John Wagner, Pat Mills & other – Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files vol. 1
The early days of Dredd reproduced in all their black & white glory. These very early strips are a bit of a mixed bag in terms of quality. They are very much a negotiation, a finding a path, a search for the centre of the character.
The potential is there from the start but the stories and the characters just aren’t. It’s still a little bogged down in ‘kids comic’ as seen through rubbish like Walter the Wobot. Some of the dialogue is cringe-worthy, like Dredd calling people ‘baby’.
This volume contains some pivotal stories, like Dredd versus Rico but it’s not there yet. It’s the next volume with the Cursed Earth trek where things really come together.
John Wagner & John Ridgway - The Dead Man
I was completely taken in by this when I first read it years ago. This time all the clues are there, the 'Have you seen his eyes?' part in particular. It's beautifully written and paced to perfection. More happens in one two page Wagner spread than in most writers entire issues. He is the master of the 5 page 2000ad format. There's just no-one to touch him, Pat Mills included.
It's also good to be able to say that after all thease years since it was published Wagner is still nailing it. I've picked up a few Dredds lately and they've all been good. The only slightly duff one was vol 14 (I think) of the Complete Dredd books. It had the first Ennis stories in it and it was pretty poor in places.
Ridgway I have a strange relationship with. At first glance I find his style quite a turn-off but once I'm into the story his artwork is the perfect place to be.
I'm so glad I picked this up. I remembered it as being proper good and 20 odd years later it's still a real fucking ride.
John Wagner & Colin McNeil, Peter Doherty - Judge Dredd: Mechanismo
A silly, short Dredd tale about the implementation of robot Judges in MC1. Dredd’s against it from the off – why does no-one ever listen? – and is soon proven correct as the robots go off piste and start exceeding their protocols.
Annoyingly there’s no end to the story, at least not in this collection. It dates from 1993 so they’ve had plenty of time to do so in the comic but here it’s one that got away.
The art is split between McNeil’s big bold painterly style and Doherty’s slightly more comic-booky one. The change is jarring when it happens but this soon wears away and both artists do a nice job.
Doherty also does the honours on the short and daft back-up strip, ‘The Man Who Killed Judge Dredd’. Fun and silly in equal measures it’s just a shame the first story didn’t have an ending.
John Wagner & Mike Western - Darkie's Mob: The Secret War of Joe Darkie
Originally published in 1976 in Battle picture Weekly Darkie's mob is the story of a renegade mob of British soldiers fighting the Japanese in Burma.
It's brutal and uncompromising, full of carnage - particularly towards the Japanese - and the language is beyond racist to modern sensibilities but is how I remember the strips of my youth.
It was a fun bit of nostalgia for comics that probably couldn't exist anymore - although Garth Ennis is trying to put the lie to that statement.
It's beautifully drawn with each page packed with art. Panels overlap and crumble to give the chaos of the battles.
An enjoyable trip down memory lane, not in terms of the strip as I have no memory of it but, for the genre of comics that I spent much of my youth reading and this was a real treat.
John Wagner, Alan Grant & others - The Taxidermist
This is a collection of stories featuring one particular character from Dredd history; Jake Sardinia, Olympic taxidermist. It's a series of tales spanning many years of stories that sees Jake go from a very lucky stooge in a gangster story, through Olympic glory and finally to death and, kinda, beyond.
It's fairly typical Dredd / 2000ad backup story fare. It's a fun bit of stupidity that was more than an entertaining way to pass some time but in truth nothing particularly essential for spectacular.
Mark Waid & Barry Kitson - Legion of Superheroes: Teenage Revolution
Back in the late 80s early 90s when I was working in a comic shop in Cardiff I was loaned a large stack of the Paul Levitz Legion comics. With the exception of the dumb as fuck names I loved them. A glorious, big superhero sci-fi extravaganza. I was hooked. Later came the Keith Giffen '5 Years Later' storyline which to this day I still adore and features some of my favourite ever comic art,
End of last year I read, from the library, a Justice League comic called 'The Lightning Saga' which featured various members of the Legion. It got me fancying some 30th century action so I picked up the 2 Mark Waid Legion books from a few years back. They are a complete relaunch from the stuff I know - apparently there was another relaunch before this and another with the Lightning Saga Legion Which has taken everything back to the old time Legion with Levitz back writing too.
Anyway, the Waid Legion is a militantly teenage organisation fighting for the freedom to be unique amidst an oppressively moralistic society. It's very much the angsty emo Legion but luckily it's got a fun little story bubbling at it's core and beautiful Barry Kitson art.
This first volume takes a little while to get into the story as it spends most of it's pages introducing and re-introducing characters. Some old faves are missing - no Mon-El - and others are changed - Element Lad is even wetter and Ultra Boy is a headcase - but it's mostly a fun re-imagining with only a few wtf moments - the Phantom Girl origin is massively naff.
It should be fun seeing where he takes / took this.
Mark Waid & Barry Kitson - Legion of Superheroes: Death of a Dream
The second volume of this Legion re-imagining continues on immediately from where the last volume left off. With the scene setting and re-introductions out of the way this time it's a much slicker story with a lot more focus. The team has finally worked out just who is making a move against the UP and is on the offensive.
There's no real depth to this but it is fun. Lot's of old-school Legion soap-opera in spaceness and a big fight scene. The characters aren't as rounded and developed as they were back under Levitz and Giffen in the old series but they mostly retain their characteristics and Waid can usually be relied on for a readable romp of a tale.
Mark Waid & Barry Kitson - Supergirl & the Legion of Superheroes: Strange Visitor From Another Planet
I'm not sure why they felt the need to add S-girl to the title but for the most part this book revolving around her arrival was a little thin.
Pretty much entirely made up of short tales with a small pair of narrative threads detailing the avoidance of a robot uprising and Brainiac 5's attempt to revive Dream Girl.
Waid has a nice effortless writing style. It's warm and friendly but I like a big idea or two in my comics and that's what's missing here. Perhaps it's just warming up for the next volume.
Mark Waid & Barry Kitson and others - Supergirl & the Legion of Superheroes: Adult Education
This is the penultimate Mark Waid Legion book. The last is The Dominator War but I've yet to track that one down.
This one continues the bittyness of the last volume but the understory has started to pick up speed and so I'm genuinely intrigued to see how it pans out in the the last volume. Some of the art in this volume is really pretty bad with Kitson being much less involved in the book. It does sport my favourite of all the covers though.
Mark Waid, Mirco Pierfederici & Minck Oosterveer – Ruse: The Victorian Guide to Murder
I didn’t have a clue what this comic was except it looked a blatant Holmes rip-off with a steampunk vibe.
I’ve no idea who the artists are but they’ve done a nice job. It’s fairly dark and has some flair in the right places.
The writing is as you’d expect from Waid; solid and engaging but ultimately nothing earth-shattering. I like his writing, I enjoy his books but they’re a snack. They just aren’t very filling.
And the book? Well it’s a blatant Holmes rip-off with a steampunk vibe.
Daniel Way & Mike Deodato, Mike Carey & Scot Eaton - X-Men: Original Sin
A team written effort to bring Wolverine and his estranged psychotic son Daken together. It's a typical X-book. Full of flashbacks and Wolvie soul searching but it's not the worst of them but equally it's not the best of them either.
Both writers are in tune and it's hard to tell one from t'other and the artists are more of the same.
Lot's of hacking and slashing with only the peripheral characters not getting up again in the usual tedious nothing ever really changes X-world kinda way.
Daniel Way & Steve Dillon - Supreme Power: Nighthawk
I'm not really sure what the purpose of these Supreme Power books are but they seem to be particularly violent.
This one is focused on the Kyle Richmond Nighthawk character who seems to have changed colour since I last read anything with him in. He's now an angry black billionaire with a rubber suit fetish and a violent streak.
Nighthawk was always a piss poor Batman riff and this book seems determined to actually dig that hole even deeper by giving him his very own clown faced adversary complete with tank of poisonous gas. The finale takes place in a water filtration site with the character doing something or other to it.
The art, obviously, is Steve Dillon level beautiful. Clean, crisp and natural. As for the story though, I'm not sure what I thought. It wasn't bad but it was depressingly violent. Realistic or voyeuristic? I can't decide.
Manly Wellman & Wade Wellman - The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The War of the Worlds
American father and son writing team conspire to mix the era's two greatest creations by setting Holmes, Watson and Professor Challenger (hero of Doyle's The Lost World) against those dastardly 'Martian' chappies.
The story is split into several parts with the perspective shifting throughout giving us tales of derring-do from Holmes, Challenger and then Watson for the last half of the novel at which point he takes over relating the tale.
It was solidly written and an enjoyable enough read. The characterisation of Holmes was way off portraying him as a friendly genius rather than the abrupt, rude and rather arrogant Holmes we know and love. He is however bursting with observations, intimations and deductions, as he should be. Challenger is the foil to this though as his egotism is so extraordinarily rampant that perhaps Holmes needed to be defanged. No point in defanging Challenger I suppose as readers are more likely to have Holmes as a reference point when venturing into these pages than the more obscure professor. Watson is very much in his bumbling persona here which is a shame as I always thought there was more to Watson than was often made of him in the non-canon or movie representations.
The one aspect of the book that I truly disliked though was the romance between Holmes and Mrs Hudson. I thought it was a nonsensical idea that only served to pad a thinly thought out plotline. Other than that a fun afternoon's read.
H. G. Wells – War of the Worlds
I always said I’d read this one day and I finally have. It was pretty much well worth the wait too.
Like the Time Machine, which I read last year, the protagonist / narrator remains a nameless figure. His journey remains also at the heart of the book. Like the main fellow you are very much along for the ride as he stumbles from one encounter to another. His adventures are as mundane as they are extraordinary such as when trapped in the cellar for days on end with an increasingly mad curate he barely relates the activities of the Martians outside and instead focuses on the struggle within over their food supplies.
I must admit I didn’t expect it to be as readable as it turned out to be but then so was Time Machine. Wells had such an easy and personable style that you’re easily drawn along by his characters and absorbed by his plots. Which I’d read this sooner and I think I need to tackle the Invisible Man next.
Bill Willingham & others - Jack of Fables vol.7: The New Adventures of Jack and Jack
I'm not the biggest fan of the Jack books. I've bought them mostly because the main book is so damn good. This one I rented from the library.
It's actually pretty good. The book is split between a storyline featuring Jack of Fables slowly turning into a dragon, due to him hoarding all that gold he has hidden in his suitcase and a better storyline featuring Jack Frost as he returns the Ice Queen's powers and embarks on a life of selfless heroics accompanied by Gepetto's wooden owl McDuff. This tale is fairly light and fluffy but does have a couple of fun notions running through it.
The tagline at the end of the book makes the claim that J. of F.'s transformation is permanent and that the book is all Jack Frost from now on but these taglines tend to lie a lot so we'll see.
Bill Willingham – Peter & Max
I’ve had this Fables spin-off novel on my shelf for a while now but wasn’t able to find the inclination to read it. I’m really glad I have now though as like the comic it was excellent fun.
Peter & Max are the Piper brothers. The first being the one with the peck of pickled peppers and the second being the one of Hamelin.
Max is a thoroughly despicable character hell bent on revenging himself on Peter for the ‘crime’ of their father’s recognition of Peter as the better player and therefore the recipient of the families magical flute, Frost.
The story intertwines the tale of the young Peter, Max and (Peter’s future wife) Bo Peep and also Peter’s current journey to kill Max in present day Hamelin.
It’s a light but hugely entertaining read that has got me itching to get back to the comics.
Bill Willingham & Shaun McManus - Thessaly: Witch for Hire
This is a Sandman spin off featuring the witch who appeared in the 'A Game of You' storyline where she showed just how powerful she was.
Willingham's version of the character retains the awe-inspiring powers but places the character inside a fairly cartoony and comedic storyworld. Here a ghost of her acquaintance embroils her in a monster killing enterprise that leads to her being up against the ultimate unbeatable killing machine which, of course, is nothing of the sort.
It's an amusing little book; Thessaly is a very readable character but the story itself doesn't really go anywhere.
Rob Williams - Indiana Jones & the Tomb of the Gods
A light and fluffy Indy comic. Very much of the flavour of the films with some spot on dialogue - you can hear Ford's voice at times.
There's nothing really of note here story or art wise. It's competent at best but I've read worse and it passed an idle 30 minutes without too much complaint.
Brian Willis (ed) – Hideous Progeny
This has been sat on my bookshelf for several years now and I’ve finally gotten around to it. It was pretty good too.
The book presents a series of small tales related to what would happen should Frankenstein have been real. Cue lots of tales of patchwork people and a fair few war stories pitting resurrected Germans against the world.
On the whole most of the stories were pretty readable. I particularly liked the early steampunk one ‘Traitor’s Gate’ by Simon Morden. There were other good ones but I am too tired to go looking for them now.
Glad I kept hold of this. I really enjoyed it.