Friday, 20 June 2008

Toy Review - Gobots Bubble Man

Tonka whored the Gobots brand out to pretty much anyone while the going was good, and this was one of the odder items of merchandise. Produced by a company named Tootsietoy, these things were packed on blister cards not totally unlike regular Gobots figures, and named as Bubble Man. They were produced in four colours - as well as the red and blue pictured, there were also green and black versions.
As you can see, the figure does have a half-arsed transformation, from a robot into... a robot with severe spinal injuries. However, this does mean you can access his fearsome battery of triple bubble blowers. For a piece of superfluous 1980s cash-in crap, it's not bad. Well, okay, it is pretty awful.

Still, there are a couple of points of interest. One is that genuine effort has gone into the paint apps on the robot mode - there are even a couple of stickers. Compare that to the Wendy's Gobots. The other thing, mainly evident on the blue one, is that he actually looks a lot like Buggy Man... Same head shape, same face, even a very similar chest layout and overall shape. Makes a change from Leader-1 and Cy-Kill, at any rate.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Comic Review: Union Jack

PUBLISHER: MARVEL (1998)
WRITER: BEN RAAB
ARTIST: JOHN CASSADAY


Union Jack has been one of my favourite minor Marvel character for some considerable time, be it cameoing in The Invaders or Captain America or being a semi-regular in The Knights of Pendragon (preferably the first, good series). I was pleased to discover the first issue of this series until I saw the name on the cover - Raab. Ben Raab. A spectacularly untalented man who'd taken the new lease of life Warren Ellis gave to Excalibur and pissed it away by making it the X-Men reserve Team title, effectively jettisoning everyone but Shadowcat, Colossus and Nightcrawler.
 

I then got a rather pleasant surprise. It was really bloody good. Then followed three years of futile search as I hunted for the other two issues, unable to find any solid evidence they even existed. Then one day I wandered into the shop in 2002 and Marvel had arbitrarily (well, probably to cash in on the standing of artist John Cassaday, then making serious waves on Planetary and soon to star on Astonishing X-Men) collected it in a TPB.

The series expertly delves into the traditions of the Union Jack character without getting bogged down by years of backstory. Cassaday's pencils and Dave Stewart's rich colours effortlessly invoke a gothic mood to proceedings, while Raab knows just when to stick in dialogue and when to just let the art do the talking. The plot itself is pretty decent, concerning an attempt by the followers of the original Union Jack's archenemy, Baron Blood, to use the Holy Grail to allow them to survive daylight. There's a fair few twists and turns along the way, plus a welcome cameo from another ex-Invader.

Considering his hack-job on Excalibur in general and Pete Wisdom in particular, it's surprising how good Raab's handle on the character is. Only the love/hate relationship with Romany Wisdom doesn't quite ring true, maybe due to some slightly clumsy dialogue but that's really a minor gripe. It's more of a character study of Joe Chapman and the traditions of one of the oldest (in narrative terms) Marvel heroes, and as such it's an unqualified success. The excellent plot and sumptuous art merely serve to make this involving on several levels. Well worth a look.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Comic Review: The Rocketeer

PUBLISHER: PACIFIC/ECLIPSE, 1982
WRITER & ARTIST: DAVE STEVENS

Adaptations are a funny thing and as far as I'm concerned The Rocketeer fits that bill. I'm wrong, I know, but sometimes things aren't that easy. The film version, starring Bill Campbell and Jennifer Connolly, was something I watched a great many times as a child and remains one of my favourite films. I didn't know there was a comic until much later, let alone that this was radical difference. Therefore, initially, the Eclipse 'album' (it's a TPB in large-format size, i.e. Eclipse's usual habit of being a bit pretentious, effortlessly combined with their other main characteristic of mucking up trades) of Dave Stevens' original batch of Rocketeer strips didn't go down too well. That it's the original canon can matter little when you're so much more familiar with the unfaithful adaptation.

While initially it was a bit of a jolt to see Cliff Secord as a bumbling amateur and generally making a complete arse of just about everything, it's a more believable course than his performance in the film. Similarly, the plot for the comic revolves largely around the recovery attempts of the rocket-pack's owner, with the Nazi sabotage angle a lot more subtle - rather than the full-on airship-full-of-blackshirts versus gangsters, there are a couple of German agents trying to steal a prototype aircraft. Peevy isn't quite the cuddly father figure seen on screen, being more of a crotchety old man - he helps Secord initially, but clearly thinks the boy's a bit of an idiot. And then there's Betty, in the film a good gal overwhelmed by the glitz of Hollywood, here a fame-seeking vamp who seems pretty desperate to get away from Secord. However, in the comic she is Bettie Page, beautifully rendered by Stevens. This manages the not inconsiderable feat of making Jennifer Connolly look very plain indeed. Of course, while these characters are different, they're all also a bit more believable.

It's much easier to take Secord as constantly on the run when owning the rocket pack, as opposed to the easier ride he gets in the film. If you had to work with Cliff, you'd probably be as grumpy as Peevy, or as impatient as Betty. This is what would probably happen if some kid pilot got hold of a top-secret rocket-pack.

Despite this, this isn't some gritty, Miracleman-style revision of pulp material. It retains the period feel. Well, to be fair, I can't tell you what 1938 felt like as I was minus 43 at the time, and this makes my memories from the period a little hazy. But, damn it, this is what it should have been like. It's got that pulpy movie-serial feel to it, enhanced by Stevens' smooth, detailed art. The design of the title character and the experimental Locust aircraft gel beautifully with the real P-26 'Pea-Shooter', airshow specials and cars. On top of Betty/Bettie (who has a wardrobe largely based on her shoots, but gels effortlessly into the 1930s despite hailing from the 1950s) there are all sorts of little gems for buffs of pulp magazines - most of these will go over my head (I didn't know the owner of the rocket-pack is Doc Savage in all but name, quite happily swallowing Peevy's theory about Howard Hughes, what with the film as well), but it's not like the thing is reliant on them, and it's perfectly enjoyable.

The Rocketeer manages to be adult without losing too much innocence, and remains an entertaining read. The art is gorgeous (to be fair, Stvens' work doesn't suffer in large-format pages), and the plot charming. The characters are superbly defined, and, just like the film, it remains an excellent slice of retro-styled escapism.