Monday 27 February 2012

Rascal Raccoon’s Raging Revenge – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Rascal Raccoon is locked in an eternal struggle with Jumpin’ Jackalope, and one day, despite the terminal unreliability of his mail-order death-traps, he manages to kill him. Sort of: a pair of trucks do most of the hard work. Rascal is now a hero to other meanies, a monster to the merries, and a source of mixed feelings for Jackalope’s curvaceous widow Janey, who did once agree to go on a date with him. At something of a loose end without a nemesis, he agrees to help her find their creator and get him to draw Jackalope back to life, a mission that brings them into the “real” world.

Seeing analogues of Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote battling in the early pages was quite novel for me (although apparently the two did meet in a small number of cartoons), and the death of Jumpin’ Jackalope, though expected, was mildly shocking, but after that the book struggled to keep my attention. The idea of cartoons interacting with the real world is hardly new: a version of Wile E. Coyote made it there in issue five of Grant Morrison’s brilliant run on Animal Man. Though you kind of feel for the raccoon and his lost purpose, Megamind was funnier, cleverer and more moving when dealing with the same themes. The art is okay but not outstanding, the lettering is basic, and the garish colouring works against the idea that it’s all animation (although, looking at the preview on Oni’s website, that last might have been exacerbated by a glitch in the pdf I’m reviewing from).

To be honest I was surprised to see this published by Oni—not that it’s utterly awful, just that their standards are usually so high. Buy an Animaniacs DVD instead.

Rascal Raccoon’s Raging Revenge, by Brendan Hay and Justin Wagner (Oni Press, hb, 144pp).

Monday 20 February 2012

Power Lunch, Vol. 1: First Course – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Joey, the new weird kid at school, gets powers when he eats particular foods; which power he gets depends on which food he eats: trail mix gives him super-speed, white food leaves him unaffected. Jerome, the previous weird kid, needs help with Bug, a bully who spends his quiet time burning ants with a magnifying glass. Jerome encourages his friend to try out for the soccer team, but that means he must walk home alone.

Power Lunch is a good little book, as long as it lasts, with bold, colourful illustrations, and like Sketch Monsters should do well in schools and libraries, but there’s not much here for adults. Older kids may find the lack of substance underwhelming; younger children might be upset by the bullying scenes. To get a kid’s-eye view, I asked my daughters to take a look, but it failed their first test: “Is there a girl in it?”

Power Lunch, Vol. 1: First Course, by J. Torres and Dean Trippe (Oni Press, hb, 44pp).

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Before Watchmen: F— Alan Moore

Art for Minutemen
by Darwyn Cooke
The row over Before Watchmen – a rolling bunch of mini-series in the style of Seven Soldiers of Victory – carries on, and probably isn’t going to go away until the project does. Most reaction to it seems to have been very negative, in principle (while acknowledging that the art looks pretty good), but there’s a bunch of people who seem to think Alan Moore is a hypocrite, and that DC has every right to do whatever it wants with these characters.

The thing they don’t seem to get is that Watchmen is a novel. DC Comics has asked the authors of that novel, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, to write a follow-up, and they have declined.

And so DC has decided to do it without them. And to do so very much against Alan Moore's wishes. That's the kind of thing that happens all the time in film (remember the fuss about the Whedon-less Buffy remake?) but it doesn't often happen to the novels of living authors.

This is not Jerry Cornelius popping up in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or Dorothy meeting Alice and Wendy in an Austrian hotel. This is positioned as an official, previously untold part of the Watchmen story. This is saying to Da Vinci, you missed a bit, mate, I'm going to get some guys in to paint those eyebrows.

Whether DC has the legal right to do that or not, everyone involved in this project knows Alan Moore, the writer of the novel they are exploiting, doesn’t want it to go ahead. Which means each and every one of them, every writer, every artist, every editor, has said to themselves (perhaps using politer language), F— Alan Moore, I’m doing it anyway.

It's noticeable how few British creators are involved, and how many of DC's top drawer creators are missing.

Jim Lee (one of the founders of Image Comics, set up in disgust at Marvel’s treatment of creators, now a DC bigwig) said: “As a publisher, we’d be remiss not to expand upon and explore these characters and their stories”.

Imagine Bloomsbury announcing Before Hogwarts, and ignoring J.K. Rowling’s objections, saying, “As a publisher, we’d be remiss not to expand upon and explore these characters and their stories.”

Or imagine Simon & Schuster announcing The Shining Shines Again!, and ignoring Stephen King’s objections, saying, “As a publisher, we’d be remiss not to expand upon and explore these characters and their stories.”

It's hard to imagine fans of The Shining or the Harry Potter books applauding the publishers and decrying the author in the way that's happened with Before Watchmen.

Watchmen wasn't the first graphic novel, but it did an immense amount to establish the graphic novel as an important literary form, deserving of the utmost respect. Before Watchmen shows just how far is left to go.

Monday 13 February 2012

Orcs: Forged for War, by Stan Nicholls and Joe Flood – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Two sets of humans are at war: the monotheist Unis, waging a “crusade against the vermin that infest this land”, and the pantheist Manis, who have allied themselves with the fantastical races. The orcs of the title are a band of brothers (and one sister) fighting for the Manis: the Wolverines. Whichever set of humans win, the magical races know their time is limited. The Wolverines are orcs (and one dwarf) on a mission, Dirty Dozen-style. Having successfully blown up a bridge (or rather, dissolved one of its legs with a magical potion to make it collapse), they are sent by merciless witch queen Jennesta (who for some reason we get to see topless) on an escort mission, taking goblin sorcerer Eegett-Qinx on the road to test a powerful new weapon.

Although the art style is cartoonish, there is lots of nicely vicious action. The orcs look very similar, but if you can’t always tell who they are by looking, you can from their dialogue. The language is often fruity: Haskeer describes goblins as “two-faced little pricks”, and describes their mission as “to babysit a bunch a fucking goblins in charge of a fucking weapon we don’t know about, under orders that ain’t fucking clear”. So, not suitable for children, but I enjoyed it. I hadn’t read the novels the comic is based on, erroneously (if they’re anything like this) thinking them Pratchett-style comedies, but am now quite keen to give them a try. One can’t help rooting for these orcs, even when they are smiling at the scent of roasted human flesh, or chomping on fairies.

Orcs: Forged for War, by Stan Nicholls and Joe Flood (First Second, tpb, 208pp).

Monday 6 February 2012

Conan the Barbarian: The Mask of Acheron – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

This unmemorable comic acts as a prequel to the film starring Jason Momoa, who was so brilliantly menacing in Game of Thrones. The comic contains forty-eight story pages detailing the quest of Khalar Zym and his daughter to restore the all-powerful Mask of Acheron, eight text pages about the empire of Acheron, six adverts and a two-page map of Hyboria; by far the most interesting of those pages being, unfortunately, the adverts for Munchkin Conan and a new Angel & Faith comic.

I might give it another read after watching the film, to see where everyone came from (Conan is forced to drop boiling metal on his poor Dad’s head), but there’s no other reason to read this over the frequently superb Conan comics Dark Horse have previously published, especially at a premium price. (The creators are uncredited in my pre-release pdf; I’ve taken their details from Dark Horse’s website.)

Conan the Barbarian: The Mask of Acheron, by Stuart Moore and Gabriel Guzman (Dark Horse, one-shot, 64pp).

Friday 3 February 2012

Theaker’s Fab Five #3: The Wedding Present, Romana and Mogwai

Time for another round-up of the dazzling discs dominating my five-CD stereo (which is beginning to show a few worrying signs of wear and tear – if it breaks down it’ll blow as big a hole in my work routine as, well, the day I found I could access Facebook via https, thus circumventing all my carefully laid keyword blocks at the router).

1. The Wedding Present: Search for Paradise: Singles 2004–5

Last time I did a round-up I was having a big catch-up with New Order, and this time it’s been the turn of The Wedding Present, inspired by the imminent release of their new album, Valentina. This bundles up the four singles from Take Fountain, together with their b-sides, and a trio of lovely acoustic versions. Not everyone is keen on David Gedge’s voice, but I love it, for its sincerity and heart, yes, of course, but also because it’s easy to sing along with! I’ve tried singing along with David McAlmont and the results were not pleasant. I was intrigued enough by the added vocals on the Klee remix of “I’m From Further North Than You” to buy one of their EPs, and it’s very nice indeed, even if I can't sing along (whatever I learnt while taking GCSE German has been long forgotten).

2. The Wedding Present: The Complete Peel Sessions, CD Three

Includes sessions nine, ten, eleven and twelve, covering the period from the Hit Parade to Take Fountain. Only just bought this box set, and so far this is the only CD I’ve listened to. At the time, I was a bit disappointed by the Hit Parade, when The Wedding Present released a hit single every month – I couldn’t bring myself to buy “Boing” – and Watusi, because to me they felt like a retreat from the more serious, grinding music they had produced with Steve Albini. But listening to them on here along with the excellent songs from Saturnalia and Take Fountain, the ups and downs of changing production styles evened out by consistent BBC engineering, it turns out I’m really keen on all these songs. Feels sometimes like the album I’d hoped they’d make after Seamonsters (one of my favourite albums of all time). The one thing that could have made this better would have been a few snippets of John Peel, like the one that introduces Mogwai’s Government Commissions.

3. The Wedding Present: El Rey

I must look anxious, 'cause she fixes me with this gaze.
“Face it tiger, you’ve just hit the jackpot,” she says.

Can’t go wrong with a Spider-Man reference! This one’s in “Santa Ana Winds”. Add to that a bit of Seinfeld in “Soup” (chorus: “No soup for you! No soup for you!”), production by Steve Albini, and this has been an instant winner. I’ve been singing the wonderful track nine all around the house, changing the lyrics to “The Thing I Like Best About Me Is My Ranjna”. I think a lot of people would agree with that. Wish I’d heard about this album when it first came out. Somehow I missed it till now and I am well on the way to adoring it.

4. Doctor Who: Companion Chronicles: The Invasion of E-Space

The supply of new audio adventures has dried up a bit since I stopped reviewing for the British Fantasy Society, but I have a few older ones that I didn't get around to before: Big Finish are an extraordinarily productive company! This one features Lalla Ward as Romana, telling the story of an adventure with the fourth Doctor and Adric. I think it’s fair to say that my opinion of most of these has been more or less the same: never awful, never mind-blowingly brilliant, but always enjoyable. Review to appear in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #40.

5. Mogwai: Earth Division EP

The one music CD to survive the avalanche of Wedding Present and Cinerama purchases! (I bought the superb Cinerama Peel Sessions set too.) I like this, but coming straight after the Big Finish CD doesn’t do it many favours, since the first track, “Get to France”, sounds an awful lot like Big Finish’s incidental music. It always takes me a minute or two to realise it’s Mogwai. "Hound of Winter" is unusual for Mogwai, being a proper song with words, but is rather fab, while “Drunk And Crazy” is lovely and noisy. “Does This Always Happen” is classic Mogwai, but with strings.

At one point last month all five slots were taken up by Moby albums, so I carefully avoided doing a Fab Five round-up then. They’re great for working to, but I don’t think I could ever truly love them.

Away from the five-CD stereo, I’ve been listening to the Aphex Twin’s brilliant acid house collection Chosen Lords on the iPad. I’ll be buying the full set of Analord EPs just as soon as my bank balance recovers from paying last year’s income tax. I’ve also been listening to Ghosts I by Nine Inch Nails, which is pretty good, but not quite good enough to get me to fork out for Ghosts II–IV just yet.

The Wedding Present’s new single, “You Jane”, is out now, and there should be a video below. It’s a grower, honest, even if the video's not that great.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

What contributors did next #1

Rhys Hughes contributed Thornton Excelsior adventures to TQF38 and TQF39, and I'm pleased to announce that there will be another set of them in issue forty. There's a new interview with him on the Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog. I'm currently reading his new book, Rhysop's Fables, and it's rather fab.

Bob Lock contributed the Halloween-flavoured "Jack" to TQF25, and what's more his new book, Eclectic Sheep That Androids Never Dreamed Of, features a number of my hand-drawn sheep on its cover! Guess which ones are mine and you'll be able to see why I stopped doing illustrations for our magazine.

KJ Hannah Greenberg contributed "Just One Case of Flash: Another Chimera Tale" to TQF30, and her newest poetry collection, A Bank Robber's Bad Luck With His Ex-Girlfriend, is out from Unbound CONTENT. Readers who use the code "sentiment’s chowder" on their order form will get a 10% discount. It's also available from Amazon.