Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Minifigures: G.I.Joe - Kopf KF-348 to 355

As some of you may know I used to collect G.I.Joe figures, especially the 25th/30th Anniversary ones. However, a mixture of a lack of space to set them up in, the impending arrival of my daughter and the spike in prices on eBay meant I cleared them all out. These days counterfeit Minifigures are my main source of plastic crack - cheap, small and child-friendly. Most of the ones I collect are of superheroes - after several format attempts here I eventually set up a satellite blog for these called Minifixation - but there are some others out there, including a nascent range of G.I.Joe-themed figures.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Film Review: Transformers - The Last Knight

I held off reviewing the fifth Transformers film when it was on release over the summer; I had other projects on the go, I was a little tired when I went to see it, spending as much time looking at my watch, and there were a couple of queries about it that I wasn't entirely convinced weren't down to me missing something massive. I wasn't keen but I wasn't prepared to slaughter a film on one compromised viewing but the release of the DVD gave me a chance to re-evaluate it. Results were mixed; with better preparation for a letdown (anyone who reads mainstream reviews of the films, which have quickly become a Nickelback-esque punching bag for critics who make their mind up before the film even starts) it was less of a letdown but basically none of the film's problems were solved.

[SPOILERS FOLLOW]


Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Toy Review: EM Gokin EM-03 Blue Jet

A couple of months ago, bereft and emotional at the seeming cancellation of Action Toys' Machine Robo line (since announced to be resuming after an eight month hiatus, with two new figures and a series of retro-tinged recolours and retools - nice!) I gave in and bought this thing, which came out about two years ago as part of the Fewture Gokin line, covering licenced characters from a handful of semi-forgotten animes. And there is not a day since it arrived that I have looked at it and hated it. It's not a problem with the stylisation; it's Blue Jet from Revenge of Cronos, not Fitor from Gobots

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Six Reasons You Will Never Get The Transformers Film You Want

Initial box office figures for the fifth Transformers film, The Last Knight, have been underwhelming while the reviews have been the usual lazy hackwork, though this time it seems that even fans of Michael Bay's envisioning have been left unimpressed. I've yet to see it so I'm reserving personal judgement but as usual it's taken fandom little time to crack out the knives, further fuelled by the apparent exit of Bay from the franchise. Putting aside that it seems to be a familiar pattern slash negotiating tactic from Bay (who only took the assignment on Age of Extinction as leverage to raise money for Pain & Gain) many seem to be heralding this as an end to his style of Transformers films and the chance for something more cerebral. It won't be, and here's why.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Digital Archive: Robo Machine featuring the Challenge of the Gobots Mini World series

Past posts have touched upon the unsatisfying history of Gobots in print even at the height of their commercial success - rather than a licence with Marvel or even someone terrible like Malibu there was a token mail order magazine from Telepictures while in the UK a run in IPC Fleetway's Eagle was superb but soon followed by a switch to the infamous World International Publishing, most often known as World Distributors. They didn't actually publish comics but instead licenced annuals (two Gobots examples were issued in 1986 and 1987; both were terrible, the first being a possible nadir for Western creative writing) and storybooks based on extant properties with some appeal to kids - most notably their savaging of the likes of Doctor Who and Blake's 7 under approval of the BBC.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Film Review: Transformers - Age of Extinction

I've been an avid fan of Michael Bay's take on Transformers since 2007. As a grown adult I can appreciate a different take on Transformers, realising that me liking it isn't compulsory; in an era of IDW's turgid, soul-destroying comics and some largely poor, unimaginative cartoons the films don't stand out as a particularly poor area. The first in 2007 did a fine job of relaunching the line into genuine popularity with a confident swagger; 2009's Revenge of the Fallen sandwiched a poor middle section between a superb opening and a decent conclusion but at least showed that errors from the franchise's past wouldn't be repeated. 2011's Dark of the Moon delivered solid big-screen action after a slow and overcomplicated start. 2014's Age of Extinction meanwhile greatly disappointed me; while the revamp of the universe showed considerable promise the actual execution was arguably spottier than any of the previous three instalments.

[Contains minor trailer spoilers for The Last Knight]


Saturday, 3 June 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - Punishment

PUBLISHER: IDW (2014)
WRITER: JOHN BARBER
ARTIST: LIVIO RAMONDELLI

Note: this will probably be the last of the IDW reviews for the blog. I can't go on reading this shit, it is killing me.

Originally released as some sort of interactive Internet thing for young people in the mistaken belief fandom wasn't generally the wrong side of thirty and the younger ones were actually interested in IDW's output, Punishment was - like the Spotlight: Shit Overpriced Toy strand - written out of sequence for logistical reasons, like being able to give motion to characters' head exploding.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - Dark Prelude

PUBLISHER: IDW (2012-2013)
WRITERS: JAMES ROBERTS, JOHN BARBER, NICK ROCHE
ARTISTS: STEVE KURTH, CHEE, NICK ROCHE, DAVID DAZA, MATT FRANK, AGUSTIN PADILLA

Almost forgot this one. After 2009 the Spotlight series all but ceased apart from the release of Spotlight Prowl, issued entirely to placate the title's educationally subnormal fanbase, a group largely of adult age who will actually pay triple rates to get a toy a short while ahead of other people. Then in 2012 Hasbro decided actually they'd wade full-on into the comics (later collected as a prelude to the prelude to "Dark Cybertron") and reactivating the series for pack-in titles would avoid any weirdness like Crosscut popping up and talking about himself for three pages before fucking off into the crowd. Six new issues were slung out and with careful care wouldn't involve explaining largely obvious past events to thick shitheads or forgettable peripheral cast getting shunted off in Red Dwarf rip-offs. At all.

[Spoilers Follow]
[or would if anything unpredictable was involved]

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - Dark Cybertron

PUBLISHER: IDW (2013-2014)
WRITERS: JOHN BARBER, JAMES ROBERTS
ARTISTS: ATILIO ROJO, PHIL JIMINEZ, JAMES RAIZ, LIVIO RAMONDELLI, ALEX MILNE, BRENDAN CAHILL, NICK ROCHE, ANDREW GRIFFITH

It's that time again! The big IDW big plot big clusterfuck in which the poor hapless writers again try to live up to the hype generated by the company's psychotic PR as once again the lives of the Transformers and/or Cybertron will be CHANGED FOREVER or at least for another 12 months or so. While the storyline ran through both Robots in Disguise and More Than Meets the Eye (not to mention bracketed by a pair of one-shots, like a proper comic event) with both the usual writers handling whatever they usually did "Dark Cybertron" feels much like "Chaos" did - the story of one writer (in this case John Barber) with script input from another (James Roberts). In theory this set-up should work - Barber can plot almost as well as a proper comics writer while Roberts is more suited to a smaller soap style.

[Spoilers Follow]

Friday, 19 May 2017

Comic Review: Hitman - A Rage in Arkham

PUBLISHER: DC (1995-1996)
WRITER: GARTH ENNIS
ARTIST: JOHN McCREA

By the mid-1990s Garth Ennis was well-in at DC and made his push for immortality by beginning Preacher for the company's Vertigo label. Preacher is fabulous of course, but as if it wasn't enough Ennis was also writing another book virtually alongside it - the tale of superpowered hitman Tommy Monaghan, a heady mix of action, comedy, friendship and commentary. Somehow a brilliant madman at editorial decided Hitman should be part of the mainstream DC universe rather than shuffled off into its' own little continuity because they could totally trust Ennis to not just take the piss and thus it became even better. The result lasted for sixty issues and a few assorted specials before the inevitable end, coincidentally (or not, I have no actual idea) around the same time Preacher finished, at which point DC decided that if the series wasn't running there was no actual need to finish of the series of TPBs. Thankfully it only took them the best part of a decade to realise how stupid this idea was and since 2009 the whole brilliant thing has been put back in print. However, it took some time for the series to really settle down and the opening trade is perhaps not the best ambassador.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - Robots in Disguise, Volume 5

PUBLISHER: IDW (2013)
WRITER: JOHN BARBER
ARTISTS: LIVIO RAMONDELLI, ATILIO ROJO, DHEERAJ VERMA, ANDREW GRIFFITH

As covered in the More Than Meets the Eye Volume 5 review Hasbro and/or IDW decided both of the Transformers titles should reunite for the Dark Cybertron storyline and gave the writers a seemingly limited warning to get things in place for the crossover. For James Roberts this meant compressing things; for John Barber it made for a mixed blessing it would seem. On the one hand Robots in Disguise featured most of the franchise's traditional big guns and Cybertron itself and thus such an epic would dovetail fairly nicely into his book compared to the cast and crew of More Than Meets the Eye effectively having to abandon their central plot line. The problem was Barber had just blown out a whole ton of his own storylines and set up for a second phase of his Cybertronian political drama which then had to be tweaked to fit in with Dark Cybertron. The result was the six-part Dark Cybertron Prelude which was really more a collection of Spotlight-style one-shots while Barber tried to get all the pins in position for Dark Cybertron itself.

[Spoilers Follow]

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 5

PUBLISHER: IDW, 2013
WRITER: JAMES ROBERTS
ARTIST: ALEX MILNE, JAMES RAIZ

Despite everyone hating Chaos - including writer Mike Costa probably, what with him hating everything - IDW decided that a big gigantic event was what everyone really wanted from Transformers comics and thus did decree that the crew of the Lost Light return from whatever the fuck they were doing and link up with everyone else on for their planned Dark Cybertron storyline. More Than Meets the Eye, which had been just fine pottering off into space thank you very much, was spared the build-up work (handled by John Barber's Cybertron-based Robots in Disguise) but had to get its' house in order - there were even rumours early on that the book would either be cancelled or retooled. While it didn't really come close it meant that Roberts clearly decided to fast-track a couple of plot threads to be addressed before the crossover.

[Spoilers Follow]

Friday, 12 May 2017

Minifigures: X-Men, Part 2 - All-New! All-Different!

Of course, famously the original X-Men were something of a damp squib and after a few years the title turned into a reprint book. However, Stan Lee was never one to accept the unpopularity of his creations (see: Namor) and in 1975 Giant-Size X-Men #1 launched with a new-look team and would kick off an era of huge popularity for the mutants that has continued since. Sadly not all of the new team have yet been represented by Minifigures, unofficial or otherwise - the complex designs for Banshee (with so much of his classic look dependent on his unusual cape) and Sunfire (with his unique helmet) currently being impossible to find. Which leaves...

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - Robots in Disguise, Volume 4

PUBLISHER: IDW, 2012-2013
WRITER: JOHN BARBER
ARTIST: ANDREW GRIFFITH

Over the first 11 issues of Robots in Disguise John Barber had gleefully shaken the beer cans of Cybertron - the actual planet is hostile, Bumblebee's in charge of an increasingly-hated Autobots, Prowl seems to be carrying out the assassination of various technically peaceful Decepticons with the aid of Arcee, Starscream is gaining ground as leading candidate for success in the promised democratic elections, Metalhawk and thus the former neutrals are very much falling into Starscream's orbit, the Decepticons largely seem to be resisting much in the way of integration with a planned plot by Shockwave being foiled by Prowl at the cost of the Autobot's serious injury, Omega Supreme is bombed and finally Megatron staggers out of the wasteland. It's all at bursting point; the only problem is that Hasbro were at the time trotting out the largely dire Combiner Wars line and decided they wanted it featured in the comics. More Than Meets the Eye largely dodged it, with Robots in Disguise taking one for the team. And Barber decided this was exactly the time for Iacon to explode.

[Spoilers Follow]

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Minifigures: Teen Titans

Disclaimer: my knowledge of Teen Titans is basically entirely from watching Teen Titans Go! with my three-year old daughter. The comic featured a wider roster through the years as a sort-of Junior Justice League title, both in terms of the characters featured, generally the teenage sidekicks of established heroes with most of the characters two-timing with their parent books, and the intended audience. Both the 2003 and 2013 TV series boiled the group down to five permanent team members - Robin, Cyborg, Starfire, Raven and Beast Boy. There's not been a specific Teen Titans set issued yet by Lego (though Dimensions packs are imminent) but four out of the five characters have been released officially, mainly as fan bait in larger sets from the Lego Superheroes' extensive Batman subseries.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 4

PUBLISHER: IDW (2012-2013)
WRITER: JAMES ROBERTS
ARTISTS: ALEX MILNE, BRENDAN CAHILL, GUIDO GUIDI, AGUSTIN PADILLA

There's a question deep in the heart of James Roberts' writing which boils down to one issue - is it worth short-term frustration for a long-term payoff? It's a difficult one; the quality of the payoff plays a big part but so does the nature of the frustration. Throughout the first three volumes (which amount to about a year's worth of comics, which is one Watchmen) it's been pretty clear that everyone we've seen far too much of is part of some grander plan and in the fourth collection things finally begin paying off. Partly. For some characters.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - Robots in Disguise, Volume 3

PUBLISHER: IDW (2012)
WRITER: JOHN BARBER
ARTISTS: BRENDAN CAHILL, GUIDO GUIDI, LIVIO RAMONDELLI

The third collection of Robots in Disguise again suffers from the difficulty IDW had from lining up trades properly with the writers; why they haven't gone for a fixed six-issue trade length with the creative teams free to divide each block up as they see fit I don't know. Money, money, money I guess, unless there was some demand for multiple pages of sketches that pushed the stories down readers' wishlists. The third trade for RID is possibly the most fractured volume yet - containing the Annual, a one-shot catching back up with Orion Pax and another part of "Combiner Wars".

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 3

PUBLISHER: IDW (2012)
WRITER: JAMES ROBERTS
ARTISTS: JIMBO SALGADO, EMIL CABALTIERRA, GUIDO GUIDI, ALEX MILNE

Comic annuals are a funny thing usually; not the hardbacked volumes that result in so much shared cultural memories in the UK, but the American comic version - a double or triple length issue which had to come out alongside the monthly book and avoid clashing with the monthly issues it was ran alongside while having some sort of point. Quite why IDW decided to revive the format I don't know, though they were at least able to keep the writers on both even if the artists couldn't fit it into their schedules. The third MTMTE trade collects that title's annual and the three-part "Shadowplay" story that was James Roberts' solution to the Optimus Prime mandate received from Hasbro. Both show him at his strongest and weakest.

Comic Review: Transformers - Robots in Disguise, Volume 2

PUBLISHER: IDW (2012)
WRITER: JOHN BARBER
ARTISTS: LIVIO RAMONDELLI, ANDREW GRIFFITH

It's one of the ironies that Simon Furman was given a clean slate and crammed it full of crowdpleasing rubbish whereas his largely more relevant successors have been expected to pander to Hasbro in a way not seen since the eighties. However, these interventions - a legacy of the boom since the live action movies hit overdrive - aren't always a bad thing and Hasbro's stipulation that both titles in mid-2012 feature Optimus Prime, written out in "The Publicity Stunt of Optimus Prime" some six months previously, actually brings out a welcome change for both titles.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 2

PUBLISHER: IDW (2012)
WRITER: JAMES ROBERTS

ARTIST: ALEX MILNE

With the setup of the first volume out of the way More Than Meets the Eye finally kicks into gear, Kind of, intermittently, for a bit. The phrase is "meticulous build-up" and little hints and hooks are scattered throughout the five issues collected here that will presumably be explored some way down the line, carefully hidden among throw-away lines and simpler resolutions. There's a certain fun to be had from such puzzle-piece series - Warren Ellis' Planetary is still very much the daddy of the approach - but it can be a difficult thing to pull off. Roberts' problem as such is that while some of the characters are waiting to be explored they enter a holding pattern of recycling their basic start point; the danger is the reader can already be fed up with schtick like Ultra Magnus' exaggerated pedantry and inflexibility or Swerve's being a twat long before the writer stops giving them scenes hammering this aspect home.

Minifigures: X-Men, Part 1 - The Originals

As touched on elsewhere on this blog, now that Marvel are part of Disney they're not too fond of the deals made a decade or so before where the rights to some of their most popular properties were sold off to other studios. While they wait for rights to revert they've indulged in various cockblocking exercises to try and prevent these outsourced films from being successful, both to limit the competition to their own films and to try and make them flop so the process of rights reverting to Disney (typically after a certain amount of time has passed without new product, as in the case of Daredevil). This extended to actually taking Silver Age flagship Fantastic Four out of print when Josh Trank's reboot film came out. While a deal has been reached with Columbia for Spider-Man the undoubted thorn in their side is Fox's X-Men franchise, currently sitting at ten films and if anything getting more popular. While they'd never dare take the X-Men family of books out of print they have lend on licencees to avoid doing what amounts to promotion for their rivals, most notably Lego.

Comic Review: Transformers - Robots in Disguise, Volume 1

PUBLISHER: IDW, 2012
WRITER: JOHN BARBER
ARTIST: ANDREW GRIFFITH

RiD was The Other Comic of IDW's relaunch, handling the workmanlike practicalities of a reborn Cybertron swarming with a mixture of refugees, demobbed soldiers and prisoners of a finished war. Writing was handled by John Barber, who had won minor acclaim on IDW's dying live action movie books through a mixture of respectable writing and an ability to patch gigantic continuity problems in a somewhat flowing fashion, making him just what the company needed. RiD is the book that for better or for worse continues on from Costa's meandering ongoing series with MTMTE more of an offshoot in narrative terms; the former is defined by Barber's admirable refusal to use things like the less than clear events of "Chaos" to reset any troublesome areas and instead write his way out of trouble.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - More Than Meets the Eye, Volume 1

PUBLISHER: IDW (2011-2012)
WRITER: JAMES ROBERTS
ARTISTS: NICK ROCHE, ALEX MILNE

IDW had stepped Transformers up to two issues a month using parallel stories for the last few issues of the ongoing series, all part of preparation for two series by separate creative teams as they tried to relaunch the franchise for the 64th time. John Barber stayed on Cybertron while James Roberts cherry picked his favourites and set off into space on a quest for the Knights of Cybertron for More Than Meets the Eye. MTMTE has since gone on to gather a small but psychotic fandom of around the same since of Hartlepool United's but for now we're going to focus on the first batch of issues. Or episodes; among MTMTE's many, many eccentricities is that it's not a comic but actually a TV show with seasons that last a couple of years. In which case this first collection is the free DVD you get with Sunday newspapers that contains a couple of trailers, some potted character bios, several wallpapers and a screensaver.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - Chaos

PUBLISHER: IDW (2011)
WRITERS: MIKE COSTA, JAMES ROBERTS
ARTISTS: LIVIO RAMONDELLI, CASEY COLLER

I am not a professional comic writer, or even an amateur one. However, I have a salient tip for any writer out there - if you're hurriedly compacting two-plus years of storylines from multiple linked series in four issues compacted and compressed from a planned mini-series to clear the decks ahead of a relaunch event do not, I repeat do not call it Chaos. Thankfully for anyone looking for a cheap shot at Costa (and there was never any shortage both in terms of opportunity and opportunists) it's pretty chaotic. While James Roberts is involved his role seems largely to be doctoring a bit of the dialogue and making sure the characters he's eyeing for successor series More Than Meets the Eye get guided through (note the sudden assignment of whacky funster status to Swerve, just a teaser for the mint banter we'll be subjected soon) and the rest is pure Costa - by which I mean a succession of promising developments executed poorly and quickly before he shuffles on to his next brainwave.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Comic Review: Northstar

PUBLISHER: MARVEL (1994)
WRITER: SIMON FURMAN
ARTIST: DARIO CARRASCO

If you put Simon Furman in charge of the sun it would stop coming up in 12 months' time. The man has been cancelled more times than a software update and in 1994, a year when mutants were so hot there was a Bishop solo series, he managed to get a mutant title canned. Alright, it was Alpha Flight and no-one had cared since Johnny Byrne stopped working on it but still, he got a Marvel mutant ongoing cancelled in the mid-nineties. Emerging from this feat was a four-part Northstar mini-series, presumably the company opting to test the character out as a viable solo spin-off and standing out a little due to the smart matching cover design philosophy. Jean-Paul had always been one of the less generic members of Alpha Flight, though as an arrogant speedy mutant he might have stood out a bit better if the company didn't already have Quicksilver doing most of that stuff. Of course, at this point Northstar had gone beyond Flying Canadian Quicksilver thanks to being outed as homosexual a couple of years before, becoming Flying Canadian Gay Quicksilver.

Comic Review: Transformers - Police Action

PUBLISHER: IDW (2011)
WRITER: MIKE COSTA
ARTISTS: BRENDAN CAHILL, E J SU

With the "Chaos" event folded into the main ongoing at late notice and with planned co-writers Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning joining Don Figueroa in fucking off Mike Costa was left juggling much of the closing days of the IDW ongoing, now stepped up fully to bi-monthly. He used alternate issues to tidy up the remnants of the Earth-based story threads which probably pissed a lot of readers off at the time, which is always a plus. Costa was probably used to fans' utter impatience with anything he did at this point and for once didn't buckle; it's strange how James Roberts is deified for taking a year to answer perceived flaws in his stories and yet Costa's versions of Spike and Prowl had morons apoplectic every month, desperate to have every little frame explained to them immediately. Arguably the difference was Costa tried to supplicate these idiots and cater to them. Or that Roberts is a dyed in the wool Transformers fan who spends most of his time talking about Transformers to people who like Transformers whereas Costa was a jobbing writer who'd rather have been writing X-Men or something and saw the title as a means to an end. But Transformers fans would never be so fickle and shallow; it wasn't like they spent years trying to have Bob Budiansky shot for not writing dark epics about Unicron or anything mental like that.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Comic Review: Tokyo Storm Warning

PUBLISHER: CLIFFHANGER (2003)
WRITER: WARREN ELLIS
ARTIST: JAMES RAIZ

Between contracts in 2003 Warren Ellis went through a brief phase of trying to write a 3-issue mini-series for every Wildstorm sub-imprint going; Red was probably the best known. For Cliffhanger - which mainly handled J Scott Campbell's Danger Girl - he crafted Tokyo Storm Warning, concerning a spate of giant monsters attacking Tokyo, faced by giant mystical robots. It's a clear homage to both the kaiju movies that most famously bequeathed Godzilla and super robot anime series. Ellis, robots, monsters and the pencils of James Raiz, who proved his pedigree for this sort of thing on Dreamwave's Transformers Armada - what could possibly go wrong? Quite a bit, actually.

Comic Digital Archive - The Spider

Devised to cash in on the encroaching Silver Age dazzle bleeding across the Atlantic, The Spider is still the crown jewel in IPC Fleetway's pantheon of very British heroes. His antics, printed in the weekly Lion, took place in America (primarily the fictional Croy) but there the similarity with the likes of Spider-Man ended. Of uncertain origin (he just appears, even his species is never really confirmed or denied) the character even started off as a villain, a common theme for strips of the period - The Steel Claw started the same way. Immediately he picked up the services of crooked scientist Professor Pelham and dumb safecracker Roy Ordini, who would be the faces of the army of crime he recruited to help carry out his schemes from a castle overlooking the city.


Comic Review: Transformers - Chaos Theory

PUBLISHER: IDW (2011)
WRITERS: MIKE COSTA, JAMES ROBERTS
ARTISTS: GUIDO GUIDI, ALEX MILNE

The supreme irony of IDW finally taking the plunge into making a single Transformers ongoing only for it to be even more fractured continues in the fifth collection of the series. IDW had by now realised that Mike Costa wasn't really hitting the right notes with either the fandom or the by this stage non-existent casual readers the title had accrued and began looking at bringing in another writer alongside the handful, the original plan being for Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning to join the three or four different Mike Costas in writing the book. After contributing the dodgy "Infestation" and weird "Heart of Darkness", the first building blocks for the planned "Chaos" event storyline, yet another IDW saga that would make sure the world of Transformers would never be the same or whatever. They then fucked off to do something else and instead the job went to James Roberts, then just the popular mortal writer of Last Stand of the Wreckers and yet to be cocooned in a sycophantic social media echo chamber.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Comic Digital Archive - Robot Archie

The old British weeklies have always had their totems, their mascots, their ever-presents - 2000AD has Tharg, The Beano had Dennis the Menace, Valiant had Captain Hurricane, Eagle had Dan Dare and so on. For Lion, it was Robot Archie. Created by George Cowan and artist Ted Kearnon as the Jungle Robot the character lasted the first six months of Lion before disappearing for five years but from 1957 to the end of the title in 1974 he was always there.

Comic Review: Transformers - Infestation

PUBLISHER: IDW (2011)
WRITERS: DAN ABNETT & ANDY LANNING
ARTIST: NICK ROCHE

In 2005 zombies were pretty damn hot in comics thanks to Marvel Zombies and with typical decisiveness IDW decided they wanted a bit of that several years later when it was all very much played out with Zombies v Robots, written by that twat Chris Ryall. In 2011 it was decided to use this as a springboard for IDW's cross-company "Infestation" event, which used their in-house titles CVO: Covert Vampire Operations and Zombies v Robots to launch zombies at their licenced properties, meaning a big crossover between Transformers, Star Trek, G.I.Joe and Ghostbusters that absolutely no-one reading those titles wanted to see. Handling this were Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, just ahead of writing "Heart of Darkness" but published at more or less the same time (and taking place at around the three-quarters mark of that series). The full crossover included a two-part Infestation series then several cadet series which I will not be reading under any circumstances, apart from the two-issue Transformers - Infestation mini.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Comic Digital Archive: The Robo Machines

PUBLISHER: IPC/FLEETWAY (1984-1985)
WRITER: TOM TULLY
ARTISTS: MARIO CAPALDI, KIM RAYMOND, GEOFF SENIOR

As anyone who's a long-term reader will know this has long been my little pet love. The Robo Machines comic ran for two arcs in the 1980s version of Eagle and remained pretty obscure until only a few years ago. I certainly hadn't found much information until I hunted down the old issues and found it to be not all that bad at all and scanned it to inflict on other people. Since then someone's done better scans, which is all good. What would be lovely would be a proper TPB reprint as the original comics were on newsprint but sadly with a fragmented rights situation  - the Gobots trademarks co-opted for Robo Machine are possessed by Hasbro, the likenesses for the Robo Machines by Bandai and the actual comics by IPC/Fleetway - this seems unlikely. While the latter have shown a willingness to work with fans on reprints, such as for Doomlord and Leopard of Lime Street, the involvement of two rival toy giants would be a stumbling block.

Comic Review: Transformers - Heart of Darkness

PUBLISHER: IDW (2011)
WRITERS: DAN ABNETT & ANDY LANNING
ARTIST: ULISES FARINAS

For the umpteenth time IDW began to realise that their Transformers comics and their writers weren't actually going down too well and a rescue mission was needed. The solution to the ongoing's issues was to parachute in chair-sharing duo Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, who were sort-of the British Jeph Loeb in that they simply survived in the industry for a couple of decades and were arbitrarily elected as hot for a little while because no-one else was really doing much new either. Dan of course had cut his teeth writing out scripts for Simon Furman on the old British Transformers weekly before pairing up with John Tomlinson for the aggressively awful Knights of Pendragon series. His later partnership with Lanning had yielded runs on Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova for Marvel and Legion of Superheroes for DC, which was enough for IDW's online shills to act like Kurt Busiek had rocked up. They turned on them soon enough naturally as both are still just that bit too famous to do conventions but anyway, onwards. The pair first handled IDW's idiotic Infestation crossover before getting a four-issue follow-up mini named "Hearts of Darkness", with the plan being then that they work with Costa on the ongoing. How all three would squeeze on a chair I don't know.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Comic Review: Knights of Pendragon - Once and Future

PUBLISHER: MARVEL UK (1990-1991)
WRITERS: DAN ABNETT & JOHN TOMLINSON
ARTIST: GARY ERSKINE

As discussed elsewhere, the late eighties and early nineties were a time of give and take for comic fans. The give was that Watchmen, DKR, Deadline and Zenith had made the idea of grown-ups buying comics seem strangely normal; the take was that we had to call the things graphic novels and that everyone writing for the things suddenly thought they were Alan fucking Moore. Marvel UK rarely needed much of an excuse to overreach themselves and after finally begrudgingly admitting no-one liked Dragon's Claws, Death's Head or The Sleeze Brothers their next attempt to be a proper publisher came in the form of Knights of Pendragon

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - Revenge of the Decepticons

PUBLISHER: IDW (2010-2011)
WRITER: MIKE COSTA
ARTISTS: NICK ROCHE, DON FIGUEROA, ALEX MILNE

Mike Costa's schizophrenia continues in the third batch of ongoing issues, consisting of a prelude-style one shot and then a five-part story. The real story though is again IDW's lack of editorial direction and forward planning; just like the Dead Furmanverse and All Hail Megatron the ongoing is set into that pattern of a bold new direction that didn't go down too well and then furious backpedalling when the fresh stuff failed to find the expected crossover audience, instead forcing pandering to the fandom in order to keep the numbers up. The main events of the first year's issues were that the war was over, that Megatron was out of the picture, that Optimus Prime had abdicated and that Bumblebee was the leader of the Autobots. Basically all of these things are undone in deed if not word.

Comic Review: Robo Machine featuring the Gobots Annual 1987

By 1986 Gobots was winding down in America, with the TV series moving to syndication and the toyline running out of new toys and getting squeezed out by Transformers in a shrinking market after the 1985 boom. In the UK the market was slightly less cut-throat as the simple difficulty of transatlantic business at the time meant fewer of the fly-by-night lines which had boomed briefly had made it across to Britain. Robo Machine had never been a gigantic seller in the UK and thus had less distance to fall, continuing to chug along happily in the #2 spot a long way behind Transformers; the line would only really stop when it ran out of figures, even managing to get Fossilsaurus and Dancougar roped in towards the end. Meanwhile at Egmont House World Distributors had paid for a licence as they were going to use it; for their second Gobots annual in 1986 World Distributors had a challenge; they'd set the bar very low the first time around - could even they go lower?

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Comics: Vulcan

The format of Vulcan gives it a fair claim to the title of the the greatest British comic of all time, despite being a reprint book. Throughout the sixties especially IPC Fleetway had experimented with fantastical stories more in line with the American industry, albeit the majority employing a peculiarly British slant to the concept. However they never really muscled aside the war and football stories which made up the backbone if the weeklies and gradually moved out of print, defiant innings from 'Robot Archie' (effectively a mascot for Lion) and the Steel Claw (who got a sequel strip, 'Return of the Claw' in Valiant) notwithstanding. It took until the seventies for superheroes to take much of a grip in the UK, when Marvel set up a British division and launched the Mighty World of Marvel, soon followed by Spider-Man Weekly Comics, The Superheroes, The Titans and The Mighty Avengers as the industry briefly boomed. Fleetway took note and responded, merging their library of existing strips into a single fantasy/superhero title - the original Magnificent Seven being 'The Steel Claw', 'The Spider', 'The Trigan Empire', 'Kelly's Eye', 'Mytek the Mighty', 'Saber - King of the Jungle' and 'Robot Archie' - made up the arsenal of Vulcan, edited by Geoff Kemp.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - Ironhide

PUBLISHER: IDW (2010)
WRITER: MIKE COSTA
ARTIST: CASEY COLLER

IDW's first attempt at a solo 'spin-off' mini-series Bumblebee suffered from a catastrophic piece of mistiming, choosing a character who was too entrenched in the ongoing plot and at exactly the wrong time. Aside from which it wasn't all that bad; the problem with the Spotlight format had always been that it's fairly easy for any writer worth their salt to focus on one character and give them a bit more focus than might be allowed in a bigger arc, leaving them to come out the other side a richer character. The problem was always the plot - whether to keep it self-contained and end up with something inconsequential or whether to link it into something bigger and just be left with a regular issue with narration boxes.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Comics: Machine Men Mini-Comics

In Australia the Machine Robo line was imported as Machine Men, distributed by Bandai Australia. Like the European version and unlike the American Machine Men line the toys sold well enough that Bandai opted to keep the original branding, even after Gobots took off. Indeed, uniquely the cartoon was even retitled Challenge of the Machine Men to fit in with the toys. To help promote the figures, Bandai Australia did provide catalogues that included short comic strips.


Saturday, 25 March 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - International Incident

PUBLISHER: IDW (2010)
WRITER: MIKE COSTA
ARTISTS: E J SU, JAVIER SALTARES, GUIDO GUIDI

All comic writers have bad ideas. The trick is to realise them as such. The second batch of issues from Mike Costa's unsubtitled ongoing series are an odd bunch. The man has no quality control; not since Bob Budiasnky's second year on the old Marvel title (after which he was obviously trying to get fired) has a writer on Transformers had so many good ideas and so many bad ideas blended with a total inability to realise which is which. The result is bordering on schizophrenia and results in a wildly uneven ride. 

Comic Review: Thunderbolt Jaxon

PUBLISHER: WILDSTORM (2006)
WRITER: DAVE GIBBONS
ARTIST: JOHN HIGGINS

Wildstorm/DC brought up the rights to the fabled comic wing of IPC/Fleetway in 2005 and promised a selection of new material and reprints (the main hitch in the latter being the absence and poor condition of most physical masters). The opening gambit was Albion, written by Leah Moore and John Reppion and maybe read or spellchecked or vaguely acknowledged by Alan Moore. This was a hugely clumsy attempt to "do a Watchmen" for the characters but while it was nice to see so many characters back in print after decades on the sidelines and it was nowhere near the desecration of the infamous 2000AD Holiday Special it's generally considered impolite to mention the whole thing now. Phase two was a pair of spin-off five part miniseries "from the world of Albion!" largely chosen by casting around for British Invasion creators who had fond memories and asking them if they wanted to write anything. Dave Gibbons answered the call and chose Thunderbolt Jaxon, but there were two major catches - he didn't want to draw it and apparently he didn't want to write about Thunderbolt Jaxon either. Jaxon was never quite in Fleetway's first echelon, mainly being limited to Comet and Knockout rather than the A-list and his big moment might well have been a whiny death in Grant Morrison's Zenith. He was left out of Albion and you get the impression it wasn't so much to keep him free for this mini but because the writers didn't know who he was.

Comic Review: X-Men - X-Tinction Agenda

PUBLISHER: MARVEL (1990-1991)
WRITERS: CHRIS CLAREMONT, LOUISE SIMONSON
ARTISTS: JIM LEE, ROB LIEFIELD, JON BOGDANOVE

This is it, the progenitor, the prototype, the big daddy - the first real mutant crossover, the harbinger of "X-Cutioner's Song", "Fatal Attractions", "Age of Apocalypse" and "Onslaught". Marvel's mutant titles had done events before, starting with "Fall of the Mutants" in 1988 and "Inferno" the following year but for those each title had remained relatively self-contained. But 1990's "X-Tinction Agenda" featured a full flow of three issues of the three books with a constantly shifting cast; if you didn't buy all nine issues involved you would not have a clue what was happening and while each title would subtly focus ever so slightly on the home team it was only as part of an ongoing plot.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - Last Stand of the Wreckers

PUBLISHER: IDW (2010)
WRITERS: NICK ROCHE, JAMES ROBERTS
ARTISTS: NICK ROCHE, GUIDO GUIDI

It's fair to say that in 2010 people were fed up with IDW. Simon Furman had been given unprecedented control and freedom when the publisher got the licence at the fag-end of 2005 and squandered it with a meandering three-year pile-up of dreadful storylines. Replacing him with Shane McCarthy upset the deluded who felt Furman's work was ever going to go anywhere and then upset the people who were up for a change when his All Hail Megatron arc rapidly went from being stupid fun to stupid stupid, and then successor Mike Costa's tenure got off to a very wobbly start. Something was needed to get the fans onside; the result was the recalling of fan-turned writer-artist Nick Roche, whose debut on Spotlight - Kup had been one of the few universally acclaimed pieces of output since IDW picked the licence up. Roche then roped in fellow Transmasters alumni James Roberts to help out on the script, to focus entirely on the Wreckers.

Toy Review: Grind Rod / Masterpiece Rollbar (KO version)

I've long had a genuine unironic love of the Throttlebots; they were the only team I was able to complete as a child, the toys were good simple fun (and could zip for miles when new) and their profiles had great potential even if they tended to be "Goldbug's mates" in the various media. So the prospect of third party toys for them was salivating but at £60-80 a throw out of my reach as I try not to spend such amounts since becoming a parent. Step in the backbone of my toy collection, Chinese bootleggers (in this case Weijiang) and the inestimable Denyer, who sent me the oversized knock-off version of Grind Rod (i.e. Rollbar, the team's sort-of leader depending on what Goldbug was up to).

Comic Review: Dan Dare

PUBLISHER: VIRGIN (2007-2008)
WRITER: GARTH ENNIS
ARTIST: GARY ERSKINE

There have been many attempts to bring Dan Dare up to date since the original strip in Eagle retired with its' protagonist in 1967. 2000AD tried a spikier revival when they launched in 1977 by bringing him out of suspended animation but it didn't go down well and the non-traditional elements were cranked back until it disappeared; a revival of Eagle in the eighties saw a more conventional story with the contrivance that this Dare was a descendant; more influenced by war comics this never quite took on either and reverted to a straight sequel featuring the original to no great effect. The next outing was Grant Morrison's heavy-handed but still striking Thatcherism satire Dare in Revolver, after which most of the rights' owners energies were in exploring TV and film in light of the weakness of the British comic industry, resulting in the single-season CGI cartoon Pilot of the Future. In print there was no significant new material until the licence was picked up by the recently-founded comic wing of Virgin Enterprises.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - Bumblebee

PUBLISHER: IDW (2009-2010)
WRITER: ZANDER CANNON
ARTIST: CHEE

Post-All Hail Megatron it was clear someone at IDW thought Optimus Prime was mined out and things needed shaking up; the drastically increased profile of Bumblebee after two successful films made him an ideal candidate to take over the central focus and try and claw back some readers. The problem was Bumblebee had after a few initial appearances been largely neglected by both Simon Furman and Shane McCarthy, both of whom who had stuck to the late-Marvel-era characterisation of "yeah he's not as small and useless as he was but actually he's still small and useless in the grand scheme of things but just quieter and in it less". So some work had to be done and one of these decisions was to run a four-part mini-series alongside the new ongoing to beef up his case. Unfortunately IDW seems to have neglected to tell the two titles' respective creative teams until some way down the line.

Comic Review: Robo Machine featuring the Gobots Annual 1986

PUBLISHER: WORLD DISTRIBUTORS (1985)

As touched upon elsewhere the various licences associated with the Gobots line were a mess and this was evident in few places that got the line more than the UK. In Britain the Machine Robo toys had been launched as Robo Machine around the same time as the short-lived American Machine Men line was on the shelves and by Bandai's European unit. When Tonka bought up the rights for the United States they didn't want them elsewhere and Bandai continued to distribute Robo Machine in Europe with moderate success. However, as Transformers arrived and Tonka's Gobots took off Bandai quickly realised that in the West being transforming vehicles wasn't as good as transforming vehicles that also had names and abilities and began applying the Gobots names to the figures (with the occasional change) while retaining the Robo Machine branding. Still with me?

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Comic Review: Union Jack - London Falling

PUBLISHER: MARVEL (2006-2007)
WRITER: CHRISTOS GAGE
ARTIST: MIKE PERKINS

Union Jack's first mini had somehow been released in 1998 and very welcome it was, with an added round of surprise coming from Ben Raab actually putting in a good shift on the script despite his form. However, after those three issues it was back to jobbing cameos for Joe Chapman (though an unsuccessful pitch would lead to Paul Grist's superb Jack Staff) until he turned up in as one of Allan Jacobsen's New Invaders alongside other long-established but semi-obscure characters such as US Agent, the original Human Torch and the Thin Man. While this only lasted nine issues it presumably put this four-issue series on the table to give the character another try-out.

Comic Review: Transformers - For All Mankind

PUBLISHER: IDW (2009-2010)
WRITER: MIKE COSTA
ARTIST: DON FIGUEROA

This is it, the most innovative and crucial piece of Transformers fiction since Bill Mantlo and Ralph Macchio sent that stuff about naturally occurring gears and pulleys creating sentient life off to the printers in 1984. Since then the story of the Transformers has been dominated above all by one thing - the civil war between the Autobots and the Decepticons. Whole stories have been hung on how perpetual and unavoidable this cycle is, a billion dollar film franchise hinges on the premise that the Decepticons are never quite beaten and naturally having two factions always battling is vital to selling toys, so it's never going to go away. Apart from here, where it does.