Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Dan Dare Vs Mekon

Dan Dare Vs Mekon
from the 'Hollow World' series
2000 AD comics Prog 16 (June 11, 1977)
Scanned from Dan Dare: The 2000 AD Years Volume 1 (2000 AD, November 2015)

In this episode, Dan Dare and his friend Rok - a human/dog alien hybrid (!) - are captured by Dare's old adversary Mekon, who has allied himself with a two-headed alien pirate (!) called the 'Two of Verath'.

Dan decides to make a break for freedom, and in the script by Steve Moore, delivers a brutal dose of Boot Leather to the face of the hapless Two of Verath.

Things don't go the way as planned, however, and soon Dare finds himself subjected to a grotesque inquisition - mediated by a Blob that, according to Mekon, once committed a crime '....so unspeakably alien,that no being in our galaxy can even understand it !' 

Classic British sci-fi, with the irreverent, Punk - era edge unique to the 2000 AD series. 

(And some amazing art by Massimo Bellardinelli.... )

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Book Review: Science Against Man

Book Review: 'Science Against Man' 
edited by Anthony Cheetham

3 / 5 Stars

'Science Against Man' (221 pp) was published by Avon books in December, 1970. The cover artist is uncredited.

'Science Against Man' is an anthology of original stories written especially for this volume. Like Damon Knight's Orbit anthologies, which were popular venues for sf short stories and novelettes at the time, the emphasis in 'Science' is on stories with a New Wave dimension.

My capsule reviews of the contents:

The Lost Continent, by Norman Spinrad: Spinrad's work during the New Wave era could be offbeat and imaginative, or offbeat and unreadable. Fortunately this novelette is one of his better works. It's set in a near-future USA brought low by deadly pollution and economic collapse. A group or prosperous African tourists take in the ruins of old New York City; mutants live in the subway system. There are some proto-cyberpunk flavorings here that make this the best entry in the anthology.

In the Beginning, by Robert Silverberg: this is the short story that eventually was expanded into the novel The World Inside. In the future, overcrowding means that humanity is obligated to live in Urban Monads, enormous high-rise structures that house 800,000 people.

The Hunter at His Ease, by Brian Aldiss: in the near future, the Western powers foment eco-destruction of the Third World....just to have something interesting to do.

Man's Estate, by Paul Ableman: in a future Earth ruled by benevolent computers, one of the few surviving humans confronts a crisis. Rendered in a figurative, stream-of-consciousness prose style, this short story is..........incoherent.

Harold Wilson at the Cosmic Cocktail Party, by Bob Shaw: prominent statesmen live on after death, as AIs inside a giant computer.

Statistician's Day, by James Blish: in the future, overpopulation doesn't just mean mandatory birth control......but Death Control, too.

The Invisible Idiot, by John Brunner: when supercomputers go bad, some old fashioned doctoring is required.

Small Mouth, Bad Taste, by Piers Anthony: two imaginative paleontologists make an interesting discovery.

The Ever-Branching Tree, by Harry Harrison: in the future, kids learn about Evolution via time machine. Too pedantic to be effective.

Sea Wolves, by Michael Moorcock: a Jerry Cornelius story, very New Wave-ish, consisting of a series of loosely linked vignettes, rather than a short story per se. I was Bored. 

The Penultimate Trip, by Andrew Travers: a man experiences hallucinations associated with his imprisonment. While its plotless nature makes this story another yet New Wave casualty, it retains enough of an offbeat tenor to make it worth reading.

The verdict ? 'Science Against Man' is no worse, and no better, than any of the other myriad all-original sf anthologies that were issued in the New Wave era. When all is said and done, the Spinrad novelette is what makes it worth searching for.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Invaders (Weird Worlds)

The Invaders
from Weird Worlds No. 4, August 1971 (Eerie publications)

Eerie publications never provided attribution information in their comics, but judging by the signature in the bottom right-hand corner of the first page, it's likely that Antonio Reynoso is the artist of this atmospheric, effective piece about alien invaders.

[The cover art, by Johnny Bruck, is expropriated from a 1960s issue of the German tabloid magazine Perry Rhodan.....Myron Fass and Carl Burgos at Eerie Publications weren't shy about stealing art from other publishers].

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Book Review: The Probability Corner

Book Review: 'The Probability Corner' by Walt and Leigh Richmond

1 / 5 Stars

‘The Probability Corner’ (177 pp) was published by Ace Books in September 1977. The cover artist is uncredited.

I picked up ‘Corner’ with an eye towards seeing if it was an undiscovered gem of a proto-cyberpunk novel. 

It isn’t. 

In fact, it’s pretty bad…..

The novel is set in the late 70s in Minnesota, where a mainframe computer in a corporation that does top-secret work for the government shows signs of having been hacked by enemies unknown. A trio of FBI agents is assigned to investigate.

Nearby, a young teenage genius named Oley discovers that he is ‘receiving’ thoughts of breakthrough technologies, including energy modulating coil assemblies, and a pedal-powered ultralight airplane. In his workshop - a converted fallout shelter - Oley begins work on assembling the equipment whose images and designs he has 'received.'

The two separate plot lines gradually converge, and it becomes increasingly clear that a new type of human-computer interface has been created – one that allows a newly formed AI to ‘telepathically’ communicate with young people. This Apple II – era Singularity is in peril, however, because an overzealous FBI agent is convinced that Oley and his young friends are the hackers who have compromised federal secrets……

‘Corner’ could have been an interesting novel despite its rather far-fetched premise; unfortunately, the husband-and-wife team of Walt and Leigh Richmond are intent on using the novel as an advertisement for ‘The Centric Foundation’. 

According to the relevant entry in Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature: A Checklist, 1700-1974, Volume II (1979), edited by R. Reginald,

Accordingly, much of the content of 'Corner' is devoted to expounding - in tedious passages of pedantic dialogue - on the philosophy of The Centric Foundation, which, at best, sounds like a bad version of the hokey physics showcased in such 70s touchstone New Wave books as The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters

These dialogue passages are really awful - Oley the 70s teen refers to people and concepts which he dislikes as 'nits', his older sister Hilda refers to him as 'Afterthought', and the discourses on computer programming are little more than gobbledygook - for example, there are references to the 'physical brain and psionic brain' that defines our intellect. It's the sort of pretentious language that is used by people who have done some Reading on the Subject, but don't really know what they are talking about.
The verdict ? 'The Probability Corner' is a not an undiscovered gem of a proto-cyberpunk novel....... It's a dud ! Stay away from this one.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Trigan Empire

The Trigan Empire
by Mike Butterworth (story) and Don Lawrence (art)
Crescent Books, 1978

'The Trigan Empire' (189 pp) was published by Crescent Books in 1978.

'The Trigan Empire' was a British science-fiction comic that first appeared in September 1965 in the magazine Ranger, before transitioning to the magazine Look and Learn in 1966, after which it ran for an impressive 854 issues until April,1982.

This Crescent book - back in 1978, the term 'graphic novel' didn't really exist - compiles episodes from 1965 - 1968. It's not an overly quality-conscious effort; Crescent was a 'budget' publisher whose titles dominated the contents of the remainder tables in bookstores throughout the US in the 70s. This book is 'bare bones'; it lacks any sort of Introduction or Preface that provides information about the comics or their creators.

The narrative relates the History of the Trigan Empire, which flourished long, long ago on Elekton, an Earth-like planet located in a distant galaxy.

The initial episodes describe the founding of the Empire by a bronze-age nomadic tribe led by the brothers Trigo and Brag. Although severely outgunned by the technologically superior Lokans, the warmongering tribe who seek to conquer all of Elekton, the bravery and resourcefulness of Trigo and Brag wins the day, and allows the Trigan Empire to become established as a global power.

The remaining episodes in the compilation deal with various challenges and plots to the supremacy of Trigo and Brag; increasingly, the narrative features as lead protagonists two boys, Janno and Keren, with whom the readership of Look and Learn would more closely identify.

The scripting for these episodes was done by Mike Butterworth, who wrote the majority of the scripts for the series. 

Butterworth's plots are simple and straightforward, obviously reflecting the fact that the strip was appearing in a magazine for a juvenile readership. The Trigan Empire regularly finds itself threatened by conspiracies and plots from within, as well as the machinations of the other, hostile civilizations of Elekton. That said, although wordy compared to modern sf comics, Butterworth's scripts are fast-moving and entertaining, and succeed in holding the attention of the reader, something that many contemporary US comics are not able to do.

Indeed, I thought the level of the writing also is quite sophisticated by comparison with contemporary comics for kids and tweeners, which are necessarily simplistic, as they are aimed at a generation of 'post-literate' readers who perpetually are glued to tablets and smartphones. 

It's also surprising to see how many deaths are depicted in 'Trigan', particularly when you remember it was published in a magazine for kids; although these deaths are never depicted in a graphic manner, they are part of the overall moral message of the series, i..e, good triumphs, and evil will eventually be punished. It's doubtful that as high a body count - which often is mediated by falling from great heights - would be permitted in any contemporary children's comic..........

The pages of this Crescent Books compilation appear to have been generated from photographs of copies of Look and Learn, rather than the original artwork. 

Despite the low-res quality of the reproductions, the cheaper grade of paper, and the poor color separations of this compilation, the high caliber of the artwork and the coloring used in the original series still is apparent. (Although Don Lawrence is the name most associated with the Trigan comics, a number of other artists also contributed.) 

The artistic team is adept at drawing human faces and expressions, buildings, landscapes, futuristic vehicles, and even a monster or two. The draftsmanship on display in these comics from the mid-60s remains unsurpassed by anything in contemporary graphic art.

Stylistically, 'The Trigan Empire' is an offbeat mix of Greco-Roman culture and architecture; most of the narrative takes place among tribes situated in Mediterranean-like desert and mountain landscapes. 

The spaceships, military vehicles, and weapons wielded by the inhabitants of Elekton are of the postwar, Atomic Age variety:

Summing up, 'The Trigan Empire' remains one of the high points of British sf comics. 

Sadly, finding a copy of this book at an affordable price is difficult (those advertised on amazon start at $161, which is very steep). Hopefully a more affordable reprint collection will be produced in the coming years.......

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Behold the Man

'Behold the Man'
Adapted from the short story by Michael Moorcock by Doug Moench (script) and Alex Nino (art)
from Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction (Marvel / Curtis) issue 6, December 1975

Frank Brunner's front cover illustration of the 6th and final issue of Marvel's Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction certainly was a dramatic, if contrived, envisioning of the Michael Moorcock short story Behold the Man

The short story, first published in 1966, and then later as a novel in 1969, is probably Moorcock's best-known story.

The problem with Behold the Man is that, aside from its provocative plot, it's not very good. 

The time travel elements of the story are perfunctory, and most of the content is centered on a tedious, belabored recitation on the psychoses of the lead character, a German Jew named Karl Glogauer.

Needless to say, a story like Behold the Man was just the sort of 'controversial' material that Marvel editor Roy Thomas loved to showcase in Marvel's black and white magazines. It was part and parcel of his desire to have such comics seen as a mature, meaningful, 'adult' art form.

Thomas pontificates about his decision to run a comic-book adaptation of the story in a self-indulgent Introduction (scanned and posted below).

Doug Moench's script for the adaptation is too wordy to be effective. It also suffers from pretentiousness, such as the inclusion of a quote from Carl Jung, and excerpts from the Gospels, as framing devices.

What makes Behold the Man worth scanning and posting here, is Alex Nino's artwork. 

Despite the overwritten nature of Moench's script, which not only requires the use of 5 - 7 panels per page to accommodate, but the inclusion of large blocks of external narration text in many of these panels, Nino is able to give the artwork his own distinctive approaches. 

This takes the form of filling the backgrounds of the panels depicting the events in Palestine with palm tree fronds, and cross-hatching motifs that mimic the texture of palm fronds weaved into thatching, in an effort to give them a visual style in keeping with the story's placement in the 'New Testament' era. 

It's these little touches, done in very little drawing space, that overcome the low-res quality of the printing, that confirm that Nino was one of the better artists to contribute to the Marvel and Warren black-and-white magazines of the 70s.