Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Comic Review - Batman: The Killing Joke

A Prestige format book originally published in 1986, The Killing Joke has fast become a favourite primer for Batman comics for several reasons. It's short and sharp, captures the darkness that's now built into Batman on a base level, has consequences, features the Bates undisputed number one villain on top form and has some seriously heavyweight creators. It's a little more Brian Bolland's baby and while he's grizzled about the colour job it's unarguably a brilliant piece of work, with several frames genuine touchstones of Batman history. The face to face between Dark Knight and archenemy  (though few remember the latter is actually a dummy in the original) and the concept behind it has been knobbed by everything going, for instance.

Alan Moore has been somewhat disparaging about the book in years since too, though to be honest he is about everything these days anyway, old misery that he is. But it stand up brilliantly and never feels thirty years old. The 'possible' origin tying the Joker into the Golden Age Red Hood has also been widely accepted as canon insofar as anything else DC is canon, precisely because it's so well written, and the interpretation-laden last page still pulls things off - the joke is actually pretty funny, even after many readings, avoiding that whole King of Comedy thing.

In the years since the crippling of Barbara Gordon has copped a lot of flack but this is mainly through 21st century glasses. In the context of a period of comics where status quo was king (Crisis merely establishing a new status quo) the sudden, brutal and casual nature of the Joker just turning up on a hero's doorstep and shooting her through the spine both ramps the danger up and creates a jarring effect. Both the incident and its' aftermath - where Barbara's critically injured body is photographed and possibly abused - serve to show how dangerous the Joker is. It's a deliberately crass attempt to undermine Jim Gordon's belief in civilised society and if it triggers you into repulsion well done, it's meant to. Plus it's a change that gave the huge positive response of the paraplegic Oracle. Meanwhile Jim's complete refusal to be dragged down to the Joker's level despite the callous targeted bad day (compared to the Joker's collision of bad luck and his own extant weakness) is uplifting and makes him on the quiet the real star of the story.

Overall The Killing Joke deserves its exalted status. It's not a perfect comic but it is concise and memorable, a perfect introduction to modern Batman comics in that it leaves somewhere to go while functioning as a compact story based on a dynamic ramped up to legendary status.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Toy Review - Tetsujin 28 Minifigure

Tetsujin 28 is the daddy of the giant robots. Debuting as a manga in 1956 and an anime in 1963 the show featuring a giant former Japanese super-weapon left over from the war put to good use by Shotaro Kaneda, son of its' inventor, was one of the earliest robot stories of its' kind, paving the way for Mazinger Z and the whole butterfly effect that's led to all robot fiction as we know it. 

Toy Review - Transformers: Titans Return Highbrow (Wei Jiang version)

If you've tried to buy Transformers in the past few years you'll have heard of third party figures, which is when a company designs their own version of a character (usually Devastator), puts it into a small production run through some Chinese sweatshop and charges the customer the fucking Earth for it even if it doesn't really work. It's a decent way of making coin out of so many Transformers fans' legendary impatience and poor judgement of value for money. 3P manufacturers aren't seen as bootleggers as while they entirely steal the designs and trademarks of others to cash in they do at least use their own engineering. Amusingly and predictably a certain tribalism has grown around the thing and many fans ardently follow certain 3P companies. If you want to know which one just go on the internet, it seems part of any transaction is a contractual obligation to be a dull 3P evangelist.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Comic Review - 2000AD: Big Dave

As part of a publicity stunt in 1993 control of 2000AD was handed over to young Turks Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and John Smith for a couple of months, leading to the so-called Summer Offensive which begat sub-Thompson drugs bore Really & Truly, gory retread Slaughterbowl and nihilistic actioner Maniac 5. The jewel though was Big Dave, detailing the adventures of the titular yob, Manchester's hardest man. A hilarious and OTT spoof of tabloid attitudes laced with boisterous, aggressive narration taking swipes at everything going, it remains a relevant and funny criticism of British laddishness.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Film Review - Biggles

As a plane-mad boy growing up with no History Channel Biggles was a staple of my childhood, thanks to my parents taping the movie from ITV one Bank Holiday - a recording I ran to death. Biggles was created as a series of aerial adventure books by W. E. Johns, a World War I pilot himself, for younger readers in 1932. The books were a staple for boys from then until 1970, the series having enough of a loyal following to only end when the author died. Biggles' in-fiction career started off in 1916 but did move forwards through time, taking in post-war time in a charter plane foiling various plots against Britain and then reactivation for World War II, followed by a period as part of a special flying unit. This seems to have been possible by James "Biggles" Bigglesworth and his chums having some sort of sliding lifespan; initially his callow age was a feature but it froze when he hit about 30. The book's attitudes towards race and nationalism congealed at about the same point and by the sixties were firmly out of swing with much around it; one suspects by this point the readership was mainly made up of those who had been reading the books for decades.

Friday, 6 April 2018

TV Review - Survivors S1E09: Law and Order

Survivors tends to be at its' best when it's examining an issue - how a problem or area is affected by the death, for best results something that's taken for granted in everyday society. "Law and Order" is probably the most extreme example and certainly the best. It's again from Clive Exton under his Wodehouse-baiting M K Jeeves pseudonym and it's one of the most brilliant and disturbing pieces of television ever made.

Comic Review - Transformers: The Reign of Starscream

IDW's movie tie-in comics hadn't been able to ride the film's box office to some sort of wider casual audience or even been particularly well-received by fans but they had done decent business within context, selling in and around the same numbers as their G1 material (at the time, at least - each issue of their prequel series probably sold more copies than their combined Transformers output does now). While Transformers had done huge business at theatres a sequel wouldn't be due until 2009; IDW needed money though and decided to make their own. And these fuckwits have the word "Idea" in their name.

TV Review - Survivors S1E08: Spoil of War

"Spoil of War" was the first of two episodes written by M K Jeeves. If that name sounds like a pseudonym it is, one assumed by Clive Exton, rather a posh playwright who had co-written Hammer horror spoof The House in Nightmare Park; he'd already written the screenplay for Richard Fleisher's 10 Rillington Place and would later write Red Sonja and later the Jeeves & Wooster TV series. So a heavyweight really. His first episode is the first with the group firmly established at the Grange.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Comic Review - Transformers: Movie Adaptation

Back in the pre-video age if you loved a film rather than having home media or oldies channels was for kids to by a comic based on the film from Gold Key or Dell. Now, Gold Key and Dell weren't exactly renowned for groundbreaking material or high artistic pretensions, largely being concerned with instead profitability. Guess what IDW did while the first Transformers film was in the theatres even though it would be out on DVD officially within months (and illegally before that). Go on, fucking guess.

TV Review - Survivors S1E07: Starvation

Despite the triumphs of Charles Vaughan and Jimmy Garland it's clear the production team saw limited value in the leads as a wandering nomadic trio. While they're living out of cars many others were banding together and forming groups, with the series establishing that humans are sparse but not outright rare. "Starvation" sees the leads given a base at last, and acts as something of a mid-season reformatting - with Jack Ronder writing the script you again begin to see that already the show was moving away from Terry Nation's initial plans.

TV Review - Survivors S1E06: Garland's War

Survivors is overall a positive show - it might start off with the near-annihilation of the human race but really it's about the reaction to the death, one that is quite often positive. To some degree the likes of Abby, Greg, Charles Vaughan and even the likes of Arthur Wormleigh and Ann Tranter are thriving, using skills and knowledge that would have been locked away in their day-to-day lives. Maybe even Jenny was even wetter and thicker in day to day life before the plague, though I'll admit that is a push. Terry Nation returned to script the sixth episode (he wrote seven of the first 13 for the show before leaving) and it makes this theme explicit in the form of Jimmy Garland.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Comic Review - Transformers: Movie Prequel Special

 As part of the promo push for the 2007 Transformers film there were a couple of freebie comics put out with support from Target - one, later titled "Interlude", was handed out in cinemas and the other (which would become "Planetfall") would later be issued with the DVD at the chain's stores. However, never short of a cash-grabbing wheeze (remember when they "found" all those limited edition convention covers in a warehouse?) IDW wrapped them in a new cover and charged four dollars for the two free comics.

TV Review - Survivors S1E05: Gone to Angels

Well, we were due a fucking stinker. Actually, "Gone to Angels", again from Jack Ronder, isn't outright bad, just a big step down from the first four. Generally episodes of Survivors concentrate on a single plot line and this works as it allows the subject at hand to be explored thoroughly, and the casting structure largely reflects this in that we only have three fully-fledged regular characters with the rest recurring and hired as needed. However, "Gone to Angels" splits the leads fully and the result is scattershot.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

TV Review - Survivors S1E04: Corn Dolly

The initial three episodes of Survivors effectively bring the leading trio of Abby, Jenny and Greg together, more or less establishing them as a unit with the same goals and moral values. It's not quite time for them to become static yet though so "Corn Dolly" is the first of three episodes with the three on the road, ostensibly looking for Abby's son Peter. Of course even to first-time viewers it must have been clear that they were never going to just stumble across him somewhere as that would basically end her personal arc. Instead, they're an excuse to meet three different responses to the death. The first of these is Charles Vaughan.

Friday, 30 March 2018

TV Review - Survivors S1E03: Gone Away

It hit me rewatching this episode that Survivors is actually a lot more optimistic than Blake's 7. Sure, 99.5% of the human race die but once that's done with (basically in the first episode) everything's back on the way up. Not without obstacles and diversions, of course, but as the seasons develop there's a positive response. It's not a bad thing and the show is basically a tenet to the hardiness of the human race, and the real nihilism of B7 (the abject failure of the heroes to destroy the Federation and their increasing irrelevance as opposition to it) didn't come in until Terry Nation's fingers came back out of the mix. In Survivors there's never anything as broadly depressing for the species as the huddled figures moving from campfire to campfire in the opener or Abby living out of the back of a Volvo estate.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Comic Review - Transformers: Movie Prequel

No, not something fan-wanky bridging the gap between the second series of the cartoon and the hair metal-infested guilty pleasure of the final bow of the man behind Touch of Evil, but instead IDW's attempt to get the coin of the 2007 Michael Bay blockbuster in their pocket. Of course, the first thing anyone who's seen the 2007 movie will tell you is that its' got a prequel built into the first hour with endless exposition and flashback. But you have to remember the other thing built in to IDW - not only do they love money but they realise the bulk of their readers are as thick as pigshit. Fuck's sake, they put out a comic specifically to slowly explain Prowl having character development.

TV Review - Survivors S1E02: Genesis

The problem with a concept like Survivors is that it would quite rapidly get depressing to just watch everything break down and everyone die. Terry Nation's concept for the series was more about how people would deal with the result than the plague itself, which was really just an excuse to get society in a good position to be explored. So here, as the name suggests, are the first kernels of a new start for the characters. A handful of isolated cases over the next few episodes aside the plague has done its' killing - but worry not, as Nation will show, there are plenty of other ways to die horribly in this brave new world. For now though we've hit a level where most of the people who would die from the death or initial death-related stupidity have done so and the survivors are beginning to respond.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Comic Review - Zenith: Phase One

Grant Morrison's late-1980s slice of superhero revisionism is something of a change from the myriad Watchmen/Dark Knight Returns knockoffs of the time. Zenith isn't a dark, brooding figure, he's an idiot. The rough gist, for anyone who's yet to experience the serial, is that Zenith is the world's one known superpowered being but instead of protecting the world he uses this status to become a pop star. It sounds a bit sneering in text, but Zenith's bratty behaviour is actually quite engaging. That said, in the first storyline he's not actually too bad - there's a bit of snark and selfishness from the lad, but he actually spends most of the story doing more or less the right thing, despite protestations. Don't get used to that, though...

TV Review - Survivors S1E01: The Fourth Horseman

Terry Nation spent most of the seventies trying to hawk the Daleks to American TV networks and make himself even more money (and when that happened he definitely would have passed on the money to Dalek designer Raymond Cusick, definitely), only occasionally popping back to Blighty in order to turn in effortless occasional Doctor Who scripts (one effortlessly brilliant, three simply effortless) and create a couple of excellent series. A few years before the infamous Blake's 7 pitch he had considerable success with Survivors, which hinged on a single simple premise - if then-present day Earth is struck by a deadly virus which wipes out 99% of the population, how would people cope?

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Comic: Blake's 7 - A Marvel Monthly

Jesus I'd forgotten all about this. Basically, Marvel had - after an initial boom and bust - managed to produce a magazine based on Doctor Who; it had initially been more of a comic before they cottoned on that there was a lot of cheap mileage in articles about the show's history and the like, meaning only a handful of pages of comic strip needed to be commissioned each month. The decision to do the same thing for B7 from the start was therefore a no-brainer and the title debuted in autumn 1981 just as the new-look Season 4 hit screens. Brilliance, apart from the fact within a few issues the the cast were wiped out in a bloodbath and the series was cancelled, with the monthly presumably selling enough to amble on regardless. Same thing would happen with Doctor Who Magazine, which bridged a 17-year gap between the show being cancelled and that CBeebies shit with farting aliens arriving on the screen by surviving on a TV Movie and lots of interviews with minor guest stars. The difference was Who had a 26-year history to draw on, not to mention ongoing official fiction like the novel and audio series. Blake's 7 had four years, seemingly no rights to anything from the first three, and an official ending that saw everyone die.