Transformers Energon Pocket Edition 1

Transformers Energon Pocket Edition 1 

By Simon Furman, Guido Guidi, Joe Ng and various (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84023-932-8

I’m usually all in favour of new and innovative formats and I’ve normally nothing but praise for quality licensed comic strips as they tend to be a good introduction to the wider world of cartoon storytelling. However with this book I find myself reserving judgement.

Under new management, but with long time writer Simon Furman, we’re all introduced to another baffling array of characters and back-story that interact with old stalwarts such as Optimus Prime in what is obviously a sequel to something we haven’t seen, but nevertheless uses a dreadfully old plot to carry the action along. And then to end the volume halfway through the story is just plain annoying.

If you care, there is war on Cybertron, a refitted Prime is out of options and the miracle power source Energon can only be found on Earth which is being ravaged by the Terrorcons under their new leader Scorponok. Unfortunately I only really understood that after reading the press release, not the book.

Another bone of contention is the art and reproduction. I appreciate that styles have changed and that a Japanese flavour is currently the vogue, as is the whole concept of giant warrior robots, but the passionless, technological line-work works in monochrome, but when obscured by murky, overly fussy computer colouring it just means that these tired old eyes can’t tell one giant bucket of bolts from another. A little variation in shot choice and camera angle wouldn’t hurt either.

I think this might be something for the dedicated collector only.

© 2004 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved.

Transformers: Dinobot Hunt

Transformers: Dinobot Hunt 

By Simon Furman, Barry Kitson, Geoff Senior & Will Simpson (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84023-789-9

Within these pages you will find high-quality reprints from the earliest days of the British Transformers weekly comic (issues 45-50 and 74-77) plus a ten page extravaganza originally seen in the 1986 Annual.

Fast, pacy adventures produced by what are now household names – at least in comic collectors’ houses. Full of chases and action, this is a light-weight treat for the young at heart.

An ideal starting point for new readers and a chance for young dads to get all nostalgic with heir own kids in advance of the upcoming movie spectacular.

© 2004 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved.

Torpedo 1936, Volumes 1-6

Torpedo 1936, Volumes 1-6 

By E Sánchez Abulí & Jordi Bernet with Alex Toth (Catalan Communications)
ISBNs vary – just rev up your search engine!

This classy crime satire has an impeccable pedigree. Originated by European strips legend Enrique Sánchez Abulí and designed and drawn (for the first story, at least) by American comics god Alex Toth, it relates the life and misadventures of cheap hood and freelance hit-man Luca Torelli, an Italian immigrant clawing his way to the middle of the gangster heap in the evocative New York City of the 1930s, that owes much more to films such as Scarface and Chinatown than to shoddy reality.

The mannered and hypnotic stylisations of Toth were replaced by the visceral line and brushwork of Jordi Bernet as the ignorant and vicious thug went on to star in a veritable gore-storm of graphically violent and sordidly sexy comic tales and text stories (all collected in the six volumes cited) that, with blackly humorous wit, venerate the savage charisma of this mythic era.

There is loads of sex, lots of nudity, buckets of violence but never the truly Big Score in the life of this dim and evil loser, but such is the ability of the creators that the reader finds it terribly difficult not to sympathise with this despicable “can’t-get-an-even-break” sad sack who often appears to be the world’s most homicidal Mr Bean clone.

Sharp writing (well-translated) and truly beautiful art (especially the women and cars) make this a must-read series for fans not only of such series as 100 Bullets or The Losers, also anyone who loves a bad-ass gangster and a damn good laugh.

© 1982 Enrique Sánchez Abulí, Alex Toth & Jordi Bernet. All Rights Reserved.

Terra Obscura, vol 2

Terra Obscura, vol 2 

By Alan Moore, Peter Hogan, Yanick Paquette & Karl Story (America’s Best Comics)
ISBN 1-84576-193-6

This second volume of stories featuring the alternative heroes from an Earth duplicate situated at the other end of the galaxy continues the heady blend of wonderment and soap-opera as archetypical superman Tom Strange begins a romance with a widowed Jungle Queen just as an old comrade returns.

Of course said comrade – Captain/Colonel Future – is returning from beyond the solar system in a spaceship that has been twisted and malformed by the hideous mysteries of deep space. And, naturally, said homecoming has precipitated a catastrophic series of time-slips that has re-inflicted the events of Pearl Harbour on modern Hawaii and threatens to A-bomb Hiroshima one more time. Super-heroes are popping out the mists of time to fight their counterparts and heirs and the world is generally reduced to a state of utter higgledy-piggledy.

Couple that with the last word in super-heroine (can I still say that?) zombie stalker plots and you have a well-drawn piece of retooled retro-nonsense that will please the already converted but will utterly baffle the casual reader and sadly make no new converts to our little corner of the entertainment market.

© 2004, 2005 America’s Best Comics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Terra Obscura, vol 1

Terra Obscura, vol 1 

By Alan Moore, Peter Hogan, Yanick Paquette and Karl Story (America’s Best Comics)
ISBN 1-84023-860-7

Alan Moore’s refit of the American superhero genre continues with this spin-off from Tom Strong, himself a blending of Doc Savage and Superman mythologies that sees the hero and his immediate family having adventures and meeting other remixes of iconic comic characters throughout time and space.

During one of these adventures (notionally in “1968”), Strong discovered a close duplicate of Earth at the far end of the Milky Way which even had its own counterpart of himself (Tom “Doc” Strange) as well as a pantheon of superheroes and villains derived from the Better/Standard/Nedor comics of the 1940s and early 1950s.

In a later tale Strong and Strange teamed to defeat an alien that had conquered the alternate Earth (dubbed “Terra Obscura” for expediency’s sake) and placed its heroes in suspended animation for thirty years. The current story begins three years after the liberation.

Sadly, from there on it’s business-as-usual in the world of modern superhero epics. The plot is a standard super-being murder-mystery. A generic cast of heroes gathers in the face of a civilisation in slow crisis. Can we discover who killed the Captain Future analogue, and can the Justice Society, sorry, Society of Major American Science Heroes uncover the traitor in their midst who is trying to conquer the world?

I understand the whole point of these tales is as a glossy homage to the comics of our youth, but who are they actually intended for? Will eye-candy tributes, no matter how well written or drawn, really bring in new readers, especially young ones? Are old farts like me ever going to settle readily for modern remakes of the glorious whimsies we devoured as children, or will we gradually stop buying new comics and concentrate on high-ticket reprints and the tracking down of back-issues that always evaded us during the onset of puberty?

There is perhaps, an argument for this material as periodical publication, as a means of getting people into comic shops, but how many can pay their own way and still generate the demand for a collected edition?

I readily admit that the fanboy in me actually enjoyed the read. Moore and Hogan engaged my attention and Paquette and Story satisfied my constant craving for good drawing, but I didn’t buy the miniseries, and I wouldn’t have read the compilation if those nice people at Titan Books hadn’t sent me a review copy.

Saccharine isn’t honey. You can always put a coat of fresh paint and sequins on your favourite armchair, but that doesn’t make it new or even more comfortable. Despite Alan Moore’s ability and cachet, I doubt this sort of material has any long term broad appeal.

© 2003, 2004 America’s Best Comics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Oh My Goddess! Vol 3

Oh My Goddess! Vol 3

By Kosuke Fujishima (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84576-504-4

This is a fine example of a Japanese story genre which uses a fantasy framework and derives humour from embarrassment and loss of conformity. Nerdy science student Keiichi Morisato dials a wrong number one night and connects to the Goddess Technical Help Line. Beautiful and powerful Belldandy materialises in his room, offering him one wish, and he geekily asks that she never leave him. This traps her on Earth, and in fact she is unable to move too far from his physical proximity.

There’s plenty of scope for comedy when a powerful female seemingly dotes on an average male, and many jokes centre on her inability to part from him, increasingly disrupting his life. Think of it as a modern take on Bewitched or I Dream of Genie, especially since there’s a romance growing that both are incapable of admitting to.

The third volume settles into a formulaic pattern as the loons of his college Society, and Belldandy’s mischievous sister Urd continue to make life even more unpalatable for our nerd and his dream girl. The episodes include such traumas as final exams, being forcibly dressed in girls clothing – Keichii, that is – gambling, truth or consequences games, and even Go-Kart racing against the hateful Americans.

The biggest addition to the cast is the rich and sleazy Toshiyuki Aoshima, a serial lecher who decides that he must have Belldandy at any cost. Throw in the usual band of rivals, insane teachers and interfering entities and there’s still plenty of slap-stick fun to be found in this bright and breezy manga classic.

© 2007 Kosuke Fujishima. All Rights Reserved.
English language translation © 2007 Dark Horse Comics, Inc.

Pilgrim & Son in the Festival Ritual

Pilgrim & Son in the Festival Ritual

By Hunt Emerson (Knockabout)
ISBN 0-81666-151-6

Hunt Emerson is one of this country’s great artistic treasures. He should be locked in a studio with a continually replenishing bar and made to draw non-stop. However, since that might be considered cruel – and perhaps potentially too expensive for any publisher’s budget – we should be grateful that lots of his work is available in such spiffy collections as The Festival Ritual.

Collecting the debauched and surreal counter-culture antics of the Eternal Dead-head Pilgrim and his post flower-power son, weary veterans of the music festival circuit, as they slouch through life in a hyped up and hilarious series of vignettes from such far flung publications as The Reading Rock Festival Catalogue 1988 and Fortean Times, this book also features original tales of the pair produced for Swiss, French, German and Italian magazines.

Emerson’s output often defies categorisation. It is raw, vital and vibrantly creative, and often seems akin to pictorial Jazz. No matter how far he goes, though, he never abandons his primary goal, namely, making the punter laugh. And with this particular edition all we declining rebels can revisit our mucky, muddy glory days from the staid sanctuary of our comfy armchairs. A splendid companion to the legendary, Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers books you already treasure.

© 2005 Hunt Emerson. All Rights Reserved.

Modesty Blaise: Cry Wolf

Modesty Blaise: Cry Wolf 

By Peter O’Donnell & Enric Badia Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84023-869-0

This volume kicks off with what seems a most unconventional tale for the reformed super-criminals – investigating an alien invasion. ‘Take Me To Your Leader’ finds Modesty and Willie Garvin asked to verify whether mysterious beings on a tropical Island are what they seem. As past masters of the criminal con-game our Derring Duo should have it all over mere scientists and diplomats. They’re also much better in a fight which is quite fortunate…

When these tales first saw print in the mid 1970s the strange and the supernatural was common parlance in everyday life so naturally a more fantastic playing field was going to intrude into the hard, tough world of entertainment fiction. Hard on the heels of their extra-terrestrial foes our heroes find themselves tackling ‘The Highland Witch’. Although nominally another go-round with the Great Unknown, this is a solid adventure tale involving a beautiful girl nearly murdered by bloodthirsty gangsters, a spectacularly unique villain in the un-comely form of Sister Binks and a classic combat incursion scenario from Modesty and her extended band of helpers.

‘Cry Wolf’ concludes this volume on a high note as a retired cryptographer and friend of the family is kidnapped from his new home in the Arctic Circle. In a unique twist, Willie and Modesty find themselves at odds with their old friend Tarrant as the abductors might be British Intelligence rather than those pesky old KGB types. This is a superb spy caper full of twists and turns, exotic locales, spectacular villains and heart-stopping action. If there ever is another movie, this should top the list for scripts to adapt.

Modesty Blaise is one of the greatest characters in comic strips, and indeed adventure fiction. Why she is not a household name is probably the only mystery she can’t solve. Read this book, or any/all of the others this current series and you’ll see I’m right whilst at the same time helping to correct that situation.

© 2006 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.

James Bond: Octopussy

James Bond: Octopussy 

By Ian Fleming, Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84023-743-0

Octopussy is a classic Ian Fleming tale. Originally a short-story, under the skilful hands of Jim Lawrence and Yaroslav Horak, this smuggling romp in the West Indies blossoms into a complex tale of Nazi Gold, murdered agents and exotic deaths in exotic locales. Bowing to the wave of popularity caused by the films, there are even a few Q Branch gadgets on offer. Horak excels at the extended underwater sequences and the action is frenetic and non-stop.

The sea also plays a large part in the concluding story in this volume. The Hildebrand Rarity tells of a new Royal Navy robot weapon that seemingly fails but has in fact been stolen by flamboyant millionaire and career sadist Milton Krest. Undercover, Bond infiltrates his glamorous circle in a terrific tale full of innovation and intrigue. You won’t believe how many ways there are to kill with fish!

Top tales of adventure and absolutely captivating reading thrills. Get them all!

Strip © Express Newspapers Ltd. 1987. All Rights Reserved.

Modesty Blaise: The Puppet Master

Modesty Blaise: The Puppet Master 

By Peter O’Donnell & Enric Badia Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84023-867-4

The collection of begins by reprinting probably the most controversial story in the strip’s history, and as usual the furore was caused by the tawdry spectre of sex.

‘The Stone-Age Caper’ is a taut, action-packed chase-thriller that has our heroine, Willie Garvin and the mandatory innocent bystanders hunted by a scurrilous pack of thugs through the Australian Outback. It is however, usually remembered – despite being a very exciting and tension-filled episode in the never-dull life of our heroine – as the story where she first got her baps out.

Originally running from July to November of 1971, during a period that saw quite a few censorious doors flung open, the devastating sight of a pair of lady-nipples drawn in full-frontal mid-shot bade fair to bring down governments and topple countries, if the accompanying text feature is to be believed. And yet here we all are safe in the far-future and able to re-read a pretty good story without fainting, forcibly calming the livestock or having to replace the servants.

Next O’Donnell revisits the theme of mind-control (as seen in ‘The Hell-Makers’) with Modesty subjected to the Guantanamo Bay treatment when an old enemy tries to crush her by making her kill Willie Garvin. Despite the seeming repetition, this fresh look at real monsters committing despicable of acts is a sobering balance to some of the more fanciful exploits of this unique duo. ‘The Puppet Master’ is also notable as it features the introduction of home-grown British agent in training, Maude Tiller, of whom more in forthcoming volumes.

One such light romp closes the book in ‘With Love From Rufus’. When Modesty is burgled by a villain who breezes through all her security to leave a bouquet of roses in her safe, she becomes involved with a love-struck criminal prodigy who promptly gets himself, and her, in trouble way over their heads. She needs tact and diplomacy, as much as bullets and bravado to set things right and destroy another vicious gang.

These timeless tales of crime and punishments are as vital and enthralling now as they ever were, and provide much-needed relief in a world increasingly bleak and confusing. At least here you always know who to cheer for and who to boo at.

© 2006 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.