Wednesday, February 29, 2012

'The Rising of the Moon' by Bill Mantlo (writer) and Polly Law (artist)
from the April 1981 issue of Epic Illustrated

Monday, February 27, 2012

'An Unmarried Machine' by Jean-Michel Nicollet
from the February 1982 issue of Heavy Metal 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

'The Bus' by Paul Kirchner

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Book Review: 'The Steel Tsar' by Michael Moorcock

3 / 5 Stars

‘The Steel Tsar’ (DAW Book No. 503, October 1981, 160 pp. cover art by Walter Velez) is the third and final volume in Michael Moorcock’s ‘The Nomad of Time’ trilogy, the first two volumes being ‘The Warlord of the Air’ and ‘The Land Leviathan’.

The first half of ‘Tsar’ is the best part of the novel. Residing in an alternate timeline in which Japan wages World War 2 in 1941 against Britain and Russia, our hero Oswald Bastable is witness to the firebombing of Singapore by the Japanese airship fleet. He experiences many dangers in fleeing the city and ultimately finds himself on a remote island, former outpost of a mining firm, where the remnants of the British Empire are swiftly crumbling as the natives grow restless, and the defeat of the White Man and his empire looms large.

Moorcock well captures the mixture of resignation, drunken apathy, and disorientation that gripped the world of the British Pacific colonies as the Japanese swept to victory in the early months of World War 2. It calls very much to mind nonfiction works such as Noel Barber’s ‘Sinister Twilight’.

In the second half of the novel Bastable makes his way to Russia, where the Cossacks are in revolt against the democratic government of Kerensky.

A Georgian, and former priest, named Djugashvili (i.e., Joseph Stalin) has assumed the leadership of the Cossack armies; he goes by the name of The Steel Tsar. Bastable realizes that underneath his rhetoric of liberation and emancipation of the oppressed, the Steel Tsar is a ruthless man who readily will employ violence to become the ruler of the world. 

Will Bastable and a team of wary anarchists and rebels be able to thwart Djugashvili’s plans ? Or will the Steel Tsar emerge victorious against the Russian government, and then turn his eyes to the rest of the planet ?

Overall, ‘The Steel Tsar’ is a quick and not altogether unrewarding read. Moorcock spends a bit too much of the text having his characters engage in debates and conversations about Man’s Destiny, and whether any political system can fulfill the ambitions of such flawed creatures. The cameos by real world figures that gave ‘The Warlord of the Air’ a quirky originality are absent here, and Bastable is rendered more of a passive observer in momentous events, rather than a vital participant.

It’s clear that by the time it came to 'Tsar', Moorcock was running out of creative steam with the 'Nomad of Time' concept, but he did make an effort to wrap things up in a professional, if workmanlike, manner.

Monday, February 20, 2012

'Solarplexus' by Rick Veitch
from the Winter 1980 issue of Epic Illustrated

Saturday, February 18, 2012

'Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 02'

Judge Dredd was created in 1976 by the English comics writer John Wagner, in response to a request from fellow freelancer Pat Mills. Mills was developing a science fiction comic book for UK publisher IPC. Spanish artist Carlos Ezquerra was responsible for crafting the visual design of the character, who was a lawman in a chaotic, near-future New York City.

Judge Dredd debuted in issue 2 (‘Prog 2’) of 2000 AD in March 1977 in a story titled ‘Judge Whitey’. Unlike the American import comics from DC and Marvel, which dominated a big segment of the UK market at the time, 2000 AD was an anthology issued on a weekly basis, with color covers and black and white interiors. Judge Dredd quickly became one of the more popular features in 2000 AD.

The Dredd adventures are set in the USA of 2099; most of the interior of the continent is a wasteland, the result of a series of nuclear and biochemical wars. Its inhabitants are mutants and outcasts. Judge Dredd is charged with maintaining law and order in the east coast megalopolis of Mega-City One (formerly New York City), Mega-City Two representing the west coast and the former L.A. The 400 million denizens of Mega-City One are crammed into enormous high-rise apartment complexes, while the undercity far below is a world of garbage, fetid darkness, and a prime hideout for criminals.

Starting in 2010, publisher Rebellion is releasing black and white, paperbound compilations of the early 2000 AD comics, including the Judge Dredd comics, in the format similar to that employed by DC with its ‘Showcase’ books, and Marvel with its ‘Marvel Essentials’ books. 

As of February 2012, four volumes in the Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files’ series have been issued. Volume 1 is perhaps the weakest, as the stories it contains are mainly 8 pages-or-fewer, one-shot episodes. 

Volume 2 (December 2010), reprints Dredd tales first published in April 1978 through 1979, by which time the 2000 AD team had begun to incorporate longer story arcs.

Volume 2 features the two major story arcs for the ’78 and ’79 appearances of Judge Dredd.

‘The Cursed Earth’ (May – October 1978) sees Dredd, an alien named ‘Tweak’, and (British) punk ‘Spikes Harvey Rotten’ on a suicidal mission to cross the blasted interior of the USA in order to deliver a vaccine to a plague-ravaged Mega-City Two. 

[Sadly, some episodes that appeared in the 2000 AD strips are deleted in this Rebellion reprint, following successful copyright infringement suits against IPC by General Mills (over a satirical depiction of ‘The Jolly Green Giant’), and McDonalds and Burger King (over the ‘Burger Wars’ episodes). As well, a satirical depiction of KFC’s Colonel Sanders (the 'Dr Gribbon' character in the ‘Soul Food’ episodes) also drew a complaint.]

The second major arc in ‘Case Files 02’ involves ‘Judge Cal’ (i.e., Caligula), and ran from October 1978 to April 1979. Here, Dredd finds himself a hunted outcast when the corrupt and decadent Cal takes over Mega-City One.

‘Case Files 02’ closes with some shorter episodes: ‘Punks Rule’, ‘The Exo-Men’, and ‘The DNA-Man’.

The artwork for these Dredd comics varies from the loose, if energetic style of Mike McMahon, to the fine draftsmanship of Brian Boland, Brett Ewins, and Ron Smith, which reproduces very well here. 

Compared to American comics of the late 70s, the Dredd tales were a fresh take, filled with violent action (there was no Comics Code hampering the UK industry), and plenty of irreverent, satirical humor, in marked contrast to the sententious, labored, and overwrought nature of many of the Marvel and DC titles of the same era.

Fans of comic books from the 70s, as well as fans of the unique way in which the British interpret the landscape of American popular culture, will want to take a look at the 'Judge Dredd Case Files' compilations.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book Review: 'Eye of Cat' by Roger Zelazny

2 / 5 Stars

After moving to New Mexico in the mid-70s, Roger Zelazny (not unsurprisingly) became interested in the culture of the Southwestern US, particularly its Indian / Navajo culture, and its portrayal in the detective novels of Tony Hillerman.

‘Eye of Cat’ takes the Navajo –centered themes of Hillerman’s work, as well as a healthy chunk of Carlos Castaneda’s ‘Don Juan [Matus]’ symbolism, and awkwardly grafts them onto a science fiction novel.

Unfortunately ‘Eye of Cat’ is woefully overloaded with Zelazny’s New Wave affectations, which, by 1982, even he should have realized were fast becoming obsolete.

The plot is straightforward: Navajo tracker Billy Blackhorse Singer has earned a comfortable living, and world-wide renown, for his ability to track and capture exotic (often dangerous) alien creatures on a variety of planets.

When the government recruits him to help defend a diplomat from an alien, shapeshifting assassin, Singer realizes that the only way he can succeed is to fight fire with fire and enlist his own shapeshifter, the ‘Cat’ of the book’s title.

Cat’s price, however, is steep: ever since Billy first captured Cat and placed him in a zoo, Cat has nurtured a deep and abiding hatred for his captor. And once the alien assassin is dealt with, Cat wants the freedom to track down and kill Bill Singer without penalty. 

Lost in an existential funk, Singer agrees.

In due course Cat is freed, and the hunt begins; Singer takes advantage of the presence of ‘trip boxes’, or teleportation pods, to instantaneously travel around the globe and lose his hunter. But Cat has a number of abilities besides the gift of shapeshifting: he can read minds. 

Billy Singer soon discovers that losing his pursuer will be far more difficult than he had imagined….

At its core, ‘Eye’ could have been a well-crafted suspense story with SF elements, and at times the action is genuinely engrossing and holds the reader’s interest.

Unfortunately, Zelazny couldn’t resist encrusting his tale with all manner of New Wave contrivances reeking of a novel written in 1972.

The reader is forced to plod through segments of unpunctuated, Joycean stream-of-consciousness text, as well as blank verse poems using doggerel ‘Indian’ –sounding phrasing (‘My belt is a black arrowsnake’). 

Information about a subset of characters with various psychic abilities is relayed in the form of additional blank verse poems. Sundry gods and spirits of Navajo mythology materialize now and then to interject vague, rather stilted aphorisms and premonitions into the narrative.

The latter sections of the novel devolve into the over-written, phantasmagorical segments that Zelazny regularly inserted into his Amber novels, draining the impetus from the central narrative.

As a character, Bill Singer presents too readily as the stereotyped Indian; for example, his dialogue is devoid of contractions, as if Indians somehow have some sort of genetic defect that makes them unable to use phrases such as ‘ I’ll’ or ‘there’s’.

I won't reveal any spoilers regarding the book's ending save to say that Zelazny does a good job of keeping the reader guessing as to which antagonist will survive the contest.

I suspect that only die-hard Zelazny fans will  be willing to put up with the awkward, self-indulgent construction of 'Eye of Cat'.

Monday, February 13, 2012

'Deathlok the Demolisher'
in Astonishing Tales No. 26, October, 1974

The second appearance of Deathlok sees him tangling with the nefarious Major Ryker, creator of the military cyborg program.....