Friday, 23 May 2014

Meg 201 - Gold 001 Supplement

This may confuse a few of you... Why am I reviewing Meg 201 again - I've already done it! Well... my Meg 201 wasn't complete - I was missing the Gold 001 re-print supplement that came with it. I finally got round to buying one off eBay, and have just finished reading it - so I can finish my full review at last!

The supplement was a reprint of Fiends Of The Eastern Front - a wonderful early serial by Gerry Finlay-Day and drawn by the legend that is Rey Carlos Ezquerra... There's a good introduction provided by Dan Abnett, writer of many stories for 2000AD, the Meg and many other publications. He fondly recalls... well... not liking it to begin with, actually! But he got into it and has used the story as inspiration for one of his own, also drawn by Rey Carlos.

Anyway, to the comic serial, and it's really rather good. A British Colonel and a German Inspector discover an underground tomb with a skeleton clutching a diary and some mysterious human-like figures drawn on the wall. The Inspector tells the story of Hans Schmitt, a soldier on the Russian Front in the Second World War whose unit encounter some mysterious fighters from Rumania (yes, that really is the spelling!). These fighters are deadly to their Russian enemy, but are never seen in the daylight and like to transport coffins around in their supply truck...

It's an excellent read. I generally like Finlay-Day's stories and with Rey Carlos' art, it's a real winner for me... It's not very 2000AD, no sci-fi elements, but there are some good tensions and a cracking adventure romp.

You can buy the collected story in a trade paperback which also collects later stories that were written. Partly why I wanted this supplement now is because the Meg is about to print a sequel (that's in Meg 245, folks, not the current one!) and I wanted to read the original story beforehand. Of course, I wanted to finally finish the Meg 201 review - so mission accomplished...

Meg 243 - Jungle Fever

Now I did rather like this cover. Dredd looking very annoyed! A top job by Clint Langley with some lovely background work as well - which makes a nice change from the rather plain covers we have had of late.

Diving inside we have a few stories ending this issue. I guess this kind-of marks the end of the Alan Barnes era, as Matt Smith will now be putting in the stories he wants. His editorial promises a "slightly tweaked, better value" Meg for the next edition. Sound like a page cut and a price drop to me, but we'll see. I'm going to go into a slight aside now and tell you my amusing Matt Smith story. I was in Forbidden Planet in London in the queue waiting to meet various 2000AD creators on Free Comic Book Day. Matt Smith was one of them. A hairy young man joined the queue resplendent in his Doctor Who T-Shirt and carrying a bunch of time lord merchandise. An enterprising fellow queuer turned to this chap and said "You do know the Matt Smith here is Tharg, the editor of 2000AD". The Whovian looked confused. "Not the Doctor Who actor" my fellow queuer continued. The Whovian nodded slightly, grinned a grin, and five minutes later left the queue!

Anyway, enough of my amusing tales of mistaken identity. There's no mistake that the bad mood Dredd exhibited on the cover was carried through to the final part of Warzone. There's shooting aplenty and if you like your Dredds nasty, this is an unmissable 16 page episode. I rather liked this tale. It will be interesting to see what sort of Dredd we get next issues, but it will have a lot to live up to. I can't help wondering if it should have been two 8 page episodes, but I didn't mind that (if it ever was, of course).

Young Middenface ended with a belter of a climax. A couple of important people end up dead and Middenface is deeply affected by this episode in his life. Super writing by Alan Grant and, yeah, I warmed to ShaunThomas' artwork too. Good job all round. I don't know if this strip will return, but Grant seems to have closed this chapter so we will see what happens with everyone's favourite Scottish mutie next...

One story still continuing is Cursed Earth Koburn who in Malachi has a proper demented nemesis. He is the Judge Death of the Koburn storyline and he looks unstoppable. Good to see Buenaventura getting more of the limelight this time. We see a lot of her and she really is a terrific character. She's got over her ejection from Mega City zone and is stepping up to life in the Cursed Earth. I've always liked the adventures set in The Cursed Earth, and with Rennie and Ezquerra in total control, it's a great read.

Shimura also finished with an epic climax as he takes on his old nemesis in part six of The Harder They Come. Some great fight scenes and an all action ending. Not sure what the plans are for this universe going forwards but I do enjoy the Asian adventures. Let's hope we see a similar strip soon.

The Metro Dredd was truly awful. I suspect they work well as daily commuter newspaper fodder but they are ludicrous in the Meg. Some nonsense about Dredd entering a staring contest. Can we please drop them? Same with the Sinister Dexter one pager whilst your at it, Doctor Smith.

Charley's War continues telling Blue's story. I hadn't realised African armies were in the First World War, so learning and being entertained!

I did have a go at reading the Fu Manchu article. My Dad loved Fu Manchu when he was a boy and I had some exposure to the stories as a child. Sadly, I couldn't get in to the article which read more like an encyclopaedic tome than a magazine article. Sorry Sir Alan, not your best work. Great for hardcore fans of Mr Manchu, but not for the casual reader.

David Bishop's interview with artist Mark Harrison was genuinely interesting. Now you may recall I do like my original comic art, so always am interested in the creator interviews... But some are a bit hit and miss. This was a hit. Mr Harrison is an interesting guy and Bishop knows how to interview. So it was all good!

Over in Hotshots, Cult TV featured the US Show House, starring Hugh Laurie. I liked this show, so it was an interesting read. Rob Williams wrote a good article on the movie adaptation of A History Of Violence, wondering aloud if John Wagner approved and then discussed other comic to move conversions.

And finally... Floyd was back in the letters pages! Not seen him around for a while. His bookshelf must be groaning under the weight of the free graphic novels he gets sent every time his letters get published. Perhaps he'd read them all and wanted another one...

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Meg 242 - Spirit Of The Glens

Richard Elson has the honour of drawing the cover for this Meg featuring everyone's favourite alcoholic mutie and a good bottle of "Ball's" 75% whiskey! Not much going on in the background, but I quite liked the cover. I'm a fan of Elson's work anyway...

Let's get into the Dredd story, Warzone, which I've been raving on about in these articles. Dredd and the crew of Space Corps are under siege and the battle did become rather chaotic. I managed to follow it OK, but there was little script and a lot of action in the artwork. I'm not saying that's a bad thing - nothing of the sort - I thought it added to the drama of the battle. And the last panel is priceless... I've seen Dredd look pretty hacked off before, but Holden has caught his expression beautifully! This is a fast-paced, action-packed story and I'm still loving it!

Part 3 of A Scottish Sojer saw Middenface and his gang launching a daring raid at the heart of the Scottish government. I'm not entirely sure how portraying Middenface as more alcoholic, less brave mutie is playing with me. It's a new angle to his character. He's always liked a drink and the lassies, but it seemed to focus a lot on the booze aspect in this episode. Maybe it's significant later down the line... This is continuing to build nicely, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes.

We had a one-page Sinister Dexter episode called A Night Off which was quite good. These one-pagers are probably quite tricky to pitch right, but this was one of the better ones to date. Good work by both Dan Abnett and artist Steve Roberts.

The less said about Whatever Happened To Alec Trench the better. He's not a character I'm familiar with and the entire story felt like one long in-joke that I wasn't in on. Quite self-indulgent. But I'm probably just annoyed I didn't know what was going on. Robin Smith's style was immediately apparent on the art duties, and it's Alan Grant on script, but it zoomed right over my head. Probably hilarious if you know who Alex Trench is. Possibly it's poking fun at all those people who write bad stuff and send it to 2000AD. But I didn't get it. Doctor Smith's opening editorial was about how tough it was to get a gig at 2000AD or the Megazine and extolling the virtues of the self-published comics community (more later on that) so maybe it was a dig at people. I hope not. That wouldn't be very nice...

But back on track with the excellent writing and artwork we have Messrs Rennie and Ezquerra on Part 2 of Malachi, the Cursed Earth Koburn story. Our hero is in a bit of a pickle as the walking mutation of doom, Malachi, has a brush with him. I do so love the adventures of Cursed Earth Koburn and the Malachi story is a particularly good concept and well executed. I genuinely have no idea what's going to happen, so am looking forward to getting stuck in next episode.

The fifth part of Shimura has left us on a knife edge... A real cliff-hanger. It has built steadily through previous episodes to get us to this point. Once again, this episode was full of action which suited the black and white art of Colin MacNeil. It's good stuff... You can't beat a bit of Robbie Morrison quality story telling!

Charley's War lumbered back into the telling of Blue's story. It's still pretty good, and it was nice to have a break and be back in London finding out what is happening with Charlie and Blue's attempts to dodge the Military Police, but I do still wonder how long it will go on for! I suspect this is Pat Mills' way of telling another side of the World War I history which had little to do with the British forces. And that’s OK - I'm cool with that. For now...

I mentioned the small-press comic scene earlier. It's like the micro-brewing scene to real ale, so the small-press scene allows writers and artists to be more experimental and pretty much create what they want! This text article covers a number of the fan magazine in the 2000AD world (Dogbreat, Zarjaz, FutureQuake, etc) as well as some notable comics away from this world. I found it quite interesting to read. I've seen the tables at Comic Cons but never really paid them much attention, so it was good to read about some of the many small-press comics there are out there. Sadly, I don't have time to read all the stuff from 2000AD, let alone getting into small-press stuff, but if you are looking for something truly original, get yourself along to the nearest comic con and chat to some of these producers (or Google is your friend, of course!).

David Bishop's brilliant canter through Magazine history, 15 Years Creep, finished this issue with a look at the Lord Alan Barnes era... Oh Sir Alan - why have you left us <sniff>... So I was on pretty solid ground here having read every Megazine mentioned. It was quite a different perspective for me, because I often read Bishop's looks at the history of comics with a more distant perspective as I usually haven't read any of it or don't remember it. Having read all these characters less than a year ago it was quite fun to read about how they were created, how some nearly didn't get off the ground and how Lord Barnes thought The Bogie Man was really funny and I didn't... But I'm glad we can agree the text stories were good, even if the majority of readers did not. Still, for me, that sums up the Great Man's editorship. He'd always try something different. I still believe this was a golden time for the Meg. If you want a slab of excellent comics writing, and you like Judge Dredd, you could do a lot worse than pick up issues 201 to 242 of the Megazine. Of course, I'm not saying Doctor Smith will be a rubbish editor. I very much hope he will keep the ship sailing forwards. Maybe create Diamond Age of the Meg!

It was interesting to learn that Hotshots was created to drive ad revenue. It's the funny thing with Hotshots. Mostly, they are a 'miss' rather than a 'hit' but occasionally something is of interest. Rob Williams' review of The Last Man being one of them.

Metro Dredd was a bit crap, and that was the end of this issue!

And finally... Brian Bolland was back in the letters page correcting a number of errors in the Joel Meadows interview of pervious issues... He's becoming a regular! Perhaps Doctor Smith should give him a column, like Gordon Rennie's old one. That I would love to read!

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Meg 241 - Enter The Dragon!

I'm getting quite good at recognising cover artists from their style. I play a little "guess who" game when I pick up each new Meg and I was spot on with Colin MacNeil. I know he is the resident artist on Shimura at the moment, but this looked like the same style as his Devlin Waugh paintings. And I liked it a lot. I also liked the singed writing in the title.

So, Matt Smith's first Meg as editor... He acknowledges the challenge of following on in Sir Alan Barnes' footsteps in his editorial, saying he is not going to bring in a load of changes but will, over time, introduce new things. Fair enough. I don't think Matt is the 11th Doctor Who. He might be though. I'd better call him Doctor Smith to be on the safe side...

It's the second part of the Dredd story Warzone, and honestly if this gets any better my head is going to explode! It's a cracking story from Messrs Wagner and Holden with action and intrigue aplenty. Dredd is still on the trail of his perp which leads him deep into enemy territory. But is everyone on his side in his gang of soldiers. Maybe I love this because of the shades of Apocalypse Now, as I mentioned last time, but I do think its a great story. Cracking art work too. The bar has been set very high...

Shimura and his nemesis, Stan Lee, face each other in this episode of the story The Harder The Come. Oh, and Dredd gets a look in on the action too! They manage to rescue Amber Taoki but part of me is waiting for a double cross or some other twist. I got on better with Colin's art this time around. The style lends itself well to the action scenes. I do still prefer his more detailed work, like his recent PJ Maybe story for the Day of Chaos saga in 2000 AD. Perhaps this was a transitional phase for Colin. I'm going to stop going on about it now. The story is a good one, and we will leave it there!

I enjoyed this final episode of the Anderson story Lucid, written and drawn by Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson as per usual. Whilst we did have some scenes that were in the victim's mind (and I'm often not a fan of these) and was brief, purposeful and had a lot to do with the conclusion. Rather than just wandering around a lot. Some especially good Ranson painting in this episode. I'm not sure if Anderson will return in the next Meg. I've been saying she needed a break, and whilst I did like this story more than some of the previous ones, I'd still like to have some time off from her. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so they say...

Loving Young Middenface in part 2 of the A Scottish Sojer. I find The Whicker Man movie a little disturbing, probably because I saw it when I was a child and it has stuck with me. There are some similar scenes in this episode. Not quite sure what the muties are up to. It may not be clear in the story, or I may have missed it somewhere down the line. Doesn't matter too much, I'm going with the flow! Still warming to Shaun Thomas' art, but am definitely getting warmer. It's an interesting style. I'd love to find out more about how he produces it. Maybe the Meg will interview him soon.

After the prequel last time, the Cursed Earth Koburn story Malachi kicks off with the mysterious mutie, touched by Death, heading for a location near to where Koburn is checking out a rehab site for juves. As ever, Gordon Rennie scripts and Carlos Ezquerra draws and, as ever, it's a winning combo. The creature takes out anything that stands in its way. This could be Koburn's toughest challenge yet!

To the reprints and Charley's War continues as Charley and Blue are on the run from the Military Police. Blue's story has finally concluded, for now... Not sure if there is more to tell. The only major change our new time lord editor really bought this issue was to include two Metro Dredds. They were both passable. I see them as novelty value really.

15 Years Creep, David Bishop's look back at the history of the Megazine sees us enter The Lord Barnes era and to some familiarity as this is where I started my Odyssey. It was great to read how these Megs were developed and some more about the characters who graced them. Some interesting insight, and definitely an article I will read again.

Can't say the same for the Brian Bolland interview. Now I should make my position clear - Bolland is brilliant. Some of his artwork is superb. But he talks frequently about only ever doing things because of the money he could make out of it. So when he talks passionately about wanting DC to do a compendium if his work, is it because he thinks there is some artistic value, or he really likes the work, or that he thinks it will sell and make him a few quid. Perhaps it's a bit of everything? Don't get me wrong, artists should make a few quid, probably more than they actually do. But the way Bolland talks about it he makes it sound like it is his only motivation. I really hope it isn't, and it's possible it was cut that way but the interviewer or editor. It's been done before by journalists looking to slant a story one particular way... Doesn't alter the fact in my mind that Bolland is a legend, but still....

In the Heatseekers section, I liked the Family Guy article in the TV section, but didn't find anything else to be of interest.

And finally... how did Matt Smith do as editor? Well, he didn't make any radical changes which must mean that he, and Rebellion (the publishers and owners) must thinks things are alright. And I'd agree. Things are alright. Long may that continue...

Monday, 12 May 2014

Meg 240 - Soldiers of Misfortune

(Link to BARNEY)

I'm still in shock. I didn't see it coming at all and I'm not sure if my Meg Odyssey will be the same again... You may have figured I'm not talking about the cover. I'm not talking about a storyline or a radical new artistic page design. I'm talking about the death or Sir Alan Barnes. He's not really dead. Unless it's his ghost on Twitter. But it was his last issue editing the Meg. His editorial column announced his robotic self had had a small accident with some Christmas lights - which I thought may have been a festive jape. But no. His signing off comment in Dreddlines confirmed the sad news...

Why are you leaving now, Alan? What will happen to the Meg now... I shall write something  more about Lord Barnes in a separate article, but the last 40-odd issues have been a joy and of a very high standard. Whilst the Duke of Barnes and I haven't always seen eye-to-eye (I hope, with counselling and the healing passage of time, I can wipe out memories of The Dredd Files) I have the highest respect for the man. He is am editing legend.

Enough fawning over Sir Alan... Let's talk Meg 240...

A Cliff Robinson character master class graces the front with the cast of the new Dredd story posing and looking mean. Like the previous Koburn cover it was a bit plain around the edges. I'm thinking this is the way if Meg covers at the moment. I suspect backgrounds cost more...

Let's talk Dredd and part 1 of the new Wagner and PJ Holden story Warzone. I'm developing into something of a PJ Holden fanboy and am cursing my luck for being ill and missing the chance to meet him in London at a comic fair last month. Anyway, suffice to say I like the art! Dredd has ended up in a warzone where he is hunting down a perp. Shades of the coalition and Iraq in Wagner's premise here. A bit of Apocalypse Now too. He hooks up with a band of rag tag fellows to go behind enemy lines and chase down his prey. This could run and run and I wouldn't be unhappy. It's an original premise, taking us out of MC1 and into a hostile and harsh environment. Looking forward to picking this up next issue...

Young Middenface is back! Huzzah! Still drawn by Shaun Thomas, whose style I am warming to, and written by Alan Grant as ever, a year has passed since Killoden and Stinkin' Billy has declared all out genocide on the muties. Middenface and his chums have been forced into using guerrilla tactics to strike out against the government and it's forces. The opening episode of a story called A Scottish Sojer see the muties attack what looks like a bakery, but it become clear they weren't after just the cakes... Thomas style is unique. I haven't seen anything like it in any other strip. It oozes atmosphere, darkness and gloom.

Anderson has reached part 3 of her current story, Lucid, and we saw some real plot development. This was nicely paced and I think it was the best episode so far, and for quite a while previously. I've been struggling a little with her stories, but this part has reignited my interest.

Shimura remains an enigma... Brilliant, brilliant Robbie Morrison story and black and white artwork lacking in detail from Colin MacNeil. I refuse to criticise Colin. The man is a minor deity of comic art, and I can't draw for toffee. It's simply I think he may have rushed it or was asked to draw in a different style or something. There is a lot of white and black space and backgrounds are sparse. His characterisations are lovely, with fluidity in the fight scenes. Perhaps the script didn't help. I dunno. Anyway, the story is great and I'm looking forward to next time.

Finally for the original strips, we had a completely new character: Darren Dead. Written by Rob Williams and drawn by John Higgins, this is a prequel to what I anticipate will be a longer story to appear down the line somewhere. I enjoyed it.. It is a variation on the old 'ordinary-ish weirdo meets radiation and turns into something even weirder', but that's fine with me. To summarise, Darren is dead, but he can walk and talk and appears to be pretty much alive. Oh, and he hears dead people. Very 'Sixth Sense'. I hope it returns in a longer format.

Charley's War still has the French deserter telling his story. It is interesting, but I still feel it is dragging on somewhat. Still, am enjoying it in the main. Metro Dredd was ok, although the end was a bit silly.

15 Years, Creep: The Megazine story continues to fascinate and hold my attention. Bishop is such a great biographer of comics and he gets access to a lot of the main players. It was also good to find out why Wardog was such a - well - dog! Of course, it helps that Bishop himself was one of the main players. And to his credit, he included the criticisms levelled at him from others, which is a pretty fair-minded thing to do.

The other text article of note was an interview with the legend that is Brian Bolland. It written like one of those interviews in the Sunday papers where you get the incidental interruptions that happen. Bolland answers his telephone. Bolland sips his tea. Ok.... It doesn't seem to have much of an order to it either. We do go through in a rough chronological order, but it jumps about too. Still, it's an insight into the man and his hatred at losing his artwork to bins or unscrupulous individuals (no names are shamed). Over in Hotshots, Jonathan Morris tells us how much he hates Space 1999 and Scott Gray writes his last Comics slot with a review of Canon - which sounds barking. I'll pause for a moment to thank Scott. I didn't read all his recommendations, but the ones I did were very good. He has a nice writing style too.

And finally... as I said earlier I'll be writing a little piece on the premiership of Sir Alan. If you want to say a few words to mark his passing, please feel free to comment and I will be sure to include your view (or paraphrase it, or ignore if it's nasty :-) )

Oh - and apologies for the short break I had on this blog. Places to go, people to see....