24

24 

By various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 1-84576-220-7

Whether or not you’re a fan of a particular property, doesn’t really impact on the production of comic spin-offs these days – if indeed it ever did. I’ve read some very palatable comics and Graphic Novels that often outshone their TV or Movie antecedents and of course some of my favourite viewing has been forever soured by an inauspicious franchising deal.

The attempt to translate the multi-award winning television adventures of insomniac super-spy Jack Bauer falls somewhere between the two. As it would be next to impossible to duplicate the one hour equals one episode “real-time” format (1 comic page per hour?) the various creators have had to rely on action, dastardly evil-doers and the frankly limited characterisations of the TV cast.

That being the case, the three tales presented here are not that bad. ‘One Shot’ written by J. C. Vaughn and Mark L. Haynes with art by Renato Guedes, and set before the first series was broadcast, is a competent little thriller concerning an IRA terrorist turned supergrass and the Counter Terrorist Unit’s attempt to protect her from her very unhappy former associates. A powerful bonus for fans is the savvy use of characters we already know will soon be dead or exposed as shmucks or traitors.

‘Midnight Sun’ from the same creative team, and set during the first term of President Palmer, has our principal team sent to Alaska following the suspicious deaths of oil pipeline executives, possibly at the hands of Eco-terrorists, in another well-drawn if unchallenging thriller.

Manny Clark illustrates the last tale, ‘Stories’ which occurs during the time Agent Bauer was infiltrating the Salazar Drug Cartel (that’s between Seasons 2 and 3, if you’re counting). When Chechen terrorists interrupt a nefarious deal in a luxury hotel Jack has to do his thing without blowing his cover. Sadly the art, which looks like bad painting on hastily downloaded photographs, makes a dog’s dinner of a pretty good script, which pretty much kiboshes this better than average package.

Buy it if you’re a fan or can tolerate disappointment, but be warned, it all ends badly.

™ & © 2005 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

THRRP!

THRRP! 

By Leo Baxendale (Knockabout Comics)
ISBN 0-86166-051-X

This somewhat lost classic is a gloriously gross, pantomimic splurt-fest of broken winds, dripping organs and broad, basic belly-laughs that depends less on narrative convention than on warped yet timeless juvenile invention to revel in the most lunatic slapstick to grace the music-hall or comic page since Leo Baxendale left mainstream comics.

Whilst not as groundbreaking as Little Plum, Minnie the Minx, The Bash Street Kids or the Three Bears, nor as subversive as his Wham, creations such as Eagle Eye, Junior Spy, George’s Germs or The Tiddlers, nor indeed, as outlandish as The Swots and the Blots or Grimly Feendish, nevertheless Spotty Dick and the truly repulsive inhabitants of Planet Urf unforgettably cavort through a cartoon-grotesque series of silent adventures that no grotty school-kid of any age could resist.

An absolute treat from a lost master of British tomfoolery. Lets get this back in print now!

© 1987 Leo Baxendale. All Rights Reserved.

Superman & Batman vs Aliens & Predator

Superman & Batman vs Aliens & Predator 

By Mark Schultz & Ariel Olivetti (DC Comics/Dark Horse)
ISBN 1-84576-578-8

Commercial instincts seem to override all other considerations in this beautifully illustrated but just plain daft Battle of The Brands from DC and Dark Horse.

Apparently a colony of Predators™ have been living on Earth since the last Ice Age, complete with a stock of Aliens™, inside a volcano in the Andes. Via various routes Superman™, Batman™ and the clandestine Terrestrial Defense Initiative all become aware of them at the same time as the volcano shifts into blow-up-very-soon mode.

What follows is a race against time as the heroes try to rescue the assorted monsters from the lava before they’re all nuked by the hasty humans. If this is supposed to be a tribute to all-action summer blockbuster movies then the usually excellent Mark Schultz has nailed it, for this slim tale has holes you could steer an aircraft carrier through. As a comic book though all it has to recommend it is the spectacular art of Ariel Olivetti.

I fervently hope that this is the last of these ill-advised mismatched Brand Fests.

© 2007 DC Comics, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Dark Horse Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Steady Beat

Steady Beat 

By Rivkah (Tokyopop)
ISBN: 1-59816-135-0

This teen comedy-drama tells of Leah Winters and her shattering discovery. Leah is a well-to-do sixteen year old who accidentally finds a love-letter hidden by her oh-so-perfect, truly obnoxious older sister, Sarai. Giving in to temptation, Leah reads the letter and is shocked to discover that not only is it a love-letter, but it is signed “love, Jessica”.

This revelation absolutely rocks Leah’s world. She should be concentrating on soccer practise and test scores but all she can think about is how their fearsome dragon of a mother will react. Confused about how she feels and how she is supposed to feel, she decides she must know, one way or another and decides to track down the mysterious writer. When an ominous phone-caller claims to have the answers she needs Leah foolishly agrees to a clandestine meeting in an isolated park. When that appointment goes wrong Leah is rescued by a charismatic boy and his decidedly odd father and her quest becomes even more convoluted…

The creator, Rivkah, is a relative neophyte to the world of manga, but her charmingly drawn romantic tale of teen insecurity and awakening independence is engaging and well-paced, although probably skewed less towards an overtly female readership than many more traditional Shojo or Girl’s books. There is plenty that should appeal to boys here, and they might even catch a clue as to how to conduct themselves better in social situations. Or not.

This volume also includes a large selection of preparatory sketches and notes and a large preview section from the dark fantasy “Mark of the Succubus” by newcomers Irene Flores Ashly Raiti.

© 2005 Rivkah & Tokyopop Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures 1

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures 1 

By Various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN 1-84023-995-9

Devolving out of the Cartoon Network show rather than the major motion picture, this paperback-sized volume contains three plot-light punch-‘em-ups featuring Obi-Wan and Anakin in ‘Blind Force’, Mace Windu and Saesee Tiin in ‘Heavy Metal Jedi’ and Jedi Master Kit Fisto in ‘Fierce Currents’.

In England the cartoon episodes first aired in 5 minute instalments with a polished, if stripped down Manga/anime style which the comics stories seeks to emulate. Sadly this means that despite looking very good the adventures are over before you even realise. Nevertheless youngsters and die-hard fans will lap this up, I’m sure.

Star Wars © 2004 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek: To Boldly Go

Star Trek: To Boldly Go 

By various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 1-84576-084-0

As the live action segment of the monolithic fantasy brand ended once again, the ancillary merchandising machine swung inexorably into action to provide succour to all the stunned and hungry aficionados as they gathered, organised and restarted the campaign for its inevitable return.

For comic fans this is not such a bad thing since the show has spawned a number of comic-book tie-ins over the decades, and many of these are really rather good. Case in point being DC Comics’ early 1980s tandem series featuring not only the then new and risky venture Star Trek: The Next Generation, but also the much more canny proposition of a comic-book series featuring the original characters in adventures set in the aftermath of the film The Wrath of Khan.

To Boldly Go collects the first six issues of that series and starts off in rattling fashion with the destruction of a Federation Starship at the hands of those villainous Klingons, necessitating the dispatch of the Enterprise to thwart whatever new secret weapon the rogues have this time. With nary a breath to spare it escalates the Galactic Cold War into an interplanetary conflict involving the Excalbians and Organians. You probably don’t know who they are and don’t need to. The fans do and casual readers are kept fully in the loop by the accessible and capable scripting of Mike W. Barr.

This romp is swiftly followed by the more traditional tale of a Star Fleet officer who goes native and breaks the Prime Directive, and the volume ends with an intriguing thriller featuring a diplomatic mission and a metamorphic assassin. Solid entertaining stuff, capably and seamlessly illustrated by the brilliant and much missed Tom Sutton, with inking from Ricardo Villagran and Sal Amendola, the only fly in the ointment is a fearsomely coarse printer’s dot-screen that makes some pages look as if they’re being viewed from inside a stocking mask – and no, I’m not telling you how I know that. Use your imagination.

I’m always banging on about getting more people into reading comics, and this sort of material is one of the easiest and most efficient methods. Quality material that needs waste no space on back-story is our most valuable commodity, and one we should be happy to support and extol.

® & © 2005 Paramount Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Sleepwalk and Other Stories

Sleepwalk and Other Stories 

By Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly Publications 1998)
ISBN: 1-896597-12-2

We often talk of comics and graphic narrative as if it’s one homogenous lump, and as well as doing the medium a tremendous disservice it’s also incredibly misleading. Those people that haughtily declaim “Oh, We Never Watch Television”, usually mean they deplore whatever it is you’ve just mentioned but that their own viewing habits somehow don’t count. And in a way they’re absolutely correct. For them the term is a group pejorative. But Big Brother is not Eastenders is not The Sky at Night is not Mastermind is not News 24 is not Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The medium is now a conveyance, the content is a product you can select or decline. Now try that phrase with the concept of comics.

Adrian Tomine tells short stories. They are about “Now”, and “I feel that…” and “How does…” His Spartan monochromatic drawing style works as an ideal camera for his elegiac documentaries. In an art form that too often relies on hyperbole and melodrama not just for content but for narrative technique, he eschews bravura for insight, telling little tales about the commonplace and the ordinary, showing just how extraordinary and poetic a “realer” life can be.

Originally released as issues 1-4 of Optic Nerve, Sleepwalk presents sixteen vignettes of broken hearts and trampled dreams, of uncompromising self-recriminations and day-to-day reminiscences that make us all shrug and think “well, there’s always tomorrow…”

If you read Maus for the scale of Man’s capacity for evil or Stuck Rubber Baby for his ability to change and overcome, then Sleepwalk should access your capacity to empathise and endure. Few comics comment on the Human Condition without taking a strident position. Here’s one that asks you to choose your own, and choose it every single time. Find it. Buy it. Read it.

Think about it.

© 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 Adrian Tomine. All Rights Reserved.

Scott Pilgrim Vol 2: vs the World

Scott Pilgrim Vol 2: vs the World 

By Bryan Lee O’Malley (Oni Press)
ISBN: 1-9326-6412-2

A second volume of Scott Pilgrim so soon? Ultra-cool. For those of you not in the know, Scott is just this guy who is eking out a generally stress-free existence in modern Toronto, not working, hanging out, sleeping late, and dating two girls. He’s in a band, but they pretty much suck.

Did I say stress-free? Not so much this time as his gay room-mate orders him to sort himself out and dump the under-age girlfriend, Asian-American teen-ninja, Knives Chau, and concentrate on just Ramona Flowers. This latter chick Scott truly loves, and anyway, he’s already sworn to fight all her evil ex-boyfriends, the aptly titled “League of Ramona’s Evil Ex-Boyfriends”.

Of course, love and two-timing is never simple, as Knives decides that she’s not quite ready to be dumped, so she gets a new look and decides to use her ninja powers to battle Ramona. We’re treated to a more vulnerable Scott Pilgrim here as he writes Ramona a thrash love song, is nearly defeated by her second E.E-B. – skate-boarding movie star Lucas Lee – has to cook a meal and even make some decisions!

Tip in a brief look at his awesome origin, and you have a wonderful slice of sheer captivating entertainment, that is by turn, warm, funny, surreal and un-putdownable.

There are an abundance of teen oriented comic books on the stands at the moment, but this is the only one that has managed to co-opt the pulp science-fiction aspiration of instilling a Sense of Wonder into every moment, and this whimsical approach is the perfect antidote to all that angst, testosterone and fashionista marketing.

You really should treat yourself to one of the first classics comic books of the 21st century. Go buy it now.

™ & © 2005 Bryan Lee O’Malley. All Rights Reserved.

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life 

By Bryan Lee O’Malley (Oni Press)
ISBN: 1-9326-6408-4

Is it just me, or is all the really cool, really fun and really fresh comic stuff coming out of the alternative/Small Press/creator owned/ self-published sector of the comic industry? Like so many others my age I grew up in a time with very few strip publishers, and though I love ‘em dearly still, I’m acutely aware of just how limited a range those mainstream creators were allowed to work within.

I’m simply appalled that in an era of specialist retailers, comic conventions and all the computer age paraphernalia that should keep editors and publishers totally clued in to the appetites of their customer base, the same old stuff is perpetually retooled and recycled whilst everybody and his aunt bemoans the unstoppable decline in comics sales and the inevitable death of the medium.

I have some maxims that might solve this conundrum. Produce work for your audience, not yourselves. Variety is the spice of life. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Think about the work first, and the Subsidiary Merchandising Rights last. This is an entertainment medium: Your goal should be to make entertainment.

Having got that off my voluminous chest, I can whole-heartedly recommend the work of Bryan Lee O’Malley. His Manga-esque tales of an adorable boy-idol slacker, shambling his way through a contemporary, if somewhat surreal, life is a gentle stroll through a world that manages to feel warmly nostalgic no matter what age you are or where you grew up. Scott Pilgrim is young, lazy and gorgeous, shares a flat with his cool, gay best mate, plays in a band and has girlfriend hassles. He lives his life from moment to moment and manages to keep a firm grip on both angst and hormones.

Although ostensibly targeting the modern counter-culture of the troubled teen, skate-boarding, new punk generation, there is a wonderfully accessible universality to his problematic existence and his perpetually stop-gap solutions. In terms of content alone this should be considered a mass-market item. And should enough people see this work to make Scott Pilgrim a “bankable” commodity pray that the author keeps some form of creative control, because this is that rarest of comic books. The stories and characters are unbelievably good but the sometimes crude and often over-exuberant drawing is absolutely perfect for this material. Nothing and nobody else could possibly do it justice – and that includes any dream cast any Hollywood producer could possibly drool over.

This is a great comic book. Go buy it now.

™ & © 2004 Bryan Lee O’Malley. All Rights Reserved.

Scooby Doo & The Mummy Mystery

Scooby Doo & The Mummy Mystery 

By Various (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84023-977-8

Another excellent paperback sized compilation reprinting tales of the legendary Scooby Gang culled from the pages of their long-running DC/Kids WB (Warner Brothers) comic. This third collection from Titan Books (The Haunted House and The Creepy Cruise are still available too) has eight reassuringly familiar tales suitably similar to the long running TV cartoons and movies, this time concocted by writers Dan Abnett, John Rozum, Frank Strom and Terrence Griep Jr., with pencil art by Joe Staton and Anthony Williams. As usual the stories are tightly paced and eminently readable. These are wonderful entry-level comic packages for kids of all ages.

© 2004 Hanna Barbera.