page is dark, almost greyscale as young girls share pirate stories by torchlight, before it bursts into glorious full colour when we're transported back to the time of the tale, with two sisters narrating across individually coloured captions.


As the girls bicker over the details of the story we see poor Greenbeard being put through the wringer as his situation changes at the whim of the girls' memories.  Imaginatively told with a real sense of fun, the only shame is that we simply don't know when a second episode will appear.  Hopefully there's more to come from Splank!, but if not this is a strip worthy of its own graphic novel.  Yes, it's that good.

Another character I'd love to see more of is Ethel Death, a young girl in a family of, well, dead people.  Hailing from northern England, cartoonist Cat Byrne has also recently drawn a special cover for #1 of Sector 13 for Peter and the team.  An artist and illustrator, it was only in 2016 Cat decided to make the leap into comics and her website has examples of her work so far including Ethel, who has been created for Splank!.


Her artwork is a simply gorgeous style which suits this particular character perfectly.  The two-page strip is basically a family sitting down for a meal together.  The fact they're all dead makes the rather typical dinner table dialogue extremely funny!  It's a genius bit of writing and the skeletons of Ethel and her little sister are incredibly endearing.  As the first strip after the editorial it makes a huge impression on the reader too, as by this stage you're still not sure as to what to expect after the likes of Marc Jackson and Mike Higgs on pages 1 and 2.  From here on in you know it's not just the big name artists who are going to be the stars of this premiere issue.

With family-friendly morbid humour (surely a unique selling point right there), Cat's Ethel Death and co. are already missed and I look forward to further adventures around their family home.

From a skeleton family to a newly found friendship between a snail and a tortoise, courtesy of John Farrelly.  Contributing the excellent artistry of his Flesh strip in Sector 13, which was all realistic dinosaurs and gruesome action, Beans and Tucker is just as gorgeous but couldn't be any more different.  In fact, it's hard to believe this is by the same artist!  Beans is a snail who makes a daring escape from a bag of escargot on its way into a French restaurant, Tucker is a tortoise accidentally thought dead by his owners and buried in a pet grave when he was just hibernating.  They're a fun couple, two very different personalities and the strip itself ends on a couple of sublime gags!


This strip takes up a good few pages at the back of the comic and I was initially left with the same feeling I had when I'd read Ethel's story, that I couldn't wait to see these two in more adventures.  This being the story of how they get together, there's a load of possibilities here and I was impatient to see those come too fruition.  Little did I know these characters have already appeared in several strips from John, which I found on his website.  Brilliant.  After reading them and coming back to this story I had a new appreciation and found it even funnier than the first time around, so I highly recommend you do the same.

Over its 44 full-sized pages, Splank! #1 contains 15 different strips in all, ranging from Nigel Parkinson's private detective called Dresden Q. Otherside, Defective Detective who has all the skills necessary except common sense, to Irish leprechaun Sheena Shenanigans, or how about an actual adventure strip up haunted chimneys in the intriguing story of the beautifully drawn Johnny in the Stacks.  Splank! really does have it all.  In fact out of all of this content there was only one I'd say was average, about a boy called Mouse who can use computer commands in real life.  It starts out like a neat update of strips like Chalky from Cor!!, but he ends up "copy and paste"-ing anything he wishes, including shop stock (theft), or even money (fraud).  Personally it just didn't sit well with me and kind of sticks out as an oddity in a family comic, the art also feeling a bit flat compared to the rest of the issue.  But an anthology comic is never going to hit the spot with every strip for every reader and this is just my own personal opinion.

But one average strip out of 15, with the rest ranging between good and excellent is a stunning achievement and let's finish on another highlight, called Spookytown.  Remember the classic strip Strange Hill from Tom Paterson?  Well this could easily be its (watch out, pun approaching) spiritual ancestor, featuring the daughter of Van Helsing who ends up befriending the kids of all the monsters her famous father banished many years ago to the secretive Spookytown.


This is another faultless creation of Glenn Matchett's mind and is beautifully illustrated by Dave (Beano/Dandy) Windlett too, who has brought a lovely Saturday morning cartoon vibe to it.  The last panel of the strip has Victoria Van Helsing stating her life is about to get very complicated, with her father unaware of her new friends.  I do hope that's the case because I want to see more of this set up.  It just feels like the perfect strip to showcase what Splank! is all about and upon reading it I was reminded of many, many happy Saturday mornings with my Big Comic Fortnightly and Funny Fortnightly comics.  I was swept up in a wave of nostalgia with a brand new character, a brand new setting and a brand new story.  How is that possible?  I don't know, but they managed it and I might go as far as to say these were probably the most enjoyable four pages of an incredibly enjoyable comic.

There's more strips here too, as well as a preview of a new comic called The Cthulhu Kids coming this summer from Peter Duncan (does this man ever sleep?) and Andrew Pawley, creator of the GalaXafreaks comic.  Throw into the mix a spoof article along the lines of that April Fools, about the "original" Splank! and another supposedly forgotten comic and you've got one complete package that just screams quality.  And laughs.

Peter states in his editorial that he's as excited about Splank! now as he was about those trio of Power Comics as a kid.  So should you be.


So how do you get your hands on it I hear you shout impatiently.  Well you can check out the website or if you just want to dive right in (and rightly so) you can order it up for only £7.00 including all postage and packaging via PayPal and this very address: Splank@Boxofrainmag.co.uk.

Outside the UK?  Peter's got ya covered.  The price for the Republic of Ireland and Europe is £9.45, USA and Canada is £10.45 and Australia is £10.75.  Again, all prices include postage and packaging.  If you live anywhere else in the world (hey, you could be reading from Uncle Pigg's tropical island after all) I'm sure Peter wouldn't mind you contacting him through his website.

Get to it folks, don't keep a grumpy penguin waiting!

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

SECTOR 13 #3: LIFE BEGINS AT 40 (PAGES)


One year ago I met Peter Duncan and Mark (W.D. McQuaid) McCann at the Enniskillen Comic Fest and picked up the first issue of Sector 13, a brand new full-sized comic created by a talented group of 2000AD fans.  24 glossy pages full of great strips led on to 36 such pages in #2 last November and now they've rounded that number off at 40 pages for their next issue which was just released last weekend, again at Enniskillen.  A recoloured, slicker logo and a darker tone overall than the previous two issues but does darker equal better?  Well that's what we're here to find out.

First up, while the team have said before (in an interview here on the blog) Sector 13 isn't a Judge Dredd fanzine/comic, that it's very definitely a more general 2000AD one, this is the third time we've had a Dredd movie-inspired cosplayer on the cover, though I do have to say this is definitely my favourite cover so far and really does make you want to grab it and get stuck in!

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION, DINOSAURS!

The issue starts off with another photo strip set in the world of the aforementioned movie and it's bigger in scope than any of their previous stories.  Do you Remember, written by Laurence McKenna and Peter (Splank!) Duncan, with Laurence on art droid duties, takes place over two different points in time and jumps back and forth to tease the reader with the reasoning behind the action of the Judge at the centre of the story.

It's a basic revenge plot but the way it's told adds intrigue and the only real downside this time around is that the artwork on top of the photos, as well as their layouts, don't seem to be quite as exciting as the team is capable of.  There's some really neat touches, like the military-esque craft added in the panels below and the last page is just brilliantly done and looks fantastic, but of course I can't show that and ruin the end of the story.  But overall it seems to lack a bit of the gloss and animated feel previous chapters have brought, but it's not a mood spoiler.


Previously I've talked about how I felt the use of bad language in the comic detracted from the quality of the writing.  I won't bore you with it all over again but you can read what I was wittering on about in the write-up for #2.  I'm happy to say the rest of this issue doesn't use any at all and feels all the more mature for it.  However this Mega City One tale goes overboard with it.  Yes, it's 'bleeped' out, with only the first and last letter of each instance visible, and I know it's set in the world of the '18'-certificate movie, but it still feels out of place in the comic adaptation of that world to me.

The next strip is written and drawn by John Farrelly, another returning member of the team and I have to say the artwork here is just sublime.  This really could be in a professional comic available on the newsstands and the dinosaurs in particular are fantastic.  They wouldn't look out of place in something as high profile as a new Jurassic Park comic!  Seriously, they are that good.


Flesh Alpha Male is based on the Flesh series from very early issues of 2000AD, set in a future where humans have exhausted their animal resources and are forced to travel back to the age of the dinosaurs and hunt them for food.  We were very much not the good guys in trying to dominate these creatures, the human characters often getting eaten and the large companies coming a cropper, with the moral of the stories being that you don't mess with nature.

This is where a bit of confusion comes into play here.  In Alpha Male I found myself rooting for the Tyrannosaur and I hated the main character, Earl Reagan, waiting for him to get his comeuppance.  But it doesn't happen.  I won't ruin the ending for you but by the end I felt sorry for the T-rex and annoyed with the outcome for the Reagan character.  If it were to continue on as a series we may see him get what really should happen to him, but as a one-off complete story I'm not 100% sure the writer got the true meaning behind those classic stories.  Shame, as up until that final page this was an excellent strip and that artwork is still stunning.

UPDATE: John very kindly commented on this post and I thought I'd reprint it here in the actual write-up:

"Hi Phil, thank you for your review about the Flesh story I did for Sector 13.  It was nice to hear my art was appreciated.  Just wanted to clarify something though - I do get the premise of the original Flesh story.  I know it was an ecological fable where man was pitted against nature and the 22nd century cowboys were often portrayed as the bad guys.  I just wanted to do a character study set in that milieu and to make the point that Earl Reagan - a mixture of John Wayne and Jack Pallance's character Curly from City Slickers - was so tough that he was capable of making a T-rex cry!  This showed the young guy who was dissing him that he was not one to be crossed.  That's all - no judgement to be passed upon him, just that he's one tough son of a bitch.  You'd have to be, to herd dinosaurs!  It's not a continuing series, though I am working on a Harlem Heroes prequel called Giant: Feat of Clay for Zarjaz.  It's a six-parter and it should be in Zarjaz throughout 2019.  Thanks again for taking on Sector 13." - John Farrelly

Thanks so much for commenting John, it's very much appreciated.  There you go folks, straight from the mouth of the writer/artist himself.  So those reactions I had feeling sorry for the T-rex were all part of the experience and my reaction to the Earl character would be a natural thing for me given how John conceived him.  Superb stuff.  Another reason to pick this issue up!  Oh and John, loving your work on Splank! too, which I'm finishing the write-up to right now.

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY


Last issue one of the highlights was Ragnarok and here we find a surprising sequel strip written again by Peter Duncan, with artwork by Simon McKnight who contributed his own stunningly drawn 2-page strip last time.  Here his work is spread over 7 pages instead and he rises to the occasion admirably.  Set in the same timeline as the original story, we find ourselves back on earth instead of on a space station, where more of the back story is built up with a good deal of tension to boot.  Gloriously atmospheric, it takes place over a long period of time and ends on a cliffhanger which could easily go on to bring these first two episodes together in a thrilling climax, so here's hoping there's more from this world in future issues.

You can see above an example of Ashman Ragnarok II's superb panels; the writing, artwork and even the novel captions all coming together in perfect harmony to create something truly excellent.  A real highlight of the issue and the time and dedication put into Simon's artwork can't be overstated, though it's high standard does then highlight a couple of shortcomings in other strips.


Terminal Apotheosis is written by W.D. McQuaid, drawn by Patrick Brown and is an interesting tale about the Dark Judges and, while the ending has some dialogue which just seems very unlike anything Judge Death would say, it's a great wee story and one which shows just how desperate things can get when the Mega City's Justice Department finds itself up against these particular villains from another dimension.  Add in the fact this follows their attack from the point of view of a rookie and it's even more chaotic.  Trying to find reason and understanding where there is none, overacting and making rookie mistakes all add up to an inevitable conclusion.  Her journey is an excellent read and just look at that panel above of a Judge's Lawgiver exploding!

It's a spectacular image but unfortunately it's the exception rather than the rule, with the rest of the 5-page story looking decidedly rushed.  In another story, There Was This Irishman (written by Alan Holloway with art by Jawine Westland) I'm still not exactly sure what happens as it's just not clear from what we see.  It's only two pages and on the second one I still don't know what the fourth panel actually is.  After the sublime artwork from Jawine in #2's first Ragnarok chapter I'm really surprised that this one fell short.

FINISHING ON A HIGH

Travelling Companion, written by Glenn Matchett with art by Damien Duncan looks and feels like a classic Future Shock, the likes of which could easily have been published in 2000AD itself.  The set up on the first page will immediately ring alarm bells for any seasoned reader of Tharg's.


You know the phrase "Seems too good to be true"?  Well that perfectly sums up the plot of this great 4-page story with the above leading on to, naturally, a bad accident in which there are many casualties.  We stick with one survivor, who is pinned down and unable to move, fearing for his life.  He's in communication with someone via an audio link, who tries to keep him positive and alive long enough to be pulled from the wreckage.  While I found the juxtaposition between reality and what the company portrays and how they can get away with it more interesting than the actual final panel twist, it's still a good little story and I look forward to reading more from the imagination of Matchett, hopefully teamed up again with the talented Duncan.

A 1-page Strontium Mog spoof strip written by W.D. McQuaid with art by Scott Twells rounds off the issue, with the final page count being filled out with an editorial, a page of photos of the contributors' regular meetings in their regular Belfast pub and a few adverts for future fan creations.  So how does it stack up altogether?

JUDGEMENT

I will say that while this is the weakest of the three issues so far, that's just a testament to the quality of the previous two!  This is still a worthy read and for anyone who is either a fan of 2000AD or just wants some original, compulsive storytelling this is a must buy.  The positives vastly outweigh any negatives and it's a glossy ball of great local talent, a brilliant showcase as always.  Hopefully next time any rough edges can be ironed out a bit more so that once again it'll be right up there with #1 and #2.

In the meantime it's a third unmissable treat from a truly dedicated team of talented individuals!

SNAP IT UP

#3 of Sector 13 is available now priced £7.00 for UK readers including postage costs, £9.45 for the rest of Ireland, or you can grab all three issues for a combined price of £16.70, £20.00 for the Republic.  PayPal details and international costs are available on Peter Duncan's website.

#1 and #2 are also now available with brand new cartoon covers by Andrew Pawley and Cat Byrne respectively, both with a new logo layout so I can only assume #3 will also get the 'second cover' treatment at some point since it's still the older style.  #1 also contains a new strip by Peter and Davy Francis explaining the first print run's cover spelling mistake.


If you're still on Facebook you can search for Sector 13 for the group there, or they're also on Instagram as @sector13_the_fanzine and the group have their own blog too at Sector House 13.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

SPLANK!: 'CLOAK'-ED IN MYSTERY


What's this?  It looks like a classic comic doesn't it?  Like one of the funnies many grew up with in the 70s and 80s and perhaps it's one more from my childhood I've just remembered buying an issue or two of.  Well, check out that date.  That's right, this is a brand new comic.  So brand sp(l)anking new in fact that it received its premiere at the Enniskillen Comic Fest over the weekend.  It's the brainchild of Peter Duncan, who I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time at the Comic Fest last year, then again with the Sector 13 team to discuss the creation of #2, the 2000AD fanzine produced here in Belfast which Peter also works on.

Editor (and Grumpy Penguin) Peter at the Enniskillen Comic Fest 2017

I bumped into Peter while walking the grounds of Enniskillen Castle last year where the con was set, and he recognised me from this very blog.  The Oink! Book 1988 I was carrying was a bit of a giveaway.  We stood and chatted at length about Oink!, Judge Dredd, Sector 13 and classic comics, before he showed me some preview pages of Splank!, a new comic he was working on himself.  Straight away I was impressed with the quality of the work and the names he'd managed to attract as contributors.

Growing up, Peter was a huge fan of the trio of 'Power Comics', that is Wham!, Pow! and Smash! and his favourite strip was by far Mike Higgs' The Cloak, a spoof spy adventure strip.  Commissioning a strip by Mike which featured both The Cloak and Peter's own alter ego The Grumpy Penguin for himself personally, it led to Peter thinking about creating an actual modern day version of those trio of classic titles.  It all began with an April Fools Day post on his blog back in 2016 about a "forgotten" comic called 'Splank' from the 1960s and from there the project just grew and grew.


I hope fellow pig pals recognise the top-right panel's style, it being from the pen of Davy Francis!  That's right, Cowpat Count and Greedy Gorb creator Davy has contributed a full page to the comic and you may recognise the character there too.  If not, go back up and read this post from the beginning.

Davy isn't alone obviously and the talent gathered for this comic is simply spectacular!  As well as some stunning work from local Northern Ireland cartoonists, expect to see strips from the likes of Mike Higgs himself, Nigel Parkinson and fellow pig pal Marc Jackson who has featured on the blog before and has the honour of the cover strip to Splank!

Expect to see a full write-up later this week, but first up will be the highly anticipated third issue of Sector 13!  What a great time for new content, showcasing the very best from Northern Ireland!

In the meantime you can also check out Peter's website for news on all his projects, including Splank! and I'll be back to speak to you real, real soon.

Monday, 14 May 2018

G.I. JOE #250(!): JUMPING BACK INTO THE PIT



First up, not only is this a brilliant idea from IDW Publishing to continue the 80s/90s Marvel series of comics (IDW has their own reboot series plus this continuation, which started in 2010 with #156) but it's also refreshing to see an ongoing series that doesn't feel the need to reset to a "first issue" every other month.  Call me old fashioned.  IDW's own Transformers comics started like this but after a few years went the way of having various interlinking titles instead of one long ongoing series.  Ghostbusters Answer the Call also seems like its going to be various mini-series too, rather than one comic with different stories which is a shame, but it's great to see G.I. Joe sticking to its guns (pun very much intended).  While back at the time of the original comic both this and Transformers from Marvel had a couple of special series, those were to compliment the main run and they did the job really well so I'm happy to see IDW following that lead here.

This milestone 250th issue is actually part five of the Dawn of the Arashikage story which focuses on the new Snake Eyes, a gifted high-school athlete by the name of Dawn Moreno.  I was gutted to discover the original Snake had died at some point in the story, as he was a favourite character of mine in the original Transformers UK comic's backup strip; even though he couldn't talk the writers and artists had a brilliant knack of embodying him with so much character.  But that was always one of the great things about those classic stories for both the GIs and the Transformers, knowing anyone could die at any time and no one was safe (unlike the cartoon versions of both) added to the tension and drama.


Time does indeed move on and why shouldn't a new Snake Eyes be female?  I was already excited for this new development and the way this has been set up is intriguing and very original.  Dawn's unique physical abilities made her a target for Cobra Commander, who forced her through intense experiments to see if she'd be of any use to him.  However, one of Dr. Mindbender's experiments saw him accidentally implant Snake Eyes' memories into her fragile teenage mind, pushing her psychological limits and resulting in her going on the run.  Struggling against visions from his past, Dawn gained assistance from the Arashikage Clan of the title, Snake Eyes' ninja comrades, and soon found herself up against Cobra's Firefly.  But that fight ended with him fleeing instead of facing defeat against this newly awakened ninja foe and so this is where I found myself at the start of #250, my first issue.


The catch-up on the editorial page was in-depth enough I felt I was on top of everything and I ended up really enjoying this snippet into the creation of this new character.  There were a couple of surprises along the way with certain Cobra characters working alongside the Joes, which has only heightened my desire to read up on the complete original series through the graphic novel collections.  For now though this tale plays out as one long action sequence on top of a moving express train in a Japanese city, but don't be thinking this means it's light on characterisation.  Alongside some quick wit and tense dialogue there's a flashback belonging to the original Snake Eyes, referred to as an example of him remembering.  This idea of Dawn's mind being home to those memories is fascinating and I'm just sad I didn't get to see more of these by missing out on the first four episodes.


Despite the fact I'm only reading the final chapter there appears to be real character development in the 24 pages of strip on display here, so I can only imagine how gripping the full story was.  For now anyway.  I'll get caught up!  Original writer Larry Hama hasn't lost any of his brilliance for great storytelling and just like when I re-read those 80s/90s instalments about a decade ago it's hard to believe this is a series based on a toy licence.  Netho Diaz and his team of inkers bring a real grittiness to the proceedings, embodying Dawn with a real sense of presence here even with her face covered by a familiar looking mask.  The same goes for Storm Shadow and Firefly, the latter of which you can see below in a particularly tense moment in the action aboard the speeding carriage.


There's a whiff of Herb Trimbe in the artwork, the original main artist of the series who has guest-drawn for this continuation before now.  Whether this familiarity is deliberate on the part of Diaz or not, or whether the artists were chosen by IDW for this reason I'm not sure, but either way it's a perfect fit. There's few non-action scenes in this issue but that's to be expected given the circumstances, but the quieter moments we do get have some wonderfully deep and satisfying dialogue, such as when Dawn finds herself on the Huey helicopter surrounded by her new teammates for the first time.  The art in this scene is just as rewarding, a golden colour edging its way over the characters very subtly, until we get a simply gorgeous final panel showing the sunset and lens flare glittering over the chopper and the city.  Kudos to colourist Milen Parvonov in particular there.

While this is the final part of a story I felt it was a great jumping on point.  As with the lengthy Transformers UK series, or in an even bigger way with 2000AD, it's fun to be part of a milestone issue such as this.  The few extra pages of strip really seem to have given the team time to flesh out the players here enough for me to care about the outcome of a story I wasn't previously privy to.  In fact the only criticism I could level at this issue is the fact it was billed as a bumper sized issue on IDW's website, yet it's only 8 pages bigger and half of that is just extra adverts.

But that's neither here nor there, because since I bought this issue I've now purchased and read the next and I can say with certainty I'm here for the foreseeable future.  Unlike other comics titles I've read in the past, or movies based on such properties, this final act of an epic tale didn't sacrifice story and character content for action and that meant the world to me.  I didn't think I'd be able to tell if I'd be on board until I read some new stories from their beginning, but #250 of A Real American Hero really did prove me wrong.

If you can track it down by ordering it from your comics store make sure you do.  A little bit of comics history and, for this blog anyway, the start of a bright future.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

G.I. JOE - WITHOUT THE TRANSFORMERS!

A couple of weeks ago I shared this photo on my own personal social media accounts, saying I'd be covering the comic on the bottom-right that very week on this blog:


Anyone who has read my post from yesterday for Ghostbusters Answer the Call #4 will know I'm catching up at the minute and working my way back to regular posts on the correct dates.  Well the comic above is another example of one which has been delayed because of certain things in my personal life which I'll let you in on when the time is right.  But first, a quick trip back to the 80s, as per usual with this site.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s I was a huge fan of The Transformers and from #192 collected every single issue of Marvel UK's Transformers.  By then Action Force was already the backup strip, their own weekly comic having finished after one full year on sale.  Hasbro used this already existing British toyline name as it was felt the term 'G.I.' wouldn't mean anything to us UK kids and new international characters were also introduced to appear in the comic here in the UK only.  I grew to really like these stories, but when I reread the whole of the Transformers UK run about a decade ago, with a new appreciation I grew to love the Joes and their tales!  I was gutted they disappeared from the comic mid story arc.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago, February 2018 and for several months already I'd been photographing my Transformers comics for Instagram, covering each issue on the dates of their original releases (read the monthly round-ups here on the blog) and decided I quite fancied reading those original Action Force comics alongside the TFs, especially since they crossed over and would eventually merge.  I found the Wikipedia entry for G.I. Joe and about two hours later I was excitedly walking to my local comics store.  Why?  Because of this:


What we have here is an actual continuation of the original Marvel series, complete with continuing issue numbers!  Just like many classic comics franchises American publisher IDW had rebooted G.I. Joe with a brand new series, starting it again from scratch just like they had with Transformers, but with the Joes they'd also decided to resurrect the original comic book which had lasted 155 issues between 1982 and 1994 under Marvel.  So, after a Free Comic Book Day preview issue, #156 made its appearance in June 2010.  What a brilliant idea!  (The continuation keeps the 'Real American Hero' part of the title, while their reboot series doesn't.)  Plus, it's all still being written by Larry Hama who wrote the original series!

When I discovered this I thought I might give it a look, but then I found out the milestone #250 was due out!  So off I trotted to the store to ask if they could order it in for me when it was released.  The 250th issue was the final part of a five-part story all about the new, female Snake Eyes so would I be lost?  Would it not be better to order some back issues or wait for the start of the next story?  The way I saw it, when I first read Action Force in the pages of Transformers I joined mid-story so I figured I'd just go ahead with this special issue as my first.

So what was my opinion?  Was it a one-off purchase, a curious look at a fun idea to continue an 80s/90s comic, or would it be another modern day title to add to Ghostbusters Answer the Call?  Have a guess with this photo:


Brilliantly, IDW have come up with another great idea!  They've collected together their continuation in graphic novels as publishers do, but in two different ways.  They're available in their standard collections of five issues to a book, but also in another way which I think is just brilliant.  Over the course of the last several years they've collected together the entire Marvel series in 15 volumes, 10 or so issues to each one.  However, instead of then switching to a different series of books for #156 onwards of the comic, IDW have given readers the option of collecting their continuation as volumes 16+ of 'Classic G.I. Joe'.

I think this was the final straw.  I placed my regular order with my comics store and ordered up volume one from Amazon.  I'm in!

So check back very soon for a write-up on that milestone 250th edition and then both the monthly comic and the graphic novel collection will be getting regular coverage.  The Oink! Blog and Beyond is expanding as promised!


- - -

You can read my full article about those original Transformers comics in my Beyond Oink! series of posts, and don't forget about the weekly coverage of the series on my personal Instagram (it's public so you don't even need to sign up) and the monthly catch-ups here.

Also, Oink!'s very own Lew Stringer contributed to the original Action Force comic with his Combat Colin strip, the whole collection of which is available as #1 of his new comic collection.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

GHOSTBUSTERS ATC #4: TRULY EGGSHELLENT ENTERTAINMENT

<< GO TO ISSUE 3

It's time for the penultimate issue of this wonderful comic already.  It's been over half a year since I bought #1, thanks to delays with IDW's publishing of #2 and my own delay in writing this post, but it still feels like yesterday that I first stepped into the comics version of the hilarious Ghostbusters Answer the Call film from 2016.  Maybe it's because it's just been so good I don't want it to end, or perhaps it's because I've reread them so much!  Either way, we've only two issues left to enjoy for now and if this one is anything to go by it's going to be one brilliant, exciting and hilarious finale:


Dr. Abigail "Abby" Yates, played by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy in the movie takes the cover this time and it's another superb characterisation from Corin Howell.  But why has it taken so long to write up this issue?  That's completely my fault, the blog had to take a back seat to some things in my personal life but now it's catch-up time and it's great fun to be back!  Especially with this team of characters.  Let's get any negatives out of the way first shall we?  Seeing as there's only one it won't take long.

Last time I said the cliffhanger could've been better and I'd explain why in the next write-up so as not to ruin it for anyone.  Basically, the story had been rocketing along with Holtzmann at the helm, but then suddenly the last page saw the Ghostbusters looking at a book, the POV being from the book's perspective, the four ladies looking down towards the reader and being in shock at finding out what Schreckgespenst's plan actually is.  It felt like a sudden addition just to get a cliffhanger rather than a natural end to the story.  A minor negative, but one which is reflected this time, as we don't fully find out what they discovered until the final page of this part.  It does feel like a more natural progression to find out here in this issue and it only feels out of place because of the previous one, basically giving us the same cliffhanger two months in a row (don't click on the next image if you don't wish to know what his plan is).


But that's the only negative you'll be able to find here because as per usual characterisation takes centre stage, the teammates bouncing off each other brilliantly throughout.  The ghost itself takes a back seat to the development of the Ghostbusters' plan and even a flashback to their youth and a shared memory that has gone unexplored up to this stage.  The majority of the issue takes place in the fire station (where they also explore their nightmares and memories) and it speaks volumes to how fun these characters from Paul Feig's movie are, and how well writer Kelly Thompson has adapted and developed them for the comic strip, that it was only upon re-reading the story for this write-up that I noticed this!

For this Holtzmann fan there's some wonderful Kate McKinnon-inspired dialogue and craziness from the mad inventor-scientist, while she's exploring the fears and nightmare visions of each team member.


The story for this episode sees the Ghostbusters formulating their plan from beginning to end and it makes for compulsive reading.  During the first few pages it all seems very chaotic but there's an underlying idea which gets developed as they learn more about their internal fears, how the human brain processes fear and what exactly it'll take to defeat Schrecky, the ghost of a terrifying man who tortured people throughout his life in order to understand and control fear.  The Ghostbusters know they simply don't have access to enough power (short of a nuclear bomb, much to the excitement of Jillian) to tackle him in the real world, so they'll have no choice but to face up to him in his own nightmare-scape.

But how do they do that without falling foul of his power like they did previously?  That's the key to this issue's plot so I won't ruin it for you, other than to say it's an ingenious solution, but one which is proving impossible for them to grasp.  It takes that previously mentioned shared memory to click things into place, but don't be thinking this is just a convenient plot device.  It so easily could have been in the hands of a lesser writer but Thompson handles it delicately and turns it into something truly believable; there's a genuine reason for each of the team to have this memory and it just makes perfect sense.


Only four issues in (hopefully more to come after this story concludes) and I'm also pleasantly surprised to see how many ongoing jokes are in here, such as the previously-discovered fact the nightmare machine invented by Holtzmann also happens to make the perfect breakfast eggs, there's a very funny return to the movie joke of who gets to exclaim "Let's Go!" first when they head off to bust a ghost, plus we even get the origin of Abby's devotion to soup!

All in all, it's another brilliant issue.  Maybe you've read this post and thought it sounds like a filler issue, with it basically being set solely in the firehouse and all about the Ghostbusters formulating a plan.  But nothing could be farther from the truth.  This is yet another issue which is full of plot development but it doesn't sacrifice one iota the fantastic humour and characterisations the movie and the previous issues have so superbly set up.  What normally would never have been explored beyond a panel or two with The Real Ghostbusters or the comics based on the original movie (also from IDW), here we really do get to see how a plan is formulated by this cohesive team, even if it is through chaos and a lot of laughs!  It really is quite an original and ingenious issue.

The covers available for this issue

Sorry for the delay in getting this issue written up, it should've been here on the blog mid-to-late-March, but checking in with my local comics store (Coffee & Heroes in Belfast) today it appears the publishers have yet again missed their deadlines and #5 is running late.  So it appears this is still the latest issue at the time of writing.  Let's hope the finale isn't as late as #2!  Stay tuned.

TOM THUG AT 32: LEW STRINGER'S THOUGHTS

Hopefully you've been following The Oink! Blog & Beyond's new presence on social media sites Instagram and Twitter.  If so you can't have failed to notice it was the 32nd anniversary of the first issue of Oink! on Thursday 3rd May.  Of course it's never too late to nip on over and join in the conversation or even to comment here, naturally.  One other place which marked the day was Lew Stringer's personal comics work blog.


To celebrate, Lew shared the first issue's Tom Thug strip in its entirety, the first few panels of which you can see above.  To read the rest just click right about here to nip on over to Lew's site where you can see just how strong Tom's strip was right from the very first issue available to buy on newsagent shelves back in 1986.  It really was a classic strip, with a classic character, from the word "go"!

Lew also shares some of his thoughts of working on Oink! and a link to his design drawings of Tom when he was crafting him for the comic's preview issue given away a week before #1 in special packages of other IPC comics.  Thanks for sharing Lew, and Happy Birthday Tom!

Thursday, 3 May 2018

DO YOU KNOW WHAT TODAY IS...?

Maybe today passed you by without you realising exactly what day it was.  (Maybe you went offline in preparation for tomorrow before the "hilarious" Star Wars jokes for 4th May and you're only reading this on the 5th.)  Today was the 32nd birthday of Oink!  Yes, the preview issue had been given away a week earlier but today was a very special Saturday back in 1986, when the funniest comic ever created magically appeared on comics shelves across the UK for the very first time.

There have been numerous posts today across The Oink! Blog & Beyond's brand new social media accounts (on Instagram and Twitter) marking the occasion and if you haven't joined in yet you really should.  Why?  Because this is going to be the case for every single issue as we work our way back through each glorious comic and highlight all over again!  Each post will have details of each issue's full write-up on the blog too, so come and join in the conversation, have fun and meet other pig pals rediscovering Oink! all over again from (pork) scratch(-ing).  Hopefully it'll spark some new comments and chats on the blog's older posts too!  Never know!

The day isn't even over, there's a couple more highlights to be shared yet before the midnight bell tolls but here's what's been going on so far:


So hit up those logos under my delightful profile picture* (on the desktop version) or above where you can see some pink writing, but while you're there feel free to check out my personal accounts on both sites too if you like for photos of comics, Smudge the cat, weekly Transformers UK updates (the ones which are rounded up here monthly), usually unhealthy food, some other geeky stuff and more.  My username is @PhilEdBoyce and there's a direct link in the bios of both of the Oink? Blog & Beyond accounts.

* well, Smudge the cat is delightful, I can't vouch for the rest of the picture