Thursday, May 22, 2008

Week of the Dead at CBR

Over at CBR this week they are running a 'Week of the Dead' special to celebrate 'The Walking Dead' hitting issue #50. Interviews with Kirkman & Adlard, and best of all, a 5 page preview of #50...

Interview with Robert Kirkman
Interview with Charlie Adlard
A preview of Walking Dead #50

Review - Zombies! Hunters #1 (IDW)

Its the undeadliest game! Big money zombie shoot!

A few months ago I speculated about Zombie game hunting while surrounded by some of my work colleagues. They can stop laughing now, because it is a reality......

Well, okay, it is just a new comic book from IDW titles 'Zombies! Hunters'. The title itself is a bit cumbersome, but the action contained therein is not. In terms of high concept, it goes a bit like this;

'The Most Dangerous Game' meets 'Resident Evil'

and yes, 'The Most Dangerous Game' has been lifted many times (like 'Surviving the Game' with Ice-T, and the early 'Most Dangerous Game' from 1932 which you can watch here). This comic uses all the conventions of this concept (the wealthy hunters, the remote island) and throws some Voodoo magicked Zombies in as the prey. These zombies seem pretty resilient though, and you get the sense that some of these big time, big game hunters are going to get theres sooner rather than later (maybe one of the rednecks or the Internet entrepreneur for starters??).

The art is a major plus factor, especially the portrayal of the zombies as pumped up, fearsome killers, as opposed to shambling, pathetic cannon fodder.

So what if it is another riff on the Zombie genre, and the concept of big money, illegal hunting humans is not very original? This issue manages to get the scene setting out the way quickly enough to see some major action at the end, with a great 'Zombies Lake' pay off at the end. What's not to like??

Review - loved it. Trashy, fun and action packed, with great artwork. 9 out of 10.

Review - Pigeons from Hell #2 (Dark Horse)

Issue #2 of this Robert E Howard adaptation, and things start getting really nasty

Shaping up to be a great mini-series, as things get grisly and ever so slightly like Evil Dead-ish as the malevolent spirits that surround this damned house begin to move in on the inheritors and their friends. A lawman turns up to aid the beleagured group, but you get the feeling that no-one is going to get out of this happy.

The art is a great visceral treat, and the dialogue doesn't drag the action down too much. This is a great slice of Southern Gothic. Looking forward to next time.

Review - Another unexpected treat - visceral and creepy, with a great sense of foreboding. 8 out of 10.

Review - The Mighty Avengers #14 (Marvel)

The Secret Invasion story gets more expansive as the Skrulls mind games get nastier

These great 'Secret Invasion' tie-ins keep coming. This one fills out part of the story from issue #13 when Vision (one of the Heroes from the past) confronted present day Sentry. Let's just say it's all part of the Grand Skrull Plan, and it is told with great flair.

There is not a lot more to say really - Jarvis has a great part to play in it, Sentry is a flawed character that you feel bad for, especially now he is being manipulated by the Skrulls, and everything is looking pretty bleak for Earth at the minute.

Review - Another essential part of the overall 'Secret Invasion' title. It all adds up to a whole lot of trouble for Earth, but enjoy it while it lasts. A great tie-in (again!). 9 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Listening for the Letterbox, May 21st, 2008

A regular feature where I look ahead to what I have on order from the releases of the week. This is obviously not a definitive release schedule - for that, try Diamond for the list of next Aweeks releases and this weeks releases (updated every monday).

As usual, I will put the titles in reverse order of anticipation (ie the bottom of the pile being the most anticipated;

Walking Dead Special Ed #1 (Image)

A reprint of No.1 with extras (which is why I am getting it)

Kirkman discusses the Walking Dead, including issue 50 here

Pigeons from Hell #2 (Dark Horse)

Really enjoyed the first issue of this creepy Robert E Howard adaptation, even if pigeons don't really come from Hell. They are just really annoying.

Preview here

Bomb Queen V #1 (Image)

Hoorah! More perversity, mindless carnage and bad language courtesy of Jimmie Robinson. I would love to see them try to make the Bomb Queen saga into a movie....

Preview of the first issue here

No 'Listening for the Letterbox' for a couple of weeks now - back in early June.

Brought to you by the letterbox listener........

Friday, May 16, 2008

Review - Young Liars #3 (Vertigo)

It's rock n roll! It's bewildering! Sadie Hopkins wants to dance, dance, dance!

David Laphams 'Young Liars' is so closely linked with music (for example, the title is taken from 'TV on the Radio's first EP). Most of the action seems to take place in clubs or gigs, one of the male leads is a wannabe guitarist, there are lyrics all over the panels moving the narrative along. You also get a real sense of the urgency of youth, the energy, the drama. All the things that drives rock n' roll and all that stuff. Plus you get all the attendant bullshit, the backstabbing (ever been in a band?), the shattered dreams, the effervescence bordering on nauseating (more on that in a bit).

This issue continues the music theme (this issue is entitled 'Hard Knock Life' reflecting the characters own fortunes), but the story gets bewildering at times, jumping around like a needle skipping across a battered vinyl record. One minute we are in 2006, then the 'present', then January 2008. It all gets a bit confusing, but in a happy drunk kind of way. The tale fairly skips along, though I must admit to getting a bit exhausted with Sadie Hopkins''exuberance' as she seems to be permanently on some sort of sugar high, even at times when its obvious that everyone else is concerned about a more important matter, Sadie just don't get it. She just wants to dance. I know this is explained by the bullet lodged in her brain (that is eventually going to kill her) has removed her inhibitions, but does she ever calm down a bit?

I loved the first couple of issues, it is just I love this one a little bit less. I hope it starts to make more sense next time round. I hope Sadie calms down a bit.

Verdict - like having lots of beers on an empty stomach, the high is great while it lasts, but then confusion gives way to a headache. Bizarre but full of life. I want this to succeed. as I think it has the potential to be another great Vertigo title. this issue gets a 6.5 out of 10.

Young Liars at the Vertigo Site

Thursday, May 15, 2008

2000ad - the home of future sport in the 70's and 80's

Adapted from the article that first appeared on Those We Left Behind

2000AD - the British comic of the future from the 1970s right up until now, where it is more of an institution, a comic that has survived the now depressed and ravaged British comics scene for over 30 years. Telling stories of the future by reflecting the interests of the day has enabled the comic to retain a readership and continue to survive. One of the comics favourite themes in the early years was future sport. The very first strips in 2000AD were heavily inspired by popular culture (MACH1 was another take on the 6 Million Dollar Man, Judge Dredd a version of Dirty Harry/ Clint Eastwood) and so the first future sport strip 'Harlem Heroes' was probably influenced by the commercial success of Rollerball, the 1975 film starring James Caan. It is also worth noting that most British boys comics of the time had sports strips, from 'Roy of the Rovers' (who had graduated from 'Tiger' to his own comic in 1976) to 'Look out for Lefty' from 'Action' comic. Action (the forerunner of 2000AD in many respects, not least the fact it came from the same publishing house, IPC) also had the prototype for future sport titles, 'Death Game 1999'. The strip was written by Tom Tully who went on to create both 'Harlem Heroes' and later on, 'Mean Arena' for 2000AD.

What follows is not a definitive article on 'future sport' titles that appeared in 2000AD, but it lists some of the more popular and/or long-running series in the comic, specifically in the late 1970s (when the comic began) through til the late 1980s (when my own interest in the comic dissipated).

Harlem Heroes (progs 1-27)

Although I can speculate that the interest in future sports had come from the success of 'Rollerball', 'Harlem Heroes' was actually a strip based around the fictitious game of 'aeroball' that had swept the world by the year 2050;

"It's Football, Boxing, Kung Fu and Basketball all rolled into one! Players roar through the air wearing jet packs (controlled by buttons on their belts) and score "air strikes" by getting the ball in the "score tank". One of the top teams is the all-black Harlem Heroes!"
(taken from the first 'Harlem Heroes' strip in Prog 1 of 2000AD, 1977)

and the titular team are obviously inspried by the 'Harlem Globetrotters' who had their own Hanna-Barbera cartoon series in the early Seventies.

One of the main stars of the strip was the team captain, John 'Giant' Clay, and his character was one who would crossover into another title - a rare 'cross-over' event within the 2000AD universe - as he was the father of Judge Giant, an important figure in the early stories of Judge Dredd, who helped defeat the tyrannical Judge Cal. The series followed the fortunes of the 'Heroes as they competed in the 'World Aeroball Championship'. In a storyline reminiscent of the Munich disaster that claimed the lives of 7 Manchester United football players, the Harlem Heroes have to recover from the devastating loss of most of their team who are killed in a bus crash following a preliminary round victory. Subsequent episodes followed by the survivors and new recruits as they battled through the Championship against the likes of 'The Baltimore Bulls' and 'The Siberian Wolves'. The early episodes were drawn by Dave Gibbons, but the amazing Massimo Bellardinelli took over the art duties on the final episodes and its sequel, Inferno.

Inferno (progs 36-75)

Inferno was the direct sequel to Harlem Heroes, again scripted by Tom Tully and illustrated by Bellardinelli. Billed as being 'Deadlier than Aeroball' on its very first page, it lived up to its promise. Overtly violent compared to its predeccesor, it followed the 'Harlem Hellcats' who were the rechristened, surviving 'Harlem Heroes' as they contested in 'Inferno', a legalised spectator 'death sport'. The plot wreaks havoc and death upon the team, with very few surviving to the gloomy, nihilistic finale. Even Tharg seemed to have had enough by then, popping up in the middle of a page in the final episode, adding narration and explaining another Hellcat loss, as opposed to Bellardinelli visualising it. All very brutal and downbeat. This wouldnt be the last time a strip would be ended so gracelessly (see the entry for 'The Mean Team', further down this post).

Harlem Heroes / Inferno Links

The Harlem Heroes entry at 2000AD online
Harlem Heroes at wikipedia entry for Inferno
David Bishop on the Inferno controversy
The 'progslog' blog details the final episodes of Inferno

The Mean Arena (various progs from 1980 until 1982)

That man Tom Tully again. Alongside several artists (notably Steve Dillon did a stint, but John Richardson was the first artist on title) Tully created another futuresport scenario - this one was a bit like street football and rugby, but with whole urban areas given over to it. There was, of course, the possibility of death lurking around every corner. The hero was called Matt Talon, and he led the Slayers in the 'Mean Arena', helping them rise from obscurity to new heights. Think 'Rollerball' meets 'Roy of the Rovers'. Sub-plots abounded such as Tallons brother dying as a combatant in the 'Mean Arena', and the possibility of a traitor in his own ranks. Despite its numerous appearances over several years, it was never a classic in my opinion, but gets 7.26 thrillpower at the 2000AD site (mind you, only 19 people have voted...)

Mean Arena Links

The 2000AD fansite nails it with all the info, including all progs that featured The Mean Arena
2000AD site entry
This is great - a really fascinating insight, writer david bishop interviews 2000ad editor steve mcmanus (aka 'tharg') and puts it on his blog. There is a short conversation about Mean Arena

The Mean Team (various progs from 1985, 1987 & 1989)

Another strip illustrated by the peerless Massimo Bellardinelli, who made memorable anything he worked on (Ace Trucking Co, Meltdown Man, early Slaine, Harlem Heroes, Inferno), 'The Mean Team' was another mixed affair. Sometimes it was downright bizarre as well as bleak, brutal and ham-fisted. Initially written by Wagner & Grant under the pseudonym of 'The Beast', this was initially a future sport title, where really bad people got to play some sort of death sport with death around every corner (you follow me?), but turned into something like a quest. It was a bit silly really and a lot of it was forgettable - especially the sequels to the original 'Mean Team', those being 'Return' in 1987 and 'Survivor' in 1989. Anyone who has read the story will know that this is how silly it could get;

That is 'Bad' Jack Keller finding the right combination of words to get some magical staff working to save himself and his fellow team members. Lucky those words happened to be 'The Mean Team', eh???

There were times when you could almost read the new instructions coming from editorial decisions panel by panel, as the future sport theme was clearly not working, so they changed tack so that the story turns into a sort of quest, followed by a last minute decision to ensure that most of 'The Mean Team' would not be coming back for a sequel - I mean, how abrupt an ending is this?

As freakytrigger
succinctly puts it in a great article about the end of The Mean Team, it is probably the worst ending to a comic ever - it just feels like its execution (pun intended) is done on a whim, almost an afterthought to wrap up the story.

Mean Team Links

International Hero profiles the Mean Team
2000ad entry for Mean Team
Well, at least someone likes it
2000AD review site
Wiki entry for Bellardinelli
2000AD online entry for The Mean Team

2000AD seemed to stick to a formula for 'future sport' titles, and that mainly involved the threat of violence and sudden death (a legacy of 'Rollerball'?). There is no doubt that there was a perceived need for this element in the comics make-up, as sports strips were very popular throughout the 70's and 80's. The success of 'Roy of the Rovers', as well as factual titles such as 'Shoot' (which for a while in the 90s ran 'Roy of the Rovers' episodes and 'Goal' proved there was an appetite for such fare. Translating this passion for sports stories to science fiction did not always work - 'The Mean Team' seemed convuluted, 'Inferno' unnessecarily violent and bleak - but when it hit its stride, it could provide as entertaining as any other strip in that particular issue.

Review - Captain Britain and MI13 #1 (Marvel)

Another Secret Invasion tie-in? I know, I know, but wait! This one has the reappearance of Captain Britan and The Black Knight!

Britain is under attack by the Skrulls - but why? Something to do with the amount of magic flowing around this green and pleasant land apparently. Only Captain Britain, The Black Knight, Pete Wisdom and Spitfire stand between us and the Skrulls dastardly plan,

The comic rips along at a great pace, with some surprising violence, including decapitations and throats getting ripped out by teeth. The pace is lively, with a real sense of Britain under siege. All the heroes get a turn in the spotlight, and the Super Skrull composites of earthly heroes are imaginative and fun. Captain Britain is really given a chance to prove his heroic credentials in the final pages, and the issue leaves us on a (quite literally) explosive cliffhanger.

Unlike the recent Avengers tie-ins, this Secret Invasion title is all about the Captain Britain and MI13. It is all the better for it. Looking forward to a glimpse of Captain Midlands in the next issue, please!

Verdict - the pace, writing and art are great. An enjoyable Secret Invasion tie-in. 8 out of 10.

Reaction to Walking Dead #49

Weekly Comic Book Reviews thoughts

IGN review

Amber Streets thoughts on the issue

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Review - The Walking Dead 49 (Image)

We are pitched straight in after the events of issue #48, and you really get a sense of desolation, of the aftermath of a war. The pace is slower, but The Walking Dead never ceases to be anything less than engaging.

As we return to the scene of the massacre, a familiar face surveys the battleground, clearing up one plot thread while taking care of business, as old friends threaten to reanimate. Meanwhile Rick & Carl are trying to come to terms with the horror of their loss, while having to cope with the new hostile environment they are in. They are out in the open, having to look for food and shelter, dealing with the undead 'roamers'. Kirkman even finds humour in the food hunt as Carl, despite his experiences, shows a childs petulence when faced with 'crappy cereal'.

As the issue progresses we focus on Rick & Carl. It is a simply told issue, not a lot happens, but the small touches, such as Carls all too obvious grief, are touching and are made so by Adlards sterling artwork.

The final scenes are low key compared to recent issues, but no less devastating a cliffhanger awaits you. There are never enough pages in these damn issues. Next up, the big get the feeling that Kirkman is about to heap more misery on whats left of the Grimes family........

Verdict - quieter, more understated, but Kirkman is tantalising us with possibilities while delivering another mighty cliffhanger. Up to the usual standard. 9 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Secret Invasion update, plus assorted news

An update on 'what we know' about the Skrulls Secret Invasion, courtesty of newsarama

New Clone Wars trailer here

Lying In The Gutters
has news on Garth Ennis, Kick-Ass and more

Brought to you by the letterbox listener........

The Walking Dead #54 cover art

This is the cover art for The Walking Dead #54, a planned August 2008 release from Image. It was posted on the Kirkman board at Image, but there is no link to an official solicitation. The cover art follows on neatly from issue #53, where we get a first glimpse of some new characters. Well, it looks like they could be sticking around for a while. This cover is proclaiming that there will be more action, more Zombies, and those Zombies are getting got. Gun n' run. Love it. Have we seen the last of Rick and Carl for now? Is The Walking Dead now following the lives of others as the main storyline???

Let us hope it is August 2008 when we get the answers to these questions (though it would not be unrealistic to expect to get issue #54 anytime around the Autumn).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Listening for the Letterbox, May 14th, 2008

A regular feature where I look ahead to what I have on order from the releases of the week. This is obviously not a definitive release schedule - for that, try Diamond for the list of next weeks releases and this weeks releases (updated every monday).

As usual, I will put the titles in reverse order of anticipation (ie the bottom of the pile being the most anticipated;

Secret Invasion Fantastic Four #1 / Captain Britan & MI13 #1 (both Marvel)

More Secret Invasion tie-ins (surprise, surprise). Looking forward to Captain Britain in a new title!

Transhuman #2 (Image)

A documentary in a comic!

Young Liars #3 (Vertigo)

More teen spirit and angst, with added murder and violence (and guitars) courtesy of David Lapham. Loved the first 2 issues, see no reason why #3 will not be as good.

Batman #676 (DC)

The beginning of the end for Bruce Wayne? The start of 'Batman RIP'.
Who will live, who will die, who will be Batman?

The Walking Dead #49 (Image)

After the incredible, blood-soaked and emotionally draining finale to the 'No-one is safe' arc, we are plunged into the living nightmare that Rick & Carl Grimes are going through. No idea how this is going to pan out, but I do not doubt it will be anything less than 22 pages of brilliance.

More on Young Liars #3 here

More on Batman RIP here and

Brought to you by the letterbox listener........

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Secret Invasion round-up

CBR has Mike Careys plans for Secret Invasion here

CBR review of Secret Invasion #2

Good to see that the Secret Invasion tie-ins are doing well

A round up of what has been going on from comics2film

IGN Secret Invasion #2 review

A review of Mighty Avengers #13 from IGN

Review - The Mighty Avengers #13 (Marvel)

Unbelievably, this is another fantastic tie-in to the main 'Secret Invasion' title. It is almost too good to be true. In fact 'Mighty Avengers' is currently even better than the main title it is feeding into....

Carrying on from last month, we basically get less Nick Fury, but he is still there at all the right moments. Who we do see more of is Dasiy Johnson (aka Quake), a former SHIELD agent who manages to cover a lot of ground as she goes around the world recruiting 'caterpillars' as part of a Nick Fury masterplan....

Though there is limited action, what there is (showing off the new recruits powers) is nicely done. The art, from Alexi Maleev, is outstanding. I particuarly liked the grainy detail in the convenience store, and the way he illustrates a high speed chase. His facial drawings are also brilliantly realised - there is a great sequence where 3 taunting children get more than they bargained for, and its highly amusing.

Exciting times ahead for this title, or whatever title decides to take this nascent teaming, with Fury as the lead. There are some great choices in amongst the ranks, and I look forward to seeing how they work out.

Verdict - This title goes from strenght to strength. Are we due a retitling - namely 'Nick Fury & His Howling Commandos'??? Whatever happens next, this is an essential component in the 'Secret Invasion' saga, and just about the best Marvel title out there this week (and maybe even this month). 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Listening for the Letterbox, May 7th, 2008

A regular feature where I look ahead to what I have on order from the releases of the week. This is obviously not a definitive release schedule - for that, try Diamond for the list of next weeks releases and this weeks releases (updated every monday).

As usual, I will put the titles in reverse order of anticipation (ie the bottom of the pile being the most anticipated;

Exterminators #29 (Vertigo)

One of the finest comic books of recent years reaches its penultimate episode, in the 'Bug Brothers Forever' storyline. Very sad to see this go, but hope it goes out with the quality we have come to expect from this fine series.

Pretty Baby Machine #1 (Image)

Described as;


32 PAGES, BW, $3.50

PRETTY Boy Floyd, BABY Face Nelson and MACHINE Gun Kelly join forces when 1933’s mob-boss supreme, Al Capone, declares war on them! The most unexpected team-up in comics history told in a film noir style that will have fans of Road to Perdition and Batman: The Long Halloween screaming for more!

Tommy guns! Broads! And three of the most infamous mobsters of all time in a thrilling action-packed drama!


Well, that's me sold! Sounds superb.

Secret Invasion #2 (Marvel)

After the brilliant tie-ins of recent weeks (Mighty & New Avengers) I have high hopes for the main title to keep up the quality. Fingers crossed...and more skrull revelations please!

Mighty Avengers #13

More Secret Invasion madness! After the all Nick Fury issue last time, this promises to be a lot more of the same, which is alright by me! There is a preview here at IGN.

The Boys #18 (Dynamite)

The funniest, loudest book out there right now. 'Good for the Soul' concludes with Hughie versua Blarney Cock!!

I was hoping for confirmation of Walking Dead #49, but maybe next week. As it is, still the best week in comics for a while. Cannot wait.....

Brought to you by the letterbox listener........

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Review - New Avengers #40 (Marvel)

Another excellent tie-in from the main 'Secret Invasion' title. Like in last weeks 'Mighty Avengers', actual superheroes in the Avengers are very much peripheral figures. In fact, in this issue, humans are conspicuous by their absence. This does not make a jot of difference, as the story is immersive and provides more valuable references to the overall 'Secret Invasion' story.

Bendis goes back through Marvel continuity and lets the Skrulls take centre stage as they map out their invasion plan, explaining along the way how long established characters in the Marvel Universe could have feasibly been Skrulls all along. Its a fluid, consistent piece of work, with a nice twist at the end as another Skrull imposter is revealed to us. How this revelation will play out in the overall 'Secret Invasion' arc remains to be seen, but it leaves this issue on a high point.

Jimmy Cheungs art breathes life into the Skrulls, especially the really mean looking ones. They look like a threat, physically imposing. Cheungs art is clean and bright and makes the Skrull Universe come alive. There is also a great splash page with Galactus in it, depicting the devouring of the Skrull homeworld.

These tie-in issues have, so far, really added to the main title, which is promising, as the next few months see more and more titles pulled in to expand the story of 'Secret Invasion'. I hope they maintain the high standard set by the 2 recent Avengers titles.

Verdict - A strong back story that adds to the main 'Secret Invasion' title. Some important plot details are revealed, and we discover another of the Skrull imposters. Great art throughout the issue. 8 out of 10.