Wardog (2004)

[ Listening to BBC Radio Scotland Currently: Listening to BBC Radio Scotland ]

This is a story that was first published in Judge Dredd: The Megazine 4.01-4.10 – a sister publication to the long running 2000AD. It was written by Dan Abnett (who has written many stories for Marvel UK and 2000AD) and it was drawn by Patrick Goddard and Dylan Teague (who have also had art duties on other 2000AD characters).

The story concerns Jack Wardog who is a bombhead – he has no memory of his past life but has had a bomb surgically implanted in his head that is connected to a countdown counter that is activated, as an added incentive, when he sent on a mission by the mysterious Endtrail Enclave. The setting is a post-apocalyptic world – it could be Earth or another planet there is no real clue –where humans live and trade alongside autonomous mechanoids. When he is not on missions Jack is free to earn a living doing jobs for the general populace. As a result of one of these he finds himself investigating why a populated area has become deserted with the human population missing and the mechanoid population destroyed. This leads to an enclave ruled by mechanoids who want to take on the attributes of humans – including harvesting skin for themselves – whilst destroying mechanoids who will not join their band.

This is a story with very little context given within it – the blurb on the back sets out the world and the role of bombheads much more than the story does and so is essential reading. Part of the reason for this may be that the story is based on a game produced by Rebellion – the publisher of both 2000AD and The Megazine. This may explain why the plot in the story has no real connection to the fact that Jack Wardog is a bombhead – he only goes on one short mission where he is on a time limit within the book – that narrative may well have been saved as part of the play within the game. Whatever the reason it is a weakness of the book that Jack’s condition is not really addressed and is virtually immaterial to the story. However it is a fairly typical example of sci-fi storylines produced by 2000AD and so if you like that kind of story you will probably enjoy this one.

Wolverine: Blood & Sorrow (2007)

This book is a collection of four standalone stories featuring Wolverine. The stories come from Wolverine #41 and #49, X-Men Unlimited #12 and Giant-Size Wolverine #1.

The first story is called The Healing and is short at 11 pages. It was written by Stuart Moore and illustrated by C.P. Smith. In it Wolverine is lying recovering from a fight and describing the pain – mental and physical – that goes with his healing process and how he copes with it.

The second story is called The Package and is by the same creative team as created the first one. Wolverine has responded to Black Panther’s request for help in extracting a package from a war torn African nation. The package turns out to be the infant daughter of the murdered president and Wolverine must extract her from the country while dodging the insurgents who are looking for her.

The third story is called House of Blood and Sorrow written by David Lapham and illustrated by David Aja. A badly injured Wolverine crash lands near a remote farm house in North Dakota while battling with a Hydra robot. The residents of the farm house – a father and daughter – are normally shunned by the local townsfolk but when they become suspicious that they are hiding something a posse is raised and infiltrated by Hydra agents looking for Wolverine.

The final story is called Better to Give … written by Rob Williams and illustrated by Laurence Campbell and Kris Justice. In this one Wolverine is doing some Christmas shopping in a department store in New York at the request of Kitty Pryde. He is trapped in the store when kidnappers dressed as Santa’s elves kidnap an heiress to a fortune. He teams up with one of her bodyguards and proceeds to spoil the plans of the kidnappers.

Being a collection of one off stories means that this is a mixed bag. All the stories are fine without necessarily achieving excellence. My favourite was probably the third as I like the art of David Aja – last seen by me on the recent revival of Iron Fist. It also has the most interesting story being part superhero story and part creeping horror story. The final story runs it a close second as it has a lot of humour mixed in with the action.

Batman: Secrets (2007)

This book collects issues 1 to 5 of the mini-series of the same name. It was written and drawn by Sam Kieth – creator of the Maxx and Zero Girl. I love Keith’s style of drawing and probably first came across him on the Epicurus the Sage books and most lately on the Arkham Asylum: Madness graphic novel from last year. While I like his drawing I am not such a big fan of his writing.

A recently paroled Joker is photographed tangling with Batman. One of the photos causes a press sensation when it looks like Batman is threatening Joker with a gun. Inspired by this Joker courts the media and tries to orchestrate a media campaign to turn public opinion against Batman. He is aided in these endeavours by a love struck assistant DA and an old childhood friend of Bruce Wayne’s who is being blackmailed by the Joker.

I think that Kieth asks for too much suspension of disbelief in this story. First we are expected to believe that the Joker has managed to gain parole from prison – it is not clear where this story sits in the continuity of Batman but it feels like Joker has committed several previous crimes. Also an assistant DA falls in love with him and assists him in the smearing of Batman’s reputation. And finally that that the public would be so ready to turn against Batman – taking the Joker’s word and evidence over Batman’s reputation and past actions. Having said that there are a number of nice scenes between Batman and Joker as the Batman tries to find evidence of Joker’s nefarious activities.

The art on the other hand is downright sensational at times. There are some fantastic depictions of the Joker where the art reveals his inner psychosis. However Batman is sometimes not so well drawn – looking out of proportion at times. Overall the book’s strengths outweigh its deficiencies and well worth a look.

Red Sonja She-Devil with a Sword Omnibus Volume 1 (2010)

This, remarkably slim, book collects issues 0-18 of the ongoing series. It is mainly written by Michael Avon Oeming (#0-6 co-written with Mike Carey) and mostly drawn by Mel Rubi. Again both creators are new to me and while I liked the art I found the writing was not to my liking.

The story starts with Sonja hunting down who she believes is the leader of a cult responsible for her rape and the death of her family. She discovers that the cult is more widespread than she first thought and she works though several cells before meeting their leader – a piece of a god made incarnate through an inhuman birth. But at the end of the book she finds that she has been tricked into killing this demi-god so that the old god can break through into the mortal plain.

I should have thought that this was great. It has the elements of typical swords and sorcery stories but somehow it left me a bit disappointed. I think that the quest element of the story drags on a bit much for me. The writing was a bit laboured at times with odd speech patterns that did not always seem to be consistent, did not necessarily add to the atmosphere and so had the effect of destroying my suspension of disbelief at times.

Interestingly there were two theories proffered for Sonja’s wearing of the chain mail bikini. First, as most of her opponents are male, the scantiness of her attire could act as a distraction and give her an edge in fights. The second, more dark, explanation is that being a victim of rape she wears what she does to attract abusers and so take revenge of a sort on them and maybe change their ways, if they survive an encounter with her.

While the volume brings a story arc to a close, it is only the start of a new quest to battle with the newly manifest god and his armies. Although I struggled a bit to keep reading, I’ll probably give a second volume a try but would be more keen if the writer changes or the action speeds up.

The Complete D.R. & Quinch (2006)

This book collects all the D.R. and Quinch stories from that grand British institution 2000AD – a weekly anthology comic that introduced Judge Dredd and many other memorable characters to the world. The stories are written by Alan Moore and beautifully drawn by Alan Davis. The book also collects 9 one page strips, written by Jamie Delano (with Alan Davis), where D.R. and Quinch act as agony aunts.

Waldo D. R. Dobbs (it stands for diminished responsibility) and Ernest Errol Quinch are a couple of fun loving, alien college dropouts who believe that if a point is worth making it is worth making with military hardware and thermonuclear weaponry. The most interesting story, given that they were written in the mid 80s, is probably D.R. & Quinch go to Hollywood – the planet not the place on Earth as Earth was destroyed as a by-product of the boys’ very first prank. It is an early indication of Moore’s attitude to everything and everyone associated with movie making.

This collection is pure nostalgia for me as these stories formed my introduction to the writing of Alan Moore, along with stories like Skizz and The Ballad of Halo Jones. They still hold up well today and almost every line in the book is funny and the Alan Davis art is great. I was surprised at how slim the volume is as I thought there were more stories. Although this volume collects some pin-up art as well as the stories, for some reason it omits the two times that D.R. and Quinch made the cover of 2000AD – Prog 350 and Prog 352. There is also some interesting miscellany that they probably don’t have the rights for such as some Alan Davis convention art and this image where they meet up with Marvelman and Captain Britain.

Thoroughly recommended and as there is a recent, new American edition it shouldn’t be difficult to track down.

Superman: Emperor Joker (2007)

[ Sleepy Mood: Sleepy ]

This book is a multi-part story spread across various Super-titles and collects Superman #160-161, Adventures of Superman #582-583, Superman: Man of Steel #104-105, Action Comics #769-770 and Superman: Emperor Joker #1. As the story is spread across the four titles and one special so the it and the art is also divided amongst the regular creative teams on each title.
In the story, Mr Mxyzptlk has been tricked into giving his power to the Joker who uses it to reshape the universe in his image and torment his enemies. In the Joker’s universe the JLA are made up of villains, the superheroes are all villains and Batman is tortured and killed every night. Superman is subjected to a groundhog day where he escapes from Arkham but is always captured and returned by Bizarro. Mr Mxyzptlk tries to help Superman break out of the cycle so that he can return the world to normal.
This was an OK book. I think the number of writers on the story and the fact that it was spread over several titles probably didn’t help the flow – there was too much time spent on Superman’s groundhog day for me (it wasn’t until the third chapter that it was broken). The Joker didn’t make his appearance until the middle of the book which I thought was way too long – it might be fine in the monthly titles when trying to build a mystery or suspense but in the collected edition the pacing doesn’t feel right. The Joker himself is in full deranged/deluded mode as he constantly remodels the universe as he sees fit for the maximum torment of the principal characters. The fact that it has taken me a while to get through it is not a good sign – though it was also over the holidays when I had other pulls on my time – but still it was worth a read to see the Joker go up against the boy scout (though he still needed help from you-know-who).